Sometimes Mark Miles seems brilliant. Other times he seems distant from having the first clue about the most well-known race in the world and how it should be presented. He floated some ‘what ifs’ last weekend about spicing up qualifying. He is not the first to radically screw around with the format.
In golden days of yesteryear Pole Day at Indy meant an all-in roll of the dice. If you failed you had other 3 other days on which to muster a challenge. If you were unfortunate enough to have to sweat out bump day late your entire season could change in less than a few minutes. Grizzled veterans always swore qualifying for Indy was the single most nerve wracking, tense thing they did all year.
Nowadays qualifying is so filled with lowest common denominator gimmickry that it has become a fate-tempting joke. It will unfortunately take the hard way for them to learn when some unlucky driver pulls a Gordon Smiley on their sixth attempt of the weekend.
Miles proposes having all 33 spots filled on Saturday, but only provisionally. Drivers would have to go out again on Sunday to decide the back third of the field, with a ‘shootout’ for the pole among the top nine.
Those ideas may seem rock solid for some but racing fans, current and potential, are not as stupid as IMS believes they are. As always I advocate paying attention to things that made the event famous and use the timeless elements of successful approaches. Here are a few:
-No one would have to worry about any gimmicky or shootouts or nonsense if 50 or 60 cars were trying for 33 spots. Artificial chassis and engine supplies capped at 33 or 34 constitutes colossal stupidity. Make it easier and worthwhile for more people to try.
-Almost every fan on earth has decried spec racing. We love Honda and Chevy and Dallara and Firestone, but the old boy network could end up killing the sport.
-Loosen the rules enough to allow innovation that allows for safety AND speed. Captivate and convert. Micromanagement of competition has sucked the purity and spirit out of the sport.
-Re-invent IMS. Re-paving an ordinary, oft-chided road course is an ill-advised way to spend a lot of money, especially when the only area most visitors are allowed to go most days of the year is beginning to look like the after effects of a natural disaster. Fans need better, more comfortable places to sit. When that is not provided, tickets stop being sold.
Mr. Miles, increasing the popularity of the sport is not as difficult as you might imagine.