Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog

May 13, 2014

Month of May Musings from IMS, $9.00 Tenderloins and All

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 11:27 am

As a racing fan who spends the majority of May in Speedway, Indiana watching preparations for the greatest race in the world my observations are filled with mixed emotions. It is very easy to admire the out-of-box thinking of the current leadership. In some plate appearances they have hit home runs and in others have struck out.

Perhaps if I were a barely literate child who refused to budge from the last century and were stupid enough to delude myself into believing the only reason the sport changed is because Tony George offended the delicate sensibilities of a small group of arrogant mutineers it would be easy to criticize without the benefit of intelligence. Fortunately you are reading a blog borne of a lifetime of passion for that race and the sport that has provided a colorful cast of characters for decades, not to mention recognition that the world has evolved in fundamental ways.

US 500 likeThe absolute creepiest part of IndyCar direction these days remains the latest headlong plunge into non-oval racing. The business guy who runs the entire ladder is doing a great job building the ladder cohesively, but is on record as not favoring oval racing as are most of those running the IndyCar show. Most IndyCar competitors these days are mined from road racing series. In many cases the first time many of these people experience ovals are the first time they strap in at Indy. That, to me, is a problem. The current venue imbalance level in IndyCar is about 70/30 weighted toward non-ovals. Historically that is a prescription for failure and is a niche from which meaningful growth is just not possible. That is why the best possible expectation for one at Indy is about 40,000 people, even in May.

Still it is difficult to criticize the attempt. The goal of IndyCar was to get a crowd into the joint for opening weekend. They did that. Everyone to whom I talked had a great time. Having the non-oval event on Saturday and the opening day on Sunday was very smart. There was a nagging feeling all day that IMS was attempting to transform a barn dance into something far more Elizabethan and remained creepy. I might have offered free admission on Sunday with a Saturday race ticket, but that would have required common sense.

Evidently the spirits of the place had to send reminders, and the amateurish standing start combined with foolish restarts and uninspired, slow racing demonstrated that. Despite questionable artistry most went home happy. It was a magnificent attempt at changing the status quo.

The road course event is not the big problem for IndyCar racing. The most serious threat to long term success became more focused on Sunday. When the track opened for Indy 500 practice Helio Castroneves took a ceremonial lap then parked. Then we waited a long time for practice to actually begin. Nostalgia was remembering what used to be a rush to hit the track and the prestige that went along with it. Dick Simon came to mind. Most folks who crave interesting stories are generally disappointed when the entire field is pre-ordained and not everyone gets to play.

The century-old facility continues showing its age, amplified by the recent lack of prideful maintenance that once was hallmark. A stroll through the garages these days can get depressing. The rows of garages resemble the mouth of a meth addict. Several random teeth are missing and there exists a hollow, vacant look despite normal hectic May activity.

RIPCorporate innovation is not the same as individual innovation. It is more than a little ironic that the legendary A.J. Watson passed yesterday. How are fans really supposed to be inspired by a field full of Dallaras, the number of which is determined by either Honda or Chevrolet, who also essentially call the shots on when and how many laps folks can run (unless you drive for Penske, Ganassi or Andretti)?

The IMS experience has always been about more than folks giving it everything they have on the track. Inside the grand old facility there remains more rust, deterioration and neglect than is possible to repair. Painting cinderblock on concession stands is nice, but the visceral experience of taking in the place is suffering. The once magnificent oval turn one now looks like a battered wife.

PerfectionNowhere is IMS more out of touch with the regional population (the folks who buy most of the tickets) than the new Alley concession area behind the Pagoda. Does a tenderloin sandwich, a Hoosier food staple, really need to cost $9.00 and contain pepperjack cheese, bacon, special sauce, pink onion chips and wafer thin jalapeno slices? The one I tried was lukewarm, too thick, had a semi-stale bun and contained a rigid slice of cheese right out of the fridge. My friend Glenn found a curly black hair on his. Here is some free advice from the DCG (Disciple Consulting Group): Pound them flat, marinate them in buttermilk, bread them with Panko, fry them up right and serve with three basic condiments: Onions, pickles and mustard. Five or six bucks is about right. If folks are going to overspend on a gourmet tenderloin (oxymoron) should they also not have a comfortable place to eat them? Why did all the umbrellas disappear from picnic tables on the Pagoda concrete? They provide shade and rain protection, and if they contain sponsor logos could probably be had for free. If you want to ensure customer comfort try to make them comfortable.

Further, if you want to build up the month of May why not build a smaller oval on the north end using the existing oval turns 3 and 4 and north chute, then add two flat turns south, a teardrop shaped oval with elevation changes along the golf course portion? Then have the ladders run the small oval? Why not ensure May consistently contains at least 50 entities trying for 33 slots with less micromanaged specs? There is nothing exciting or inspiring about Honda or Firestone technicians walking around with laptops helping micromanage the competition.

Apologies if portions of this come off as overtly negative. May remains the high point of the year for actual IndyCar fans, and I am having fun on site every day the place is open. See you there!

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18 Comments »

  1. Defender, you hit on a number of key issues. I attended the race Saturday. Several reasons. I wanted to be at the first Indy race on the road course. My expectations about the racing were low but it was an excuse to get to the track. It was interesting to see the cars driving and pitting in the opposite direction.

    Also, it is now the only major Indy race where you don’t have to make an additional payment to park in the infield.

    Whatever happens, its clear that standing starts are too dangerous. The drivers heads are exposed and we were very lucky that no one was seriously injured. Leave that to formula one.

    I sat down by turn one. I was shocked at the rust on the Stand H section down there. Those seats are in terrible shape. I too noted the $9.00 Tenderloin and Hamburger. Too rich for my taste. That was of course if you could find vendors open. In the whole area around Turn 1 (4 on the oval) all the way to the gift shop in the middle of the main straight there was only one section of food vendors open. You basically had to go to the area behind the paddock to get anything. There were track fries but the only condiment available was ketchup. The peppers and other condiments that make the food even better were nowhere to be seen, at least in my area.

    The lack of experience these drivers have on ovals is likely the real reason ovals are disappearing. Didn’t the 500 used to have minimum experience requirements before you could race there? That needs to come back for the entire league. Of course, many of the European drivers come with their sponsorship and that drives that. Kyle Larson going to Nascar still outrages me. If they were serious…..

    It was a pretty nice crowd at the track. However it was a new and a first. My guess is this is the best attendance they are ever going to get for this.

    Of course if they really wanted to fix the month of May we all know what it would take. Real bumping on bump day. The opportunity for a new track record. More innovation. A true run for the pole and not gimmicks. In other words, what made the Indy experience in the first place.

    Comment by Bob F. — May 13, 2014 @ 1:01 pm | Reply

  2. So the place is falling apart, ovals are disappearring, the prices suck, food is bad and the standng starts are foolish and somebody atole all the umbrellas. Got it. And you still attend? Somebody’s in complete denial.
    Editor’s Note: Actually, I’m just behaving like an actual racing fan and not a two-year-old.

    Comment by Youowemeabeerasshole — May 13, 2014 @ 1:21 pm | Reply

  3. I don’t really care for road racing, but I am an IndyCar fan, so I was planted in front of my TV to watch the race Saturday. I thought the race was OK , however, that first lap kerfuffel gave me a flashback to the 1996 US 500.

    Comment by Chris Lukens — May 13, 2014 @ 4:48 pm | Reply

  4. IMS has been slowly deteriorating for well over two decades, not just the last few years. Anyone who purchases concessions or visits the bathroom can clearly see that the decay isfar from a re ent phenomenon.

    Comment by Bob Chinn — May 13, 2014 @ 11:19 pm | Reply

  5. (Another off topic recycled Tony Tourette meandering bit of nonsense mercifully relocated to comment section of 12/19/13 blog)

    Comment by Racingdentist — May 14, 2014 @ 5:39 am | Reply

  6. (Off topic commentary relocated to comment section of 12/19/13 blog)

    Comment by Youowemeabeerasshole — May 14, 2014 @ 12:28 pm | Reply

  7. (Off topic commentary relocated to comment section of 12/19/13)

    Comment by Goron Liddy — May 14, 2014 @ 5:46 pm | Reply

  8. (Off topic commentary relocated to comment section of 12/19/13 blog)

    Comment by Youowemeabeerasshole — May 15, 2014 @ 7:42 pm | Reply

  9. (Off topic commentary relocated to 12/19/13 blog comment section)

    Comment by Jim Herdabees — May 18, 2014 @ 2:17 am | Reply

  10. (Off topic commentary relocated to 12/19/13 blog comment section)

    Comment by Youowemeabeerasshole — May 18, 2014 @ 7:45 pm | Reply

  11. As long as IndyCar keeps putting non-oval races on the schedule, I’ll know when I can take a nap.

    Comment by spreadoption — May 18, 2014 @ 9:53 pm | Reply

  12. (Off topic commentary relocated to comment section of 12/19/13 blog)

    Comment by Youowemeabeerasshole — May 19, 2014 @ 1:08 am | Reply

  13. (Off topic commentary relocated to comment section of 12/19/13 blog)

    Comment by Youowemeabeerasshole — May 21, 2014 @ 10:57 pm | Reply

  14. The Indy 500 is a dinosaur. IMS is a dinosaur. Even when “super-speedway” racing was “in,” MIS was a superior track, and the racing there was better than at Indy. Furthermore, oval racing is more greatly perceived as dying because it was never as popular as TG, the IRL, and IRL fans imagined it was.
    Editor’s Note: The ‘dinosaur’ still manages to draw hundreds of thousands of actual fans every May and gets good ratings despite societal evolution away from automobiles and the racing of them, so it will probably hang on until all of us are dead and decomposed. Back in the 50s and 60s IndyCar was considered mainstream and was extremely popular. But even in that heydey it played second fiddle to major stick and ball sports. It has never been that popular since. Not in the IRL days and not during the cart occupation. Glad it’s still around, though. I still really enjoy watching it despite the real and perceived warts.

    Comment by gemini bowie — June 9, 2014 @ 3:58 pm | Reply

  15. [CART] occupation?
    Editor’s Note: Correct. The evolutionary period of time from 1979 through 1995.

    Comment by gemini bowie — June 9, 2014 @ 5:48 pm | Reply

    • Oh, that period time when CART teams and drivers dominated the Indy 500 – understood. I thought you meant that CART itself somehow took control.
      Editor’s Note: cart occupied the sport from 1979 through 1995, much like USAC, AAA, etc., dominated before that, and how the IRL dominated after. Evolution over time with opportunities sometimes created by circumstance; e.g., a plane crash.

      Comment by gemini bowie — June 9, 2014 @ 6:15 pm | Reply

      • “[CART] occupation” relates a negative connotation as compared to “the IRL days.” And the plane crash was as much a coincidence as it was a “circumstance” that created an opportunity. Arguably, there was a “circumstance” that ever allowed “how the IRL dominated (not occupy) after.”
        Editor’s Note: Some are more sensitive to and about selected evolutionary periods than others.

        The Indy 500 relies on its reputation and tradition to maintain its deteriorating position. It’s a combination of several factors – including, but not limited to NASCAR, the “split,” and that Indy simply isn’t what it used to be because its allure was increases in speed and technology – allure that can be graphed on an imaginary curve of diminishing returns. That allure simply isn’t there as it was before. But, yes I still watch it. And yes, as a one-time experience, it’s worth attending in person. To think that the Indy 500 is the be-all and end-all of motor sports is simply romanticizing the past – regardless if fan or driver – except that the driver still gets his big payday for winning. As Bob F. wrote in comment #1 – ” In other words, what made the Indy experience in the first place” is simply gone, mostly through nobody’s fault.
        Editor’s Note: So far the Indianapolis 500 seems to be plodding along as nicely as ever. Every May hundreds of thousands show up, 33 drivers battle and the television ratings are high water marks for the series. Its ‘deterioration’ will be long term; if it is to fail it will be long after we’re all dead. I remember hearing a lot of the same rhetoric when the rear engine revolution began over fifty years ago. It had a close call after WWII, but it bounced back. To me and many others it actually is the be all and end all of motor sports. The pinnacle. I understand others may have a different opinion and that is perfectly fine. Without it there would have been no NASCAR as we know it, or probably most other forms of the sport in North America. The evolution that affects the 500 has affected everything else as well. The frequency at which small race tracks shutter is at an all time high. NASCAR no longer comes close to selling out their races. Empty seats are visible at all F-1 races, and COTA seems desperate to sell their three day tickets in the US. It deserves and demands respect, particularly from those charged with operating it these days, which was the original topic.

        Comment by gemini bowie — June 9, 2014 @ 7:31 pm

  16. “Some are more sensitive to and about selected evolutionary periods than others.” Some are and some aren’t. And some are simply more observant about word choice and the possible intent of the connotation.
    Editor’s Note: Despite how I might personally feel about occupants of a specific evolutionary period it never prevented me from attending and enjoying IndyCar races in multiple locations through all of those years.

    As for the original topic, you framed it thus: “Perhaps if I were a barely literate child who refused to budge from the last century and were stupid enough to delude myself into believing the only reason the sport changed is because Tony George offended the delicate sensibilities of a small group of arrogant mutineers it would be easy to criticize without the benefit of intelligence. Fortunately you are reading a blog borne of a lifetime of passion for that race and the sport that has provided a colorful cast of characters for decades, not to mention recognition that the world has evolved in fundamental ways. The absolute creepiest part of IndyCar direction these days remains the latest headlong plunge into non-oval racing.” – so it seemed that it was a little more than about respecting the Indy 500. Possibly you’re wearing your heart on your sleeve more than you realize. Thanks. P.S. “creepiest?”
    Editor’s Note: I usually wear my heart on my sleeve and make no apologies. And I remain bright enough to use history as a guide. Whenever any group has attempted big time non-oval racing (an oxymoron) at any point in motorsports history in the United States the ultimate result has been failure 100% of the time. The only reason cart made it is long as it did was because of its attachment to Indy. When they chose to sever that (the single most critical mistake ever made in the history of the sport) they sealed their own doom. Fortunately for them after they actually failed twice the lifeline was having what few of their assets remained in 2008 purchased in a fire sale by IMS. Now they are essentially running the show and several of them openly advocate further oval racing reduction. In other words, no one has learned from history and the only thing that really keeps the sport afloat is Indy. So is it smarter to keep fighting the philosophical battle or simply try to make Indianapolis and 500 stronger than ever to minimize damage the sport is inflicting on itself outside Indy? Tough question. Predictably the brass is taking the least advisable approach.

    Comment by gemini bowie — June 9, 2014 @ 8:40 pm | Reply


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