Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog

July 31, 2008

Serious Topic; Not Even Any Cutesy Pictures!

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 1:01 am

Every once in a blue moon, I will opt for serious.  This is one of those times. The Indy Racing Series has released its schedule for the 2009 season. Not everyone is happy about it. More about that in a moment.

Fans who were supporters of the old cart were the first Indy Car fans to be completely alienated by what they interpreted as a power play by Tony George. The vast majority have forgiven neither Tony George nor Indy Racing and have either moved on to other interests or still tell anyone within earshot how big a screwing they feel they received. This is usually followed by calling Tony George a wide variety of vulgar names.

Some of the remaining fans of Indy Racing were treated for a few years with all ovals and many American grassroots racers, including Billy Boat, Davey Hamilton and a variety of others. When cart began to self immolate, their owners who boycotted the early IRL began defecting. This began what critics called the start of cart II. One by one, small IRL teams and grassroots drivers were forced out. This soon alienated the ‘grassroots/short trackers’ bunch.  Most of them can now be heard bleating like stuck hogs virtually every moment of every day on a variety of themed  ‘fan’ sites that have begun to center on an ‘I hate everything about Indy Racing because Tony George lied to me’ slant. Most of them are now primarily fans of NASCAR. They do stupid things like lift Tony George quotes from 1996 500 programs then pretend they are relevant in 2008. For those keeping score, 2/3 of the potential fan base has been shut out.

The remaining one third of the potential fan base is comprised of the folks who like Indy Racing just because Indy Racing is cool. They have a visceral attraction to speed, danger and the pure adrenaline-laced thrill of the sport. Politics, by and large, have never mattered. The current direction of the series could change that.

For 2009 there are ten ovals, five ‘temporary’ circuits and three natural terrain road courses. Here is the primary risk Indy Racing takes when they formulate a schedule like this one. The remaining third of the fan base does not like shedding American ovals for non-ovals, many of which are beyond the borders. Nashville is gone but two additional ‘temporary’ courses are new. The month of July (peak of the racing season) is basically being spent outside the country. SMI, a very important potential partner and owner of great oval tracks, does not seem happy about being shut out for Loudon (close proximity in the Northeast to Boston) or Las Vegas. The salt in the wound with regard to SMI is open IRL preference for a temporary course in Las Vegas, citing fear they will not draw a good crowd to the oval. That rationale is insane. What other venues are being discussed? Portland. A non-oval. Michigan International has simply been dismissed. That is simultaneously tragic and boneheaded. The apparent reaction of IRL brass: Tough shit. Deal with it.

Diversity is great. Moving from mostly ovals to mostly NON-ovals should be avoided at all costs. The group who advocates a mostly non-oval orientation are former cart owners who did not join Indy Racing until their boycott began to self destruct. If they want to road race most of the time, they should start an ALMS team and exploit that marquee-less niche.

Bottom line: Does the IRL really want to alienate last group of fans that have not already been so alienated? They will say they do not, but will do it anyway and  not even realize they have. It has been that way for decades. I can honestly not think of another time in history when simply being a fan was such a difficult task.

There are 18 races on the schedule. It needs to be at least 20 to be ‘major league.’ There is a two weekend gap in the middle of June. That hole must be plugged. One month between races at the end of the season with Japan in the middle is stupid. Leaving dates open around Japan on the chance there might be a race in Australia simply means the overall balance shifts to a 50% oval/50% non-oval orientation with nearly 25% of the schedule outside the United States. You might as well end the season with Belle Isle. Homestead in October will probably draw the same 35,000 people that go in late March. If I had my way, the only street races would be St. Pete and Long Beach. Canada has great racing fans. Real tracks in/around Toronto and Edmonton should be constructed to accommodate them.

There has been a lot of whining from teams and league officials and others about the tight scheduling of races in 2008. Not to be insensitive, but I have little sympathy. A tightly compressed schedule is exactly what was/is needed. What matters is fans, growth and momentum, not personal comfort.

Reading widely available transcripts of Indy Racing Series press events occasionally turns my stomach. The most recent has seemingly casual dismissal of legacy venues such as the oval in Michigan and open coveting of street racing in places like Houston or Cleveland.

Contractual obligations may prevent Indy Racing officials from commenting on television deals, but that does not seem to be true for partners. Will Indy Racing manage to successfully purge themselves of the ESPN albatross and replace it with something better, or will that get screwed up too?

The relatively early announcement of a schedule for the next season should be cause for celebration. The schedule by itself is not. It is going to take more than what is rapidly turning into an old cart schedule to spark anticipation and imagination. The Indy Racing Series should be taking steps to discontinue being screwed in every unprofessional way possible by their broadcast ‘partner.’ If they are going to jettison long-term relationships (such as oval tracks) why can’t that extend to ESPN?

Consider many of us underwhelmed.

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