Six ideas to stave off extinctionSteve Hammer

When I was a kid, the Indianapolis 500 was one of the most important sporting events in the country along with the World Series, Kentucky Derby and the Super Bowl. Millions of auto racing fans looked forward to the annual running of the 500. Send the George

family into retirement. How many times have you seen it happen? A once-thriving business is driven into the ground when the idiot son takes over?

It was nice while it lasted, I guess, but I think those days are gone forever now, as much a part of the past as 99-cent gas and the federal budget surplus. As much as it pains the city to realize it, the Indy 500 just doesn't matter as much anymore.

You can argue over who's to blame for this situation and point fingers at the George family all you want, but that doesn't change the fact that our once-proud race is just not that big a deal anymore. It's not even the most important auto race happening that weekend, let alone the entire year.

Obviously something needs to be done. That's why I've come up with a series of ideas which will restore the 500 to the place of importance it once held in the sporting world.

First of all, show the freakin' race on live TV in Indianapolis already. How are we supposed to care about a race we can't even watch live? The people who are going to go to the race are going to go to the race anyway. And ABC's ratings for the 500 have been in a freefall for quite a while now. It will help them, the people of the city and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway itself if we have the choice of seeing the thing live. At least it would be a start.

Modernize some of the pre-race ceremonies. I realize the race has a deep tradition, but do we really need to trot out Jim Nabors as the poster boy for the state of Indiana? It's embarrassing to have to explain to friends from out of state that we really don't think he's a great singer. Would it be asking too much to get a performer who's actually worked a paying gig in the last 35 years to do the song? Maybe one from this century?

It's not like there's a shortage of washed-up former TV sitcom stars and Gomer Pyle is the only one we can get. I'm sure, for example, that Bob Saget might be available the last weekend in May, or possibly Drew Carey. Hell, maybe even Cliff Claven from Cheers would do the race. Jon Lovitz. Somebody.

Remember, traditions that are widely mocked and ignored by the entire civilized world stop being traditions and turn very quickly into self-parody or, worse, historic re-enactments of a long-ago time when people actually gave a shit about the Indy 500.

Give Sarah Fisher a decent car, for God's sake. Quick.

Name the superstars of the Indy Racing League. Time's up. The correct answer is that there are exactly none. The list of drivers reads like an odd combination of the United Nations phone directory and a list of escapees from a Birmingham prison work-release program.

The single likeable figure in the entire circuit is young Ms. Fisher, whose smiling face and personal charisma almost make you forget that you're watching a dying league and a fading event.

Yet she gets the crappiest cars to race with. It's as if Tiger Woods had to play the Masters with a set of clubs purchased at the Salvation Army thrift store. Give her a decent ride and a good crew and she might actually start winning some races and - who knows? - people might become interested in the Indy 500 again.

Remove all of the restrictions that keep the speed down. People don't watch auto races because they're so safe; they watch because there's speed and danger and drama. Just see what would happen if cars were able to go 250 mph at the track. The race might become interesting again. And since nobody can name any of the drivers except Sarah Fisher anyway, they can be replaced quite easily.

Send the George family into retirement. How many times have you seen it happen? A once-thriving business is driven into the ground when the idiot son takes over? That's what we're looking at, kids, and it's no longer entertaining to watch, even in an Oh-my-God-I-can't-believe-he's-doing-that kind of way.

The race is too important to the city, both as a moneymaker and point of pride, to continue to let the Georges and their trained chimps destroy it. Hold a ceremony, give Tony a plaque for destroying a 90-year tradition and retire him to the luxury boxes where he can't do any more damage.

Appoint a commission to investigate ways to revitalize the race. If a media whore like me can come up with some pretty good ideas in the time it takes to watch an episode of That's So Raven, certainly the civic and business leaders of this state can think of them too.

No offense to the four or five diehard Indy Racing League fans still left out there, but something is broken and it needs to get fixed fast. At this rate, they may as well stop running the race for all the good it's doing us.

Our beloved institution needs help. The time to do it is now.


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