MILWAUKEE -- It's always easier to spend someone else's money.
Take two examples from the past week.
1. An accident at Richmond International Raceway sends four-time champion Jeff Gordon slamming into a wall on the infield side of the racetrack, concrete not protected by the SAFER barrier system. The impact hurts. A lot. And the admonitions rain down: It's ridiculous a car can still hit an uncovered wall in a NASCAR event. There should be soft walls everywhere .
2. IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard reveals that team owners are all but unanimous in wanting to hold off on the planned introduction of distinctive "aero kits." A new car will launch next year and the kits were to have arrived midseason. It would be an outrage, say pundits and fans and drivers, for IndyCar to continue as a racing series that looks like an Avis fleet numbered and painted in various shades of yellow, red, black, white and green.
The complaints are completely justified and in a perfect world neither issue would even come up for discussion.
The energy-absorbing steel-and-foam wall system saves lives and health insurance claims. IndyCar fans long to see some imagination and life breathed into their series cars, even if Watson roadsters, Dan Gurney's Eagles, the STP Turbine and the Novi and Offy engines have long been relegated to museums.
But here's the thing. If there were a map to the perfect world, what's the chance the road would pass the intersection of 16th St. and Georgetown Road in Indianapolis.
As imperfect as the 2011 real racing world is, it's not a terrible place, given all the factors. The sport is safer and more diverse than ever and has relatively good competition and entertainment value.
Our world just doesn't have enough tubular steel to cover every wall in racing, the system's lead designer told ESPN.com. And even if it did, at $500 a linear foot, the best use of resources continues to be installation of SAFER where it is needed most.
No one wants to put a price on a life, but do the math. To outfit Daytona or Pocono from scratch would cost more than $13 million, and 4-mile Road America would be nearly double that.
So blame the tracks for being cheap, if you like. But they're businesses. As such they have to make money, and when expenses rocket up, they must find ways to replace it. (See where you, the fans, come in? Not good.) If a track can't make money, then it goes out of business. (Even worse.)
As for the aero kits, they're only $75,000 apiece.
But owners will be buying all-new cars from Dallara, two per driver, plus wings, spare parts and the original kits. They've already agreed to pay more for tires to keep Firestone involved rather than risk one more variable in a time of significant technical change. If the option exists to add a new kit from a third party -- Chevrolet or Lotus, for example -- that'd cost another $150K per driver, plus more spares and crash replacements.
All of this is like taking a trip to the grocery store for charcoal and coming home with a gas grill and propane.
Well, you say, this is the owners' problem. IndyCar isn't CART. Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi and Michael Andretti are simply constituents of the series, not the people who control it.
True. But in case the economic model for team ownership turns any further upside down, there doesn't seem to be a line of eager folks with wide eyes and open wallets long enough to justify a solid, high-level series. So then what do you have?
Listen. We all have things we desire. We see things that could be better. But sometimes the decisions we have to make aren't as easy as they seem.