Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog

May 6, 2010

The City of Baltimore Enters Indy Car Fantasy Land; Please Hand Over Your Money

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 2:06 am

The City of Baltimore has been busy laying off city employees and closing fire stations a lot lately, but that has not stopped them from buying into the hot air fantasy that is an Indy Car street festival. Flowery, optimistic terminology that characterized the gypsy-like transience when cart/champcar was in business has been trotted out again. You read terms like ‘world class,’ ‘approaching 200-mph’ and the like, then endure inane comparisons to Monte Carlo and Formula 1. What this event will be is neither in scope nor location.

Do not misunderstand. Indy Cars are magnificent to watch most anywhere. Baltimore is an excellent location filled with a sports-hungry fan base that can support a big race. Indy Car drivers are the best in the business and it is fast, exciting racing most of the time. It is the most diverse series in the world, with ovals, natural terrain road courses and street courses. Harsh reality, however, is that the good people of Baltimore are more likely than not, given history, to be screwed again by an Indianapolis-based entity, only this time moving vans will be loaded with their tax dollars and will leave in broad daylight right under their noses. Gentlemen, start your Mayflowers.

Indy Car is just now recovering in earnest from a near-fatal fracture caused by the scorching of earth when the now twice-defunct cart series boycotted all things Indy in 1996 after the leadership of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway formed the Indy Racing League to stress oval racing with grassroots participation. The grassroots philosophy was employed by NASCAR to graduate from backwoods southern moonshining to wildly popular. Following their demise, cart slithered back to Indy Car as if nothing happened and brought with them their entire bag of tricks. Since that return Indy Car has gone from 100% oval to less than 50% oval. That is a trend that could eventually kill the brand. No big time non-oval series has ever made it over the long haul in North America. It is professional soccer with motors and wheels and a small but passionate niche of fans. Purging ovals will eliminate the final remaining group of diehard fans not already alienated.

Because most Indy Car drivers are non-American formula road racers by background who mostly pay for their rides they cannot really be promoted or touted in the same way as, say, Jimmie Johnson or Dale, Jr. Hence, they are ‘world class.’ The only truly marketable star is Danica Patrick, and she is likely NASCAR bound relatively quickly for the money alone.

For every Long Beach success story there are at least two or three miserable San Jose/Detroit/Denver-type flops. That is fact, not fiction. These failures typically alienate citizens and governments in much the same way Bernie Madoff alienated investors. As an Indy Car fan who has actively followed and supported the sport since 1959, this new way of doing business is beyond risky.

Commerce, traffic and civil order will be severely disrupted for weeks. These circuits do not go up and come down in a day. Preparing the surface as planned will take months. The event is not likely to draw 100,000. It is reasonable to expect 20,000 to 30,000 for two days, then 30,000 to 40,000 more than that on race day. Hotels will not be filled. Restaurants and shops will not be overrun. Tax coffers will remain short. Take all ‘economic impact’ estimates then cut them in half. If there is a second year, it will be worse. Remember this is a FIVE-year deal. That is reality. The stated fantasy of ‘…expected to bring hundreds of millions in revenue to the area’ should be filed, then those spewing blue sky should be held accountable when bills come due.

Some will call these observations pessimistic and that is perfectly acceptable. A tragedy to me is that as great a sports town as Baltimore is with two fantastic stadiums enriching their surroundings, an honest to goodness real race track cannot be constructed. Oval racing, especially where Indy Cars are concerned, gets an unduly harsh bad rap. Dover is nearby and NASCAR has that covered. Construction of a real race track would not have to be oval. Why not investigate a ‘roval?’ There are far too few of those, and that type of niche could work. Why not a full blown FIA-approved road course? F-1 is dying to get back to the coastal United States in a heavily populated region, and they are beyond snobbish where Indianapolis is concerned. If F-1 said no, Indy Cars are obviously willing. Street course abominations are not likely to put Baltimore on the map. Good for Baltimore getting a race, but the foundation of Indy Car racing has been willfully eroded some more.

Enjoy the ride and hang on to your britches.


  1. In other words Baltimore, don’t hate the Indycar Series when this event takes a major toll on your taxpaying citizens. It’s a matter of time. Yes, it’s a great spectacle to see and be a part of, but it comes with a price, especially when it invades your downtown area. A lot of Indycar fans prefer to see this type of racing on oval tracks where speeds are constantly above 200 miles per hour, but the Indycar management have other ideas, and are convinced that street ‘racing’ events are somehow a good thing. But it’s far from a true representation of what these cars are capable of. Some of us would rather see a purpose built (and permanent) oval track built in your area, but good luck with your event.

    Comment by Race Fan — May 6, 2010 @ 9:40 am | Reply

  2. A great read! im from the UK so dont get to see much Indy racing. Formula 1 is more my game, but I enjoyed reading the post and shall be back for more!. Thanks

    Comment by bmw mats — May 6, 2010 @ 6:25 pm | Reply

  3. I guess if the city of Baltimore is knocking on your door with a wheel barrel full of money, in this situation, you take it. However, an oval being added would be a nice jesture and calming agent to those who are not street race fans.

    This event will stir up lots of press in the area and serves as a middle finger towards the Richmond Speedway.

    Comment by M. Miller — May 6, 2010 @ 7:14 pm | Reply

  4. Simple question, why haven’t indy car races on ovals been successful in the past 10-12 years? When the previous 50 or so years where so successful from an attendance stand point.

    Editor’s Note: Simple answer: They have been as successful as any other time relatively speaking. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway sells hundreds of thousands every year. Texas and Chicagoland are always well attended. Iowa sells out. Kansas used to. Richmond regularly pulled in 60K. Nashville and Pikes Peak always sold most of their seats and got pulled for non-attendance reasons. One of the reasons why ovals get a bad rap is because NASCAR filled most up with seats. When lots of seats are empty it looks bad, particularly when races are not promoted. Road/street racing is not an acceptable answer. Those types of series never make it long term.

    Comment by ??????????? — May 6, 2010 @ 9:43 pm | Reply

  5. <>

    ?? How many years did CART race at Michigana and how many years did IRL race? Fontana? Nazareth? Milwaukee? Phoenix?


    Yes, if you look at all racing series…but here we are concerned with “Indy cars”, and your claim rings false.

    Long Beach, Vancouver, Toronto, Cleveland, Surfers Paradise
    btw CART raced at Detroit for 13 years (vs IRL 2).

    Meadowlands, San Jose, stillborn Phoenix
    Miami was successful as a street race, moved to an oval, before returning to streets to be a failure.

    Waivering between success and failure:
    Even Denver lasted for 5 years and Houston ran 6 (and may return).

    To be seen:
    Edmonton’s hanging on so far.
    St Pete looks to be success.

    Comment by Jakester — May 6, 2010 @ 11:50 pm | Reply

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