New book chronicles the internal drama leading to the civil war that rocked IndyCar

Indy Split IndyCar drama
Octane Press
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After exhaustively cataloging decades of political infighting and intrigue that threatened the foundations of IndyCar and the Indy 500, author John Oreovicz arrived at an impasse.

It wasn’t unlike the same crossroads that sits at the center of “Indy Split,” his new book that chronicles the dramatic and compelling forces that ripped apart major-league open-wheel racing in a schism that pitted the Indy Racing League against the Championship Auto Racing Teams series.

“I had it almost done and I’m thinking, ‘Well, how the hell am I going to end this thing?’ and then Roger Penske gave it an ending,” Oreovicz told NBCSports.com in a recent interview. “And I think he gave IndyCar racing a new beginning.”

With the NTT IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on an upswing in their second year of ownership by Penske (the motorsports icon who purchased both in November 2019), the timing is felicitous for the release earlier this month of “Indy Split” (which is available now for purchase and shipping through Octane Press).

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MONTH OF MAY SCHEDULEWhen cars are on track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the inaugural IRL season and the infamous May 26, 1996 doubleheader of the Indy 500 and the U.S. 500 (the counterprogrammed CART race at Michigan International Speedway that endured the embarrassment of an aborted start because of a massive crash).

Over the course of charting the 74-year trajectory of Indianapolis Motor Speedway under family control (after Tony Hulman purchased the then-dilapidated track in 1945), Oreovicz highlights the underlying divisions and viewpoints that led to the divorce.


Having worked for nearly 30 years as a reporter and in media relations, the author relied on his own archives of primary source material but also conducted a few dozen interviews. “Indy Split” also includes the first-person perspectives of several principal characters on both sides of the story (some of whom crossed over), including Chip Ganassi, Mario Andretti, Dario Franchitti and former CART president Andrew Craig (longtime motorsports journalist Robin Miller wrote the book’s foreword).

Ganassi, who was the first of the CART team owners to return to the Indy 500 (winning in  2000 with Juan Pablo Montoya), memorably describes The Split in this passage: “Everybody knew that if we weren’t careful, we would be two factions who were like two bald men arguing over a comb. I don’t care what sport it is, you see the kind of damage these rifts cause. It took baseball ten years before they recovered from the 1994 strike. No sport can withstand a split, a strike, a work stoppage—whatever you want to call it. IndyCar racing was a Harvard Business Review case study of how to watch ice cream melt on your plate.”

Though the book is called “Indy Split” for the civil war between CART (and later Champ Car) vs. the IRL that lasted from 1996-2008, Oreovicz identifies that there actually were three key fissures in IndyCar history– and the first was what originally helped turn him into a fan.

After a family move to Indiana in the mid-1970s, Oreovicz became a 9-year-old subscriber to Road & Track, where he first read about the 1975 Indy 500. He was at IMS for the 1977 Bump Day when Janet Guthrie qualified for her first Indy 500.

Oreovicz became an annual infield regular at the Brickyard (which he attended on his own for the first time in 1983 after winning a pair of tickets as a JCPenney salesman).

“You drive down in the afternoon day before the race, pack your cooler, get your fried chicken and party all night long,” he said. “It was a rite of passage for college students, teenagers and high school students in Indianapolis and the Midwest in the ‘80s.”

But beyond the partying, he also became fascinated by the politics – particularly after the formation of CART in 1979.

“It wasn’t just the cars, drivers and personalities,” Oreovicz said. “There was a conflict that drew me in as a teenager. I was a fan throughout the ‘80s and covered it professionally since 1993. ‘The Split’ never went away. The ’79 Split never got resolved. It fired back up in 1996, and I had a front row seat to be part of it from then on.”


Oreovicz, who used an IMS media center internship in 1993 as the springboard to a sportswriting career that featured his work in several outlets (National Speed Sport News, Racer and ESPN.com), believes his book’s topic is the most important IndyCar story of the last 50 years.

“You can say A.J. (Foyt), Rick (Mears) and Big Al (Unser) won four Indy 500s, and Scott Dixon has won six championships,” he said. “But the key theme or storyline of the last 50 years has been this conflict and the inability of everybody to work together for the good of the sport. For me, it’s been such a huge part of my life, but for so many people, you see how big the Indy 500 is around the world, and you see the passion The Split brought on because people love the Indy 500 and IndyCar racing, but there are a lot of different visions for what IndyCar racing should be.

“Everyone wants to see the sport succeed, but it didn’t for a long time, which allowed NASCAR to pull ahead in the overall scheme of things in American motorsport. It’s an important topic. I looked at it as a great responsibility to try to cover it and do it in a fair way. It’s a lot like politics in there are two parties or philosophies. I know the way I covered it and viewpoint isn’t going to resonate with everybody, but I hope it comes off as a comprehensive and fair look at it all.”

Being objective is tricky in documenting a conflict that burns with the passionate viewpoints of hardliners on both sides. Oreovicz worked in 1997-98 for PacWest, a CART team, and expects some might accuse him of “being a CART guy. Well, no, I didn’t love CART.

“What I love is what CART the organization did to IndyCar racing,” he said. “Taking it from the late ‘70s where it was this backwater series with 10 oval races a year that nobody went to, that wasn’t on TV. And within 15 years, they turned it into a world-class series. It was almost as big as NASCAR in the USA. It was getting Formula One’s attention on the world stage.

“It became this fantastic amalgamation of American racing and international racing. It just hit a perfect note. And so what I loved about the CART series is having a different vision for IndyCar racing, and (IRL founder) Tony George’s vision was lower costs, oval tracks and American drivers with a sprint car background. … Ultimately, the 1996 Split came back to the fact that Tony George didn’t respect what CART did for IndyCar racing and the Indy 500. The CART owners did not respect Tony because he was the young punk kid coming in, and they took the Indy 500 for granted. It was this lack of respect from both sides that ended up in this standoff that lasted for 13 years.”

For those who want to label him as a CART apologist, Oreovicz (who resides in Indianapolis near the track) says “fair enough; I can live with that” as long as they respect his primary concern has been the health of IndyCar since its 2008 reunification.

“That’s an important point that IndyCar racing has trended positively over the last 10 years,” he said. “People think I’m an IndyCar hater, but this has been my mantra: Look, it’s growing. I’m not an IndyCar hater. I’m an IndyCar lover. I want the sport to grow. I want to see it succeed.”

Tom Blomqvist keeps eye on IndyCar during impressive rise: ‘ I would love to give it a go’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In between two of his latest superstar-driver-in-waiting performances, Tom Blomqvist walked through the Daytona International Speedway garage in anonymity.

“Nobody knows who the (expletive) I am,” he said to a team member with a laugh (and without a trace of being miffed), evincing the cheeky humor of someone born in England, raised in New Zealand and also of Swedish descent.

The lack of recognition in the garage might have been because he was clad in a relatively nondescript shirt, hat and sunglasses instead of a colorful firesuit covered by sponsor logos. But he also was on the way to a Friday race eve media availability where his entrance was greeted by only one reporter (after a few minutes).

During a news conference a day earlier, he sat patiently on the dais while his Indy 500-winning teammates and car owner fielded nearly all the questions – even though Blomqvist had turned maybe the most impressive lap of the month to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position in the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category.

The Meyer Shank Racing driver still might lack the attention commensurate with his already world-class CV (which expanded Sunday with his second consecutive Rolex 24  victory for MSR), but Blomqvist, 29, clearly isn’t bothered by it.

He carries the quiet confidence of knowing his immense talent will ensure results that will make him impossible to ignore.

“To a degree, I guess, it’s definitely ramped up a lot for me,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports. “In America, I’m starting to get a lot more (attention). In the last year, I’ve quite often got a lot of maybe what you’d call the glory moments. It’s been fun. And within the paddock, there’s a lot of respect for me anyway. It’s been good.”

There have been several moments of acclaim since he joined MSR barely a year ago in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. In his first start for the team at last year’s Rolex 24, Blomqvist turned in a Herculean performance to position the No. 60 Acura for the victory (giving way to Helio Castroneves because he was too “cooked” to complete the last 74 minutes).

He was even better this year at Daytona.

He ripped off a monster “one and done” pole-winning lap to beat the clock in qualifying on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. During the race, Blomqvist was as dominant in his first stint as his last in the ARX-06 while taking the checkered flag. He set the mark for the fastest time on Lap 6 that no one topped over the final 755 laps.

The 10 fastest laps in the race belonged to Blomqvist, carrying over his speed from the 2022 when he won the Petit Le Mans season finale to clinch the premier prototype championship at Michelin Road Atlanta.

A year earlier at the same track, he had burst onto the radar of car owner Mike Shank, who was intrigued by Blomqvist’s results as a BMW factory driver in the Formula E and DTM series. In 2014, Blomqvist also finished between second in F3, between champion Esteban Ocon (now with Alpine’s F1 team) and Max Verstappen (who has won the past two Formula One championships).

“He did a lot of high-level stuff, and then kind of fell out of favor, or I don’t know what happened, but he was a free agent,” Shank said. “I started looking at his numbers, and I’m like, ‘We should test this guy. So I take him to Road Atlanta in the fall of ’21, and he got in the car and just slayed it.”

Within minutes, he had called co-owner Jim Meyer.

“I’ve got our guy,” Shank said. “This is our guy. There’s no question about it.

Honda Performance Development president David Salters hugs Tom Blomqvist after the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

“Now what’s happened, though, and I think if you look back at the Rolex here last year (and) what he did, he’s a gold nugget. He reminds me a little bit when (Robert) Wickens came into IndyCar out of DTM (as a rookie in 2018).

“He truly believes he’s the fastest guy out there, and he proved it (at the Rolex 24).”

Said David Salters, president for Honda Performance Development: “We love Tom. He’s the real deal, isn’t he? Immensely talented, super smart, and on it.

The great thing about our teams, the strength in depth is tremendous. But if you look through the sports car racing now, that’s the standard you have to have. Tom, brilliant, Filipe (Albuquerque), brilliant. Ricky (Taylor). You can go through that list. They’re all superstars. Tom is awesome. His lap in qualifying quite frankly was unbelievable.”


Having conquered one of the world’s greatest endurance races twice with Acura, Blomqvist could be ticketed for the world’s biggest race next – the Indy 500 — with HPD’s primary brand.

He tested a Dallara-Honda for MSR last October at Sebring International Raceway, and while he plans to focus solely on IMSA this season, he remains very intrigued by IndyCar.

And with Castroneves, 47, beginning a one-year deal with MSR’s IndyCar team, there could be an obvious opening in 2024.

“Obviously, it’s not in the cards this year,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports the day before the Rolex. “Yeah, I would love to give it a go. To be honest, I think that would be an amazing step for me in my career. I enjoy the sports car stuff so much. It’s been really good to me lately. I really enjoyed the style of racing.

“But I feel like IndyCar would be a step up for me and my career. It would be fantastic if I could get that opportunity. But yeah, I guess I have to keep pushing Mike or something to give me a shot. But obviously for now, the focus is here in the sports car stuff. It’s not really down to me at the end of the day. And I’ve got to do my job and then the people who pay the bills and make the decisions obviously have to decide if that’s something worth pursuing.

“But yeah, I’d love to give it a go, and I definitely would be up for it.”

Tom Blomqvist after winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole on the final qualifying lap (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

A transition from IMSA to IndyCar naturally would be easier than switching teams, but it also would be comfortable because Blomqvist already seems such a good fit at MSR.

It might have seemed an unusual pairing given his European-heavy background, but Blomqvist likes the Midwestern culture that’s been built at MSR. Based just outside Columbus, Ohio, the team’s shop has “no egos, and that just enables each and every one of to reach our potential.

“Obviously, with Honda, we obviously have some great resources, but we’re up against Porsche, BMW and some big heavy hitters in the motorsports world,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve got a huge team compared to them, but we’ve obviously got a very capable team, and I think that’s what has been so impressive and really, really nice to see about the work that’s been done. No stone has been left unturned.”


Blomqvist still is living in Europe and planning to commute for the nine-race GTP schedule (which has a nearly two-month break after the Rolex 24 until the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring). But though he’s “got good friends in America, so I do have places to stay,” he seems open to being based more permanently near MSR in America.

“Let’s see what the future brings, and if that means me spending more time over here,” he said. “It’s a fantastic team. It’s a different environment to what I’m used to. It’s obviously now a hugely successful team, but it is a small team. It does feel like a very small family-operated team, which it is.

“I think Mike’s really just built this thing. It hasn’t happened overnight. Mike’s a great guy and put a lot of trust and faith in me, and I played a relatively good part in some of the success last year. I was able to reward him and give him my all every time I’m on track, and he respects that. But we are still a small team. In the grand scheme of things, we still are a really, really small team.”

Blomqvist said the BMW factory program would have two or three times the staffing of MSR – just on one of its two GTP cars.

“But it’s not the number of people that makes a difference, it’s the quality of people, and obviously Mike and HPD are a fantastic operation to go racing,” Blomqvist said. “We’re racers at heart.

“I’ve been part of some big outfits, and the European way of working is very, very different to how people go about racing in America. I’d say it’s more seat of your pants. A lot of emotion and kind of rides on that competitive spirt, competitive nature and on their personalities. It’s a lot more pure. It feels very pure. You want to win, so we go out and don’t cut corners on trying to win.”

Though it’s aligned with Liberty Media and has big-budget backing and support from Honda Performance Development, MSR also is much less corporate than most GTP teams.

A longtime and respected team owner who has built a sponsor portfolio, Shank also describes his maniacal dedication to success as “messed up,” and he’s known for dropping vulgarities into postrace interview with his blunt and self-deprecating sense of humor.

Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Mike Shank congratulates Tom Blomqvist on the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

With a more laid-back but sometimes just as biting demeanor, Blomqvist has become the team’s unquestioned leader behind the wheel

“I definitely feel a lot more immersed,” he said. “Within the team, I was a bit more of an unknown quantity the start of last year. Obviously after last season, the team trusts me a lot. And that gives me a lot of pleasure, pride and confidence. In this sport, confidence is a huge aspect of drivers’ psychology in a way. We’re in extremely high-pressure moments where my job is to perform under the pressure of these organizations and the brand as well.

“It’s just a good, healthy team to be a part of. It’s a high-pressure environment, but the team obviously have put a lot of faith in me, and I’ve been able to deliver for them on occasions.”

Rolex 24 starting lineup
Tom Blomqvist celebrates after winning the pole in the No. 60 Acura ARX-06 (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).