Now that IndyCar teams have a much needed week off the pundits have taken to second guessing the leadership again. One example is a really good column in Racer by Robin Miller that describes rampant frustration with Mark Miles’ newly compressed schedule. Evidently the situation in the paddock is a lot of worn out, walking zombies sending out resumes for other forms of work when they are not on the road and missing sleep.
That sentiment is easily understood, particularly from someone who travels a lot for business and still manages to squeeze in a few races every year. The most frustrating part of this particular predicament is the lack of caring, empathy or long term solutions from the top. Mark Miles has been lauded a lot for his accomplishments in sports in the past. One look at professional tennis justifies such praise. He also deserves criticism.
Anyone appointed to the job he has will face difficult decisions. The only realistic option for attaining black ink instead of red ink is simple. Cut expenses and raise prices. Over and over. That mission has been accomplished but what will it do to the sport long term? Those who tie history back to USAC no longer have a case. That ship has already hit the iceberg and the only thing its leadership can do is salvage floating pieces of wreckage to try and humpty-dumpty that organization back together. Davey Hamilton was recently hired to try to do just that as well as set a future course. He lasted seven weeks before being made to walk the plank. USAC is just the latest of a 100-year string of failed sanctioning entities to flounder and wither or simply die.
IMS is charge of everything once again, and things at IMS are looking mighty rosy. This is especially true given the upcoming 100th running in 2016. Now that Miles has been given credit for something resembling profitability it is time to look critically at a few items for which he is nearly universally panned.
First, a shortened schedule. It may seem to be a swell idea for Miles and external consulting entities, but neither attends every race nor turns any wrenches, rebuilds cars or jack-of-all-trades for days on end, then faces the very real prospect of six or seven months of unemployment. All indications are that Miles simply does not care and is intractable on his/BCG position.
Second, an Indy-like experience outside Indy. Miles has surrounded himself with executives who also supposedly have the business chops to make a series like IndyCar mainstream. The problem is we have now seen years pass with no discernible difference from regime to regime. Relatively speaking selling sponsorship for the 100th running of the 500 is probably something any motivated high school student could do for a lot less than some fat six figure salary. Constructing a schedule of high value supporting events along with any coherent way to promote them around the country and world has proven elusive.
Take Pocono, for example. It is an oval that was designed by IndyCar drivers and built for IndyCars back in the early 70s. Open wheel dysfunction and conflict ensured its profitable future as a NASCAR track. IndyCar fans waited twenty-four long years for that track to return and when it did many more than actually attended wished they could. Thankfully the schedule was changed this year from a holiday weekend to a normal summer weekend. Problem is when IndyCar is the only on-track activity and there are only 22 or 23 cars normal fans are going to wonder why they should spend hundreds of dollars to make such an effort, and our fear is that this legendary track will become another three and done for IndyCar. I received my tickets for that race in the mail, and the ticket times do not agree with the published schedule times. No discernable promotion is occurring for the event anywhere in the Northeast. Worse, if people get a good look at the published schedule and see essentially a shell game of IndyCars on the track only sporadically, the prospect of sitting in exposed summer heat will cause many to just set DVRs and watch the race at home, which will probably be another parade with so few entrants on that huge track. Another year is going by with zero attention to events outside Indy.
Third, Miles’ assertion that scheduling of tracks, primarily ovals, within driving distance of Indianapolis will detract from Indy is ludicrous. The fact many tracks are within driving distance is the very reason many Midwestern fans would attend more races, assuming they got priced coherently (the Andretti people have not yet figured that out) and actually promoted. IndyCar should definitely be at Chicagoland, Kentucky, Gateway, Michigan and even Memphis. Elimination of such venues combined with the most awful lack of presentation everywhere else, particularly ovals, has turned many fans back into Indy-only.
Perhaps Mark Miles will one day figure out the visceral soul shaking allure of the sport is what ultimately makes the dollars flow. His laughable attempt to micromanage that elusive concept (events leading up to qualifying weekend at Indy are exhibit A) that evolves much better organically is his biggest failure, particularly anywhere outside Indy. His style will either work or he will end up on the sidewalk like the litany of his predecessors.