KENNEDY: Recapping The IndyCar Finale


LOS ANGELES — The 2012 IZOD Indy Car season finale Sept. 15 at the two-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana was an outstanding, suspenseful race deserving praise for all involved. It merits revisiting.

The MAVTV 500 (250 laps) has to rank as one of the best conclusions to a season. The race victory and season championship both came down to the final lap before the race winner and 2012 championship were decided.

As icing on the cake, American drivers Ed Carpenter and Ryan Hunter-Reay won the race and championship. Both are deserving winners who persevered for years. Media coverage on TV, Internet and in newspapers should whet the appetite for the 2013 IZOD IndyCar season.

Attendance estimates by media ranged from 25,000 to 30,000, about the same as the last Indy Car race at Fontana in 2005. Southern California’s September heat wave had a 102- degree race day high in Fontana. That cut into the number of likely race day walk-up ticket buyers. It could have reduced the crowd by 10,000. In fact, some already purchased tickets went unused because of the stifling heat. NBC-Sports reported before the race that the temperature was 98 at 5 p.m. with seven percent humidity. It was still 89 degrees at lap 170.

Hunter-Reay and Carpenter performed burnouts on the front straight simultaneously following the checkered flag. Carpenter’s victory came for his own team sponsored by Fuzzy’s Vodka (golfer Fuzzy Zoeller). Former car owner/team manager Derrick Walker joined Carpenter’s new team this year and the victory also rewarded his input.

Hunter-Reay won the championship by a mere three points with Power, who had crashed early in the race, congratulating Hunter-Reay in victory lane.

The American Auto Racing Writers & Broadcasters Association (AARWBA) recognized the long service of retiring TV broadcaster Bob Jenkins. President Dusty Brandel and 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner Parnelli Jones made the presentation to Bob at Auto Club Speedway. He will be missed.

The IZOD Indy Car Fontana 500 was the MAVTV 500 and the firm signed a sponsorship with the track for three more years. The MAVTV channel will be known as American Real starting in 2013.

The national network, owned by Lucas Oil Products, offers TV content for an action-oriented family audience. .

With the Indy 500 and Fontana 500 on the schedule and the Pocono (Pa.) 500 set for July 2013, the Indy Car Triple Crown championship should be reborn to give interest in Indy Car racing a boost in media and fan interest.

A sponsor for a $1,000,000 Triple Crown championship would be ideal. If there were two different winners after the first two 500 milers in 2013 a $250,000 bonus paid to a driver who won two of the three 500s would make things interesting.

The 2012 Indy Car season with five oval, seven street and three road races — had eight different race winners. Hunter-Reay won four, Power three, Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon two. Dario Franchitti, Justin Wilson, Ryan Briscoe and Carpenter won one each.

Hunter-Reay is one of the best success stories in all racing over the past decade. Tragically his supportive mother died from cancer a few years ago before she could see his greatest racing achievements. In fact, Ryan and his wife, the former Beccy Gordon (sister of driver Robby Gordon) met thanks to Ryan’s mom. During 2006 Ryan was between Indy Car rides and raced the No. 21 Speed Wong Racing NASCAR super late model at the Irwindale Speedway half-mile twice and finished in the top eight.

Hunter-Reay inked a contract to remain with Andretti Autosport for two more years. I was happy Hunter-Reay remained loyal to Andretti Autosports, which gave him his chance. He is number one with Andretti and would have been the newcomer or number three on the Penske team. I hope Briscoe retains his Penske ride. He had a lot of bad luck this year.

Auto Club Speedway President Gillian Zucker, 43, had to miss the Indy Car 500 at Fontana. She fought hard to add the race to her track’s 2012 schedule after it lost the fall NASCAR Sprint Cup race. She had a brain tumor that required surgery a month earlier. After coming back to work briefly, her doctor said rest and recuperation were necessary. She deserves the Indy Car 500 to become a major event on the Fontana schedule. Dave Allen, vice-president of sales and marketing for the track, ran things for the MAVTV 500.

Team owner Roger Penske built the Fontana track for $130,000,000 and it opened as California Speedway in 1997. NASCAR and IndyCar racing were the major attractions each year through 2005.

Penske sold the track to International Speedway Corp. which stopped scheduling Indy car races and ran two of its Sprint Cup races. It moved the fall race to ISC’s Kansas Speedway. That is why the track rescheduled Indy cars as the major fall event. Penske said a 500-mile race at Fontana should be the Indy Car season finale every year because of the close, competitive racing.

It just needs to be developed as the economy improves and a fan-base must be increased with proper marketing to attract present and new fans. Moving the Indy Car race from hot September to cooler October would help attract fans.

I hope those who allegedly are intent on removing IZOD IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard get a clue soon. Get off his back. He is a mover and shaker idea man and is the right man for Indy Car. He wants to add oval tracks and increase IndyCar races to 19 in 2013. He is on the right track.

The 2012 race was the best Indianapolis 500 in many years. The entire 2012 season (oval, street and road races) was the best in decades competition-wise with numerous winners and winning teams. The exciting championship battle was “the icing on the cake.” Bernard is on the right track. Bring on 2013 ASAP.