Money talks at Indy 500

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:37 PM ET

TORONTO -- For all the flash and dash that big time auto racing brings to the world of professional sporting events, there is that dark underbelly that too often appears to ruin good news.

The good news story of the past week, of course, was that Canada’s Alex Tagliani pulled off an upset for the ages by putting the underfunded No. 77 Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara Honda on the pole for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.

Tagliani and his crew managed the feat against teams like Penske Racing, Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport — teams with race budgets that dwarf the competition.

And when those kinds of teams fail to even qualify as Andretti’s Mike Conway and Ryan Hunter-Reay did, they just open their cheque books and buy their way into the world’s most famous oval race.

Michael Andretti did just that on Monday, making a deal with A.J. Foyt to put Hunter-Reay into the car that Bruno Junqueira had legitimately qualified for the 500 on Pole Day.

Andretti’s rationale was that Hunter-Reay had huge sponsorship dollars in his back pocket with the giant international courier firm DHL and poor Junqueira was at Indy on his own dime.

Foyt tried to make the whole thing sound almost noble.

“We’ve (the Andretti’s and Foyt’s) been competitors for many years but still it’s the kind of relationship when someone is really down and out, you can’t turn your back on them — at least I can’t,” Foyt said. “This is going back to the way racing used to be, where if people were in a lot of trouble, you tried to help each other out. I know it’s a tough deal for Bruno but he understood the situation. I appreciate that more than anyone knows.”

Foyt even trotted out a prepared statement from Junqueira that appeared to support his boss’ decision.

“I always respected A.J. before, but after working with him, I respect him even more,” the statement read. “He has a lot of knowledge and I learned a lot from him. I had a great time working with him and Vitor, and I hope my work helped them this month. I also hope the team has a great race.”

Junqueira, in fact was seething at being booted from the race for the second time in the past three Indys — ironically the last time it happened was to get Tagliani into the race in 2009.

In an interview with RACER magazine Junqueira said: “I am disappointed, but I’m most sad of all that the rules allow this to happen. It’s strange and sad.”

There are plenty of voices out there, however, who see nothing wrong with what transpired between Andretti and Foyt and indeed put forth the argument that it is as much a part of IndyCar racing as are the tires on the car.

But that is exactly the kind reasoning that has led to IndyCar racing sucking NASCAR’s exhaust fumes for the past two decades.

IndyCar racing, as a result, is seen by too many fans as not a real sporting contest.

That is the side of motorsports that leaves a bad taste in many a fan’s mouth.

FINISH LINES

The ink was hardly dry on his deal with A.J. Foyt before Michael Andretti fired respected team manager Tom Anderson. Andretti blamed Anderson, who joined the team in the winter of 2009 after 40 years of racing including stints at Fernandez Racing and Ganassi Racing, for the team’s poor performance throughout the month of May and leading to Mike Conway and Ryan Hunter-Reay missing the cut on Bump Day. ... Quebec’s Andrew Ranger’s debut in the ARCA Racing Series was a successful one, winning the ModSpace 150 at New Jersey Motorsports Park on Sunday in the No. 53 Waste Management/RRT Dodge. ... Richard Petty, the winningest driver in NASCAR history, will make his first media appearance in Canada in 20 years next Tuesday when he’ll be in Toronto to announce a deal to bring the Richard Petty Driving Experience to Sunset Speedway, near Barrie, Ont. ... Kimi Raikkonen was behind the wheel of Robby Gordon’s No. 07 NASCAR Sprint Cup Dodge Tuesday doing a day of testing at Virginia International Raceway’s road course — increasing speculation he’ll race in stock car’s top series at either Infineon or Watkins Glen this season.

dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca


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