An Unofficial History of the CART/IRL Split
Since the mid 90's, Indy-Champ car racing has attracted a lot of attention on the issue of a philosophical and business split between two sides... those on the side of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and those on the side of the CART/CCWS series. The following is intended to be a timeline of significant events related to the split between CART and Indy. I'm humbly NOT claiming to be an expert historian: just consider this page as a general guide. I've tried to list each event without bias or opinion toward either side. Over the years I've attended USAC, CART, and IRL races at Trenton, Pocono, Meadowlands, Dover, and Nazareth.
Pre-WWII: The Indianapolis 500 is the biggest race in America and as part of the National Championship is sanctioned by the American Automobile Association (AAA).
1944: The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) which specializes in sports car road racing is formed in Boston.
Nov 1945: Indiana businessman Tony Hulman purchases the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) and revives The 500 which had ceased during the war.
1948: The National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) which specializes in stock car racing is formed in Daytona Beach.
June 1955: An accident kills 80 spectators at LeMans. As a result, the AAA soon after announces that it will no longer sanction auto races after 1955. In September, Tony Hulman helps form the United States Auto Club (USAC) to fill the void.
1956: First year of the USAC sanctioned National Championship.
Late 50's-early 60's: The USAC "Championship Trail" consists of front-engined Champ/Big cars, Sprint cars, and Midgets racing on paved and dirt oval tracks throughout the country. The participants of the 500 are made up largely of drivers from this series.
March 1965: Season-opener at Phoenix is the last win by a front-engined Roadster on pavement. From now all Championship races on paved tracks are won by rear-engined cars.
May 1965: First win for a rear engine car at the 500 by Scotland's Jim Clark in a Lotus.
Late 60's: Championship races at paved tracks with rear-engined cars start to become much more popular than the dirt track Champ races.
1971: USAC splits the National Championship Trail which had been a combination of paved and dirt tracks, into separate Paved speedway (Gold crown) and Dirt (Silver crown) Championships.
Early 70's: SCCA F5000 becomes moderately successful as a formula car road racing series. Many Indy and F1 regulars participate in the series.
1974: USAC bans rear-engined sprint cars which remain front-engined to this day.
1974-75: USAC enters into co-sanctioning the F5000 series with the SCCA, but pull out after two years.
Mid 70's: Champ car owners become increasingly dissatisfied with USAC's series management.
1976: F5000, in decline, drops open wheel configuration and becomes "new-era" Can-Am with full-bodied chassis. (The original Can-Am had ceased in 1974)
Oct 1977: Tony Hulman RIP.
Early 1978: Dan Gurney writes a white paper proposal for a new organization uniting the car owners into a single entity. He suggests calling it "Championship Auto Racing Teams" or "CART". The Long Beach Grand Prix (founded by promoter Chris Pook) is mentioned in the document.
April 1978: Plane crash kills 8 top USAC officials returning from Trenton.
Nov 1978: Several team owners submit a proposal to USAC for a new 12-person board (6 reps from USAC and 6 from the teams) to govern Champ car racing. USAC rejects it. Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) is formed by Roger Penske, Pat Patrick, and other team owners in response.
Mar 1979: CART, sanctioned by the SCCA, holds first race at Phoenix.
April 1979: CART teams submit entries to the 500 and IMS rejects them. CART takes them to court, and the judge orders IMS to accept the entries. The next year, IMS makes it clear that the 500 is by invitation only.
Nov 1979: After aquiring series sponsor PPG, the CART series is renamed "PPG Indy Car World Series". This is the first time the cars are officially called "Indy cars" instead of "Champ cars".
1979-1981: Tracks in the series quickly switch allegiance from USAC to CART.
April 1980: USAC and CART's brief compromise: the Championship Racing League (CRL) is formed with the intention of combining the series and running it jointly.
July 1980: IMS expresses dissatisfaction with the CRL and announces they may accept bids from other sanctioning bodies for the '81 500. USAC promptly pulls out of the CRL. Penske and Patrick, who had been given seats on the USAC board, are voted off. They re-focus their efforts on CART.
Aug 1981: Pocono is the last holdout for USAC Champ/Indy cars outside of IMS. CART teams do not participate in the race, and so Silver Crown (dirt) cars are used to flesh out the field. Pocono switches to CART the next year, and the 500 becomes the only USAC sanctioned Champ/Indy car race.
Mid 1980's: CART grows while absorbing teams from now-defunct Can-Am and begins adding a substantial number of road and street races to the schedule.
Late 80's: CART's slower growth compared to NASCAR's, as well as increasing non-American drivers and cars starts to draw criticism.
Jan 1990: Tony George, age 30, grandson of Tony Hulman becomes president of IMS
Nov 1991: George proposes to the CART board a new structure for Indy car racing to be called Indy Car Inc. It entails replacing the existing board of 24 car owners with a 5 person commission whose members are selected by IMS, with Leo Mehl serving as commissioner. CART rejects it.
Feb 1992: CART licenses the name "IndyCar" from IMS, while Tony George incorporates "Indy Car Inc".
Mid 1992: Tony George offered a voting seat on the CART board. He refuses it on his assertion that only one vote is not representative of what he feels the 500 is worth to the overall series. He accepts a non-voting seat.
May 1993: Emerson Fittipaldi refuses traditional milk drink after winning the 500 and substitutes orange juice, drawing much criticism.
Late 1993: George increasingly states concerns over the lack of promoters and track owners voice in IndyCar (CART) decisions, and that the 500 is becoming less significant in the IndyCar (CART) series. Meanwhile, former Indiana sprint-car ace Jeff Gordon becomes NASCAR rookie of the year.
Jan 1994: Englishman Andrew Craig (with sports marketing background) is placed as IndyCar (CART) President with intentions to expand the series beyond it's traditional base. George immediately resigns IndyCar (CART) board seat in protest.
Mar 1994: George announces early plans for what will be the Indy Racing League (IRL) publicly stating that Indy car racing should "be more like NASCAR". (ESPN's Speedweek)
Aug 1994: Inaugural Brickyard 400 with NASCAR is the first major non-Indy car race held at IMS. Jeff Gordon wins.
Dec 1994: After previously announcing a 2.2L turbo engine spec, IRL announces a set of chassis specs with critical differences from IndyCar (CART) specs. CART teams protest.
July 1995: IRL announces 25/8 rule: 25 spots in the 500 are essentially reserved for IRL regulars. Tony George would later explain his reasons in a letter to the StarNews.
Sept 1995: Due to the 25/8 rule and considering the IRL as a competing series, most IndyCar (CART) teams refuse to participate in the IRL and annouce the US500 protest race to take place at Michigan opposite the 1996 Indy 500. The race will include a $1 million prize and a new version of the Vanderbilt Cup.
Jan 1996: IRL, sanctioned by USAC, holds first race in Orlando, Fla.
May 26, 1996: Indy 500 and U.S. 500
Aug 1996: Though using existing turbo Indy cars for it's first season, IRL unveils the first-generation cars to be used starting with the 1997 season, using a 4.0L naturally aspirated engine and a chassis with several dimensions different from CART specs. IRL and CART's cars are now incompatible and cannot reasonably be used in either series.
Dec 1996: In a trademark dispute, CART agrees to drop the "IndyCar" mark after IMS sues. As part of the agreement, IMS cannot use "IndyCar" for 6 years until 12/31/02.
July 1997: IRL drops USAC sanctioning after timing/scoring errors occur during Texas Speedway race. Talks are held later in the year to align USAC with NASCAR but it doesn't happen.
Oct 1997: Former USAC sprint-car champion Tony Stewart becomes IRL champion.
Dec 1997: FedEx replaces PPG as CART's main sponsor, and the series is renamed the "FedEx Championship Series". The cars are officially renamed as "Champ cars" which they were originally called in the 70's when CART was formed.
Mar 1998: CART becomes a publicly-traded stock company on the NYSE with an IPO.
Oct-Nov 1998: CART engine manufacturers submit a proposal to IMS for a common engine spec to help bridge the 2 series. One month later IMS announces an already-planned revised IRL engine spec for it's second-generation cars, but does not allow sealed/leased engines, which the CART manufacturers insist upon.
Dec 1998: IMS announces USGP F1 race to be held at the Speedway in 2000.
Late 90's: Attendance at IRL and CART oval races start to significantly decline as CART road-race attendance grows.
June 1999: IMS is very close to taking the Indy 500 to the FOX network, when new ABC sports president Howard Katz signs a last-minute TV deal with them.
Summer 1999: Various parties to CART and IMS hold talks over several months to try to reach an agreement for a unified series. In Sept, Tony George decides to keep the IRL independant.
Late 1999: Former Indiana sprint-car ace (and former IRL champion) Tony Stewart becomes NASCAR rookie of the year.
May 2000: Target Chip Ganassi is the first and only major CART team to field an entry in the 500 in 5 years. Driver Juan Montoya wins.
Oct 2000: CART now awards the Vanderbilt Cup as the trophy for the series Championship instead of just for the US500. Gil DeFerran (driving for Penske) is the 2000 winner.
Nov 2000: Joe Heitzler (with TV sports background) becomes new CART president. Bobby Rahal had been interim president after Andrew Craig had resigned several months prior.
May 2001: More CART regulars participate in the Indy 500 and take the top 6 finishing spots, including the win by Penske driver Helio Castroneves.
Summer 2001: CART executes a number of major missteps including cancelled races and officiating errors. Soonafter, Toyota and Honda announce they will leave the series. Ford will be their only engine manufacturer backing.
Nov-Dec 2001: Roger Penske, CART co-founder, and owner of the reigning 2001 champion team, leaves CART for the IRL. LBGP founder Chris Pook becomes president of CART after Joe Heitzler is removed after only one year.
Feb 2002: CART announces specs for 2003. Chassis tub specs and a similar NA 3.5L engine will be generally compliant with those used in the IRL. Soonafter, the IRL enacts exclusivity agreements with their chassis suppliers. CART later reverts to their old chassis specs to be used with the 3.5L engine. In June, CART drops the plans for the 3.5L engine and announces it will continue with the 2.65L turbo.
May 2002: Honda announces that it will compete in the IRL in 2003, and host an IRL race at Motegi in Japan. Toyota and Honda have both left CART and joined the IRL. Nissan announces it will withdraw from the IRL after 2002.
Summer-Fall 2002: Oval races for both IRL and CART are lagging in attendance, though CART's road/street attendance remains stronger. CART starts dropping ovals from it's schedule plans. Increasing numbers of CART teams announce they will run cars, either exclusively or concurrently, in the IRL. Incentives from Toyota and Honda are a big motivator.
Jan 2003: IRL changes the name of it's top series to "IndyCar" after the 6 year waiting period ends. Days later, CART changes the name of it's top series to "Champ Car World Series" to emphasize the term "Champ Car"
May 2003: The number of entrants for Indy drops to the point where there are just enough participants to make a traditional 33-car field. "Bubble Day" becomes "Fill Day".
Dec 2003: After exhausting it's IPO cash reserves to maintain the 2003 season, CART declares bankruptcy.
Jan 2004: A group of team owners buy the remainder of CART's assets and take the once-public company private. They will continue the series under the name of "Champ Car World Series".
Fall 2005: Chevrolet and Toyota announce they will no longer participate in the IRL, leaving only Honda. Now both series have respectively one engine manufacturer.
Spring 2006: CCWS announce a new chassis, the DP01. For the first time it will use a single-supplier spec chassis, intending to cut costs and improve the overall competition with favorable aerodynamics.
August 2006: CCWS runs it's last oval race, at the Milwaukee Mile. It is now an all road/street series. Meanwhile, the IRL is examining and adding additional road/street races, some of which were previously CART events.
Summer 2007: CCWS runs increasingly more foreign races, while IRL runs more road/street circuits.
Fall 2007: IRL's current Indy/series champion Dario Franchitti and multiple Indy/series champion Sam Hornish both switch to NASCAR. Other former Indy winners in NASCAR include Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Montoya.
Feb 22, 2008: IRL and CCWS complete a merger agreement.
Thanks to CAR & DRIVER for the mention in the Mar 2004 issue