No Asterisk Required

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I read a social media post this week where some claim that if much more is trimmed off of the NTT IndyCar Series season for 2020, that the championship should have an asterisk by it. I know that this is a word that is often mispronounced (astrix and astersk come to mind), but even the spellings in this post were way off. I know I’m guilty of some occasional typos or misspellings, but when the main word is essential to the message of your post is misspelled – it sort of undermines the credibility of what you are saying.

However they spell it or pronounce it, I don’t buy their argument. In my opinion, the 2020 IndyCar champion should have no asterisk by their name. Period.

Whenever the IndyCar season starts, whether it is June 6 at Texas, two weeks later at Road America or perhaps not until the Indianapolis 500 on August 23 – the champion will be a true champion because he ran in as many races as possible against all the other drivers. It is not the fault of any driver that the season has been shortened. All the shortened season does is make each race that much more important, because it creates few opportunities to make up for a bad weekend.

In 1981, Major League Baseball went on strike on June 12. They did not resume play until August 10, one day after the All-Star game. Thirty-eight percent of the major league schedule was lost, but they held a classic World Series in October between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New Your Yankees; with the Dodgers winning four games to two. There was a strange twist to the season – they split the season into two halves, with each divisional winner advancing to the playoffs. There were only two divisions in those days. The Cardinals and Reds both had the best overall records over both halves of the season, yet they both failed to make the playoffs under this one-time format. With all of those oddities, do you think the Dodgers have an asterisk or anything to denote that they won under unusual circumstances? No. They are simply shown as the 1981 World Series Champions.

The following year, the NFL did the same thing. They went on strike after only two games and ended up playing only a nine-game season. Their playoff format was heavily modified, with the Browns making the playoffs with a 4-5 record. The Washington Redskins ended up beating the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII by a score of 27-17, benefiting from an epic performance by running back John Riggins. After losing almost forty-four percent of the season, the record books show no asterisk beside the Redskins name. They were simply the Super Bowl champions of the 1982 season.

From 1911 until 1973, the Indianapolis 500 had been shortened by rain twice. The first was in 1926, when Frank Lockhart was declared the winner after 160 laps had run. In 1950, Johnnie Parsons won a rain-shortened race after 138 laps. Are they considered partial winners? No. After two rain-shortened events in fifty-six races, the seventies produced three rain-shortened races over a four-year stretch.

Gordon Johncock won a tragedy-marred, rain-shortened race that stretched over a few days. Although he personally felt cheated that his win felt cursed, Gordy was still an Indianapolis 500 champion. Fortunately, he won an unforgettable Indianapolis 500 against Rick Mears, nine years later to make him feel validated. Two years after Johncock’s 1973 win, Bobby Unser was flagged as the winner in a total downpour on Lap 174. The following year Johnny Rutherford was finally declared the winner in 1976 after just 102 laps.

Johncock is listed as a two-time winner, while Unser and Rutherford are three-time winners of the Indianapolis 500. Nowhere is there an asterisk or any type of disclaimer to suggest that some of their wins should not count as much because of factors outside of their control.

Bobby Unser’s third Indianapolis 500 win in 1981 was immediately disputed and handed to Mario Andretti the very next day. More than four months later, Unser was reinstated as the winner. Although the whole ordeal disrupted the friendship between the two drivers for about thirty years before they patched things up – the 1981 win is considered a full-fledged win for Unser.

In 2002, there was a huge debate whether Paul Tracy had completed a late-race pass on Helio Castroneves just before the yellow came out. It’s a close call either way, when you look at it, but Castroneves was eventually declared the winner. I’m not here to tell you who was right and who was wrong, but it was Helio who had his face placed on the Borg-Warner trophy for the second year in a row. Just as in the previous year when Helio won, there is no asterisk or inscription to indicate that his win came under question that day. That win counts as much toward his total of three Indianapolis 500 wins as any of the other two.

And if you are talking about if a shorter racing season counts as a championship – you need not look any further than the NTT IndyCar Series. The inaugural season for the Indy Racing League was in 1996 and was comprised of only three races – Walt Disney World, Phoenix and the Indianapolis 500. The 1997 season was supposed to commence with the True Value 200 in August of 1996 and was originally supposed to end at the 1997 Indianapolis 500. Whoever thought that was a good idea was sadly mistaken, and cooler heads intervened over the winter. They decided that the 1997 season would include the races after the 1996 Indianapolis 500, but would conclude with the final race in the calendar year of 1997.

They apparently had no tie-breakers in place because that inaugural three race season ended up with two co-champions, Buzz Calkins and Scott Sharp. Calkins won only one race in his entire IndyCar career – the series opener at Walt Disney World Speedway. Yet it was enough to give him the right to say he is an IndyCar Series champion, with no strings or asterisk attached. In my mind, if any race or season deserved any type of an asterisk, the inaugural three-race IRL season of 1996 is the one to deserve it. But the record books don’t show that and Buzz Calkins is a legitimate IndyCar champion.

None of us know what the coming weeks and months hold for us. I tend to think that the Texas race is looking a little iffy at the moment. I’m also growing a little uneasy about the race we plan to attend later in June at Road America. They may be whittled off of the schedule just like Barber, Long Beach, COTA and Belle Isle; or they could be re-scheduled onto the back end of the schedule in October or November.

Now, if a single wheel does not turn in 2020, then an asterisk will be appropriate for the season and the Indianapolis 500 – just like the war years of 1917-18 and 1942-45. But whether we get one, three, eight or all fourteen races currently on the schedule – whoever has the most points at the end of the shortened schedule is the legitimate champion, with no asterisks, qualifiers or disclaimers over to the side of their name for the remainder of time. History has proven that historians will always recognize them as a series champion. We should too.

George Phillips

10 Responses to “No Asterisk Required”

  1. No more than Buzz Calkins, Scott Sharp or Tony Stewart’s would have. If you win the title within the rules everyone else follows, at that point, you are the champion, no asterisk. Now if Scott Dixon wins it and gets extra races or something, lol, that’s a different story.

    I saw someone on Reddit saying that if NASCAR cancels the rest of the season, Harvick being champion would be legitimate since he is leading the points right now. Now, keep in mind, Joey Logano has won half of the 4 races this year, but no, everyone hates him so he would not be legit as a champion.

    You know what they say opinions are like I guess…

  2. I heard a fan at Milwaukee one year say none of Dario’s 500 wins were legitimate because they all ended under yellow and one was even rain shortened. I don’t buy that at all.

  3. I’m predicting the entire year of 2020 gets an ass-Terick….

  4. I don’t think its necessary because all are playing to the same rules anyway. Just fewer races. Now if they divided the season like baseball did in 1981 and winners were decided for each half, leaving out the overall winner, that would deserve an asterisk. I have my Cincinnati Reds Mug to this day that reads “1981 Best Record In Baseball.” If ever there should be an asterisk, it is for that abomination in 1981 where baseball changed the rules mid-season.

  5. James Ollinger Says:

    I live in L.A., where the Dodgers won the 1981 World Series. While there is no asterisk that I’ve seen in the books, I often see the phrase “strike-shortened season” qualifier added when talking about it.

  6. billytheskink Says:

    There are Indycar champions who should have an asterisk placed next to their name, those who were retroactively declared AAA national champions (from 1902-1904, 1906-1915, and 1917-1919) by Harsnape & Means in 1927 and by Russ Catlin in the early 1950s. Since the 2011 Indycar record book at least, I believe the series does recognize the retroactively declared national champions from 1909 on as such but also does include asterisks after their names in its record book noting that they were declared retroactively.

    The 1920 season has long had an asterisk as well, though champion Gaston Chevrolet was most certainly considered the champion immediately after the season was run according to newspaper reports of the day. AAA expanded the 1920 championship season from 5 to 11 races in its 1927 revisions, and maintained that Tommy Milton was the season champion from 1927 until they stopped sanctioning racing in 1955. While we do not know for sure if any driver thought they were running for points in 5 of the 6 races AAA later considered part of the 1920 championship (probably not), we do know that 1 of the races at Uniontown, NY was declared to be a non-championship race just prior to being contested because the Uniontown track had failed to pay AAA the necessary sanctioning fee of $100 per mile (or $22,500, as the race was 225 miles). The top drivers (Milton, Chevrolet, Jimmy Murphy) contested it anyway, though the whole entry list whittled down to 12 cars, only 8 of which started.

  7. The asterisk used to be used to omit letters, and there’s at least one place where that practice survives: asterisks can replace letters in swear words….d*** it.

  8. discodavid26 Says:

    you have actually hit on the few rules that f1 haves in the books that make sense i.e 1. a shorten race either due to weather or a red flag is still a full points race if is its more then 75% distance. and if its less but more then 3 laps its half points all round (only change i personally would make is quarter points all round for 3 laps up to 25% distance) and
    2. a championship needs a minimum of 8 races to count as an official season
    now in both cases these rules do let the drivers “keep “all the glory of winning alive as much as fairly possible but also at the same time it is having a tapered points cut off in individual races and a hard minimum for a full championship

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