19 May 2010

It's Not the Month of May Until Ed Hinton Criticizes Indianapolis

Each May, it seems like Ed Hinton uses his ESPN.com pulpit to announce to the masses, "the Indianapolis 500 is not what it used to be."

Frankly, he's been at this for nearly 13 years now (
see a similar article from the June 2, 1997, Sports Illustrated), and to a fan of the race, it's getting pretty damn old.

I wrote about a column of his a year ago (from the Andretti-Petty alliance at Indianapolis), and unfortunately, I'm writing about another salvo he's firing at the IZOD IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500 this time, too.

In preparation for this year's Indianapolis 500, IndyCar fans are treated to a
four-part series from Mr. Hinton (the only time of the year he writes about the IZOD IndyCar Series), recounting The Split from a man who was Sports Illustrated's auto-racing journalist at the time, and who now shills for NASCAR on a weekly basis.  And while these articles are informative (this one has some good nuggets and background leading up to 1996), the timing of it strikes me as odd (and his comparison to the American Civil War is ridiculous).

Call me crazy, but you'd think that ABC would want to promote the hell out of the positives of Indianapolis and ESPN.com would reflect this.  You know, since screaming "this race isn't what it was" really drives eyeballs to the TV sets, among other reasons.

I'm not going to bore anyone with the details; the split happened when I was 13; the warring factions have reunited and are building a strong, competitive series.  If Ed Hinton wants to look back and wax poetic about the days of CART and how NASCAR became "America's true racing circuit" (my quotes, not his), that's his business.

But let's not re-examine The Split two-and-a-half years after reunification (May of 2008 might have been a better time for this to run).  And let's not perpetuate the myth of NASCAR as the "great American sport;" it's not - Indianapolis and IndyCar racing was around well before the moonshiners in the South ever got together.

Furthermore, can we end the falsehoods that the Indianapolis 500 has been irreparably scarred by The Split?  Yes, the 500 had some lean years (I know, I was there).  But, let's acknowledge that the 500 (and IndyCar racing) have been trending upward of late.  Attendance is coming back.  Sponsorships are (slowly) growing; with an economic turnaround, I would expect more sponsorships and more full fields.

The spark behind IMS is still there.  Are the days of massive crowds on qualifications behind us?  Probably.  But I know I'll be there, with some folks who have never attending qualifications before, so it's a start.  Lost in the whole "attendance" debate is this: just as the series suffered due to the retirements of Mears, Rutherford, Unser, Sullivan, Rahal, etc., a new generation of fan was growing up.  This generation didn't have the money required to attend races.

Now that generation has some pocket change (I know, I'm one of them), allowing them to make it to the track(s).

Give it some time, Mr. Hinton.  Stop worrying about events that took place in 1995 and 1996.  Look at the present and the future.  People have stopped watching cars travel in circles non-stop.  The series you cover has encouraged drivers to wreck each other in an effort keep eyes on the TV, but can't put butts in seats right now.

Meanwhile, attendance for the IZOD IndyCar Series has been strong (Kansas excepted).  250,000-plus will pack IMS on May 30 - a crowd that NASCAR would kill for.  Fans are excited to watch cars topping 225 mph going wheel-to-wheel with danger lurking at every corner (as opposed to bumper cars).  Speed and glamor are coming back into vogue, with the help of IZOD, a committed title sponsor.

The Indianapolis 500 and the IndyCar Series are on the way back; they've been on the way back since early 2009 (the 500 since before then).  Now if you'd stop looking to the past for your articles, you might notice this.

UPDATE (May 21, 10:30 a.m.): Having gotten around to reading Part II of Hinton's four-part series on The Split, I must say that this portion is worth reading.  Look, I still disagree with the timing of it, and how this is rehashed by the same author every May, but Part II is informative in nature, and generally well-written.


  1. I have to admit that I can't stand Ed Hinton as much as any open-wheel racing fan, but I actually found this article a bit enlightening. I didn't necessarily get the sense that Ed was trying to bash Tony George and the Indy Racing League as much as he was trying to put all the facts (or at least as HE sees them) onto the table. I do agree though that it seems counterproductive for ABC/ESPN to run this story NOW when they should be promoting the race, not talking about its "downfall." This would have been an interesting piece to read in the offseason but I could do without it for the time being. Look, the war is over, nobody won, and it's time to make things better again.

    Isn't it funny, though, how Hinton looks at history. Did he actually say that both sides of the American Civil War were NOT devastated? I would suggest he re-read his 8th-grade history book and look into the effects of the Civil War. He'll quickly note that neither side recovered for a VERY long time - much longer than he has given the 24 months since IndyCar reunification.

  2. Paul -

    I'd agree that the article is better than others written in the past. And in some instances, it's fairly informative.

    But at this time, what's done is done. I really don't see the point in rehashing the events of 15 years ago, when the series has been together for a 2.5 years. Like you, I would have rather seen it in the offseason, or May of 2008, when the new teams were here for the first time.

  3. The split was more than just the 25-8 rule and big teams boycotting. It was the end of the competition that attracted fans to racing and the beginning of the speedway dictating how to drive, what to drive and when to drive.

    There is Zero evidence that the 500 is trending upwards in attendance. Zero. Clearly you weren't there in the 70's and 80's when the infield attendance dwarfed the current attendance from the center of the south chute to the center of the north chute. No owner will tell you that sponsorship dollars are trending upwards.

    Who is this new generation of fan that couldn't afford to attend the 500? How did they exist at the same time as the NFL and NCAA both experienced 10 consecutive years of increased season ticket sales. How does such a generation exist alongside football fans that buy season tickets at a far higher average cost in higher numbers than the speedway could hold? Why could a new generation of IRL fans not afford to attend a race while Nascar was experiencing exponential growth in attendance?

    I hardly think Ed should be accused of perpetuating falsehoods.

  4. "People have stopped watching cars travel in circles non-stop."

    Really??? Surely why everyone hates NASCAR while the IRL remains wildly popular.

    Oval racing beats parade cars on road/street courses every time.

  5. Scott -

    You're right, I wasn't there in the 70's and 80's when the infield was unrestricted. In fact, I wasn't born.

    There is evidence that attendance is trending upwards, based on written reports from those there in the lean years of the late 90's.

    Yes, I'll agree that NASCAR attendance trended upwards during the years of the split, but it's no longer trending up. If anything, based on attendance reports from 2010, the IndyCar Series is experiencing a better attendance trend than NASCAR.

    Look, the fact remains that the same article(s) get rolled out every May by the same author proclaiming the Indy 500 to be a bygone of a different era, when it's not true.

  6. Scott,
    BP didn't say that attendance is on an upward trend since the '70s, he said that it's on a *recent* upward trend. Don't you think that the fact that attendance was better last year than it was in '07 or '08 (which I could tell with my own eyeballs in the NE Vista) is a good thing? I know your next argument: "the race isn't a sell-out anymore! It's destroyed!" Well, with years of damage, don't you have to stop the downward trend, and then restart the upward trend again? Like riding a wave, you get to the bottom of the wave, dwell near the bottom for a bit, begin a slow upward movement and then ride to the top of the next wave. You can't go from 50,000 empty seats to a sell out in one year. Nor can you go from a 4.0 TV rating to an 8.0 in one year. There's a thing called market momentum to be overcome.

    And I can tell you, there is a generation of fans who couldn't afford to go to many IndyCar races or the 500 that now can. Every morning when I'm shaving, a member of that generation is looking back at me. I couldn't afford to attend the 500 in the early-'90s because I wasn't even out of high school yet, plus I lived 500+ miles away. Nowadays? I still live 600 miles away, but I can afford a plane ticket, a hotel room and a pair of tickets to the race. That's what BP's talking about.

    As to Hinton's column, reading this stuff every year is disgusting. You want to shovel some dirt on the Speedway? Maybe you should do it at a time when your parent company isn't running TV ads imploring people to watch the race that you say "isn't the same as it used to be". When you do that, you're adding to the problem, not archiving history or solving anything. Idiot.