It’s halfway through the 2018 IndyCar season, and Mark Miles has been traveling the country in search of new partners, looking at possible changes in qualifying at Indianapolis, working on the 2019 schedule, examining new venues, singing the praises of NBC and dispelling the rumors (again) that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is being sold. And he understands the Indy 500 purse needs to grow but doesn’t see that happening soon, yet still believes it should always pay double-points.
But the first thing on his checklist? Replacing Verizon as the title sponsor.
“I’m optimistic,” Miles told RACER. “We’re having serious talks with more than one great prospect. I think since we’ve got everything on NBC now and we’ll have more network exposure, better promotion and our racing is better than its ever, we’ve got a good product to sell.
“And that’s my No. 1 priority – finding the next sponsors that will help grow our sport.”
With NASCAR’s asking title price reportedly plummeting from $80 million to $20 in the Cup series, IndyCar has to be realistic. Something in the region of $10 million would likely be a fair market price, while replacing PennGrade as Indy’s presenting sponsor is closer to $1.5-2 million a year.
Even though $13 million sounds like a huge number, the Indy payout has been the same for a decade, and almost a third of the field (non-Leader’s Circle cars) only made $200,000 each last month because the Leader’s Circle occupies so much of IndyCar’s budget. And each Indy check for a LC member includes $300,000 right off the top, so Will Power’s Indy 500 win actually earned $2.2 million for Team Penske – not $2.5 million.
“Nearly half of IndyCar’s expenses are payments to teams,” said Miles, referring to the fact that each Leader’s Circle car gets $900,000 a year, plus support to get people on-track in May in addition to paying the other 15 purses. But why can’t Hulman & Company use some its revenue from May to help with the purse?
“We’re already doing that,” Miles says. “IMS provides very significant revenue to fund IndyCar operations and payments to teams.”
Miles would like to see the Fast 9 pay out $1 million and is a fan of the current qualifying format, but is willing to talk to the car owners about everyone’s ideas for strengthening qualifying. After James Hinchcliffe – and sponsor Arrow – missed the show, Roger Penske recently suggested it was time to protect the full-timers in the biggest race of the year.
“We have to talk to our stakeholders and look at the best outcome,” Miles says. “But I’ve got to tell you that I loved qualifying and I thought it was a great weekend.
“There’s an element of sport and purity in our qualifying with bumping, and what happens next year if we add a couple more teams and have 38-40 cars going for 33 spots? I like the Fast 9 at the end of the day, and I just thought the whole weekend was dramatic.”
The reduction in Indy qualifying points was applauded by everyone, although awarding double-points for the season finale remains a topic of debate. But Miles is adamant that the Indy 500 will continue to pay double points.
“We’re not thinking about changing that,” he says. “Indianapolis is the biggest race of the year, and it deserves it. And I think the series has to have more on the line at the end like every other major sport, so I like double points in the finale.”
As for the 2019 schedule, it’s no secret that Jay Frye is pushing for the finale to be at Gateway, because it was a breath of fresh air in every way last year: it’s a Midwest venue that would draw lots of Indianapolis-based fans, and it’s an oval with a fantastic sponsor (Bommarito Automotive Group), and therefore twice as compelling as a road course. But the possible hang-up is that NBC wants the finale on national television on a Sunday afternoon, and Gateway isn’t sure it wants to move off its Saturday night date.
“We’ve got to do what creates the strongest possible finale for the series,” says Miles. “I love the fact NBC wants to put our finale on national television, but I also respect the fact that Gateway had a winner on Saturday night, so we’re trying to figure things out.”
As for new venues in 2019, San Antonio was warm for a while but that’s quieted down, while Miles is still looking to add one or two international events whenever a great option surfaces. It’s possible Laguna Seca also could figure into the 2019 picture. “We’ll get the schedule sorted out by the end of the summer,” he says.
And finally, there’s the latest round of IMS for sale rumors. Somebody posted on Facebook recently that IMS was being sold to the state of Indiana, and that Purdue president Mitch Daniels (and treasurer of Hulman & Company) will be running it.
“I have no idea where it came from but I can tell you it’s totally false,” Miles grins. “Maybe we ought keep a log of all the B.S. rumors?”