Robin Miller's Mailbag for July 18, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Robin Miller's Mailbag for July 18, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Insights & Analysis

Robin Miller's Mailbag for July 18, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

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Iowa, 2018. Image by Levitt/LAT

Q: So assuming that Laguna Seca is in and Sonoma is out (as appears to be the case), the 2019 schedule for the moment features 16 races at 14 venues by my count. My question is, where is the 17th race gonna be held? Mark Miles specifically said that there will be 17 next year. Hope he’s right.

Kevin Kemer

RM: There will be 17, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised if a couple of the potentials become reality, but the schedule is still a long way from being finalized.

Q: Why do I get the feeling that we’re looking at a repeat of the failed revival of Milwaukee? No question Laguna Seca has the history and prestige and is a fantastic place to race. But, to quote “Top Gun,” “It takes a lot more than just fancy flying” Why has Road America succeeded where the Milwaukee Mile failed? It’s financial viability, marketing, a fan-friendly experience and great racing, to say nothing of the stewardship of the facility. The racing has been great at Laguna Seca over the years, so it would stand to reason that it could be a great show there again. That’s out of their control. But there have been lawsuits about financial viability and mismanagement in the last few years, and attendance hasn’t been great for other events.

Now maybe the plan about scheduling with other series is going to pan out to bring in the fans so the logistics are the main draw. But whatever that plan is, Sonoma (let’s forgive the Hindenburg that was the San Jose GP) has proven that there is no fan interest in IndyCar in Silicon Valley, or anywhere really north of Bakersfield, which is a shame because a company from that corner of the world could be something that could continue to help up the ante in the technology and innovation sectors as a new title sponsor.

Elkhart Lake’s fan base was more than ready for an IndyCar return, unlike Milwaukee, which was additionally plagued by scheduling issues. So unless SCRAMP follow the blueprints of John Bommarito or George Bruggenthies or there’s real sponsor money behind this one, I think we’re looking at the next Pocono, Fontana, Phoenix and Milwaukee. Which is a shame because Laguna Seca went out with a whimper one time. Twice would be downright shameful.

Dan W., Ft. Worth, TX

RM: To be honest, the last couple Champ Car races at Laguna Seca were awful. And so was the attendance. Can this new aero kit save it? Possibly. As you point out, it’s a tough area to draw nowadays, even though it was packed for CART in the ’90s. A title sponsor is imperative to try and survive, because when you’ve been away for more than a decade you are going to have a hard sell on your hands.

Q: On the 2019 schedule, I guess location/track-wise, Laguna for Sonoma will be a direct replacement. As for Phoenix, there doesn’t seem to be very much in the way of choice for IndyCar. If they can’t find anything, do you think they would stay with 16 races, or bump Toronto or St. Pete up to a doubleheader? Frankly, it ought to consider it for Road America, given the crowds it had on Saturday up there.

Greg, Belleville, NJ

RM: It’s going to be 17, and I would try a doubleheader at a place like Laguna to try and do something different in promoting IndyCar’s return. Of course the downside is that it could be two bad races, but all those twin bills USAC ran in the ’60s and ’70s seemed to work.

Q: Iowa was a fantastic race this year. I heard that during the broadcast of the race, it was mentioned that Iowa Speedway was wanting to get the race back to a Saturday night race. Any chance of that happening? I was at the last night race at Iowa and at Gateway last year. Love to see these guys at night races.

Bill Oliver

RM: I kinda jumped the gun on NBCSN at Iowa and reported it was likely. I believe Iowa Speedway president David Hyatt will be making an official announcement soon about going back under the lights in 2019.

Q: Some of the posters on the RACER.com boards lament that not only are IndyCar’s oval events suffering from soft attendance, but that crowds are down across the board and even NASCAR is experiencing a downturn – as if this makes the suffering of IndyCar’s declining oval fortunes more acceptable and understandable. I say bunk, and here’s why: IndyCar has watched the state of its oval events deteriorate over the last 10 to 15 years with the loss of all manner of ovals, whether owned by ISC (Homestead, Richmond, Michigan, Fontana, etc.), SMI (Kentucky, Loudon) or independently-operated such as Nashville, and done little to nothing to shore up its oval markets or reverse the decline of interest in oval racing, which remains the lifeblood of IndyCar and essential to balance the schedule with the road and street events

Many commentators point out that advertising, marketing and promoting the series’ events is not IndyCar’s responsibility, but rather the obligation of the track owners and promoters who, in exchange for ponying up what we are often told is a substantial sanctioning fee paid to the series, get to keep the gate receipts, concessions, parking, and other streams of income brought into the coffers on race day. While this has been the standard operating procedure for a long time, this model appears to need a revisit since something is not working, with venues like Phoenix throwing in the towel after experiencing money losses, and all ovals not named Indy are in jeopardy of extinction – and that would be a crying shame.

I say it’s high time for Miles, Frye and their Hulman handlers to end the charade and get down to the business of figuring out how to save the ovals and turn around the declining state of oval racing with bold and decisive action. After all, the Hulmans are the stewards of the heritage and legacy of IndyCar racing, and if the ovals go the way of the dinosaurs, the blame will lie not with track owners and promoters sick and tired of losing money on events nobody wants to attend anymore. The blame will lie with the people in charge of IndyCar, which should conduct its affairs like a professional sports organization and not a club series.

Somebody has to take responsibility, and I say it’s the people who profit the most off of the series’ success and the hard-earned dollars that I and my fellow IndyCar fans shell out to attend events live and in person. We can all rest assured that the France family is not sitting around while NASCAR’s attendance plummets. We’d see the Monster Energy girls behind wheel before we’d witness the Frances stand idly by while NASCAR watched its market share shrivel up and die.

Neil Rubin, Miami Beach

RM: Couple things: If Phoenix lost any money it wasn’t much, because IndyCar pretty much leased the track and was the promoter. And the Hulman/George family has nothing to do with the day-to-day operation of IndyCar. As for the solution to the lack of crowds at ovals, you tell me. Iowa started out adding seats and is now half-full; Texas use to draw 75,000 people and now can’t get 20,000; Phoenix was packed before The Split and has been a ghost town ever since. Why? Promotion? Marketing? Apathy? All three? Tracks shy away from an IndyCar race on an oval because the risk vs. reward is so skewed. Gateway worked because it’s got some smart people and a home run for a title sponsor with Bommarito, but they work year-round to keep the race in people’s minds and that doesn’t happen anywhere else except Indianapolis. I wrote that ovals were an endangered species because it’s the truth. Yes, they’re exciting and IndyCar’s heritage and we need them, but people don’t go anymore and IndyCar may be down to three by 2020.

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