The kindly Gian Paolo Dallara has amassed enough summer homes, winter homes, homes at the lake, castles, mansions, and personal islands to last several lifetimes. They’ve all been purchased over the last 25 years from the proceeds of supplying cars and spare parts to IndyCar teams.
I reckon Mr. Dallara’s next purchase will be the state of Tennessee, site of the Thank You Mr. Dallara Grand Prix at Nashville, where the Italian racecar manufacturer must generate profits that make Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos blush.
If you missed the race and logged on minutes into the post-event coverage, the footage of the wrecker loaded with no less than eight noses and front wing assemblies – warped into abstract forms – and a crumpled rear wing would have told you everything there was to know about the 80-lap endurance round.
I’m not sure what else to say here that wasn’t said in my post-race column from 2021, other than to add that the Nashville **** Show 2.0 was indeed as bad as the first event in terms of quality. But hey, every person who buys a ticket or tunes into a race isn’t looking for clean and artful passing from start to finish.
For fans of crash-filled entertainment, IndyCar’s first and second visits to the Music City venue must have been amazing. That’s the only positive take I can come up with. Half of the drivers who entered this year’s Nashville race failed to reach the finish, and in all but a few of those cases, the premature endings were due to carnage that was either self-induced or delivered upon innocent bystanders. Actually, I’m not sure many could count themselves as ‘innocent’ in the afternoon melee.
So, here we are, with a carbon copy of last year’s race and a bump from 43 percent of the inaugural race being run under yellow to 46 percent on Sunday. Nearly half.
Within the field, 19 of the 27 starters were running at the finish last year; it was a proper split this time with 13 of 26 parked with some form of mechanical or electrical damage. Fully half.
And all of this was produced at an 11-turn track that used the best offseason input from IndyCar drivers to make improvements for 2022 that would, hopefully, prevent a lot of the embarrassing moments that tarnished the series’ first appearance in Nashville. Sadly, all the feedback that went into numerous changes did little to change the outcome.
As it’s constructed, Nashville has the unprecedented ability to create chain-reaction crashes at multiple locations that are unlike any other circuit on the calendar. To its credit, widening Turn 11 did prevent a repeat of the logjam that brought out a red flag late in last year’s event, but the same funneling of drivers — usually on restarts — coming off the bridge into the Turn 9 lefthander, then again at the left at Turn 10, and on the other side of the bridge at Turn 4 – and at Turn 6, where about 25 percent of the field was taken out or damaged — makes Nashville one big yellow or red flag waiting to happen.
The track is built around the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge, and while the bridge provides amazing visuals for the broadcast, it’s also where the majority of the crashes, spins, and general calamity is generated as drivers exit both sides of the span. We’ve even had one driver, Jimmie Johnson, pulverize his car on the bridge by himself on two occasions before reaching the braking zone in Turn 4.
With two consecutive wreck-fests, enough data has been collected to easily suggest that without fundamental changes, a third trip to race in Nashville will lead to the same costly conclusion. The old adage about the definition of insanity comes to mind here. Doing nothing isn’t the answer, but would the promoters actually delete the main problem area by creating a bridge-free circuit? That doesn’t sound plausible. The only other answer is for IndyCar teams to accept the carnage as the price to pay for racing in downtown Nashville, and that’s also an unlikely scenario.
Yes, Nashville is an amazing town that loves to party and welcomes guests from anywhere in the world to enjoy its unique culture. And maybe it’s building new fans there who’ve come to expect constant crashes and cautions as what you get with IndyCar. But for the rest of us who enjoy seeing less of the pace car during an event, IndyCar needs to turn next year’s race into something other than a barroom brawl. A third straight destruction derby would be negligent on the series’ part.
But don’t forget Mr. Dallara. If we can take 75 percent of the field out in 2023, he just might be able to build a house on the moon.
WHAT ABOUT THE DRIVERS?
The cars don’t drive themselves, right? Two consecutive dumpster fires in Nashville could have been avoided if the drivers had more respect for each other, blah, blah, blah.
Look, it’s true. We’re having a different conversation about Nashville if everyone strapped inside the Dallara DW12s played nicely with each other, but they don’t. And haven’t. And won’t. I’m sure there were a few among the 26 who were blameless on Sunday, but mostly, it was case after case of taking the bait and diving down the inside of someone and a kerblammo. Or it was out-braking oneself or being unsettled over the bumps and tagging the car in front or being tagged from behind.
For all the excellence in driving standards we see at a place like Road America, the opposite is shown at Nashville where it invites the worst behavior and there’s no amount of threats or yelling from series officials or team owners that will change the instincts of elite IndyCar drivers.
Make no mistake: The majority of the problems created over 160 combined laps of racing have come from the decisions or errors made by the drivers. We can also be clear that they won’t dial themselves back and race with kinder hearts in the future.