Just in time for Sunday’s 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500, a new book will be released the same day that chronicles the contentious split between Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) and the upstart Indy Racing League (IRL) in 1996.
Indy Split written by veteran motorsports writer John Oreovicz, chronicles what the book’s subtitle so eloquently describes: “The Big Money Battle That Nearly Destroyed Indy Racing.”
An Indianapolis native who lives just three blocks from Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Oreovicz grew up on Indy car racing starting in the 1970s. “I had a front-row seat to everything that went on,” Oreovicz said.
As he moved into the professional ranks as a sports writer in the 1980s, focusing primarily on Indy car racing, and on into the 1990s as the build-up to the eventual split evolved, Oreovicz watched as IMS president/CEO Tony George wanted to take open-wheel racing in a completely different direction than what CART officials, team owners and drivers envisioned.
George sought to turn CART into a series that focused primarily on American-born drivers rather than foreign drivers that had flocked to CART starting in the early 1980s, leading to several non-American series champions. George also wanted CART to step back from its significant inclusion of road/street courses and instead race almost exclusively on oval tracks such as IMS, the most famous race track in the world and host of the world’s biggest race, the Indianapolis 500.
The more George persisted, the more CART officials pushed back, ultimately leading to his ouster from CART’s board of directors and, in turn, leading to George founding the IRL, essentially taking his ball (the Indy 500) and going home with it, leaving CART on the outside looking in for several years.
Indy Split not only chronicles the divorce between CART and the IRL, it also references back to an earlier split in 1979 that saw CART form and break away from the United States Auto Club. While writing Indy Split, Oreovicz spoke with several of the big names involved on either side of the CART-IRL dispute. And those who refused to discuss it, more than two decades later, shows hard feelings still linger. As such, Oreovicz then utilized his massive personal historical database of stories he and others wrote over the years for background and recollection.
“My growing interest in Indy car racing in the late 1970s coincided with the original USAC vs. CART split,” Oreovicz said. “I was just a kid but I studied the roots of the conflict and I was fascinated by the politics, the personalities and the posturing as I was by the cars and the competition.
“The 1996 IRL-CART split was a civil war and an ugly divorce, all wrapped into one. 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 winner in the Indy car split.
“I started writing this book in 2017, but I’ve been doing the research for most of my life. 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.”
If you’re a fan of IndyCar racing, and particularly if you’re a long-time student of the sport, this book is something you owe yourself to read.
Indy Split will be officially released Sunday to coincide with the 105thRunning of the Indianapolis 500.
To hear more about the book, check out: Jerry Bonkowski’s podcast interview with John Oreovicz
Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski
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