Out of Gas: The Slow Deaths of Formula One and IRL Racing in North America

Daniel ZylberkanCorrespondent IJuly 23, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS - MAY 12: (L-R) Michael Andretti, driver of the #39 Andretti Green Racing Dallara Honda with his son Marco Andretti, driver of the #26 Andretti Green Racing Dallara Honda and Mario Andretti watch during qualifying for the IRL Indycar Series 91st running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 12, 2007 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)

A long time ago and in a place not so far away, open wheel racing mattered.

This place was called North America Apparently this no longer holds true; open wheel racing has been suffering a slow death in North America in the last decade or so. And its a bloody shame.

So what caused this? Was it the rise of NASCAR? Was it the Americans' loss of pride in their own industry? Was it because of open wheel racing becaem more "foreign" to us? Was it the IRL-CART split?

NASCAR has become a lot more popular in the past decade, but I don't think that the open wheel's loss of popularity is because of NASCAR's rise.

After the IRL-CART split, there was a vacuum in the world of motor sports in the North American market. NASCAR benefited from the fall of open wheel racing, not the other way around.

In past decades—especially in the 1950s and 60s—the American automobile industry was the envy of the world. The center of innovation was in North America. Ford and General Motors was where the world came for research and development.

The idea of the turbine car—the first mass-produced fuel-injection engine since the 300SL Gullwing—was developed and sold by General Motors in the Corvette. Streamlined cars were popularized by the jet and space inspired designs of the late 1950s. The future of the automobile industry was to come from the United States.

But when the oil crisis hit in the 1973, the American car industry went into a dark age it still has not come out of. 

That is when Europe—Germany in particular—and Japan became the world centers of automobile know-how and innovation.

So North Americans lost a lot of interest in the technology and developmental aspect of motor sports.

In the long term, the enthusiasm and passion of the fans for the the sport diminished, because they had nothing to look forward to during a competition.

Open wheel racing has become a foreign sport, even in North America. Where Aussies, Brazilians, Brits, and the Frenchman who got fired this week by Toro Rosso, have dominated the competition in CART and IRL in the past decade and a half.

But that doesn't mean Americans and Canadians don't have the talent to compete with the rest of the world.

After all, the Villeneuves, the Andrettis, the Rahals, Phil Hill, and Dan Gurney all come from North America.

The IRL-CART split irreparably hurt racing in North America. The Indianapolis 500 used to be a huge television event: the symbolic beginning of the summer season, the ubiquitous soundtrack of all Memorial Day cookouts. 

Now, it's a footnote or some sort of terrible side story. People only know Helio Castroneves for dancing and tax evasion, not for his three Indianapolis 500 wins.

IndyCar has quickly become irrelevant, and I feel bad for both the fans and the people in the sport itself.

To add insult to injury, because of the financial crisis and both Bernie Ecclestone's and Tony George's stubbornness, there is no Formula One race in North America this season; the sign that Formula One has hit rock bottom in popularity and relevancy on this side of the pond.

I know it gets tiring for people to read an article full of problems and with no solutions, but I'm no marketing genius. It's up for someone else to find some solutions for these problems.

I know it can be done and whoever does figure it out will forever have my gratitude. I hate feeling like a weird person for liking motor sports; after all, it is one of the most popular sports in the world.