A long-time battle between racing organizations could have destroyed Indy Car Racing. It’s unlikely anyone has as much intimate knowledge of the chaos, anger, resentment and money-grab than John Oreovicz.
With the Indianapolis 500 on the not-too-distant horizon, Oreovicz, author of the new book Indy Split, is our guest on this episode of The Weekly Driver Podcast.
Co-host Bruce Aldrich and I discuss with Oreovicz the money battle between the competing organizations and the men who sought to control the sport.
A long-time motorsports reporter, Oreovicz began attending the Indianapolis 500 as a teenager in the late ‘70s. It allowed him to witness the sport’s growth as an avid fan before documenting its decline as a journalist.
“My growing interest in Indy car racing in the late 1970s coincided with the original USAC vs. CART split,” said Oreovicz. “I was just a kid, but I studied the roots of the conflict. I was as fascinated by the politics, the personalities and the posturing as I was by the cars and the competition.”
The book traces the roots of Indy car racing’s dysfunction, which began in 1945 when Tony Hulman rescued the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from its potential redevelopment.
Over the next 75 years, the Hulman-George family used the stature of the Speedway to carve out a powerful position in American auto racing that sometimes resulted in conflict with Indy car competitors. A volatile period in the late 1970s sparked the formation of Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), and tensions ramped up even more when Hulman’s grandson, Tony George, assumed power in 1990.
Indy Car Racing: Civil War, Ugly Racing
According to his bio, Oreovicz has loved cars since he was a child. He turned that passion into a career as a professional sportswriter specializing in auto racing. He covered Indy car racing in print and online for 30 years for major media outlets, including National Speed Sport News, Racer, and ESPN.
Oreovicz currently resides a short walk from Turn 1 of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“The 1996 IRL-CART split was a civil war and an ugly divorce, all wrapped into one,” he said. “No matter how it started or who was responsible for prolonging it, the split took a toll on anyone who cared about Indy car racing Friendships were strained. Historic venues and events were lost, key sponsors and manufacturers departed. NASCAR was the only real winner in the Indy car split.”
Indy Split includes a foreword by Motorsport Hall of Fame inductee Robin Miller, arguably Indy car racing’s most vocal advocate.
“I started writing this book in 2017,” said Oreovicz. “But I’ve been doing the research for most of my life. Over the last 45 years, it was my privilege to attend or cover nearly 500 Indy car races. I wanted to tell this important story in an accurate, entertaining, and hopefully, reasonably objective way.”
“As I followed the sport as a fan through the ‘80s, it was clear the CART-USAC conflict was not totally resolved. The Indy 500 was sustained by CART’s growth, yet a crucial part of CART’s success was the inclusion of the Indy 500 in its championship. There was an uneasy coexistence, but still a lot of hard feelings on the USAC side that occasionally flared up during the month of May at IMS.”
Indy Split “The Big Money Battle that Nearly Destroyed Indy Racing,” ($35), will be published by Octane Press on Sunday, May 30. (https://octanepress.com)
Please join Bruce and me in our engaging discussion with the enthusiastic author.
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Article Last Updated: April 26, 2021.
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A sports, travel and business journalist for more than 45 years, James has written the new car review column The Weekly Driver since 2004.
In addition to this site, James writes a Sunday automotive column for The San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a monthly auto review column for Gulfshore Business, a magazine in Southwest Florida.
An author and contributor to many newspapers, magazines and online publications, James has co-hosted The Weekly Driver Podcast since 2017.