Updated: Jun 19, 2019
That was the analogy I heard this weekend that best describes Indycar running on high banked ovals. And that was the case for the 2012 Indycar series finale held at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. The cars reached incredible speeds near 220mph, and the whole show became something more similar to Star Wars pod racing than open wheel car racing.
As the sun dipped low in the sky, the Indycar season waved the green flag one more time in 2012. Championship leader Will Power hung back early and began working his way through the field as the race progressed, but sometimes, it’s just not meant to be. Power lost the car and hit the wall hard. Things had seemed to completely fall into the only other realistic championship contender’s hands. I was standing in Power’s pit box when he came back with a clean pair of trousers and a black polo shirt on, to chat with his crew and talk them through what happened. He didn’t really know why he had spun. Meanwhile (unbeknownst to me…and maybe him too) his team was feverishly working on piecing his car back together in the garage. Indycar’s scoring system meant that even last place gains a valuable point and when the championship is this close…..every. single. point. counts.
Nearly half an hour later, I saw a mad rush of people, cameras flashing, running, screaming, yelling, and a swarm of black fire suits pushing the #12 car back to the track after an amazing repair job. They started the engine and Power roared off with spinning tires as the field passed by, and off he went into the night. Realistically only able to claw back one more point, Power overtook the first car he could, and retired again. His efforts meant that Ryan Hunter-Reay would have to work that much harder to earn the title. And it was going to be close…
As the 500 mile race wound down, I meandered over toward the Andretti pit stall where a crowd of people had gathered to either celebrate or mourn a lost championship for Ryan Hunter-Reay. Looking into team owner Michael Andretti’s eyes, you could feel the tension. The championship was that close. It could go either way. Honestly, no one knew. When the race began many hours earlier, there were literally 30 different ways the championship could be won. If X finishes A, then Y must finish B and on and on and on and on.
But here we were, with less than five laps to go, and Ryan was running hard on the limit and had the entire weight of his team behind him urging him forward. But when the checkered flag waved for Ed Carpenter who surprised everyone by winning the dramatic and eventful race, a triumphant roar arose in the Andretti pit with high fives, fist pounds and tears erupting all around me. Hunter-Reay had done it. He finished fourth, two places ahead of what he needed to finish to clinch the title. 3 points separated the championship contenders. Just three points.
With Hunter-Reay Standing on the podium, kissing the Astor Cup trophy, surrounded by a mob of fans and teammates chanting, “USA! USA! USA! USA!”….It might have been the perfect end to the 2012 Indycar season.