In American History, there is a period of time known as the “Era of Good Feelings”. From about 1815 to 1825, essentially Americans were in a good mood, and fairly united in their goals and dreams. They’d fought to a draw in the War of 1812, had a morale-boosting victory at the Battle of New Orleans, and the country seemed to generally be headed in the right direction. Certainly things weren’t perfect—sectional disputes were never far from the surface, and there were economic transitional pains—but by and large, it was a happy time to be an American.
Some 200 years later, the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season could very well turn out to be remembered very much the same way. Sure, a nasty rebellion over aero kits or some spec on the DW12 could break out in the paddock tomorrow, but by and large, it’s been a far more placid group of drivers and owners than we could have expected. There seems to be a sense—finally—that it’s time to knock off at least some of the hue and cry, buckle down, and at least publicly, focus on what the fans want to hear about—actual racing.
Of course, none of that would matter if the on-track product were lacking in some way. Happily, that hasn’t been the case. We’ve had two races where the winner was very much in doubt through the closing laps. We’ve seen incredibly tight fields, with the traditional “Big Two” having to mix it up with everyone else. We have had tire strategy, (competitive) engine drama, a popular first-time winner, and an American champion continuing to perform at an extremely high level. From Marco Andretti to Simona de Silvestro to Tristan Vautier, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a driver that can absolutely light up the track at any given moment. The racing is full of wild cards, with nothing set in stone. Further, the coverage from NBC Sports Network has met with extremely favorable reviews thus far, with Leigh Diffey and Company proving to be a very good match for the broadcast.
We can cautiously also say interest in terms of on-site attendance and TV ratings are nudging up, and the Series (along with the Indianapolis 500) has its best promotional opportunity in two decades with this summer’s release of the potential blockbuster movie Turbo. If there were a time to bring the excellence, drama, and excitement at the highest level possible, it would be this season.
Granted, two races does not an era make. This bit of writing could go up in smoke next week if a bomb drops. And let’s not kid ourselves—we’ve got plenty of challenges ahead for INDYCAR. Much like America in 1815, there is much left to be decided in terms of direction and the ultimate fate of this enterprise. From the Firestone Indy Lights car count to Ryan Briscoe’s part-time status, pessimists can find their targets. Yet if you hang around the regular social media hangouts, even some of the usual cranky suspects just seem in a better mood right now. It’s something other fans I’ve chatted with have keyed in on, as well. There's been a change in the air and vibe around IndyCar, and frankly, I'm loving it.
Can that be kept up for the length of the schedule? Well, not every race will be a barnburner—there will be a few average races in the mix. But by and large, so long as IndyCar keeps focusing on the on-track fireworks—the only sort of fireworks fans not engaged in misery tourism want—there’s no reason to think that the overall excellence we’ve seen so far this season won’t prevail. We're cheering the racing, not waiting for the other shoe to drop. That's the way it should always be.