Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog

November 13, 2016

Donald Trump and the Indianapolis 500

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 2:18 am

President Elect Donald Trump, and by a decisive margin.  Those words boggle the mind.  It was a little different just five years ago.

The sport of IndyCar has suffered through varying degrees of outright civil war since 1979.  The heart of that conflict, like most politics, has to do with money, control and direction.  At times, through most of the 1980s for example,  it has been passive.  At others it has escalated to hostile and aggressive such as from the mid-1990s through nearly the present.  The sport is enjoying a resurgence of sorts these days largely due to more focused, consistent management.

In 2011 IndyCar had not yet reached its current level of harmony, but the Indianapolis 500 that year was the 100th anniversary of the very first running in 1911.  It was a very big, dare I say HUGE, deal and the culmination of a three year ‘centennial era’ celebration.  It was also the year the Indianapolis Motor Speedway tapped Donald J. Trump to drive the pace car to start the race.

Photo Credit:  New York Times

Photo Credit: New York Times

Considering the state of Indiana is among the most neon crimson of red states and an ongoing civil war still fractured IndyCar, what happened in the weeks leading up to that race seems incredible today.  The selection of Trump unified everyone on all sides and from all political persuasions in a resounding chorus of HELL NO.  Criticism of Trump as pace car driver was swift, loud and unrelenting.  Fans thought the pick was disgusting and showed a complete lack of respect for the 500, its tradition and the century that led up to that race.

Eventually Trump was quietly replaced with a more fitting selection most everyone also agreed was the correct choice.  A.J. Foyt on the 50th anniversary of the first of his four wins was the right call.  Trump, in a manner of speaking, was fired.

Anyone who was ready to put two years of vulgar campaign vitriol behind them on November 9 may be in for a rude surprise if social media is a current indicator.  Insults, whacko conspiracy theories, and hostility from the right and left wings as fervent as ever continues to pollute society.  America does not stand a chance of being great in such a poisoned well.

IndyCar, on the other hand, has entered a new area of smooth sailing.  Given current weariness from election fatigue it may be way too long a winter for racing fans.  When Spring arrives IndyCar is poised to be great again!


September 27, 2016

Reinventing IndyCar Oval Presentation – Part II

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 1:47 pm

Part One yesterday lamented an apathetic neglect of quality oval venues in IndyCar today.  Even a cursory look at venue balance over time validates the theory.  If we assume really good attendance for an IndyCar oval event outside Indianapolis is 45,000 the question remains how can that be attained and consistently repeated?  Application of a ‘boutique’ approach could be a definitive step in the right direction.

With 45,000 as a goal how would a boutique experience work?

  • Existing big, permanent center main grandstands would remain. Those would immediately become the ‘cheap seats’ with about 20,000 as maximum capacity.
  • Traditional suites with all the benefits (and expense) would also remain or get added to accommodate a minimum of 2,000 people depending on the venue.
  • Enhanced camping experiences could accommodate a few hundred RVs, tents or other camping for additional minimum 2,000 people.
  • Include sponsored picnic and/or party zones to accommodate both families and younger fans. Both concepts work well at IMS.  Keep capacity at around 2,500 for each area.
  • The boutique sweet spot is the addition of either twelve permanent and/or temporary smaller stands with a capacity of no more than 1,400 each. Small sizes could vary depending on location, amenities and pricing opportunities but all would be intimate.

ppirThese would be no ordinary stands.  Each elevated stand would be located high above outside turns.  Depending on location and sun angle as many as possible (preferably all) would be shaded and covered.  Seats would be configured to accommodate the increased girth of fans today with plenty of space and pitch between seats and rows.  The top portion of each would be covered platforms with food, a bar and merchandise.  Space would be large enough to accommodate tables.  Areas underneath stands could also be used as shaded picnic areas with plenty of tables and views of the track and not just the underside of a grandstand.  Each stand would contain their own set of restrooms, and smaller adjacent parking areas would be allocated near each for ticket holders in those stands with in and out access to vehicles.

On race weekends specific drivers and teams would be assigned to each stand to interact with fans.  Sponsor involvement would also be encouraged and facilitated.

Fans that purchase small stand tickets would be easily connected using any device or provider.  High definition audio visual displays would carry not only the action, but technical data as well.

  • Following the lead of drag racing, every ticket sold would include garage area access. Each ticket sold would be good for all three days at one price.
  • It would be mandatory for each ladder series to race. Partnerships with other racing entities, whether USAC, Robby Gordon’s Super Trucks or something else would be encouraged.  The goal would be to have something competitive on the track every hour of each race weekend day.

The real goal is to present an entire weekend of activity for anyone at a reasonable cost.  A component that is necessary but would no doubt be most problematic for IndyCar is the concept of finding a dance partner for race weekends.  This would be a partner with complementary demographics but not necessarily in the racing genre.  Both IndyCar and the dance partner would need to commit to aggressively promoting each other.

Weekends would feature a continuous calendar of events from Friday through Sunday.  No idle time would be planned.

yummyA suggestion made here in the past serves as a good example.  This is not offered as a potential solution.  It is merely an example of thinking in wider terms to create events.  The example is barbecue.  What is more American during summer?  Partner with or organize a competitive barbecue circuit that goes to ovals with IndyCar.  Each competition would have podiums, winners and championships.  Potential sponsor involvement is tantalizing.  Imagine a corporate entity such as, say, Johnsonville sponsoring both at oval events.  How about a national grocer such as Kroger?  A joint commercial partner seems vital.  Imagine a new IndyCar event at the intriguing oval outside Memphis early in May when that city hosts the Indy 500 of barbecue competition.

The more reasons IndyCar gives fans to attend the more people they are likely to draw.  More people attending events increases popularity.  When the circuit(s) are not in their geographic area the more likely they are to watch on television if they have been sold on the experience.

It all, of course, boils down to money.  Who gets what and how much?  Who pays for it?  Typically IndyCar wants it all AND a hefty sanctioning fee.  Broader approaches are needed to increase revenue outside Indy.  I am not sure it would ever happen given the personalities and lawyers involved but if asked someone could certainly craft some really spiffy PowerPoint filled with pretty graphs and short attention span bullet points then dazzle the suits with all the untapped potential.  I would be surprised if some variation of the idea has not already occurred to them.  It just needs to become actionable.

One thing is certain.  Kill ovals and this niche sport will either die or become an even smaller niche.  Given the recent takeover of F-1 by Liberty Media (with aspirations toward definitive expansion in North America) and Apple’s rumored investment in McLaren the time for IndyCar to act is now.

Milwaukee the week after Indy and Pikes Peak any time.

September 26, 2016

Reinventing IndyCar Oval Presentation – Part I

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 4:42 pm

Another exciting IndyCar season has wrapped up with mostly the best drivers and racing anywhere.  Once again buzzword speakers in the fanciest offices at IMS will trumpet steady attendance and minuscule television ratings steadiness as giant steps forward.  Most proclamations about excitement, competitiveness and accessibility ring true.  Every event my party attends leads to satisfaction.

As the series moves forward it is wise for leadership to understand and grasp reality, then use that knowledge to shape the sport for everyone else down the road.  Most sports and entertainment events these days play to large swaths of empty seats.  Television ratings are way down for all but a handful of sports mostly due to a complex fragmentation of product offerings and delivery technology.

The manner in which the oval product of IndyCar is presented today is stale and outdated.  The Indianapolis Motor Speedway invented then evolved event presentation.  As NASCAR ascended they essentially lifted then customized all aspects of IMS event presentation.  They executed it over and over until eventually they were doing so most weekends of the year.  It all seems very dated and tired today even for NASCAR.

Presentation must be reinvented.  IndyCar is in a perfect position to facilitate that.  It is my belief the current mindset of scheduling around television widows to drive up ratings is a dead end.  It is also obvious television partners do not understand or even care that much about the product.  On NBCSN IndyCar is third in the pecking order behind NASCAR and Formula 1.  This is evidenced by a quantified lack of promotion, a merry-go-round of on air presenters and race start times that not only defy objective logic but kill attendance.  Instead of attempting to use tiny increases in ratings to drive attendance why not enhance attendance to build buzz that will ultimately drive higher viewing?

Lack of presentation is most pronounced at oval venues.  The irony is that the fastest, closest and most exciting racing occurs on such tracks.  It does not even matter that IndyCar is occupied by participants married to a non-oval niche that has never enjoyed mainstream popularity in America.  As a matter of fact one of the core strengths of IndyCar is its diverse, multidisciplinary approach to venues.  Watching a race in person at a track like Barber is just as fun as watching at Texas.  The experience and approaches, however, are very different.

Fans who attend non-oval events enjoy discussing the experience, which mostly includes not sitting on large swaths of aluminum.  How would IndyCar go about reinventing oval presentation?  It is relatively simple but requires partners, investment and dedication.  It involves concepts that must be beta tested.

milwaukeeThere are two venues at which such beta testing seems natural.  The first is a venue that is older than even the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  As this windy missive is being composed the management of the track in Milwaukee is entertaining proposals that involve conversion and alternate re-use of that legendary facility.  That is incomprehensible to legacy racing fans.  Milwaukee, even without an IndyCar event, remains one of the highest rated television markets for IndyCar.

The second target is a much newer facility in a geographically desirable area.  The Pikes Peak track outside Fountain, Colorado is also ideal for the concept (provided SAFER gets added).  Its primary problem is a NASCAR-foisted clause that essentially prohibits anything but club racing at the track for present and future owners.  That clause was inserted with anticipation a track for NASCAR could be built near Denver, which is now highly unlikely.  Since IndyCar left PPIR Colorado Springs has become one of the hottest growth markets in the country and Pueblo is not doing badly either.  The region is large enough to support a new event even with no promotion in Denver.  IndyCar fans that live there would make the drive anyway.

ppirWhat do the tracks have in common? Both have removed most ancillary grandstands.  Venues are located in areas that have a potentially high fan base.  While Milwaukee and PPIR have a successful history with IndyCar current expectations today are low to non-existent.  Perfect.

A repetitive, ongoing IndyCar mantra is that ‘…it’s all about the fans.’  It is probably time for money to go where mouths are.

My entire concept of presentation reinvention revolves around something I refer to as a ‘boutique experience.’  Admittedly the word ‘boutique’ may seem weird when discussed within the context of auto racing, but ‘boutique’ is the key.  Creative, variable pricing is also a component but moves away from more shameless nickel and diming, intelligence insulting money grabs that occur at many venues today, especially street events.

The one oft repeated and increasingly sport killing sentiment parroted by participants and leadership of IndyCar is that ‘…ovals are just not popular anymore.’  Hogwash.  Those venues suffer at the box office because they are not presented or promoted effectively.  It is possible to prevent such prophecy from becoming willfully self-fulfilling with relatively minimal effort.

In reality it does not really matter how well most oval events are promoted or even that the racing fans would experience is the best in the world.  Potential fans today, especially younger ones, have moved beyond any desire to sit somewhere in an ocean of aluminum in the summer with no shade to watch three hours of racing.  Throw in draconian rules about what fans are allowed to bring with them, not to mention whacko start times (most recently Pocono pre-rainout plans at 3:30 on a Sunday afternoon for a 500 mile race) and most casual fans these days will opt out.  Fan lack of enthusiasm is compounded when nothing except IndyCars run a weekend schedule with no ancillary events.

This is the first of two parts of this fan-frustrated missive.  The general concept knocking around this noggin has been presented and justified.  Part Two tomorrow will dive more deeply into how the concept could work at beta venues.

May 23, 2016

The Glorious Month of May at IMS

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 1:28 pm

Howdy folks…it has been a while. Yours truly retired in early May and my now leisurely days have been spent primarily at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for the sold out 100th running of the great race.

Qualifications this weekend were fascinating. The old guy part of me who has been attending time trials since 1959 gets pretty disgusted there are not more than fifty entrants putting it all on the line to make the show over four days. Pole day on the last day? Wow. Time, however, marches forward. A micromanaged shell game of reality show-like manufactured drama with a bare minimum number of spec cars evidently appeals to a younger audience and that is what IMS must cultivate.


Photo credit: Autoweek

Then an odd thing happened on Sunday. Drama. Sam Schmidt, a quadriplegic who believes he will one day walk again, drove a specially outfitted Corvette around the track in a special qualifying run with nothing more than his head. At one point a trap speed reported him traveling at 157mph. Instant standing ovation from the thousands in attendance. Then in the closing moments on the last run of the day Schmidt’s primary driver James Hinchcliffe put a Schmidt car on the pole one year after a near death experience at the track. He knocked off popular Tennessee native Josef Newgarden who also drives for a small team. Amazing. There are few Penskes or Ganassis to be found up front. Even the Andretti team had a rebound and talk of Chevy sandbagging was quickly quieted.

Many of us got a first-hand look at track improvements, including all the new seats, configuration and entrance around the first turn. Some traditionalists bemoan such changes but this one believes they are evolutionary, overdue and definitely respect the history of the joint. Spectacular work has been done.

JT and DB 2Frankly the biggest complaint from us old guys is not the physical plant. It looks better than it has in years. Even restrooms got makeovers. Improvements to the sound system were overshadowed by the crap funneled through it. Imagine throwing a couple of bowling balls and half a dozen cats into a commercial washing machine then setting it for ‘high.’ That is what a lot of the ‘music’ sounded like. Or imagine a group of roofers, some pounding nails while others clanged saws while shouting incoherently. What is that? Considering the place has been around for over 100 years would it kill them to employ a musical curator to weave in actual songs from past and present decades? Imagine weaving in clips of folks like Tom Carnegie, Sid Collins and others. I know, I know…it’s all about younger demographics. I was able to kill a lot of it with my scanner headphones. If music is my biggest issue we are doing great.

Now it’s on to race day. I will begin paying attention to the forecast about Thursday. Carb day should be great and the race looks to be awesome. Here in Hoosierland all is well!

March 7, 2016

The IndyCar Off Season Is About To End!

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 5:20 pm

St PeteOur seemingly infinite patience is about to pay off. The off season in the Verizon IndyCar Series has plodded along far too long. St. Pete this coming weekend should begin to quench our appetites. For those unable to spring break it to the Florida gulf coast IndyCar’s cherry picking primary broadcasting partner will usher in the new season on over-the-air television via (ESPN on) ABC.  It is largely uncertain whether the event is being adequately promoted. Many of us do not watch ESPN or ABC much anymore.

If the past is any indication this race ought to be compelling despite it being contested on a temporary street circuit. Ever since IndyCar began tumbling itself down the slippery slope of less popular, lower rated non-ovals in 2005 to its current 70% non-oval orientation favored by the formula wannabees currently occupying and managing the discipline, the St. Pete event has become a nice bookend along with Long Beach. Predictably the venue that provided IndyCar fans with the most exciting race in the last few decades, Fontana, is absent. Phoenix, however, has returned. Despite its recent NASCAR-ization remodel that robbed it of its unique character there is genuine enthusiasm by participants and fans alike this time around. Tickets for out there are booked by the Disciple party.

If the past few seasons are any indication the racing on just about any circuit should be stellar. Nearly continuous micromanagement of specs aside the competition and rules making cast of characters are mostly different this year. Last year during May in the run-up to the Indianapolis 500 oval aero kits were tried for the first time. Cars that began going airborne whenever they got backward caused a significant amount of frayed nerves and bad publicity.

The 100th running of the 500 is set up to be an historic event but mistakes could be repeated. Experimentation with skid plates to prevent airborne adventures has not gone as planned and does not have the complete support of those behind wheels. Since the stage this year is much bigger it would be nice to assume the brain trust will figure it all out prior to May. The clock is ticking.

Old ReynardsFor many squatting internet haters none of it will matter. Almost any topic devolves to dismissal of anything Dallara manufactures as ‘crapwagons.’ Instead of offering intelligent solutions to mostly self-perceived issues the loudest of the typists actually believe the way to go is simply to locate as many 25 year old Reynards as possible, dust them off, drop in a Cosworth and go racing. The internet is a great source for comedy.

Personally Dallara and all the other entities currently re-making Speedway in an admirable gentrification effort must be commended. Efforts of the Speedway Redevelopment folks in conjunction with nearly continuous improvements being undertaken once again at the Brickyard are outstanding.

We are looking forward to this weekend, May and another great IndyCar season!

January 17, 2016

Racing and Live Sports So Far in 2016

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 11:38 am

What event has drawn sold out crowds daily, features a lot of big names in an extreme form of auto racing musical chairs, races on an oval, gets lots of press and even featured a viral video of a drunken cop slurring idiotic hate speech toward Tony Stewart? The same event IndyCar chose not to have anything to do with. The Chili Bowl is always a slice of real Americana but that connection eludes IMS.

Guess what else was sold out, held in New York City and broadcast nationally on CBS? Bull riding, a sport built from scratch by Randy Bernard. IndyCar had no use for him either.

The only form of the sport this year inducing inattention and yawns from John Q. Public is road racing.

Food for thought.

MidgetsOn another note certain to lead to a childish conniption episode or two from the handful of obsessed kids who stalk me around the internet I saw this blurb on the Chili Bowl site. I knew about Rico but the rest of those folks? And hey Chili Bowl, isn’t that less than politically correct?

What should they call the vehicles? How about ‘Little Cars?’ Or ‘Size Challenged Oval Propulsion Vehicles?’ Does not really have the same ring to it.

Racing is off to a rip roaring start (well, other than road racing).

December 30, 2015

Happy New Year…and Happy Birthday Tony George

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 8:02 pm

Youthful AntonHappy birthday to Tony George, grandson of the late great Tony Hulman. 1959 was the birth year for young Anton and was the year I first set foot inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Unfortunately any mention of Tony George in just about any context these days inevitably draws willfully retarded people out of their mothers’ basements with Tourette-like ‘FTGs’ as primary epithets. Generally that is the extent of the thought patterns of such embarrassing ‘fans.’ Some of the slightly more educated of that ilk also spin history to fit their prejudices without much if any regard for facts.  Both general groups continue fighting a civil war they actually began themselves twenty years earlier. The ‘split’ was merely an expansion of class genital waving that began in the early 1960s.  Crowing about how great they believed things were remains as foolish now as it did in the late 1990s.

Many of my friends have asked why the blogs are not more frequent lately. The primary reason is actual daytime job related. It has been extremely busy at work the past few months. A secondary reason is that many of us legacy fans are simply less interested in an evolution back toward what those mentioned above have convinced themselves they had twenty years ago. Until those running the series actually begin to understand how to run the series fantasizing about becoming more mainstream will remain unattainable.

The schedule for 2016 is 70% non-oval. Despite unleashing the single most exciting oval race of the past three decades the braintrust decided Fontana is expendable. They cite the weakest of excuses: Television windows. Fontana is not alone. Milwaukee, the kind of ovals even squatting road racers enjoy, is also gone. Perceived problems at both venues are rooted largely in woefully inconsistent dartboard-like scheduling. IndyCar management continues to ignore the importance of date equity in building events. Phoenix was re-added after many years and that is great but as long as two Cup races are run at that track there will only be so much local fans can afford. Boston still appears to be in the wet dream phase and has begun to smell like another Baltimore scheme. Obviously mistakes are not things from which to derive learning.

Instead of attending 6 to 8 events again this year my group may be down to Indy and one other; probably Pocono. We shall see. What a shame.

I genuinely appreciate the effort and contributions to the sport Tony George has made through the years. Obviously he was unable to go far enough.

October 27, 2015

IndyCar Schedule in 2016: The Good, Bad and Unvarnished From A Ticket Buying Fan

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 6:52 pm

ScheduleThe 2016 IndyCar schedule was formally announced today. As fervent long-term IndyCar fans we are gratified to have any sort of schedule. Formulating one is potentially the most difficult part of running IndyCar. For every great addition such as Phoenix or Road America, however, there are unfortunate removals such as Milwaukee and Fontana. There remains as much alienation as gratification again this year.

Perhaps that is one reason these blogs have become so infrequent. Despite their magnificent tendency toward flowery hyperbole with regard to product IndyCar is managing to turn fans that travel to venues and buy tickets into Indy 500-only fans, just like the ‘good old days.’

IndyCar touts the 5 oval-5 road course-5 street circuit balanced ‘diversity’ of the series. Sorry. Running 2/3 of the schedule on non-ovals is neither balanced nor aligned with IndyCar history. As CART’s pronounced and lingering death rattle led to the inevitable in the early 2000s the IRL version of IndyCar began being co-opted by those scurrying from that particular train wreck. The slippery slope for that iteration began when the first non-oval was run at St. Petersburg. Ten years ago the oval-centric version of IndyCar was 18% non-oval. The schedule announced this week is 67% non-oval, and there are two fewer races overall. Balance? Hardly. The once youthful supporters of IndyCar during the CART period applaud the addition of Road America. That is a nice legacy-type addition, but Barber is far more compelling to me. Additionally it post-dates the politics. And I would rather eat BBQ than brauts.

One potentially spectacular addition is Phoenix. That track (another built specifically for IndyCars but eventually given up/whored out for NASCAR) has been gone for a while and with two Cup dates it might have been safe to assume they would never return, particularly given past proclivities of IndyCar to just demand a lot of money to roll the transporters and not much else. Throw in events like counterproductive and ill-advised genital waving by another defunct CEO and Phoenix was always a recipe for dysfunction. But back it is and that is simply great.

Conspicuous by their absences are Milwaukee and Fontana. Those omissions seem to defy logic. Both have been victimized long term by the failure of IndyCar to schedule with date consistency and by a complete lack of presentation effort that gets more neglected with each passing year. The lame excuse for the jettison of Fontana in 2016 is that it will not fit into a neat television window.

Road America is Back!

Road America is Back!

Never mind the IndyCar race there was arguably the most exciting non-IMS oval IndyCar event of the past few decades.

‘…but ovals simply do not draw crowds anymore.’ Does that oft-parroted sentence of mortifying cluelessness sound familiar? Perhaps if IndyCar actually worried more about fans who attend and less about television windows, not to mention coherent scheduling, ovals might seem a little more popular. Slot Milwaukee in as the first event after Indy every year. Start it no later than 1pm local time. See what happens. Fontana is west coast and that presents problems for television. Exactly why is a mystery. Television partners have no problem not only bending over for NASCAR and Formula 1, but also airing all of their practices and qualifying live and on delay. Then the races are played back. Why should IndyCar not receive the same treatment?

It is an absolute miracle IndyCar managed to strike a deal with Pocono, but that is also welcome and great news. At least that is not scheduled using a blindfold and a dartboard. Tickets are being re-ordered this week.

Some events on the IndyCar calendar defy tradition. Frankly Roger Penske’s mercy hump to the manufacturers and city of Detroit could be slotted anywhere on the schedule with no appreciable difference in popularity. Never mind MIS is fairly close and is a lightning fast 2 mile oval with fresh pavement that provides for actual racing.

IndyCar 2016 ScheduleHopefully IndyCar also has a back-up plan in the event Boston goes awry. Given the fetid stench that typically accompanies IndyCar festivals o’ speed it is unsafe to count Boston in until wheels begin turning. Skepticism is magnified given the brutal politics of the region. Things like demands for fresh pavement could easily scuttle this latest over-glorified wet dream. Better idea: How about a doubleheader? The streets of Boston and the oval at Loudon, only promoted and presented coherently this time.

ONE event in August? That is neither sane nor rational. In addition to consistency the schedule also needs a minimum of twenty events. Based on available ovals alone that number could easily be met, especially in August. Gateway and Memphis are unique small ovals in areas with sizeable potential audiences and IndyCar geographic holes. Those two would make 17. Schedule Milwaukee and Fontana consistently and with sense and we are back up to 19. Pick the twentieth: MIS, Richmond, Chicagoland, Kentucky, Atlanta, Homestead, etc., could all be successful again.

Our travel plans so far include Indy and Pocono for sure. That may be it other than perhaps Texas. Congratulations to IndyCar for stumbling on to a slightly extended but reduced event schedule. The rollout is predictably cloaked in obfuscation and spread heavily with hyperbolic buzzwords.  Would oft-neglected IndyCar fans expect anything else?

September 2, 2015

IndyCar Is Over Already?

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 2:08 pm

RIP RacerThis racing fan and like-minded peers are not nearly ready for the IndyCar season to end. We remain willing to watch and attend but we are unable to do so. We remain saddened by the freak accident that claimed the life of one of the truly great people in the sport. The good news according to many of our spouses is that we do not get to spend as much money and are available for chores around the house for the foreseeable future.

Many fervent racing fans are merely casual fans of the stick and ball variety of sports whose seasons are spinning up. The fact that football season is on the doorstep is exciting to many, but to many others it is yawn inducing and merely a harbinger of cold weather ahead.

IndyCar brass tries hard to concoct memorable IndyCar seasons and everyone who has ever attempted to put one together cites the nearly impossible degree of difficulty that is involved in architecting the next one. My group is of an age that takes advantage of attendance opportunities whenever possible. Tickets are not difficult to acquire and travel/lodging deals abound. Yet whether intentional or not folks like us are being reduced to Indy-only attendees. Events we attend(ed) every year are being removed with alarming frequency.

Endangered SpeciesThe list of races we USED to attend every year continues growing rapidly. Their replacement venues do not have the same luster. What do we miss? Michigan. Kentucky. Chicagoland. Richmond. Pike Peak. Gateway. Fontana. What do venues have in common? Ovals of all sizes and quirks. Betting money says we will say goodbye as well to either Milwaukee or Pocono, or both. It is not as though we do not attend others. Barber, for example, is a wonderful facility and we have always had enjoyable weekends there. We even flew to New Orleans for the one and done misadventure in the wet at NOLA this year. Jeans creaming over the revival of Road America has enthusiasts of the twisties worked up into a foamed mouth frenzy, and they also want Burke Lakefront back in Cleveland. Non-ovals, however, simply do not provide the visceral, consistent thrills that quality ovals do.

Long Beach has earned its legend and the party is nice but the racing is nearly always forgettable. St. Pete in the early Spring is an appealing getaway, but touristy Florida activity and checking out hard bodies in bikinis is as important as seeing what is generously positioned as professional racing on a turn or two of a temporary course.

A bone that has been thrown is Phoenix. The problem is no deal actually exists at this moment. Even if one is struck that track still has two Cup dates and open wheel attendance plummeted during a period when the sport was arguably more popular. I love the city of Boston but cannot imagine traveling there to attend a street event on Labor Day weekend. Travel to Loudon could be arranged in a heartbeat though.

My party attended Michigan, Kentucky, Chicagoland, Richmond, PPIR, Gateway, Fontana, Pocono and Milwaukee nearly EVERY year. We still would if they were available. We even made the trip to Vegas. If you figure a weekend away cost between $400 (if we drove) and $800 (if we flew) minimum, and there were 4 to 6 of us, the economic impact of just us ended up between $28,800 and $43,200 every year, with a percentage enriching IndyCar and the tracks.

Miles AheadAs long as IndyCar is unwilling to apply either the full May-in-Indy experience or the full street course vibe/hype to great ovals, attendance at them will continue to suffer. The predictable ‘ovals are just not popular’ excuse will remain nothing more than an intended but woefully misguided self-fulfilling prophecy. Intense oval racing tends to separate men from boys, and IndyCar does not have nearly enough men. The entity that invented oval racing presentation abdicated to the southern folks long ago and do not seem interested in reclaiming it. The wasted potential of great oval racing, triple crown glory, high speed and thrills is lost on both the suits and the road racers who have long co-opted the series with F1-like fantasies dancing in their heads. It is beyond maddening.

No doubt we will enjoy the 100th running and beyond in May but being relegated to one and done as a fan is entirely unfulfilling.

August 17, 2015

Open Contempt by IndyCar for Fans Continues Unabated

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 2:28 pm

The latest indelicate groin kick IndyCar Management delivered to some of its best fans was the far-too-casual announcement that California’s Auto Club Speedway annual IndyCar event would not be on the schedule in 2016. Never mind Fontana this year unleashed one of the most compelling, exciting IndyCar races in thirty years and possibly ever. That does not seem to matter and is not even acknowledged.

BuhByeNowThe concocted excuse trotted out involved an inability to identify a start time and broadcast window that would not adversely affect east coast viewership. Huh?

IndyCar evidently feels its fan base is stupid and will accept most any flowery press release lip service as gospel. A safe bet is to surmise that despite hard work proclamations by both sides no midnight oil was burned, no sweat hit brows, and arrogance no doubt surpassed intelligence.

The ‘window’ copout is particularly disingenuous. If the big Cup weekend is factored with ample space on either side that STILL leaves about 150 possible days in a year in which to consider CONSISTENTLY scheduling an IndyCar event at that track, especially if you get creative with perhaps a Friday night approach. Who says television has to be live on the east coast in a desirable time slot? Why not run a night race, broadcast it live, then re-air in a favorable time slot a day or two later? The replay approach can work well, as it did for the most recently held IndyCar event at Mid-Ohio. It also works for F-1, NASCAR and others who have broadcast partners who take those partnerships seriously. And oh, by the way, no one else has a problem running in the early portion of football season.

IndyCar must also realize that in the case of Fontana use of the ‘drunk guy throwing darts’ approach to date and time scheduling will almost always guarantee failure over time, and Fontana has been victimized by such carelessness more than about anyone (and they are far from alone). Failure also occurs when not meaningfully marketing/promoting the event in the second largest domestic media market. Half-assed presentation effort is also a precursor to failure. It is simply not enough to charge a lot for tickets then have just IndyCars, a handful of vintage hobbyists and Michael Young with a microphone at a track that great. Presentation of both Fontana and Pocono over the past three years is an embarrassing exercise of abysmal. ‘Triple crown’ potential is limitless but has been completely squandered.

MilesIt would not surprise me to see the same atrocious management remove Pocono for equally logic defiant reasons. The glimmer of hope meant to appease folks is enthusiasm about a possible return of Phoenix. I prefer to ground myself in reality. Phoenix is not a done deal and given the contentious relationship that track and its owner have with IndyCar, not to mention the fact that track still hosts two Cup events, wide eyed optimism about Phoenix is on par with the fantasies a three year old might have about Santa Claus, chimneys and toys. Even if the politics get squared away IndyCar will not suddenly develop an ability to market/promote professionally, create presentation efforts worthy of the Indy brand or offer fan pricing or amenities packages that will inspire fans to appear in droves. Given current management proclivity Phoenix is far more likely to resemble the last time IndyCar tried Loudon.

You know what would be refreshing? Honesty and transparency. One cannot help but wonder how much of an effect the incessant cackling of the current crop of squatting road racers after Fontana’s latest IndyCar race has to do with the decision. The emergence of young talent like a Josef Newgarden makes many miss a Dario Franchitti far less. It is also my belief that the inevitable retirements of the last of the cart contingent will be better for the sport.

My advice for Mark Miles and Dave Allen: Spend more time powering through and solving arbitrarily created problems and less time publishing flowery, excuse laden press releases. You will never retain fans by alienating them so completely. Adding road races like Road America is fine but series popularity will not be enhanced long term by adding non-oval races and dumping ovals, particularly when virtually no effort is spent building the latter.

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