Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog

August 1, 2013

IndyCar: Please Learn From History When Determining Direction

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 2:57 am

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.’

Gone AND ForgottenThe 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.

Curb JumperIn 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).

Real RacingIt 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.



  1. Could not agree more. I think we need a league also dominated by home grown drivers. A touch of road courses and foreign drivers gives spice to the league, but to be dominated by both has hurt the sport.

    I cringe everytime I see the drivers name and their national flag right next to it. Leave that to F1 PLEASE.

    I’ll also throw in the effort for new track records. Its usually not a big deal in NASCAR but its scary to note that they have set 9 track records this year. Indy car should be talking about that!

    Comment by Bob F. — August 1, 2013 @ 3:58 pm | Reply

  2. LOL you earl fans are hands down the biggest racist asshole that ever walked the face of the earth, If you clowns are what “Muricans are really like it’s no wonder your shithole county is going down the drain, Disciple you never fail to make me laugh with the satire you put up here. LOL
    Editor’s Note: Well what do you know? Looks like the obsessed children of the cart have gotten wind of my latest literary work. As usual they have proven A) their reading comprehension is non-existent and B) they are capable only of childish epithet hurling. My wish for the rest of the season: That the kids pay attention to their teachers when school resumes.

    Comment by child of the cart — August 1, 2013 @ 7:01 pm | Reply

  3. In a piece I will post either tonight or tomorrow morning, one of my suggestions is to open the IndyCar season the weekend between the NFL’s Conference Championships and the Super Bowl. Presents an excellent opportunity to do a southern hemisphere race, be it a 2nd Brazil race or a return to Surfer’s Paradise. Or, following your thought process, maybe Phoenix? I don’t much care if you make it a damned exhibition (non-points) race, but this “lost weekend” of sports is prime time to get IndyCar in front of eyes NOT under the influence of other sports.

    Comment by SkipinSC — August 1, 2013 @ 10:29 pm | Reply

  4. I think they tried an all oval league. It was called the IRL. The concept failed and it’s leader was thrown out of power before all of the money was spent. Even with his out of control spending, he had started to abandon the all oval concept as to try and minimize the losses
    Editor’s Note: The all oval IRL was more popular, relatively speaking, than today’s reconstituted version of cart. The concept did not ‘fail,’ rather the road racers came back and talked the brass into it. Tony being pushed out had nothing to do with ovals or road courses.

    Comment by TroyM — August 1, 2013 @ 10:32 pm | Reply

    • When it started the IRL was more like the Indy Crashing League. I agree with the Editor that it was not the ovals that were the problem, it was unfortunately, a lot of unskilled drivers suddenly going very fast. It would be like the NFL starting over with all Division III players. ….remember what happened last year when the NFL refs were replaced with scabs,.. same idea.

      Comment by pb2y — August 2, 2013 @ 5:06 pm | Reply

  5. The IRL rode the momentum CART created for open wheel racing. When the momentum ran out many things came to light. Indycar is on its way back. I love oval racing and road/street racing. Having a 21 race schedule with 7 of each discipline is the best Idea. ” The best all around racer”
    Editor’s Note: 7 ovals, 7 streets and 7 road courses is 67% non-oval. That is a recipe for failure, and the handwriting is on the wall. In a 21-race schedule at least 11 events must be ovals; preferably 15.

    Comment by nick mlls — August 2, 2013 @ 3:33 am | Reply

  6. CART didn’t fail because of road racing, they failed because of totally inept management, which involved Roger Penske. Have you noticed the other thing in common with all the failed series you mentioned … Can-Am: Roger, CART: Penske, ALMS: quite successful until Roger came along and got his way in making the LMP2 Porsche equivalent to the LMP1 Acura and Audi … the LMP2 privateers couldn’t compete and left. Then Roger left and Atherton was left holding an empty bag-of-s*** and was never the same.

    Road racing has nothing to do with it. The sport isn’t getting fixed until:
    1) There is strong leadership independent of Penske.
    2) The Hulman/George’s go back to running a race track, not a racing series.
    3) Ignorance be set aside and the leadership fully study and understand the reasons for why CART attracted so many fans in the 90s and then reboot the open-wheel series with those success factors as the starting point.
    Editor’s Note: Revisionist history from a cart fan. I get it. If that is where my personal experiences began I might even agree. But factually the highest of highs for Indy Car racing occurred in the 50’s and 60’s. By the time cart came along the was no real renaissance. Especially not the grandiose version fans that began watching during that period have created for themselves. There were a few blips and it was fun to watch but mainly NASCAR had begun its ascendancy in earnest. cart has essentially been re-created and Tony George is nowhere near leadership of the sport, but the sport still suffers. The whole point of this topic is to urge the current leadership to pay more attention to what has succeeded over the entire history of the sport and what has actually failed. Twice.

    Comment by Jason — August 2, 2013 @ 6:20 am | Reply

    • I have felt since even before the split that Roger Penske was a very bad influence on Indycar racing. Nothing that has happened since has ever changed my mind. I believe firmly that the reason for the split, the attempt to minimalize Indianapolis, and the current direction of Indycar, belong to one Roger Penske.

      Comment by Bob F. — August 5, 2013 @ 3:41 pm | Reply

  7. In the United States, road racing has always been trying to play catch up, like soccer. Even though there were road races over 100 years ago it never had a real series until the 1960’s. Television technology at that time could not cover it and so each series lived and died by the on site fans. CART introduced more road races than USAC had, but it gave Indy car racing more of a split personality which it has never recovered from. CART tried too hard to imitate Formula 1 and the effort continues today as Indy Car has basically become CART 3.0. Why are the car numbers suddenly so small and why is there a “podium”? Ten years ago it seemed like an upgrade to have Penske, Ganassi, etc. join the IRL but it has turned into a Trojan horse. They did not really want to play by IRL rules, but instead it seems now like it was more of a business decision in which they could rebuilt CART using the IRL infastructure. Like having Manchester United and Real Madrid join the NFL and then in a few years there are penalty cards and some kind of net instead of an end zone!

    NASCAR has succeeded because they mostly built on their roots, They have not tried to reinvent themselves every 5 years. They have been able to fool their fans into believing that they are watching “stock cars” when in fact there is nothing stock about them. However, NASCAR has not toyed with the concept of big passenger like cars driving around ovals. It is a model that has worked for over 60 years. Indy car, in contrast, has divided itself and had so much infighting, starting with the USAC-CART war, it is a wonder that it even still exists.

    In a perfect world there should be an open wheel National Championship with drivers showing skill in different divisions each of which would have their own schedule and organizations. While we are at it, in addition to oval and road divisions, why not a dirt division as well? It would be fun to see what Bourdais and TK could do with a Silver Crown car! But in the actual world the attainable would probably include upgrading the Triple Crown by doubling the points for those races and going back to some of the tracks that have been dropped like Nashville Kentucky and Pike’s Peak.

    Comment by pb2y — August 2, 2013 @ 5:01 pm | Reply

    • Can I get a Hallelujah for Brother Disciple? Hallelujah! Amen, brother. Well said.

      Comment by spreadoption — August 3, 2013 @ 11:55 pm | Reply

  8. I think you hit it on the head. My opinion is that Indy car racing started going down hill when the influx of foreign drivers started to show up. Not taking away anything from their abilities, but people in the United States want their local short track hero’s make it to the big time. They don’t want to watch Helio or Takamura. They want the Steve Kinsers and Sammy Swindells.

    Comment by Paul — August 4, 2013 @ 1:53 pm | Reply

  9. With all due respect to all that posted…..I think Disciple has this one correct. Failure to acknowledge oval racing in a series overdone in road racing has turned many a eye away. We can discuss many parts of the failure of Indy Car from a multitude of perspectives. But not having ovals as the primary piece of the racing platform has in effect turned many off to the sport. With the names Milwaukee, Trenton, Ontario, Michigan and others gone……It isn’t worth the time to watch it. Part of getting back to basics is starting from where you once came…….that is based in oval tracks.

    Comment by oldwrench — August 5, 2013 @ 1:41 am | Reply

  10. D, I have a question that may be off topic but maybe not. Do you think Honda’s involvement with USAC will be a good thing or a bad thing? Will Honda try to nudge USAC towards more road races or will Honda get behind some up and coming short trackers and try to move them to an Indycar team? Kind of like they did with Lucas Luhr and Sarah Fisher Racing.
    Editor’s Note: I suspect they will try to change the formula completely.

    Comment by Chris Lukens — August 5, 2013 @ 4:44 pm | Reply

  11. D: as road racers like to say, “spot-on, chap.” A heavy reliance on road racing is a sure-fire recipe for long-term irrelevance.

    By the way, your recurrent characterization of less-than-mature cartisans as children is inappropriate. Today’s kids aren’t old enough to have been a part of that time in history. Google “Comic Book Guy” and you’ll have a much more accurate representation of the typical, stuck-in-1995 hater.

    Comment by Andrew B. — August 6, 2013 @ 8:24 pm | Reply

  12. Again…full disclosure here. I’m a new autosport fan who became interested in the sport by watching the Monaco GP this year. Yes, I’m an American and I don’t understand the oval thing so much. I think the road courses are pretty awesome…especially Long Beach. Street racing in historic cities and closed circuits like Watkins Glen are so exciting! The Sao Paulo IndyCar race was some of the BEST sport I’ve seen on TV (besides playoff hockey). Maybe we as Americans should give the road courses more deference. You can tell me to F-off and go watch Formula 1 and admittedly that would be fair. Also unlike most of you I am a newbie…so my opinion is not based in the weight of IndyCar tradition. I am curious though…why are road/circuit courses do disliked here? Is the lower speed?
    Editor’s Note: It is not that they are disliked…they are just not a long term solution for growth or popularity. At least they have not been at at any time in history. But who knows? Networks are now shoving soccer down America’s throat trying to get that popular, and given the browning of America it might reach acceptable popularity levels. Personally, I enjoy non-oval racing but prefer ovals. I think anything less than a 50/50 balance that emphasizes non-ovals is a prescription for failure, as it always has been. The schedule today is horribly out of whack.

    Comment by sme — August 13, 2013 @ 8:46 pm | Reply

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