Q: Having attended this year’s spring NASCAR race, as well as the last three IndyCar races, I’m simply at a loss to describe why it is that Phoenix has no problem drawing a big crowd for Cup, but can’t do it for IndyCar. The only differences I could see were that the Cup race was much longer (and that’s not a good thing), and they don’t have nearly as much of a problem with lapped traffic. But it didn’t feature any closer of a battle for the lead at any point during the race. It probably would’ve been a runaway were it not for the mandatory yellows.
Does the general public just find passing lapped cars more entertaining than we do? I’m all for watching Rossi drive through the field twice, but watching leaders drive around backmarkers doesn’t really do anything for me. I’d love to see the cars get more power, and it might make for a better race, but I have severe doubts that it would result in any improvement in the crowd.
RM: The combination of ISC owning Phoenix, hosting two Cup races per year and IndyCar’s decade-long absence are the obvious reasons. Forget the fact an IndyCar laps Phoenix 50mph faster than a stock car, the reality is that ISM Raceway was putting up billboards for the November race on the Friday of IndyCar practice this month. It’s not the speed or racing, it’s the perception, and Phoenix stopped being an IndyCar track after 1995.
Q: We had a great time at Phoenix. Got our infield spot right behind Pagenaud, my five-year-old son’s favorite. What a good guy; he came over to the fence and talked to my son for a few minutes. We don’t get that in NASCAR.
And we saw you walking down pit row while we sat on top of our RV. I hope you’re wrong about successful ovals in IndyCar, I think we just need good racing and an earlier date, when the valley is full of snowbirds and the weather is awesome. (March is always nice.) My question is: What needs to happen to have competitive racing here? Is it the aero kit? Does the track need progressive banking? Are IndyCars just too fast for one-mile tracks? This series is certainly more fan-friendly than stock cars.
RM: Some drivers say the aero is still wrong, some say its tires, some say more power is needed to make passes on the short straights… lots of opinions. But the tire strategy at least made the finish exciting for the people like yourself that did support the race. No comparison to a fan’s experience at an IndyCar race compared to a NASCAR show, so I’m glad your son got to bond with Pagenaud.
Q: I thought the race at Phoenix was a big improvement from the first two years. As you have said, there used to be so much more separation in speed that maneuvering through traffic was a big part of the show. We saw that with Hinch losing the lead, and Jones getting in the fence because of traffic. I think the new aero and degrading tire moved the show at ISM in the right direction. It seems that aging asphalt, more horsepower and daytime conditions are the other needed steps. I really enjoyed the race.
We live in a time where the technology in most race cars is so advanced that the show is effected. Gone are the massive development curves of the 60s and 70s which many look upon so fondly. Now we need things like: 1) Significantly reduced downforce and Push-to-Pass – IndyCar 2) Air ducts and restrictor plates – NASCAR All-Star Race 3) DRS – F1 4) BoP – IMSA to reproduce the shows we collectively hold in such high regard from the past.
Add on to that the fact that if this current generation does not see something blow up or flip over while they run underneath of it recording themselves for Twitter, what can be done? Even if the best race ever produced at Phoenix or any other track was reproduced through changes in HP, aero, temperature, it seems to me the days of sold-out grandstands are gone, not just in IndyCar, but NASCAR too. Maybe it is a natural cycle?
If your review of Saturday’s improved race was so poor, I am left feeling like auto racing in general is in trouble. Please tell me there is a way out of IndyCar racing at different race tracks every two or threee years. How does IndyCar grow in this current environment if Phoenix 2018 was a failure?
Jordan, Binghamton, NY
RM: It was a much better finish, obviously, and there seemed to be more passing (Rossi un-lapping himself), but as I wrote, Phoenix and Milwaukee were always about lapped traffic and how the leaders handled it. With spec cars and stronger teams, there is no longer the big disparity of the old USAC/CART days, so a lot of people are running the same speed. Gateway made a grand re-entry a year ago because it had Bommarito Automotive as a great title sponsor and a group of people that understood promotion and the audience. But without a big title sponsor that is going to sell your race, an oval track has zero chance of surviving. Road courses and street circuits are easier sells because of non-stop action, camping, three-day tickets, etc. But as Mark Miles said recently, how long does IndyCar keep propping up a place like Phoenix?