Those of us who are actual racing fans have come to expect hysterical shrieking and teeth gnashing from mostly obsessed critics of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar racing in general. Most of the criticism remains irrational and obtuse. A good deal of it is based on the immaturity of road racing enthusiasts who have spent the better part of twenty years refusing to evolve and blaming Tony George for any real or perceived problem in any facet of the sport.
When looking at IndyCar objectively it is not difficult to see that attendance and television ratings are declining. IndyCar is not alone in this area, but if the allegiance of the loudest squawkers is motor racing it is a big deal. The question for most is how it gets ‘fixed.’
The easiest way to get a clue is to isolate the single most significant common denominator with regard to failure: Road racing. Think about it. Not one big time road racing series has ever made it over the long haul in the United States. They have come, gone, merged or simply ceased to exist and usually in ignominious fashion. IndyCar versions of road racing, specifically cart and champcar, failed twice. Can-Am? Gone. ALMS? Merged. IndyCar’s glory days have always been those that featured oval racing.
NASCAR has the right idea. A schedule that is top-heavy with ovals with a handful of road courses (that usually feature ringers or ex-open wheelers in the top three) thrown in. Most people yelp the loudest about IndyCar’s decline over the past ten years. What happened within the past ten years? cart/champcar teams slithered back after their second failure and asset sale, and non-oval racing that began in St. Pete in 2005.
In 2013 the schedule is predominately non-oval racing and popularity is waning. History proves conclusively there is a direct correlation. Oh sure folks can cite spec racing, un-relatable personalities and the like and many have a point.
Here is some helpful advice for Miles and crew:
-Having a schedule that starts in February and ends before football season is a spectacular idea. Make this idea better by never allowing more than one empty weekend in a row. Make this idea best by increasing the percentage of oval racing and decreasing the amount of non-oval racing. A 70/30 split is a great way to begin. Make the foreign money grab adventures bookends on either side.
-Ship the next malcontent who whines about his/her preference toward road racing off to Europe permanently and keep doing that until they and their high and mighty attitudes are all finally purged. There are plenty of qualified racers already here ready and willing to take their places.
-IndyCar was built on ovals and enjoyed its biggest successes on them. The drivers were relatable and brave. Let’s give that philosophy a serious renewed shot for a change (this also assumes IndyCar will finally learn how to adequately promote itself, which as history also shows is a huge caveat).
It is time to quite screwing around and finally deal with the real issues. That said, a taste of road racing on quality courses makes IndyCar special. Long Beach and Barber are two great examples. I would say they need to add COTA outside Austin, but Eddie Gossage is way more important in the grand scheme.
The number of these twisty adventures must be capped, however, to recapture fans. Formula 1 does that niche a lot better and is less popular than IndyCar in this country. Not one major road racing series has ever made it over the long haul in the USA. Not ever. Let’s learn from history.