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June 2003

Indy: Let Brazil Shine

Not only the boys from Brazil, but from all over the world.
Formula Indy should open all doors, let anyone and everyone who
can compete do so and if you don't like it, go out and secure
more sponsorship, build more competitive cars and train better drivers.

Phillip Wagner

Dear Jim Rome,

Phillip Wilson wrote an article that ran in the Sunday May 25th race-day edition of the Indianapolis Star titled "Foreigners know their limit' and subtitled "Drivers understand race's popularity could suffer if majority of drivers weren't American". REALLY? You mean we've all just been imagining that the decline of "Formula Indy", as the Brazilians call it, was triggered by decades of internal dispute that led to the formation of competing IRL and CART circuits?

You mean it wasn't REALLY exciting to see Hélio Castroneves shoot for an unprecedented "three-peat", or to see the Brazilians come in 1-2-3 in the closest ever three car finish at the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing"? Whatever happened to the good old American anthem that "competition is a healthy thing"?

If Tony George is an astute businessman, and I believe he is, he might consider erecting a new flag-pole at the track to fly the flag of the nation from which the winning driver hails. Let everyone see that flag fly for twelve months and spark a little more drive to field an American driver who can win the next year and have it replaced with the Stars and Stripes. Don't you think we can do that? Where's our confidence?

I think we have the confidence; I just think Wilson is selling us short. Wilson leans on a Kenny Brack quote saying that "if you had a 500 with all Swedes, nobody would pay a damn dollar to see it". Well, no kidding! If you had an F1 in Austria that only fielded Swedes is seems likely that no one in Austria  would pay a damn Euro to see THAT either!!

Give me a break! If Formula Indy ever became as big internationally as F1 we'd all be in racing heaven. The best thing that has happened to racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in years has been the emergence of the approachable, entertaining, enthusiastic and immensely talented Brazilian drivers. Kudos now too to the equally approachable Japanese. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before they'll begin to excel, given the backing they're getting from Toyota and Honda. 

But back to the Brazilians; Hélio's fence climbing antics and 'Spiderman' moniker have literally ignited the imaginations of children across the country, all future Indy500 fans. He and Gil de Ferran have also ignited the interest of older fans. When I went to a pre race Penske dealership autograph signing for Hélio, I found the dealership locking fans out an hour early because the line inside was already so long they didn't anticipate getting everyone already inside an opportunity to get a signature.

The "foreigners", as Wilson refers to them have been a breath of fresh air. I remember seeing a wire service regular at a press conference try to bait Gil de Ferran into criticizing Hélio for showing emotion after winning the pole. Gil deflected the criticism and had the honesty to show a little of his own, after edging out Hélio to win the race. What a thought; talent, determination, work ethic AND honest emotion.

We certainly can't have that, now can we? Lets all take a deep breath, acknowledge that Roger Penske and the "Boys from Brazil" have given our sagging Memorial Day classic a lift, invite them and the Japanese, English, New Zealander, South African and Swedish drivers back next year and thank our lucky stars that they'll likely want to return.

Do we really need media headlines hinting at an anti-foreigner sentiment? Even if it exists to some extent, and given the increase of jingoism since 9/11 I'm sure it does, it clearly isn't a primary factor determining Formula Indy popularity and it shouldn't be encouraged. Open all doors, let anyone and everyone who can compete do so and if you don't like it go out and secure more sponsorship, build more competitive cars and train better drivers.

My recollection is that here in the USA we promote the idea that we want the cream to rise to the top, and we don't lean on propping up "our guys" when it isn't warranted. We have more pride than that! Congratulations to Tony George, Roger Penske, Penske racing president Tim Cindin, Gil de Ferran, Hélio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan for putting on a great show on race day at Indianapolis!


This was composed as listener input to the nationally syndicated Jim Rome Show.

 Phillip Wagner is a regular contributor to Brazzil, covering the Indianapolis 500 for the 3rd consecutive year for the magazine. Contact Phillip at pwagner@iei.net





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