Q: Watching NASCAR highlights, I think Brian France deserves some credit. The job he has done driving away an ardent fan base at Bristol would make Tony George blush. Was that a solid 2,000 people? In years past, wasn’t there a waiting list for Bristol tickets? Goes to show what can be accomplished when you continuously and relentlessly treat your fans like idiots. On a more serious note, I’m honestly shocked at what’s happened to that place, and it makes me really thankful that Jay Frye and crew came along for IndyCar. The contrast couldn’t be any greater.
John in Dayton
RM: I know the weather was rotten, but it was shocking to see all those empty seats. I remember when my pal Wayne Estes was running Bristol and I needed to buy two tickets and he didn’t have any. He put my friend on a waiting list for season tickets, and three years later a couple opened up. But there was a decent crowd at Richmond and Phoenix, and we have to remember that a bad NASCAR crowd at most places would be more than welcome at any IndyCar oval. But the telltale sign to me is that Phoenix is only building 42,000 seats with its new look, and that says a lot about oval racing’s future.
Q: I was a bit dismayed with your perspective on ovals in IndyCar. You seem to have thrown up your hands and appear ready to give up. But being our sport’s only journalist with a connection to its roots, we need you now more than ever. Simply put, ovals are necessary. The IndyCar schedule is vaunted for requiring a wide range of skills from its drivers. Lose ovals, and IndyCar loses some of its luster. The truth is, the current oval races are dropping off in viewership because the racing competition has declined. Nobody wants pack racing at Texas, nobody wants single-file parades at Phoenix. The fans want action.
In my view, it’s the tires. Phoenix is being hampered because of off-line marbles even after the track was “tire dragooned.” Texas drew great crowds for years, even when it became pack racing. But circa 1999-2000 there were no packs, there WAS great racing. Tire wear happened, but not as silly as the “engineered” fall off of the Firestones recently. I get it that you are not a tech guy, but you used to race USAC short ovals. You know that tires can be made to wear progressively, but to not marble the track. Getting rid of marbles will not only help ovals, but it will help at every track. A harder compound at Texas will create less grip, slower speeds and more wear of the tire just because the cars will slip around a bit more. Ask your Firestone contacts, ask Frye, ask team owners. Ask fans. Less marbles on track, harder tires that wear progressively – better racing, and will save oval racing.
Dave Kulish, Sylvania, OH
RM: IndyCar is the most diverse series in the world because it has ovals, road and street courses, and of course ovals are IndyCar’s heritage. But the problem isn’t the tires or the cars or the marbles, the problem is that people just aren’t going to ovals anymore – in IndyCar as well as NASCAR. Texas has featured some kick-ass racing the past couple years (Rahal, Hinch & T.K. in 2016), and last year had good racing in between crashes but attendance is dropping yearly. Iowa certainly has its moments, but it’s half-full. And Pocono isn’t bad considering there are only 22-23 cars for 500 miles. But Gateway led them all in attendance last year because it knows how to promote and it had a great title sponsor, and fans responded. I don’t want ovals to go away Dave, but unless IndyCar promotes them, we may be down to a couple sooner than later.
Q: The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach has to be one of the best races in its history. And when I say “race”, I mean the following: A dominant car and driver. Hard racing through the entire field. Rookies racing like they were veterans. Cars hitting the wall as they were slipping and sliding with the new aero kits. Cars that broke. And real yellow flags that affected the strategy of the race. Back in the day we called that “racing”, something that NASCAR with its gimmicks and sports cars with Balance of Performance have forgotten. Hats off to IndyCar for remembering the past, and allowing the teams and the drivers to decide who wins and loses. Finally, the TV coverage is the best I have ever seen. The camera work was outstanding, and the director always had the cameras following the most important action on the track – especially Sebastien Bourdais pulling off the greatest pass in Long Beach history.
RM: It was definitely one of the most entertaining LBGPs in recent memory, and the best turnout in a long time. I think IMSA should run with IndyCar every chance it gets because it’s the same fan base and makes the weekends even better.
Q: The fundamentally flawed ICONIC committee gave us a car that took six years of changes to receive superlatives both on AND off the track (at least on streets, obviously it gets an INCOMPLETE on road courses and superspeedways). This time, what’s the real structure for who is driving the next-gen car project? Mark Miles has been on the trail of potential OEMs for years, so let’s assume his input is necessary as a proxy for new partners. Jay Frye has done a more-than-commendable job getting the car to where it is, and possibly getting more power out of the current engine formula in a couple years. But outside of those two and Bill Pappas, who else is going to have a big say in this thing? Have they learned the lesson of Randy Bernard’s successful failure and will they eliminate undue outside influence?
Dan W., Ft. Worth, TX
RM: I think between Tino Belli, Pappas and Jay talking to engineers, Honda, Chevy and Dallara, it will be more of a community project. I think we’ve all been impressed with Jay’s desire to hear from the major players and then make a decision.