IndyCar – Back to the Dark Ages!

As it came to pass during the excessively long off-season, the Verizon IndyCar Series was awash in malaise. The long five months of nothingness wore the denizens of 16th & Georgetown to weak-willed and impressionable puddles, allowing that most foul of demons, Brian Barnhart to work his most dark magick and infiltrate their realm once again. And lo, in the year two thousand and fifteen, dark times have returned to the series of the wheels that are open.

Yes, that’s right. IndyCar announced that Brian Barnhart is returning as Race Director and Vice President of Competition. I don’t know what’s worse, really: my feeble attempts at opening this piece with something that sounds like a Game of Thrones reject or the fact that Brian Barnhart returns to VICS management as Race Director. He will be in charge of a three-steward panel to be in charge of officiating all races, starting with the 2015 season opening race in Brasilia on March 8.

“We believe that based on his extensive experience in Race Control, combined with the three-steward system, Brian Barnhart is a good fit as INDYCAR race director,” said Derrick Walker, INDYCAR president of Competition and Operations. “The process allows the race director to focus on running the race without the double-duty of reviewing multiple replays and simultaneously trying to make a call. In terms of determining penalties, our process defines that a majority vote amongst the three stewards is required, which ensures a jury-like process. Last year we found that this was a fair system when making difficult judgment calls.”

I’ll admit that a 3-member jury to determine when a penalty is warranted and the severity of the penalty is certainly a reasonable and fair way of officiating, especially in a sport where such calls can be down to individual judgement. However, when you include a member that has repeatedly shown inconsistency in officiating and apparent disregard for the safety of drivers, I don’t see how Derrick Walker can consider Barnhart “a good fit”. I think what makes a good fit is the large wad of cash that Walker must be receiving from Hulman & Co. and/or the IndyCar board to allow this buffoon back into race control.

The only saving grace is that he will not have sole discretion over officiating calls, but I’ve no doubt he will find a way to circumvent that. Let’s go out on a limb and consider the possibility that Troll-in-Chief Barnhart and the other two stooges (he does kinda look like Shemp, albeit with more hair) are able to apply consistent officiating. There is still the perception amongst the fans.  This overall fan perception is pretty obvious, as are those who have reacted to the news via comments online. Most comments involve a meme or video of a negative reaction, such as this:

Insanity is often described as “repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting different results.” I think that this applies here, and in spades. Barnhart is the one that was on the receiving end of Will Power’s famous double birds (see the header image) after he completely cocked up the race and a championship run by Will Power. He admitted that he did not listen to the drivers screaming on the radio that rain was coming down. Nor did he listen to Johnny Rutherford in the pace car, the teams or officials on pit road. He also didn’t look at the television feed that had raindrops on the camera lens.

Barnhart has a record of inconsistent officiating. In 2010, Helio Castroneves publicly called him out in a Brazilian newspaper, saying, “IndyCar has a serious problem, and it’s called Brian Barnhart.” Helio was also fined for some rather scathing tweets about IndyCar’s new Race Director for the same incident at Motegi, referring to Barnhart as a “circus clown”. I’m surprised the clown community didn’t go after Castroneves for besmirching their good name, as they’re still trying to distance themselves from John Wayne Gacy.

I’ve never officiated a race, let alone one at a top level. I don’t discount the challenges of determining fault for an on-track incident where it’s not crystal clear. Based on that, I fully realize that in the middle of a race, making those judgement calls and assessing penalties requires someone who understands not only the rulebook, but also the mentality of drivers, the physics of the cars, the impact of outside variables (weather, tire wear, debris, etc.) and anything else that may be a factor. But when you have the field, pace car driver and teams screaming that rain is falling and TV cameras showing drops on the lens, that should be a pretty obvious indicator that conditions aren’t safe to restart a race on an oval.

I’m going to pretend that Barnhart & Co. have a plan to officiate IndyCar races with consistency and fairness. The perception of Brian Barnhart is there. The fans have expressed their displeasure with this appointment based on their perception, regardless of whether the perception is accurate or not. If fans have this perception, then it’s logical to conclude that others have a similar perception. Let’s face it: cocking up a late restart on an oval in the rain will leave a pretty negative perception!

There is a death of talent from across the globe that reportedly has interest in IndyCar. Drivers have opinions just like fans do.  I wonder how much Barnhart’s reappointment as Race Director will make drivers reconsider an IndyCar ride based on their perception of him, even if that perception is based on the 2011 Loudon screw-up. If drivers reconsider ideas of IndyCar, that would strip away one of the real bright spots of the series, not to mention hurt the long-term growth of the series.

As I was finishing this, IndyCar dropped the news that BAND, the promoter of the season opening Brasilia Indy 300 cancelled the event suddenly. There’s not a lot of details about reasons, at least not yet.  It would be fun to jab at Brian Barnhart and drop inferences that BAND and Barnhart don’t like each other or BAND is afraid of damage to their facilities because of Barnhart’s calls. An attempt to translate the announcement from the BAND’s website results in this:

Step Indy in Brasilia, which was scheduled for the 8th of March, was canceled unilaterally by Terracap (Development Agency of the Federal District). The race would open the season in the category. Below is a statement from the band:

The Band announces that Terracap, Development Agency of the Federal District, which hired the station to perform the Brazilian stage of Indy unilaterally canceled the race scheduled for March 8. The cancellation of the “Brasilia Indy 300” was informed the direction of the station on the afternoon of Thursday. The Band, promoter of the event, inform the next few days how will the refund of the amount paid for the tickets. The station regrets this reckless attitude and will continue investing in the promotion of sports and big events.

Since the land management and the government are involved, this is either about money (or lack thereof) or possibly some backlash. There could be a problem with the circuit that would make racing unsafe, too Whatever the reason, this postpones the start of the Verizon IndyCar season until March 29 at St. Petersburg and reduces the 2015 schedule to 18 races. While that isn’t necessarily a bad number of races, it’s one more thing adding to the perception that IndyCar has no future and is tanking. That can, and probably will, dissuade potential team owners and sponsors.

And lo, as the promoter didst not bequeath his taxes to their King, the group failed in their quest to lure the fire-breathing machines to their land, leaving it quit, still and lackluster. While the family of trolls in the kingdom of Speedway went about their sordid business of angering their followers and fans, leaving the season to begin the way it always has. Aye, lords and lassies.  Truly, dark times are these.

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