The current occupants of the executive level suites at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway continue trying way too hard to increase the gate for a limited number of days track activity is allowed during the long gutted month of May. In some ways the efforts are noble and well intentioned. Lord knows the track has seen one hundred years of better days as part of pop culture and public consciousness. In most cases, however, planned drastic changes appear to be desperate straw grasps devoid of much intelligent coherency or even minimal signs of respect for the traditions that made the 500 the iconic event it became over the decades. Some recent actions demonstrate unparalleled hubris, even when measured with the yardstick of, say, imbecilic Tony George haters who have been in a state of woefully misguided jihad since 1996 and remain generally completely insane.
A couple of years ago Bloomberg published a great list of signs that arrogance is running a company. Here are a couple:
- Your company rationalizes its mistakes instead of learning from them.
- Your company focuses almost exclusively on financial success with little regard for legacy and social impact.
Even we increasingly aging baby boomer ticket buyers who have attended for decades understand why one week of time trials is enough. When only 34 identical cars try for 33 spots what is the point? That lack of any meaningful number of entrants or any real manufacturer competition has led to potentially dangerous gimmickry that trashed the wrenching drama that used to be associated with one balls-out four lap attempt that in most years was the most dramatic portion of the long month for most competitors.
Pole day and bump day. Simple and neat. Problem is the only bumping lately has been meaningless, concocted nonsense. Wonder how these BCG-influenced PT Barnums are going to feel when some driver pulls a Gordon Smiley on their sixth attempt to improve one spot on the grid?
Miles and crew have decided to tempt fate even further this year by moving ‘pole day’ (can we even call it that anymore?) to late in the day Sunday. May weather in Speedway is unpredictable at best and the worst parts of any of the four seasons are always possible then. IMS has been lucky since the gimmickry began but how long can that kind of luck hold out? Fate was slapped in the face when one entire qualifying weekend was nixed. Fate will be pummeled as pole qualifying moves to late Sunday. Hopefully they have a backup plan that is respectful of the long distances many fans travel to see qualifying.
As always many decades-long fans espouse the embrace of common sense, a concept that remains distant for many decision makers. Pole day and bump day could be meaningful on their own without any circus shenanigans again if:
-At least fifty serious entrants were allowed to try for 33 positions.
-Meaningful manufacturer competition was allowed.
-Artificial controls on the availability of parts and engines vanished.
IMS can control its own destiny in far more pragmatic ways than those of recent years, consisting primarily of raising prices for everything and adding additional wallet grabbing opportunities involving parking and access. Want to improve the fan experience and get more people to attend the race? Bring back the drama associated with the hour or so before the race. In recent years IMS has allowed themselves to be raped by ESPN on ABC to conform to snippets that can be squeezed in between commercial breaks while the hundreds of thousands in the seats have been subjected to a disjointed variation of ‘tradition’ with long pauses and no continuity. Take a look at the ’91 pre-race, for example:
No commercial breaks. Flow. Drama. Almost as if you were there. I was, and miss the pre-race greatly. Paul Page didn’t even say a word for many minutes.
IMS should learn from and embrace the important parts of the traditions it created. Seeing most of it get trashed is sickening.