By Joe Buckles
TERRE HAUTE — When the 2008 U.S. Auto Club Silver Crown season got underway at Phoenix back in February, it did so under the watchful eye of champ car purist.
Following two years of turmoil in the champ car ranks, open wheel faithful were looking for a return to normalcy for the big cars.
With a host of changes in management at USAC, and the controversial new generation cars temporary sidelined for refining, the fans had every reason to believe that champ car racing would return to its more traditional ways.
Although the series has returned its old pavement machines to the asphalt, the ramifications of two years of bickering and desertions still can be felt for USAC’s premier series.
When USAC ushered in the new generation car back in 2006 it was met with unfavorable reviews by the fans and car owners alike.
Many felt USAC was catering to a handful of NASCAR track operators and car owners who were going to use the big cars as a developmental program for potential Nextel Cup drivers.
Many veteran Silver Crown Car owners were so disenchanted with the new cars that they boycotted the series and helped form the Premier Racing Association circuit.
With USAC and the PRA going their separate ways both suffered with poor attendance and continued discord within the big car ranks.
At the end of the 2007 campaign USAC brass grudgingly shelved the new car and the PRA silently closed shop.
In a strange twist of events, the two men who formed the PRA — Jason Smith and Jason McCord — returned to USAC to help revive the fractured champ car series.
Their efforts seem to indicate that the wounds are healing and the circuit is slowing returning to its former ways.
McCord spoke of the ongoing efforts of reunification within champ car racing during the recent SUMAR Classic at the Action Track.
“Its not where it was, but its headed in the right direction,” offered the optimistic McCord, who now serves as Division Coordinator for the Silver Crown series.
He doesn’t second guess his efforts in forming the PRA or trying to keep the pavement cars as they were.
“We saw something that we didn’t want to see go away. The tradition of silver crown racing. The way it ended up we (Smith and himself) ended up back in USAC and the cars ended up back. In some aspects the world is right again,” McCord said.
“The Silver Crown car is back as we knew it and that it is how it will remain. We know its going to take awhile to build back car counts up on the pavement. I think 2009 is looking real good both schedule and car count car-wise,” added McCord.
As Director of Communications for USAC, Dick Jordan had the task of seeing his organization through a difficult period of negative publicity regarding the new generation car. He too feels the division is returning to its former self.
“In a lot of ways its been a rebuilding year. A year of transition. Rightfully we’ve had our challenges what with the economy the way it is and we have several car owners in limbo right now,” said Jordan.
“The car counts are not up to past numbers but the racing has been good every track we’ve been at. Work is underway to refine the next generation car which hopefully will come back maybe in 2010 in a series of its own.”
As one of Silver Crown’s most prolific winners and biggest names, Dave Darland has watched with more than casual interest the developments over the past two years. He ran both circuits and appears happy the wars are over.
He doesn’t fault USAC for their attempts to upgrade the Silver Crown circuit but says the timing and the new cars just wasn’t a good fit for all involved.
“They (USAC) were running on bad hours, bad days in front of weak crowds. It might have been in front of NASCAR teams, but there were no fans. It just wasn’t going to work the way it was headed. I don’t blame them for making changes. It just wasn’t the right answer.” he said.
The recent SUMAR Classic victor says it may take awhile to get car counts back to what they were prior to the split.
“It’s not going to happen over night,” warned Darland. “The teams are split up. It might take two to five years to assemble the teams. As long as it stays in the direction its going now we’ll be all right,” said the 1997 Silver Crown champion.
• Indy drivers coming to THAT — When the UMP modified contingent invades the Terre Haute Action Track on Sept. 12, they will have some high profile company.
DHK Promotion officials are currently working on a program that will bring a host of Indy Race League drivers to compete in a special match race the night of the modified card.
Chris Novotney passed along a tentative lineup of champ car drivers that include the likes of Buddy Rice, Sarah Fisher, A.J. Foyt Jr., Arie Luyendyk Jr. Tomas Scheckter, Davey Hamilton, Scott Goodyear, Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Ed Carpenter, Tony George, Jay Howard and Ryan Briscoe.
If there were any questions that the event might lack name recognition the addition of the Indy car contingent should ease those concerns.
Joe Buckles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org