06 January 2010

Bringing IndyCar to the Masses, Part IV

It's tough finding something to write about regularly during the IndyCar offseason.  Add in the fact that I'm on the road during the winter (perks of the sports information world), and I feel like my blog post-rate slows to a pace somewhere near Milka on a road course.

Still, I'll try and tackle a topic today that I began back in October and revisit today: how can the Izod IndyCar Series increase its exposure and either bring back fans or bring in new fans? 

One of the ideas gaining traction in Indycar circles is to begin exploring the possibility of increasing the average speed of an Indycar.  Some drivers have expressed a desire to push the envelope once again to test the limits of car speed and safety.

Tomas Scheckter alluded to it in his interview on "Trackside" with Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee, that an increase of speed would not only turn some heads when reading about or attending a race, but bring that element of danger that makes racing so unique back to the sport (and let's be honest, there is a segment out there that still watches racing for the wrecks).

This probably would not work at all tracks, first of.  I think Pressdog could attest (and he does, right here) that the G-forces one experiences (on track) at Iowa are high enough, and increasing the speed would only add to those.  No one wants a situation where those G-forces would come close to causing a driver blackout, or a repeat of the CART race in Texas in 2001, which was canceled because of high G-forces.

Also, road course speeds would likely stay the same, or be comprable, unless the Izod IndyCar Series began impelement F1-style technology to its braking mechanism.  Since this is highly doubtful, speeds might increase a bit, but not enough to turn many heads.

Increased speed would be most noticeable on larger ovals, and since Indianapolis is the largest oval on the IndyCar circuit, I'm sure most speed increases would be implemented here.  And that's not a bad thing - with its history, the Brickyard is where many speed barriers have fallen - doing this at IMS would once again bring some the speed prestige back to the track.

It has been 13 years (and will be 14 by this May) since Arie Luyendyk set the four-lap qualifying record at IMS at 236.986.  His one-lap speed of 237.498 still stands, too.  (I was 14 when the last track record was set at the Speedway, which makes me feel old). 

Unfortunately, 1996 was the year that Scott Brayton - the pole sitter for that year's 500 - was killed in a wreck.  Since then, speeds have gradually been reduced to levels that would have barely made the pole in 1989, when Rick Mears took it in 233.885 (Castroneves won the 2009 pole in 224.864).

In the meantime, safety measures have brought about an unprecedented level of safety in sport in which the participants consisently top 200 mph.  Playing the "Indianapolis 500 Legends" game I received for Christmas, just looking at the Indycars of the 1960's lets you know how much safety has improved - any type of flip in those machines (especially from the early 60's) was a virtual death sentence. 

With five-point safety harnesses, SAFER barriers, wheel tethers, etc., drving an IndyCar is probably safer than it ever has been.  If speeds are increased, would drivers still get hurt - and potentially suffer life-threatening injuries?  The answer is yes.

But if drivers are on board to increase speeds again, and the safety improvements of the last 20 years can handle those increases, then it makes sense to push the envelope once again in an effort to bring people to the track.

Additionally, to the lay person, the speeds an Indycar runs today versus what a NASCAR operates at are virtually indistinguishable.  As I listen to sports radio during the day, I hear "those NASCARs go near 200 mph," far too often.

Allow me to rant here: first off, they don't.  Not even close, unless you're at a few tracks (Daytona and Talledega are tracks they might approach 200 mph, but consider that Martin Truex won the Daytona pole with a qualifying effort of 188.001 mph in 2009). 

Consider Indianapolis, where Helio Castroneves won the 2009 Indianapolis 500 pole at 224.864 mph.  For the Brickyard 400, Mark Martin took the pole in 182.054 mph.  While we're obviously comparing apples and oranges car-wise, Martin's speed would have last won the pole at Indianapolis in 1971, when Peter Revson took P1 in 178.696 mph in a McLaren/Offy, setting a new track record.

On a completely unrelated-to-speed topic, let us tackle one of our favorite subjects - the future Izod IndyCar schedule and its expansion.  I'll touch on it briefly, because I think George Phillips at OilPressure.com covers it pretty well in his article here.

George says that the Izod IndyCar Series should look at adding Road America in 2011 to cover for the loss of Milwaukee, along with adding New Hampshire, since New Hampshire Motor Speedway wants the series and has an IndyCar-friendly president in Jerry Gappens.  Can't argue with any points he raises.


  1. Hey, man. Good stuff here! Agree completely with the NASCAR comparison. I just tackled this topic myself at http://bit.ly/5OxdyZ You're on part IV - this could be a 100-part series! But glad to hear that there are other open wheel nuts in the world thinking about it.

  2. Dan, thanks.

    I think there's plenty we can all agree on in regards to what the Izod IndyCar Series needs to do down the road.

    I'm planning on tackling the video game issue head on early next week, too, after venturing through the racing video game market.