Defender of IndyCar

The Next Big Split in Indy Car: Same Old Philosophical Differences

The next ‘split’ in open wheel racing and the one that will probably finish the sport of big time open wheel off for good is the ovals against non-ovals philosophy. It was a large philosophical part of the 1996 ‘split’ and is just about ready to pop open on its own just in time for 2012. From a cynical yet realistic standpoint it is not difficult to speculate with certainty that Indy Car leadership will once again take the most stupid possible approaches and end up responsible for just allowing it happen.

Predictably, the non-oval crowd blames ticket buyers for not buying enough tickets to oval events. That still does not explain how 35,000 at a non-oval is considered better than 35,000 at an oval. As a ticket buying enthusiast that buys multiple tickets every year our observation is that Indy Car as an organization has all but given up on a compelling presentation of oval racing. They have shrugged their shoulders on drawing a crowd on any days except race days, but the tickets do not really cost any less.

The current iteration of Indy Car management has learned absolutely nothing from history. What they are building has a foundation of sand and will just as certainly collapse as thoroughly as it has the last two times they tried pulling this mind-numbingly foolish stunt. Here is a list of annual events my party (a minimum of four people, every single time) paid money to travel to see, to buy tickets, to buy concessions, to pay for hotel rooms and to otherwise contribute to the coffers of both the tracks and the series…but now are unable (completely against our wishes) to see:


-Pikes Peak






This does not include sporadic attendance at Fontana, Homestead, Loudon and others. This week we have received the following news:

-Loudon is likely a one and done, just like Milwaukee. That is just egregious. Why wouldn’t quality ovals be given three years to rebuild a crowd? Oh, wait. That would require effort.

-Roger Penske rammed through the multiple, cross-series failure known as Belle Isle the week after the 500. Has anyone asked Eddie Gossage how he feels about this?

-The Weekly World News of racing blogs reports that Laguna Seca will return next season.

My party is left basically with Indy and Kentucky and perhaps Iowa (which we attended this year), and this year Las Vegas. How quickly before we get Kentucky and Texas taken away

over such abject philosophical stupidity? Do you understand that the upper tier of your dwindling fan base is the group that, by far, spends the most money for this type of entertainment?

Indy Car Negotiates With Another Oval Venue

Indy Car management, ovals have not gotten less popular. That is a myth that serves as rationalization for the fundamentally flawed agenda of a group of self serving folks that have never succeeded long term with their preferred type of non-oval endeavor. NASCAR does not have a problem with the oval business model. Why should Indy Car? The open wheel racers certainly put on faster, often more exciting shows.

The solution:  Much better presentation of the oval product on and off the track at competitive prices. Run all the support ladders at every event. In a blog a week or so ago, I laid out several ideas for making ovals more accessible to fans you are unable to entice. Read it and some of the other great ideas floating around. We are tired of lip service and hearing what a good job you believe you do. You need to do much more. Otherwise you deserve the fate that is certain as you continue dumping all ovals but Indy.

15 replies to “The Next Big Split in Indy Car: Same Old Philosophical Differences

  1. I like a mixture of both ovals and non-ovals, the mix appeals to a wider audience. I’ll watch street and road course races on TV, but I will not see them live.
    I will attend oval races though.
    I’ve attended three of the last four 500s, would be four for four, but my job prevented me from doing so. A few years ago I attended the Nashville race. Last year was Kentucky. This year I added Iowa, and will head back to Kentucky. I was even planning a trip to Vegas, but alas job requirements.
    Add more ovals, and I’ll make every effort to attend. Road and street courses not so much, but I will watch them on TV.

  2. Something else that Indycar management seems to not be able to figure out is that street races will NOT build a fan base. I went to the Denver GP, twice, once for the first layout and once for the second layout. I’m sorry, I was bored both times.
    Here’s my main point; I was in LoDo after the second race and was talking to a guy about the race. He was going on and on about what a great race it was. He liked the grid girls. He liked the Beer. He liked the free T-shirt. I asked him who won, HE DIDN’T KNOW. Would this guy have come back for the next years race – maybe, maybe not. Would he have watched any other races on TV – probably not. Would he have traveled to Phoenix, Texas or elsewhere to watch a race – absolutely not.

  3. The problem as I see it, isn’t people like us. It isn’t people who already watch the races. We understand why IndyCar racing is awesome. You do. I do. You prefer oval racing to twisties; that’s what you grew up on. I grew up on the west coast with the LBGP and the GI Joes 200 at Portland; I prefer the twisties to the ovals. You see the need for balance in the series, I see the need for balance in the series. We aren’t the people who the series should be trying to attract. RB makes much of going after the ‘low hanging fruit’; the people who were fans in the past. By this point, if fans haven’t come back they either: a) have become NASCAR fans, and aren’t coming back. b) don’t care about racing anymore, and aren’t coming back, or c) are hardcore CARTisans or IRListas…who believe that the series should be 100% twisties and TG should be drawn and quartered, or that the series should be 100% ovals and Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi, and Paul Newman (yeah, they’d dig him up) should be burned at the stake for the boycott. Lets face it, going after the latter is fruitless. So who do we go after? Why not the person who DOESN’T follow racing…like say, my wife.

    A few years back, my wife and I went to Richmond, shortly after going to the NASCAR race at Dover (it was a business trip for her, she didn’t have a choice); she isn’t a race fan, ergo she is EXACTLY the type that IndyCar should be trying to attract. And some things at Richmond really impressed her. She enjoyed the opportunity to get into the infield and walk through the garage area. She liked how much more accessible the IndyCar drivers were than the NASCAR drivers. All these should be taken and built upon by IndyCar, if they aren’t already.
    That being said, I think many IndyCar fans (and IndyCar management, and promoters…) need to take a weekend and go to a NASCAR race. Any race. Not for the race itself, but for what goes on BEFORE the race; the off-track experience is beyond belief. At Dover, for example (at the time a Dodge sponsored facility), they had Dodge demo tracks for the new Ram truck and the Challenger. They had Bob Bondurant drivers giving thrill rides in Vipers and Chargers. The parking lot was filled with an orgy of merchandise trailers; not just those for the drivers but for every sponsor you could think of. There was live entertainment; not just after the show, but prerace as well. It was a weekend long party where the race became almost secondary. (Because truth be told the race, like most NASCAR races, stunk).

    That, IMHOP, is Job One. Don’t sell the race, sell the experience. The $200 million in sponsorship? Someone should be bending over
    backwards to insure that every sponsor has every opportunity to do activation out the wazoo at an event. Honda and Chevy engines next year? Maybe get the Honda Formula-D team doing demos in the parking lot (or better yet, give passenger thrill rides); same with Chevy; it’d be a perfect opportunity for product demos. Live music before the race, and maybe package it with a live show after the event as well.

    Finally, maybe redo the way things have been done in the past. You mention having the full ladder race on a day; that’s a good start. But let me ask you this: Is there a specific reason the series has to qualify on a Saturday and race the next day? Say this idea for a Saturday oval race experience. Ladder race at 11:00 am. Qualifying 12:30. Ladder race at 2:00. Indy Lights race at 4:00. Live PreRace concert 6:00. Green flag 8:00. Charge one price for the whole day, and make it valuable. Make it so someone coming to their first race is going to walk away thinking ‘Holy F’n S&%$T, that was AWESOME!’.

    Baltimore brought 150,000-ish fans for the three days, possibly 75K on Sunday. I talked to a buddy of mine who went. His thoughts? Man, that was a great time. One heck of a party. Oh, and the racing was cool. I might watch that again. Street courses have figured out how to draw; lets take that and adapt it to the ovals. If you can’t bring the oval to the party, bring the party to the oval.

  4. Not sure where you get your 35,000 number for some venues. I’m guessing with that amount, the event would stay. Are you trying to say there were 35,000 at each Milwaukee and Louden? Another problem is some of your fellow bootlickers are nothing but cheapskates. The dork who started the thread is claiming that $50 is too much for a ticket to a race. I wonder how much he is willing to dole out to IMS for tickets to the 500?
    Editor’s Note: Bootlickers? Dork? Perhaps one day we’ll all be as wealthy as you are so attending any race will not present any problems.

    1. Are you saying $50 is too much for a ticket to an oval race? What should the price be then? How is an oval track promoter suppossed to pay a sanction fee to have a race?
      Editor’s Note: In today’s economy if they want to fill up stands at Kentucky, $50 is too much. The track is way out of town and Indy Car has simply been phoning it in on ovals lately. That said, deals abound for smart people, and no one really has to pay $50. You going?

      1. $50 is nothing. The Floyd Mayweather/Victor Ortiz PPV telecast in HD cost $70. $70 for 3 hours of TV programming! I paid $100+ for merely OK seats to go see Cirque Du Soleil last week. There isn’t a single relevant touring act in music that costs less than $50 to go see. As far as sports are concerned: Yeah, you might be able to score an upper deck corner ticket to some of the NFL games this week for under $50…if they’re horrible teams in secondary markets like Tampa, Indy, or Jacksonville.
        Seriously, if Indycar is pulling fans who can’t pay $50 for a once a year event in their area, they’re not going to be pulling people who can pay half that.

        Editor’s Note: In what stand are your seats for the Kentucky race next weekend? I’ll be in my usual far turn 1 location.

      2. I’ll be hours away doing something that doesn’t involve being in Kentucky.

        Editor’s Note: That’s what I figured, race fan. LOL

  5. What is it we need to do Defender? We see the league going in the wrong direction. Too much ride buying. Too much influence by the owners. Too many street courses. Even someone like Steven Kornya, who likes street/road races, has to be disappointed with the product Indycar is putting on. At Japan, the top two qualifiers finish in the same position. At Infineon, didn’t the top five qualifiers finish in the same position? How many times has the pole sitter won the race this year at the twisties? The race is over when qualifying ended. What kind of show is that??? That sill not bring in new fans.

    First, they need road courses that work with these fast cars. No more motorcycle circuits. Second, street courses have to go. Keep one parade. Long Beach should work. They don’t watch the race in LA anyway. And we have got to have a push for more ovals. They can get this done if they want to. 70% ovals is what is needed.

    Roger Penske should not be out there organizing the races. Penske and his cronies are more to blame for the split than Tony George ever was. And its happening again for all to see. In fact, its looking more and more like our only hope is for another Tony George to emerge, and sadly he is not there.

    I attend the races at Indy and Kentucky. But if we lose Kentucky, I see no choice for me but to begin to boycott this league and patiently wait until until it implodes. What else can we do?

    1. @Bob. I watched the race at Motegi. Every minute of it. Then I switched the TV off and said, ‘Yep. There’s two wasted hours of my life I’ll never get back.’. While I do prefer the street/road races, what the series is attempting to pass off AS street/road racing is, to put it mildly, crap. Whether its that the Dallara looks absolutely putrid on a twisty course, or the massive imbalance of bad/narrow temporary street circuits (compared to natural terrain road courses), or the fact that the road circuits the series DOES race on are basically motorcycle/sportscar tracks, I’d guess I have pretty much the same opinion of R/S courses as you do at this point. I’ll be watching the yawner at Mid Ohio, and then I’ll remember JV’s first CART win at Road America. Or I’ll be watching the snooze fest from Motegi, and remember Zanardi’s dive bomb pass on Herta in the corkscrew at Laguna Seca. Or the Parade de la Crapwagon at Baltimore, and I’ll remember the last lap at Portland in ’97 (sitting on the front stretch going CRAZY as Mark Blundell outraced Gil de Ferran and Christian Fittipaldi to the line: ; Oh, and listen to the commentators talk about DeFerran’s RIGHT TO DEFEND HIS LEAD). And I’ll say to myself: I’m a fan. I’m watching the races. I want them to be good. But these snoozefests are killing me.

  6. I am a race fan like all of you. Personally, I would love 20 to 25 races a year on all sorts of tracks because I enjoy each for what they are. I think most fans are like myself. They may enjoy ovals over twisties or visa versa, but they enjoy both. I don’t think it’s a case of philosophical difference, but a buisness reality. Randy, I don’t think has a dog in the fight and I think he is doing the best he can under the present circumstances. In the past, IMS and INDYCAR was losing 25 to 35 million a year (they are still losing money, but not at the same rate). Randy has to grow the series, but he can no longer lose money at the rate they have in the past. The other issue is the tracks in most cases don’t want INDYCAR because it’s a losing proposition for them. INDYCAR doesn’t have the money to just rent a dozen tracks because there is a huge risk and cost in doing that. They are doing it in Las Vegas which I think will be a test for them if that is a viable option for the future. But, if INDYCAT which is promoting the heck out it loses money then it doesn’t make sense for them to do it again.
    Sancation fees is the money needed for INDYCAR to put on an event. INDYCAR’S fee is in the $1.2 to $1.3 million ball park with NASCAR around $6 million and F1 averages $40 million. In the past, INDYCAR has made deals to track owners to lower the fees and have often lost money as a result. This puts Randy in a position where he has to find tracks that are willing to pay the fee and promote it. NASCAR does not promote each race, but that is the job of the track owner. NASCAR makes their money on fee’s and TV contracts which they split with the tracks. It’s not that simple for INDYCAR to spend a million dollars to promote a race when they only get a small sanction fee. Thats why it’s left to the track owner to promote the race and if the track doesn’t want too their is not a lot INDYCAR can do about it.
    The other major issue is the corporations that own the different tracks. ISC closed Nazareth and Pikes Peak also own Chicagoland, Homestead, Phoenix, Richmond, Michigan, Kansas, and Auto Club. In the past these tracks sold their ticket packages with INDYCAR races as a part of these. The tracks were getting the money from the fans even if they didn’t want to go to an INDYCAR race because they were forced too buy them as a package if they wanted the NASCAR race. Also, with the low sanction fee the tracks still made money and they didn’t have to spend money to promote INDYCAR races. In fact they couldn’t care less because they made their money from the packages. Now with the economy, fans were not longer forced to buy the packages and the tracks would have to spend money to promote the INDYCAR races seperate, so they dumped the INDYCAR races. This is not Randy’s fault or fans of twisties. This is ISC making a buisness choice. The fact is if ISC thought they could make money with INDYCAR they would, but the attendence has not been their for them to invest in a race at their tracks.
    So, INDYCAR which had snubbed SMI in the past when they got into bed with ISC was forced to try and work with the SMI family of tracks. You have to remember that Bruton pulled his second Texas race after INDYCAR added all these ISC tracks. At the same time, SMI has done what they can to build fans at there tracks, but they aren’t going to lose money to do so. I would love to see New Hampshire on the schedule, but INDYCAR can’t force him to run a race on his track.
    Then we are left with Dover motorsports and a few independent tracks for ovals. Dover closed Gateway, Memphis, and Nashville. The last time INDYCARS ran at DOVER it was almost emphty, so that not an option. That leaves Iowa and Milwaukee which we know what happened their. I would love to see more ovals, but their doesn’t seem to be many options for INDYCAR. IMS could build tracks, but the last track they built, Chicagoland, they sold to their partner ISC.
    The only other option for INDYCAR is too run at tracks overseas’s like RIO, Rockingham, and Lausitz. The key I think for INDYCAR is to become finicially solvent, so that they have money to rent and promote tracks in the future. The issue for the oval fans is that INDYCAR makes money on the twisties and not on the ovals. I think that it will require a unbalanced schedule for a few years in order to bring back many of the ovals. The economy needs to improve as well and untill people are willing to spend and create a demand for a particular event we are stuck with what we have. I hope INDYCAR has as many races as possible, but I don’t think it’s a question of philosophical difference it’s buisness.

    1. Brian’s right. I think that the best hope for folks who want to see ovals as well as twistys (I’m one of those – I like them both, roughly equally, though if you held a gun to my head, I’d probably say I like twistys more, like 55/45) should hope that the Series can extract huge sanctioning fees from 8-10 road courses (like Barber, who has plenty of cash, apparently) and street courses (like Long Beach, St. Pete, Baltimore, etc.) for several years here, and then use that cash to parlay either far reduced sanctioning fees at the ovals where they’d like to run (Iowa, Kentucky, California, New Hampshire maybe Richmond in the future) or do the track rental thing (Milwaukee, Vegas). It’s a matter of making the books balance. Use the twisty side as your cash cow and use that to bolster the oval side of the books until you can get those TV numbers up (remember, those are up year over year for two straight years now), get the Series in front of more eyeballs (the NBC Sports channel thing hasn’t even really kicked in yet, so hopefully that helps a little next year), and then hopefully this has knock on effects for attendance at ALL of the tracks, ovals included. Just because there might be a 6 oval / 11 twisty schedule next year doesn’t mean that it’s the end of oval racing for good (although the folks who feel like running around screaming just that can certainly knock themselves out), just that the state of the racing economy in 2011/12 says that there’s more money to be made at twistys.

      This, of course, doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t try to make the oval events more of an “EVENT”. They should still do that. Racing all day with all of the ladder series, Humpy Wheeler-esque thrill shows, carnival midways, try all of it. If that works too, great. All the better.

  7. Per Cavin’s Q & A this morning in discussions with Bernard it appears, Kentucky is a go for next year, if that makes you feel any better

  8. I think it’s the psychological and visual factors in determining what attendance looks good where. At a street and some road courses everybody is all tucked in next to each other at the start/finish line so that the “35,000” LOOKS good, and maybe like it’s more. At at oval, the spectators are pretty well spread out, so one can tell how sparsely attended the event actually is, and as a result, it’s pretty disheartening. It’s too bad, because usually the people in those oval stands really want to see the race, while as suggested, at street/road courses, it’s more of a party atmosphere.

  9. The great weakness of this circuit has been marketing all along. This is why we, (at least most of us,) bought into Randy Bernard. His re-packaging of PBR got him noticed. Unfortunately, I fear he is listening to the wrong people.That’s my opinion, and I am entitiled to it. So is what follows.

    I personally have advocated that the problem with oval racing is rather simple. First, this a circuit where only one oval race, the only 500 miler, is an EVENT. Granted, It has history unlike any other racing EVENT,
    I want to see at least one other 500 miler, one other super EVENT. Make it double points and now you have serious championship implications. That event should, at least in its infancy, be an all day affair. It should be patterend after a combination of Indy’s “Carb Day” and Race Day. Obviously, this lends itself to a venue with lights. If you make a committment of 10 years to an idea like this, by the end of 6 or 7, you’ll have AN EVENT. You make it the FINAL EVENT of the season, centered around Labor Day Weekend. NASCAR runs Sunday night, so take your pick,

    Run the Indy Lights at about 11 am. to get the day off with a bang. Make this a 200 rather than a 100 mile race, double points for the Lights Championship. Don’t know what that does to fuel, so maybe we get to see a Lights team do a routine fuel and tire stop. They’ll finish between 12:20 to 1 pm. Put on a post Lights race race concert with a reasonably well known national act. Hell, make it the American Idol Tour from the previous spring. The point is, make this a MAJOR deal. Run the INDYCARS at either 4 or 5 pm, depending on time zone. If you run on Labor Day Monday, start the race to end in early prime time, say 8:30ish. THis might even be a good lead-in for a college football game, on either ABC/ESPN or NBC/Versus/NBC Sportschannel (maybe Notre Dame’s home opener?) or whatever.(Obviously, if you run on Saturday, you can go even later or do a similar football lead in..)

    The whole point is, you make it an EVENT. Promote the living Hell out of it, make it something worth a $100 ticket, then sell it out for $50, Television, if handled properly by whichever TV partner, can use it as well. Give people a bookend oval racing EVENT to co-exist with Indy and you now have two solid races. Add Texas which is already the second most popular oval and now you’ve got three solid ovals. Most important, however, is you have to give it time to become an EVENT. This idea of “one and done” for all these facilities just flat defeats the entire purpose. If Randy Bernard wants to save oval racing, he needs to come up some corporate partners to help promote these races in their early years until they become EVENTS.

    And ya’ know what just might happen if you have this around Labor Day? Why, you might just have some promoter want to try the same thing around the 4th of July, you never know.

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