Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag as presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, Calif.-based company at http://hpd.honda.com/ and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD . Your questions for Robin should continue to be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you.
And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, remember that Marshall Pruett tackles them in his Tech Mailbags. Please send tech questions to PruettsTechMailbag@Racer.com.
Q: Now that Jeff Belskus is leaving, what do you see in the future for Indy? Do you think it’s going to be the same old same old or are big changes coming? I think they should get an auto racing expert and not a salesman. A top Andretti employee leaving doesn’t sound good for Michael. Kind of a slap in the face going to Penske. The 2015 schedule is pretty bad. Looks like the Boston group and the TV people made it up.
Don Betsworth, Torrance, CA
RM: First off, Belskus’ departure will have zero effect on IndyCar or the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He was a bean counter. Oh wait, he did hire the Boston Consulting Group so I guess he was also a visionary. Not sure there are any big changes coming but Mark Miles has already replaced Belskus with Cindy Lucchese. I think Kyle Moyer going to Penske is a promotion.
Q: Just read in the LA Times that Gillian Zucker is now president of business operations with Clippers. What wonderful news for Gillian and the Clippers, but very disappointing for the Speedway. I have admired her zeal in promoting the track and how she finally was able to add IndyCar back on its schedule. The 2012 race was my first in person and an experience I will always remember. The last three years gave been so much fun. Any ideas on a successor? Curious why you left off the elder Mr. Foyt on your list of racing tough customers? I think A.J. could still beat any of them. Fun article, BTW.
Deb Schaefer, Los Angeles
RM: Gillian was a big proponent of IndyCar but so is Dave Allen, general manager at Auto Club Speedway and a big open-wheel fan. Hopefully he’ll move into her position. Didn’t mention A.J. because nobody was dumb enough to pick a fight with him except Johnny White (and Tex swears he put him in a headlock at Terre Haute and did not knock him over a toolbox). Of course A.J., Parnelli, Steve Kinser, Jack Hewitt and P.J. Jones would have all made great cage fighters.
Q: What effect to the IndyCar Series do you expect with Gillian Zucker’s resignation and Jeff Belskus’ retirement from their respective companies?
David, Waxhaw NC
RM: If the right person gets picked at Fontana, I think IndyCar will still have a home. IMS and IndyCar will be just fine without Belskus.
Q: I am still not a big fan of ending the season before Labor Day, but if Mark Miles can add a few more international races so the season can begin in early February, it may not be so bad. What are the chances we see a few of them in the future, and if so when and where? As far as the 2015 schedule, the races itself are not too bad, but I would like to see Portland or any race in the Northwest on a future schedule. I would also like to see one last attempt at Phoenix and at least one more race in Canada. What are the chances of seeing Portland, Phoenix, or another race in Canada in the future? If the current schedule can stay intact and we have the additions of a couple international races as well as Portland, Phoenix, and hopefully another round in Canada I think that is a schedule that would be pretty good. What do you think?
Brian, Joliet, IL
RM: I guess Dubai still has a chance for 2016 and I would hope Miles explores Australia and/or New Zealand. Another race in Canada could be Calgary or maybe Quebec City but Phoenix and Portland don’t seem to be in the frame. I want to see IndyCar at Austin and a return to Cleveland, and I always thought Richmond was entertaining and a good draw for IndyCar.
Q: Most of the letters I see lament the compressed schedule, and the concept that IndyCar shouldn’t fear the NFL. I’m confused as to why the most vocal segment of the fan base seems content to ignore the “season shifting” direction that IndyCar is pursuing. If IndyCar starts the season internationally in February as they intend, and we have approximately 20 events over roughly the same number of weeks as the former schedule, what’s the problem with ending on Labor Day? What is it about fall and racing that is so absolutely necessary?
If F1 didn’t take a month off in the middle of the season, they’d end in October instead of November. They also start in March. So if they started in February instead of October, that gets them to ending in mid- to end of September. Roughly two to three weeks after IndyCar intends to end. NASCAR, on the other hand, starts in February, but they run 36 events. If they ran the 20 or so that IndyCar wants, and ran at the same pace as normal, they would end in July. So again, what’s the obsession with continuing after Labor Day? If we get a full schedule, what does running after Labor Day add? Once I got used to being able to watch IndyCar most weekends this summer, it was a disappointment on off weeks – even if I had F1/MotoGP/sports cars to watch. There’s just nothing like IndyCar.
Peter, Fishers, IN
RM: The NHRA, sports cars, Formula 1 and NASCAR spread out their seasons to stay on the radar and stay relevant. I talked to a former IndyCar sponsor that said a five-and-a-half month season wasn’t worth the investment, so it bailed. Running into September and October gives a track like Fontana a chance to run in decent weather and re-establish a fan base. Cramming everything into April-May-June-July-August does nothing for IndyCar’s national media presence. It has none, Out of sight, out of mind. Might as well end the season after the Indy 500 because that’s when the average Joe thinks it ends anyway. And I don’t care if they add four foreign events in January and February, it does nothing for IndyCar’s profile in the USA. Those four other groups mentioned above know their fans want and like a traditional season. So they give it to them and they all understand the NFL isn’t their competition.
Q: I read the Mailbag every week and the consistent theme is that Mark Miles does not listen to the fans at all. I know the fans aren’t always right in what they say or ask for but Miles is consistent at not paying attention. Whether it’s starting times of races or length of schedule. It seems to me that until they have the season go past late August, the series will not grow much if at all. I also wish they could have races like Nazareth again. Nice little track where they just fly.
RM: You would appear to be correct, Miles does not seem to acknowledge the fans’ feelings about the schedule but the starting times are more about fitting the television window, so that’s not really in his hands. I do think he listens – to the three women that now work for him – and since the TV ratings increased and he’s convinced it’s because of condensing the season, the fans won’t be heard.
Q: Stay with me on this: People that don’t golf don’t watch golf on TV. They don’t watch because having not played the game they don’t understand what they’re watching. Likewise, if you’ve never attended a race you can’t fully grasp what’s happening while watching one on TV. The sound, speed, and overall excitement translates poorly to home viewing. My point is, IndyCar has it backwards in my opinion. If you get more people to attend races they’ll come to understand what the sport is really all about. Get them in the pits to see the drivers up close (ABOVE, LAT photo), let them put a name and a face to the names they hear on television. Once they get an up-close feel for racing they might be more inclined to watch on TV. Favoring TV viewership by allowing the networks to dictate start times, etc., over actual race attendance seems counter-intuitive to me. I realize TV brings the series much needed money, but coming at the expense of real race fans seems like a failing proposition to me.
John Fulton, Akron, Ohio
RM: I’ve beat the drum for years that all races need to start at 1 p.m. and be tape-delayed if necessary in order to accommodate the paying customers. But everything revolves around television ratings so it’s going to take precedent. And, unfortunately, it’s not always true that fans in the stands transfer into viewers. I recall Portland drawing 65,000 every year and then seeing how poor the CART ratings on ABC/ESPN in Portland were the rest of the season. But it seems like making new fans is imperative on experiencing the sights and sounds.
Q: I will be attending my first race at Milwaukee in 2015 (I’m pairing it up with a trip to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs play the White Sox in the same weekend). On a few message boards I see some fans complaining about the 4 p.m. local start time and the drive and traffic with attending the race in Milwaukee. I’m sure this start time as to do with the TV broadcast window and that qualifying will be held the same day. My question is, does anyone have data on where the fans travel from to go to the Milwaukee race? How many fans come from the Chicago area and from which suburbs? How many fans travel from the southside of the Chicagoland area or beyond and have more traffic to deal with on the drive? Or is this just a situation of some people on the message boards looking for any reason to complain?
RM: CART use to do exit polls when it was packing tracks in the 1990s and I’ve got an old one that shows 15 percent of the 50,000 people attending The Milwaukee Mile came from the Chicago area. The races started at noon or 1 p.m. back then. I know a lot of people from Indianapolis and Chicago that no longer go to Milwaukee because they don’t want to get home at midnight or later and then go to work.
Q: I get that Eddie Gossage has paid more than his fair share of sanction fees and I have loved every race I have attended at Texas Motor Speedway, but I would go to a race at COTA in March and still get baked in June at TMS. Why is he so staunch in his position regarding COTA? Does he think he has IndyCar over a barrel as an oval willing to host IndyCar when he didn’t pull the plug on IndyCar when they raced in Houston?
Gordon from Dallas
RM: There was a time when Gossage had leverage because, behind Indy, he hosted the second-biggest IRL race. He demanded the race after Indy and got it. But those days are long gone. His IndyCar crowds keep going down and it looked like the F1 race had twice as many people as his NASCAR Chase race a few weeks ago so he’s extra bumpy about COTA. But IndyCar needs to be there with Mike Lanigan and Shell, if that’s still a possibility.
Q: As an avid longtime fan I remain frustrated at the lack of progress the IndyCar series could make when I see opportunities missed and decisions made that run contrary to what seems the most sensible thing to do. As an example, next year’s event in Toronto has lost the double-header format that has been popular the past two years. Despite extraordinary weather which disrupted the event this year, being a double-header weekend has proved popular and had helped with the event’s sagging popularity. I wonder what you’ve heard as a reason for this change?
The date change required because of the Pan-Am games setup doesn’t seem to be relevant if the race is still scheduled on Sunday and the excessive rain this past July was an exception. Next year’s date is just one week later than the Canadian Grand Prix, which draws a lot of racing fans from the Greater Toronto area, so you’d think the Honda Indy would want as strong a draw as possible and would keep the double-header format. If, for no other reason, than to keep the schedule at this year’s total of 18. Losing value as a race date and a series on purpose doesn’t make any sense. Or is it cents? Is there some financial reason the series may have chosen not to continue the double-header format?
Rick M., Toronto
RM: Toronto co-promoter Kevin Savoree said: “We’re thrilled to land a date because we had to jump a lot of obstacles with the city, Exhibition Place, Pan-Am and IndyCar in moving to June. In the end, after eight back-to-back weekends asking the teams to run a double-header seemed unreasonable. We’ll have a great show and hopefully Kim (Green) and I will return to our double-header in 2016.”
Q: I was watching the F1 race from Sao Paulo and this question came to me: With all the times IndyCar raced there why didn’t they use the F1 track instead of racing in the streets? I read all the talk about COTA and then they don’t use the circuit at Montreal either. This seems like a no-brainer. Is there some technical reason IndyCar doesn’t use the F1 tracks that I should be asking Marshall Pruett about or is this purely political?
John in Arkansas
RM: CART and Champ Car raced on F1 circuit at Mexico City, Brands Hatch, Silverstone, Montreal (ABOVE, A.J. Allmendinger leads the 2006 CCWS race there, LAT photo) and Rio de Janeiro, so it’s just a matter a personal preference. I imagine the Sao Paulo promoter wanted to be downtown because he thought he had a better chance of drawing a crowd (which he did) but he still lost millions.
Q: OK, so NASCAR has resorted to the lowest common dominator, and F1 looks to have staying power in Austin. Which brings me to the question, “is it the series or the stars?” Did all those fans At COTA attend to see Hamilton, Vettel, Ferrari, etc., or did they show up because F1 was in town? Could the majority of fans list 8-10 drivers? It really does not matter because the fans attended, regardless.
As stated many, many times, IndyCar needs to do a better job of promoting drivers, and an even better job of selling the series. Make it a must-see when IndyCar rolls into town. You can’t miss all the action of the most competitive, diverse racing series on the planet! Quit playing games, cut the sanction fee, cut the ticket prices, promote at a visceral level. If all of these potential suitors want a race, give it to them. I can see where a street circuit may have to jump through hoops to secure permits, logistical questions, etc. But if you own a race facility and want a race…let’s do it.
Mike, Avon, Ind.
RM: I think the fact F1 only makes one stop in the USA and there are hardcore fans scattered throughout the country makes it appealing. But I also the COTA track is a big part of the attraction. The American public couldn’t identify Nico Rosberg or Scott Dixon.
Q: Thanks for the “Feuds for thought” column – your best column this year for entertainment value. Can you elaborate on the Robby Gordon/Tony Stewart situation? I love the idea of listing “fighting” as a hobby on my resume.
RM: They tangled during practice at Daytona so Gordo confronted Stew, who gave him a shove. Robby grabbed Tony around the throat just as his crew came running and broke it up. Robby and PJ Jones would be a main event for the ages.
Q: I know the new schedule has finally been issued, can’t say I’m all that excited over it. Again, the early ending by Labor Day continues, and I’m not so sure how well the season-ender at Sonoma will be. Don’t get me wrong, I love that track, was there for an Can-Am/F-Atlantic race in May ’80, but its just too much of a follow-the-leader type of track, like Mid-Ohio is, and I just wonder how exciting the series finale will be there, especially if it comes down to the last race deciding the champion! Have to wonder how well they’ll be able to draw fans – they have a small crowd usually, they don’t fill the place up like NASCAR does. At least there’s two new events on the schedule, glad to see them returning to Brazil, have to see how good the track/race will be in Louisiana. Do you know why they dropped the duel races at Toronto and are only having the one race on Sunday? Still wishing for a return to the Glen and of course, Road America! The series also needs to find a place to race in the Northwest. Anyway, I am really enjoying your vids from your “man cave”!!
Tony Mezzacca, Madison, N.J.
RM: It’s going to be challenging to get a good crowd at Sonoma but not because of the promotion. Diana Brenan and her staff do a great job and hopefully won’t have an earthquake to deal with in 2015. The NOLA track is real flat but these cars seem to race well anywhere and Elkhart Lake remains “open” to hosting IndyCar.
Q: You know what I think of the Clown Posse Brigade, but at least they have a plan. A plan based in the realities of the 20th century vs. the 21st we live in, but at least it approaches rationality. Meanwhile over at NASCAR it’s a bad reality TV show with serious WWE overtones and F1 has become a full-scale 3-ring circus with an evil dwarf as the ring master. (By the time the big team lions and tigers finish eating their young the little dog and pony outfits will have died of starvation.) As the great sage of motorsport “Big Bill” France so well put it “Don’t stink-up the show.” Two decades later IndyCar can’t find enough GoJo and Chanel #5 to fix Tony G’s stink. A decade after the NASCAR spec tank Car of Tomorrow “Baby” Brian France is stinking their show just as bad to save it from attendance and ratings hell. As far as F1 and their technocar/ megadollar aristocracy system, they seem to be careening to obliteration just like Europe pre-1910. Bottom line the only wide spectrum top-end motorsport that seems to make competitive sense is WEC and maybe TUDOR if they can survive the transition/ merger.
RM: It would seem sports cars are the lone series in this country getting a bump in attendance and maybe it’s because of all the diversity. But it doesn’t look like anybody has much of a plan to me. NASCAR is a joke, IndyCar isn’t sure what it wants to be, TUDOR is fractured inside the paddock, F1 threw away its sound and USAC remains the best racing nobody knows about – along with AMA flat tracks.
Q: The talk of Alonso’s possible leave of absence from F1 and another article in RACER concerning Kimi’s career after F1 got me thinking what made him choose to do NASCAR (ABOVE, with Kyle Busch in 2011, LAT photo) over IndyCar during his year off? I think it would be awesome to see him in an Indy car at least for the “500” in a few years when his time in F1 is up (I know this is probably a pipe dream). I am also curious if there are any rumors out there for drivers attempting the double this coming May considering Busch’s strong showing in the “500”? I know Richard Petty ran a car with Andretti a few years ago and it would be awesome to see Sam Hornish Jr. attempt the double.
RM: Just guessing but he probably wanted to try the most popular form of racing in this country as well as something completely foreign to him. I think Brad Keselowski and Kyle Larson would be the most compelling (and likely) to next try the May double. And Alonso signed with McLaren a few minutes ago.
Q: The IndyCar schedule is out and we have to live with it (reluctantly). Pocono in August is hot and humid. I remember my dad taking us all up there in August of 1973 and staying in a cabin without A/C. I do miss the days of Lolas, Reynards, different manufacturers, two tire companies, blow-off valve airflow and team adjustments to the car/chassis. For my money the DP01 was the best looking. What do you think? Will the aero packages change things? See you at Pocono.
Dino from New Hanover, Pa.
RM: I’m told the aero package will likely make more of a difference on ovals, so I guess that could separate the close competition we’ve seen with the DW12. But hopefully it won’t be too much.
Q: I have followed Indy racing since the late ’70s. I used to attend numerous Indy events, but now only attend the Indy 500. Small fields and a spec-racer vehicle are not what most fans want to see. Any chance of some new rules on the horizon which will allow some various chassis/ engine combos? I agree that the races are close and there is some parity, but so are the spec racers in SCCA. I don’t want to watch them either.
Mark Hazen, Mentor, Ohio
RM: From IndyCar tech chief Will Phillips: “Aero kits, effectively controlled cost and chassis competition is the main change for 2015. Let’s hope it’s seen as a fairly big change after three years of the existing body.” As for new engine rules, I think IndyCar is open if there’s outside interest.
Q: I’m tired of reading everyone’s comments and complaints that seem to repeat themselves. I’m just happy to be able to watch IndyCar and I’ll take what I can get. Can you tell me if any of the drivers have strange or funny superstitions they perform before each race?
RM: The only ones I know of involves the Brazilian brothers. Helio Castroneves gets into his car on the same side every time and Tony Kanaan always puts his left shoe on first. It must work – they’ve both won the Indy 500.
Q: Love the Mailbag for sure. OK, how about the Haas deal to F1? Is he still doing it or what? Is he crazy and if he wants an open-wheel team it should be in IndyCar not F1 And how about Stewart? He has the shop just outside Indy for his open-wheelers. How about an IndyCar Team Tony? Remember your roots! OK, the Force babe is dating an IndyCar driver. How about daddy/family starting an IndyCar team? Somehow things just don’t make sense.
Steve Lawson, Sarasota, FL
RM: Yep, Haas reportedly has an engine deal for 2016 but I’m still skeptical you can operate an F1 team from here. I think Stew will have an Indy 500 effort some day but John Force is all about drag racing.
Q: When I watch old IRL races on YouTube (I was too young at the time to watch it on TV and know what I was watching) it really bothers me that the IRL existed. Was creating a separate cost-effective league the only choice to fix the issues of the time? Was IndyCar in such a poor state that the only way to fix it was to develop a new series? The quality of drivers in IRL seemed to be very poor and it seemed drivers that were lower level drivers in the pre-split IndyCar world were now elite drivers in IRL. The cars were ugly, slow, and the sound was terrible. How could any fan of the time honestly watch the Indy 500 at the time and consider it legitimate?
I became a huge IRL fan when they came to Nazareth in 2002 (because it was my home track); it seemed around that time the quality of drivers started to increase in the IRL and it lead to the series becoming the number 1 open-wheel series in the United States. What could have been done to to keep IndyCar from splitting in 1996? Do you think IndyCar would still struggle like it is now with TV and attendance if the series would have stayed as one? What would the series look like now if the split never occurred?
RM: I’ll give you the short version. Tony George was upset when Al Unser couldn’t get an engine because of the leases (I think it was 1991), didn’t like the fact there weren’t more ovals on the schedule and people kept telling him CART was going to boycott May unless he shortened the month. He also had Bill France Jr. whispering in his ear that he needed to start his own series and that was seconded by USAC’s Dick King and John Cooper. Obviously, TG couldn’t have picked a worse time to divide open-wheel racing because CART was booming in attendance, sponsorship and neck-and-neck with NASCAR on television. I think Roger Penske made a last-ditch effort to avoid a war but 1996 was the year the Indy 500 was tarnished forever. CART and IRL clashed for 13 years and NASCAR was the victor. Tony put things back together in 2008 but it was too late. By the time unification came along the IRL had engine leases, street races and was CART Lite (A.J. Foyt’s words). Open-wheel racing has never recovered from The Split and it never will.
Q: I think Dick Simon ran a three-car team one year. Wikipedia says it was 1992 with Scott Brayton, Hiro Matsushita, and Raul Boesel. Certainly no one other than Penske ever ran a team with three cars – all capable of winning.
RM: Thanks for that Mark. It’s too bad all the years Simon fielded cars and teams but never won a race. Boesel came close at Indy in 1993 but got a suspect penalty as I recall. I wish CART would have hired Dick to find sponsors for teams. He was a master salesman and decent businessman, besides giving a lot of drivers their start.
Q: Loved your article on NASCAR’s Lame Chase and Two Very Different Ways to Retire. I think NASCAR’s Chase has created some unintended consequences for next year. Basically, what the Chase does is make the majority of the season irrelevant. Why watch until the end of the year; it’s like watching an NBA game. For the most part, the games are decided in the last few minutes – no need to watch until then. Lots of empty seats at the tracks this year, can’t believe this is going to help.
Wally, Eden Prairie, MN
RM: Tony Bettenhausen, Roger McCluskey and Tom Sneva all won Indy car national championships without winning a race, so it’s happened before. But not with 36 races and not with a sanctioning body proclaiming it’s tweaking its playoff format to put added emphasis on winning. Lots of empty seats at Texas and other Chase tracks but Phoenix was packed and the 2.8 TV rating speaks volumes about how many people seemed intrigued, so I guess Brian France is a genius.
Q: Will your motorsports colleagues please call out NASCAR this week on this ludicrous farce of a championship they have contrived? I’ve nothing against Newman or Hamlin, but they do not deserve to be finalists at the expense of Gordon, Keselowski, and Earnhardt. If I sound bitter, I am because I believe there is injustice here. IndyCar has a far superior championship format that rewards a driver for the totality of their work for the totality of the season with an emphasis placed on finishing on or near the top at every race. I don’t believe there is any other way to legitimately crown an ANNUAL motorsports champion. Do you think there is? IndyCar should get respect and attention for maintaining the integrity of their championship, and it is hard for me to see NASCAR getting attention because of a championship that is such a joke.
Marc, Orange County, CA
RM: USA Today’s Nate Ryan wrote something today that pointed out the flawed possibilities and I’m sure Monte Dutton will write something funny and clever about this farce. When three of the drivers with the most wins (Kez, Gordon and Jimmie Johnson) go into the final race with NO chance to take the title and a guy with ZERO wins is still alive, it’s laughable and just cheapens the championship in my mind. Like I wrote here at RACER.com, Newman is simply taking advantage of this sorry system and that’s why I hope he finishes 18th and comes out No. 1. Can you imagine how NASCAR will spin it?
Q: I have a question regarding Porsche’s effort back in CART during the 1987 season. What were your initial thoughts on the effort and why was it so short-lived? What do you remember Al Holbert’s and Al Unser’s thoughts were at the time in trying to get the Porsche effort up to speed?
Don Gregory, La Palma, CA
RM: In 1987, Porsche started with Big Al, a Porsche chassis and engine. It was almost a flat-bottom car, very uncompetitive and by 1988 it was a March-Porsche. They contracted March for a special Porsche-fit chassis for 1989 (ABOVE, IMS photo) and Teo Fabi won a race at Mid-Ohio. Derrick Walker joined the team late in 1988 and said by ’89 the engine was well ahead of the competition. Porsche planned a carbon fiber car for 1990 but it got vetoed by the CART owners because they didn’t have one and got caught with their pants down. So Porsche became disenchanted, packed up and moved on to Formula 1. Walker bought the assets and started Walker Racing. Holbert lost his life in a plane crash in 1988 but never drove the Indy car to my knowledge.
Q: From downtown Chicago, it only takes an hour and a half to get to West Allis. It’s four lanes the whole way now, the average speed in Illinois is probably about 85, and traffic is pretty light going outbound on a Sunday afternoon. Stop for dinner in Lincolnshire on the way back. Take a boat. Take the Amtrak train and a cab. I don’t really care. But it’s not hard to get to the world’s best oval track and back on a Sunday afternoon.
P.S. Seriously, everyone. Please come to Milwaukee. It’s incredible
RM: OK Chris, we allowed once unpaid political announcement, thanks.
Q: Nostalgia, geographics, and NFL competition aside, in my opinion the success of IndyCar’s future ultimately lies in the hands of the younger generation. The “Split” left a 15-year disconnect from one generation to the next and it’s now up to IndyCar to recognize that the 18-35 demo is unaware/uninterested/unmotivated to make the effort to get to know the product, given IndyCar’s current marketing strategy, and as a result like any normal business, they must invest in the future.
I’ve attended countless IndyCar and Champ Car races for decades and one thing is clear, the best way to get the Millennial Generation interested is to make it easy to access (Millennials have short attention spans), fast-paced entertainment (see X games, supercross, etc), and provide a range of other entertainment options to keep them occupied (see: LBGP). The events on the IndyCar circuit that best achieve these criteria are street circuits, not remote ovals in the boonies or road courses in the hills. The main problem with street circuits is that the business models are so difficult to sustain for the promoters to get the events off the ground that they often go away within the first 2-3 years, just as the local fan base are beginning to “get it” (both the event and the IndyCar series). Date equity is mentioned all the time by IndyCar but who’s willing to step in and invest in it?
If I were IndyCar, I’d invest in getting street course events off the ground. Provide a business model to interested promoters that says: we’ll waive the sanction fee for five years, provide a start-cost loan to be paid with interest, provide temporary equipment such as fencing, walls, grandstands, etc. (which IndyCar could then ship to other cities as well), provide professional event management consulting to help train staff, etc….
The point is, IndyCar should be more proactive in building their events and helping their partners (promotors) have success in start-up. With a longer-term view, the series will benefit greatly from this. I know the old schoolers want more ovals and a balanced schedule but if events aren’t bringing in revenue and aren’t selling sponsorship, then what good are they? Empty oval grandstands are a pathetic visual, a total failure to anybody with eyeballs, and make IndyCar look like a mockery in comparison to NASCAR or any major league sport for that matter.
A street course party downtown with 100,000s of people feels like a bloody success and quite honestly is a success in a number of areas. See: Baltimore, LBGP, St Pete, Toronto, Trois-Rivieres, Molson Indys of yesteryear, etc., just to name a few. Street races are a helluva lot better way to entertain clients than racing in front of empty seats in the boonies but just as importantly they’re the most effective way to introduce IndyCar racing to new eyeballs and potential new fans/consumers.
Increase attendance and TV ratings (which I won’t get into here) and you’ve solved the main issues behind bringing in more sponsor dollars, which result in bigger budgets for the teams, who can then hire the best drivers instead of ride buyers here and there, which creates driver/team/sponsor equity, better racing/rivalries and heroes for fans to root for (most notably the younger generation), and whoa, you have a professional sport and a prospering business. Or am I missing something?
RM: Young people are attracted to drifting and supercross, and rallycross seems to be catching on but not IndyCar. At least not in noticeable numbers. Not sure what it’s going to take but the IndyCar fan is a dying breed – just like the ovals. It’s painful to see the lack of support for ovals but your point about street races is well taken – they are events that have more than one race and keep younger people engaged. Road courses like Barber and Mid-Ohio also offer non-stop entertainment and, if ovals are going to survive, they’d best change strategies.
Not sure about your proposals of IndyCar investing in races but it may come to that eventually and having date equity is a must. Your letter is too long for most Mailbags but it was well written and food for thought so thanks for sharing. Just write shorter next time (smile).