Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog

August 20, 2013

IndyCar: Put Your Money Where Your Mouths Are With Regard to BALANCE

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 6:09 pm

BalanceFor years the leadership of the IndyCar Series, in whatever form it has taken, has been virtually unanimous in proclaiming what the series should be the very best at doing: The fastest drivers racing on the widest, most balanced variety of circuits. That is a worthwhile goal both in terms of marketing, prestige and competition. The problem is getting leadership to put their money where their mouths are. One of the chronic problems with leadership in open wheel for at least the past thirty years is the propensity for meaningless but over-hyped hot air that spouts from their flapping gums whenever they are open.

A class difference that has existed in IndyCar pre-dates even ‘the split.’ We have all heard the stereotypes. You might be an all American oval fan who roots for domestic short trackers. Variations of the theme include a desire for engines in the front and the inclusion of at least one dirt oval. Or you might be a nose-up-in-the-air road racing fan who believes racing against a clock is more important than mixing it up on the track. The stereotypes are almost always unnecessary and the vast majority of folks are somewhere in the middle. Most racing fans like it all although many have a preference of one type of venue over another.

That is why striving for a viable balance is such a noble goal. The problem is execution, and that is being bungled badly. Let us take a look at IndyCar schedule balance over the past ten years:

Balance Boys2003: 0% non-oval

2004: 0% non-oval

2005: 18% non-oval

2006: 21% non-oval

2007: 30% non-oval

2008: 43% non-oval

2New Formula Guy009: 42% non-oval

2010: 53% non-oval

2011: 61% non-oval

2012: 67% non-oval

2013: 70% non-oval

ChampCar cancelled their 2008 schedule and went out of business. IndyCar picked up Long Beach and whatever assets were left. Over the same ten year period let us take a look at their schedule balance:

2003: 85% non-oval

2004: 85% non-oval

2005: 85% non-oval

2006: 93% non-oval

2007: 100% non-oval

2008: Supposed to have been 100% non-oval; out of business.

In the United States statistics conclusively show a direct correlation between the percentage of road racing the chance of failure. Not one big time road racing series has ever been successful long term in the USA. Most recently ChampCar (and CART before it) went out of business. ALMS, loved by purists, allowed itself to be absorbed into the NASCAR umbrella primarily because it was not successful commercially. Many IndyCar critics are obsessed with Nielsen 12+ overnight television estimates. They inevitably cite percentage drops from prior years. Is the increasing imbalance of the IndyCar schedule toward non-ovals and really low ratings merely a coincidence?

Derrick Walker is now in charge of competition at IndyCar. He is also on record as wanting what he refers to as ‘balance.’ The problem with Walker’s idea of balance is that he says that means 33.3% oval, 33.3% temporary circuit and 33.3% natural terrain road course. 67% non-oval is pretty distant from balanced and is pretty much what we have now, not to mention the lowest television ratings in history. Mr. Walker’s notion of ‘balance’ is an exceedingly bad idea.

Dan Anderson is now in charge of all rungs on the IndyCar ladder, and he is also on record as in favor of eliminating all but a handful of ovals for all series on the ladder citing driver preference and experience. Again, really bad idea.

Embrace the balance concept for what it is. A viable chance to position drivers as the very best on multiple types of circuits. The prototype driver would be a Ryan Hunter-Reay, who is someone who is fearless and wins on any type of circuit. A full field of that is what is really necessary, and preferably someone relatable who comes up through the ladder system and not randomly plucked from some obscure formula series in Europe. We can incorporate various other arguments into the conversations; e.g., technical innovation or lack thereof, etc., but history has conclusively shown that when venue balance gets too far skewed toward road racing failure will result. There are very good reasons why NASCAR’s Cup schedule, which runs 36 times during the year, only has two road races on it.

Mark Miles needs to listen to ALL sides, examine history and make a TRULY balanced schedule work. From all indications 2014 remains up around the 70% non-oval mark, and a road course race at IMS will probably kick off the month of May. Hopefully the sport will survive to see 2015.

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7 Comments »

  1. Dear Defender,

    Are you not paying attention or just being obstinate with respect to the loss of ovals on the schedule?

    Nobody shows up and promoters lose their shirts because: a) the series demands an exorbitant sanctioning fee, b) the series has no clue on how to properly market and promote its own product across all media lines (whether print, billboards, TV, radio, Internet, social media, etc.) and c) casual fans have no interest in open wheel racing in this country and the curious few who may have been drawn to the action, sights and sounds were alienated by ten + years of bringing hammers to work, etc. and they ain’t coming back anytime soon,

    I attended Pocono this year and now I have attended all of the current ovals consisting of Milwaukee, Texas, IMS and California either this season or in the last few years (save Iowa since I don’t harvest corn and can’t afford a flight into Des Moines) with no prospect of getting back, in the near future, to: Michigan, Phoenix, Loudon, Richmond, Nashville, Kentucky, Chicagoland, my home track at Homestead-Miami or any of the ovals the series ran even just a few years ago…I won’t even mention the old IRL venues like Disney World, Atlanta, Charlotte, Dover which belong to the scrap heap…or even Rockingham, the one NASCAR track we may have a chance at running.

    We can bitch and cry all day about the loss of the ovals but loss of interest across all age and demographic groups, no viable means to ensure that a promoter can recoup an investment and the lure of easy money from temporary street circuits, like Baltimore, Houston, and proposed events in Fort Lauderdale and Providence make ovals an endangered species in this series and I would not be surprised of this broke ass series dropped all ovals, short of Iowa and IMS, in the next two or three years….I am just glad that there will be a 2014 schedule and that the series will answer the bell for another season….
    Editor’s Note: You and I both understand that it can’t be ‘business as usual’ at ovals. They need to be more creative in their deployment and learn how to promote. This is an absolute necessity. If they do not do that and go whole hog on non-ovals, they will cease to exist. History has proven over and over that this will happen.

    Comment by Neil Rubin — August 20, 2013 @ 6:51 pm | Reply

    • “the lure of easy money from temporary street circuits”. This is the key. They want the easy money and for now can get it from the municipalities. For now. But you are wrong that people don’t like the ovals. Attendance at road courses are no better but you don’t have the sight of unfilled seats. And does the attendance at street courses matter? Not really when they get so much up front money from the municipality.

      Defender is right. Nascar has the right idea. While Indycar is on the road to F1 Lite, it will continue to decline in popularity for the reasons Defender mentioned. A new league may be in the offing, hopefully with a more astute businessman than Tony George. Tony had the right ideas, but not the ability to make them come to fruition.

      Comment by Bob F. — August 21, 2013 @ 1:25 pm | Reply

      • Dear Bob F.: Comparing NASCAR and its fiscal health and popularity to that of the Indy Car series is like comparing McDonald’s to your local independently owned burger joint, NASCAR is flush with cash, even if attendance is down because its fan base has been hit hard by the economic downturn, because of a) its lucrative TV contracts and b) sponsorship support where main sponsors like Lowe’s, Bud, etc. pay upwards of $20M to sponsor a car…you could probably run the whole damn series for $20M and do away with the outrageous sanctioning fee that Indy Car demands from its promoters.

        If Indy Car had F1’s popularity, you could demand exorbitant sanctioning fees but Indy Car needs to get real and lower or do away with the sanctioning fees, if you coupled this concept with a real marketing and promotion package that utilized NASCAR’s excellent marketing plan, where the public actually sees and gets to know the drivers through commercials, TV appearances and the like, then perhaps we can save this series…otherwise, I see terrible trouble on the horizon…and if TG returns and forms another ‘series’ where in the world will he come up with the $$$ now that his family has cut off the family funds? That sounds like wishful thinking….and I hope that TG stays far away from American Open Wheel after all of the damage and ill will he has caused since the early 90’s. Only if TG would have stopped the rhetoric and invited the top CART Teams back to Indy ‘for the good of the sport’, we may have avoided the harsh feelings and the downward spiral which Indy Car has been on for decades….
        Editor’s Note: He did. Several times and in several ways. What cart did in reply is what people with sense refer to as a ‘boycott.’ You Tony haters need to get over it. He’s not around any more. The boogie man is dead. Why are you worried about twenty years ago anyway? The only thing that history shows is the closer to all road racing you get the bigger the chance of failure.

        Comment by Neil Rubin — August 21, 2013 @ 2:52 pm

  2. While I agree to your thoughts in principle, I do feel that Mr Walker has been selected for one reason. That reason is to simply execute a already determined plan. The stage has been set, the props are already picked out & the players will continue to act the already choreographed play that has been given to them. Expecting this to change is like watching paint dry. Slow and non eventful. One must consider that until all contracts currently running are fulfilled, the play remains the same. 2019 is supposedly the end date for such obligations. At that time we shall see if anything really changes. I highly doubt that anything between now and then will change the path on which it goes. So my advice, pull up a chair, pour yourself a drink, sit comfortably and watch a train wreck begin to take shape. I doubt after this season if any more “fans” will be attending or watching this. Most true Indy Car fans left, and they won’t be coming back until 2019……if they come back at all!

    Comment by oldwrench — August 21, 2013 @ 1:57 am | Reply

  3. If the economics don’t do it, I think the race at Vegas and Weldon’s untimely death might have signaled the end of open-wheel oval racing. It seems drivers are less enthused about ovals. The speeds really can’t climb all that much more without risk. They can’t bounce around like rubberized Nascar cars. Indycar is seemingly too poor to work with tracks to promote ovals. There just doesn’t seem to be that many people demanding more oval races. This isn’t exactly my hope, but it’s just the way it seems. Will the series with the most famous oval in the world be left ultimately with only that oval on the schedule? Sure seems that way.

    Comment by redcar — August 21, 2013 @ 4:22 am | Reply

    • I thnk a lot of people are demanding oval races. They are not being listened too. The drivers are a problem. Most of the non-americans have no real experience on ovals. Naturally thay would be less than enthused. Maybe a reason for Indycar to go back to having minimum qualifications, with participation in feeder series until they are up to speed on their weakness (ovals or road courses). That is part of what is driving this, along with easy municipal funds.

      Comment by Bob F. — August 21, 2013 @ 1:28 pm | Reply

      • Dear Bob F.: You forgot to consider that the cost conscious owners prefer road/street since the damage caused by accidents at lower speeds cost less to fix…trashing a car into a high banked wall on an oval costs more to repair and all but the top teams are living on life support and can’t afford to pay their drivers, much less repair trashed cars torn up on ovals….why do our best drivers move onto to NASCAR and its various series instead of driving at Indy? It’s the lure of real money that Indy Car simply cannot offer, why else would some of our brightest open wheel stars of the last decade toil in non-competitive NASCAR rides when they could have dominated Indy Car and brought glory back to our zenophobic fan base? That’s the same reason we have a bunch of no-name Europeans, South Americans, Australians and Asians running in Indy Car which frustrates our ability to grow the fan base.
        Editor’s Note: Ah yes…the old ‘crash damage’ excuse. It’s not really valid.

        Comment by Neil Rubin — August 21, 2013 @ 2:57 pm


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