Q: At my job, I only get enough time off to make one race a year. Where I live, my two nearest races are Texas and Barber. In 2014 and 2015 I went to Texas and had a great time, but it wasn’t the party that Houston was in 2013, so in 2016 and 2017 I went to Barber.
Barber Motorsports Park and its museum is a sight to behold. The Indy race weekend there is not just a race, it’s a festival. There is so much to see and do there. However, actually watching the race there in person leaves a lot to be desired. No matter where you sit, you can only see the section of track in front of you. The cars go by, then for the next minute and 20 some odd seconds you watch the race on TV monitors set up around the track. That’s also how Houston was. I assume all road/street courses are like this.
After doing a lot of soul-searching I decided I’m going back to Texas this year. I realized that there’s no way seeing road racing in person can match the thrill of seeing these same cars constantly roaring past at 215mph. You can’t appreciate what these cars can do until you witness them running wide-open. At the oval you can pretty much see the entire track from a seat only halfway up the stands.
Although they’ve got a great TV there, if you’re watching the race, you don’t have time to watch the TV. It’s my belief that if the ovals can figure out how to reproduce that road course festival feeling that brings in the causal fans, they will have the goose that lays the golden egg. Take a friend to an oval race! #Savetheovals!
John in Arkansas
RM: Texas is one of those races you can’t look away, and you can’t watch with both eyes because one is always covered up. It’s intense and breathtaking and scary and entertaining all in one lap. When it’s over, the spectators seem to be breathing as hard as the drivers. Barber has been one of the real pleasant surprises of IndyCar during the past decade because it’s nestled in the heart of NASCAR country but draws a nice, enthusiastic crowd, and is usually a damn good show despite the fact the track was built for motorcycles.
Q: After viewing the Phoenix race and later reading your article, I sadly think you may be correct about the future of oval racing and IndyCar. We have lost almost two generations of prospective fans. Potential followers who have no idea of the history, the connection, an understanding of open-wheel oval racing in America. Without referring to past mistakes by league management, etc., other than us hardcore IndyCar fans, most associate oval racing with NASCAR.
Too much time has passed and tradition lost for any young fan to understand that most IndyCar drivers of the past cut their teeth in midgets, for example. It’s hard enough these days to find people who know what a midget is, and those that do, relate it – along with modifieds and sprints, etc – to NASCAR. The transition of drivers like Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart from those cars to NASCAR hasn’t helped, either. With the road course/street race transition over the past 40 years, and foreign drivers headlining, it’s amazing any of the current Indy ovals, other than the Indy 500, survive. Again, the future of ovals in Indy car may be passing. One thought though: 10-lap heat races and a 100-lap main with betting on all heats. A pick 6, Exacta, Trifecta… well, maybe I had too many beers.
RM: It’s not hard to envision the IndyCar schedule only having one oval some day, because it’s too tough to make money (or break even) as a promoter. But betting at the track would be one way to pump some life into things. Randy Bernard ran that idea by the Hulman family many years ago and it got no support, but why not beat NASCAR to the punch? People love to bet, and it would give them a vested interest in watching the whole race.
Q: I was kind of surprised to hear that you and many others felt like the Phoenix race was a dud. On TV, all the action in the pits and such made it a pretty good show, even before the crazy finish. I spoke to a few others who watched it on TV, who also felt it was a great race. That said, I’ve been to enough races to realize that a lot of that pit road/strategy drama stuff doesn’t really translate when you’re there in person. I was also disappointed to see how few people showed up. I’ve got my 500 tickets waiting, as well as my Road America weekend pass. My buddy and I also have our sights set on Gateway and Iowa as well, as they’re all in striking distance of our home in Chicagoland. This season is shaping up to be a great one, I can hardly wait to see the cars in person!
Dylan Burgett, Villa Park, IL
RM: I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve seen too many races and sometimes they all look the same, so I’m glad you and a lot of other people felt it was a good show. It was certainly an entertaining finish, and that’s usually what people remember. As for 2018, three races, three different winners and that’s why it’s fun to watch because you never know who’s pulling into victory lane.
Q: I enjoyed the Phoenix race, but I recognize the pickle IndyCar is in with oval tracks. Are we at the point where its more economical for IMS to just buy unused and run-down oval tracks instead of trying to turn a profit with ISC promoters? Think Rockingham, Milwaukee and Nashville. I realize it’s spending money to make money, but I’m wondering how important keeping ovals on the calendar is to IMS brass.
RM: Can’t imagine a scenario where Hulman & Company buys a track; it’s much more affordable to lease, but that’s also a big expense to do it right. I think ovals are important to IndyCar’s heritage – to a point. Does that mean two or three ovals out of 17 or 18 races some day? I think so. It’s got to make economic sense to a promoter or to IndyCar to stay on the schedule, and right now it’s tough to see more than a couple surviving into the future.