Better late than never and perhaps it is a great idea to compare the event this weekend with what took place last weekend. Full disclosure: Disciple party of six attended the very first NOLA IndyCar GP outside Avondale. Two of us had team credentials and two had media credentials; both allowed essentially the same access. Usually. Although we attended Long Beach last year we have to rely on television coverage in 2015. We have also had the opportunity to retrieve and review the broadcast of last week from the occasionally trusty DVR.
If most people bothered to seek comparison a good one might be NOLA and Long Beach. The west coast institution has a 41-year head start and if there is an event in IndyCar second in stature to the 500 that is probably it. The NOLA folks have a stated goal of making their event the second most attended/popular/watched in IndyCar. They have a really long way to go.
As a drenched attendee most of us had a great time despite the wet, mud, race control micromanagement, and the whimsical, mostly consistently clueless crowd marshalling by yellow shirt wearing minimum wage superstars entrusted with organization there. Expounding on each point:
-The wet. Steady rain most of the weekend exacerbated the primary problem with the venue. It is not yet finished nor ready for prime time. When drainage systems are unable to keep up with the rain that fell or do not exist at all scheduling an event in any weekend that might feature rain is foolhardy. Since rain is as likely to fall in Avondale as it is not in Long Beach the drainage situation must be addressed at the professional engineering level. Immediately.
-The race. IndyCar bringing wet tires to go along with the slicks is fine, but there is no intermediate compound. As a result sudden transition from wets to slicks began a string of yellows that turned a potentially great event into a head-scratching yawnfest.
-It has been my tendency to defend Brian Barnhart as an experienced referee-type voice in race control. Many people who are far smarter than I am still spend a great deal of time either laughing at or explaining the lunacy of Barnhart’s stewardship. Perhaps it is time I started listening. What we have seen thus far this year has not justified previous votes of confidence.
-We are willing to cut the NOLA folks a lot of slack for a first time event. After all they were phenomenal hosts, were as friendly as they could be and went out of their way for the paying customers. That said attempts to get from, say, the garage to the pit area, the pit area to the paddock, the paddock back to the garage, etc., were consistently met with abject stupidity by contractors clueless about access, even though at each entry way it was all clearly posted. With pictures. They made IMS yellow shirts look courteous and knowledgeable by comparison. Here is an example. The first time we attempted to enter the staging area with team credentials that said ‘garage’ we were rebuffed. Evidently we needed wristbands. When we told the wristband people we needed one they indicated we did not. We asked if they minded informing the folks at the gate of that fact. Evidently they minded and just gave us a wristband. Once we made our way through the staging area tents attached to the transporters (no garages actually exist where the IndyCars are) our intent was to walk pit lane (credentials also said ‘pit’ and were on their ‘credentials for dummies’ pictures). But because we were wearing wristbands we were told we were not allowed out of the area in which we were standing (between staging and pits in the paddock). Never mind the credentials. We were wearing wristbands. We turned around, took the wristbands off then walked right through with the same credentials as before.
This type of clumsy cluelessness was rampant all weekend. The same mental giants were also rigidly enforcing access to all grandstands all weekend, even during rainfall. No ticket for a particular stand or section? Access not allowed. Never mind there might only be five people in the entire grandstand. At most tracks folks who attend on Friday or Saturday try to hit all the stands to judge the best viewing locations. We cut them slack, however, figuring someone will have a talk with them before next season about using what is often referred to as common sense.
Here are a few observations lamented by members of our party. The majority of parking (as in 99.9%) was allowed only in remote lots serviced by busses (kind of like the way Barber does it). Unless you were credentialed (and even then it was usually remote) the charge was $20.00 per day. $20.00 each day. Folks that went all three days had to cough up $60.00.
Kudos to the Andretti group for staging quality events every year but their reputation for mercilessly nickel and diming race fans was well earned at NOLA. Some members of the party purchased general admission and indicated they felt their money was completely wasted. They were unwilling to stand/sit in mud puddles or wet grass on a small flat area next to two temporary stands. On the other side of the stands, however, suites used by the Andretti sports folks for higher paying customers were fabulous. Seating at the track was positioned as being able to see the whole track. That is not a true statement. If you happened to sit in the pit stands your view of turn one was blocked by the media building. Regardless of stand, just as IndyCar needs intermediate tires the Andretti sports marketing folks need intermediate pricing for, oh, average racing fans. They should also perhaps put a lid on the aggressive ‘upgrade’ pitches once folks determine they got screwed by purchasing lower priced tickets.
Next year all constituents may want to avoid scheduling the event directly opposite a music festival that rivals Mardi Gras in terms of attendance.
The race itself, once run, was highly forgettable. I yawned while there and yawned when the DVR was fired up. Once the stars n’ cars commenced to wreckin’ there was no turning back. Eventually a timed race resulted and the best part of wading through that nonsense was the verbal tap dancing of the NBCSN on-air crew.
Speaking of season scheduling Mark Miles was not visible so it was not possible to ask him if he had been talked into again having a normal sized season. The other intended point we wanted to make was the absolute necessity of at least one oval prior to Indy. Not having one slotted early is ludicrous.
Overall reaction for NOLA in year one: Meh. Optimism for the future? High. Very high. The people who run the track have the right idea and seem committed. If they do not eventually get screwed by the gypsy-like snake oil purveyors in charge of IndyCar and its connected entities this even stands an excellent chance of long term success. The location cannot be beat for entertainment and food (even at the track). My feeling is that things will improve dramatically each year for the next few, and this venue may take a regular slot. The Disciple party had an enjoyable weekend.