04 September 2009

The Hunt for IndyCar Racing

We're in Day 6 of the hunt for IndyCar racing - so far, no sign of a race, though rumors abound that crates of racing supplies are being packed and prepared for a distant race.  We'll try and survive, while wondering why an American open-wheel series wouldn't have a race over Labor Day weekend (though thanks to Kentucky Speedway for stepping in and taking care of that next year).

So for now, we have plenty of notes to go through, starting with a proposed return to the 11 a.m. start to the Indianapolis 500.

My take - as a resident of Indianapolis, I don't really care what time the race starts.  I have the Super-Secret Route from my house to the track that isn't crowded at 8 a.m., and it certainly wasn't packed when my father passed down the S.S.R. to me back in high school.

Now, would moving the race to 11 (or even 12), help with ratings?  Maybe.  Team Penske President Tim Cindric went as far to tell Curt Cavin:

"It's worth one (ratings) point, at least."
 Is that the case?  Probably not in terms of ratings points - even with the addition of a few NASCAR drivers (the Robby Gordons of the world), the casual fan isn't going to tune to the Indy 500 just for that.  As it stands right now, fans can watch the Grand Prix of Monaco in the morning, the 500 during the day and the Coca-Cola 600 at night (unless you're in Indianapolis, then you watch the 500).
What would help the ratings increase for the 500?  Continued close, side-by-side racing will help increase ratings.  As will the continued renewed interest in IndyCar racing.  If the crowd for the 500 is coming back up (and believe me, it was back up last year), then the chances are that more eyeballs will hit the TV screens, in time.

On to point number two - the Grand-Am test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday.  I didn't get to go, courtesy of a staff retreat (always fun) and a sports information directors meetings (a good time).  To me, a Grand-Am or ALMS race at IMS would be an excellent addition to the 2011 track schedule.

Now, would IndyCar or NASCAR serve as a support race?  That's not a bad idea, though I'm not to keen on bringing NASCAR back to IMS more than once a year.  However, if the IndyCar Series decided to stage their finale at IMS' road course (highly unlikely) with Grand-Am racing running on Saturday, it would be interesting to see how it played out.

If Grand-Am or ALMS came to IMS by themselves, I think a 6-hour or 12-hour race would be outstanding.  Finding the time for a 12-hour race, unless it was the middle of the summer would be tricky, but I think a 6-hour race would bring a different dynamic to the track.  

Think about this for a minute: Ray Harroun's 1911 Indianapolis 500 victory took 6:42:08 to complete.  A 6-hour race at IMS would give every spectator a feel for what attending that first 500 felt like.  Now that, coming in 2011 - 100 years after Harroun - would be pretty cool.

Onward to issue number three - Terry Angstadt's ability to talk out of both sides of his mouth.  At Chicagoland, Angstadt (whom I generally believe has helped the IndyCar Series) held court with a variety of reporters and touched on a number of issues.  Among those - New Hampshire, car counts, Phoenix, TV and other subjects.  What I found interesting was how Angstadt talked about NHMS and Phoenix.

Angstadt on revisiting New Hampshire (all quotes come from Bruce Martin's notes column):
“No.  Would you like me to expand on that? I really do feel that a good part of the conversation is when there are two Cup dates at a venue without a long racing season we struggle. SMI doesn’t agree with that and we completely respect their opinion on that but we are not going to agree on every business issue between the two companies. That is a tough market to go into with that challenge. “I don’t let the comments they made impact our relationship, though.”
Fair enough; but here's what Angstadt said about Phoenix:
“That has been one of the bigger challenges for us,” Angstadt said. “We might have even used Phoenix as an example that if we can secure other markets that pay us a good value for our series then we can afford to go to another market or two that is good for the business, although not financially. We offered Phoenix a compelling package to go there but it was not embraced by the promoter. We cannot go there for free, although free is an exaggeration.”
So let me get this straight.  With good solid markets (Brazil), the IndyCar Series can establish other races at venues in which the finances might not be as strong.  So why is New Hampshire out of consideration?  Because of a small window for their racing season?  That makes no sense to me - if Angstadt says that the strength of some venues allows the ICS to go to less-financially feasible venues, then why wouldn't New Hampshire be on that list?

New Hampshire Motor Speedway has a promoter who wants IndyCar Racing.  Let me repeat that - he wants to bring IndyCars to his track.  Yet the IndyCar Series, despite Angstadt's earlier quote about venues, won't go there.  Honestly, I don't understand why the series would look for a road venue next to Gillette Stadium instead of an oval in New England (unless a title sponsorship is involved). 

In my opinion, give New Hampshire their chance.  If they can't draw fans to the track, fine, but at least you've tried.  This is a new, better version of IndyCar racing (remember, there is side-by-side racing on ovals!) that I think people in New Hampshire would embrace.  I'd go, I know that much.  And tapping into the New England market would help the series.  To not go to New Hampshire reeks of unnecessary hubris.

With those three points covered, we can now resume the search for IndyCar racing.  Eventually we'll find it (unless you're on DirecTV), I'm sure.

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