Robin Miller's Mailbag for August 1, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Robin Miller's Mailbag for August 1, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Insights & Analysis

Robin Miller's Mailbag for August 1, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

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Race start, Las Vegas 2011. Image by Levitt/LAT

Q: I was at Las Vegas Motor Speedway back in 2011 for IndyCar qualifying. I was unable to attend the race the following day, and with what occurred that day I’m glad I didn’t see it. I was watching Dario Franchitti making his qualifying run and noticed that when he was coming out of Turn 2, he was already at terminal velocity. I thought, “That’s not good… they won’t be able to get away from each other.” And as it happened, they couldn’t. Although many people seem to blame the track, I’m not one of them. I think it was the set-up of the cars at that time, and having too many cars on the track, that contributed to the mayhem we’d all like to forget. With the new packages and steps being taken to make the racing better, I don’t see why everyone seems so dead-set against giving Las Vegas another try.

Steven Matthew, Las Vegas, NV

RM: The IRL drew pretty well the first couple races at LVMS but attendance began to dwindle, and when Champ Car tried in 2005, they shared the bill with NASCAR Trucks and as soon as that race was over, the grandstands emptied. Then Champ Car has the coolest street circuit ever in 2007, but the Easter Sunday race drew less than 8,000. And there was nobody around in 2011 either, so the real reason not to go back to Vegas is that nobody cares.

Q: Laguna Seca over Gateway as a 2019 finale was absolutely a good decision, for several reasons. Seca is one of the most famous road courses in the world and a perfect place to build a positive image of the series. Pebble Beach is even better than Sonoma for entertaining corporate sponsors, and unfortunately, as much as it is frowned upon among the fan base, in the current economical reality of the series, it is necessary to prioritize sponsor happiness. I also believe Mark Miles understands one thing about motorsport’s fan base – we are terribly nostalgic, and Laguna evokes a lot of CART nostalgia. It worked with the return of Road America. And what about Gateway? I think both fans and series management should change their attitude towards races and their scheduling to an “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” attitude.

Does the race in Gateway have issues attracting sponsorship with its current date? No, it has arguably the best possible sponsorship partner in Bommarito Group. Does it have attendance issues? No, it’s probably the best-attended oval race outside of the Indy 500. Does it is struggling with marketing? No, as attendance clearly shows. So, why should we risk it all with schedule changes? Stability is what brings attendance success, not playing magic chairs with race dates. This issue blends with another one – oval decline. As the history shows, neither IRL’s NASCAR-without-fenders, or late CART/Champ Car’s ‘Diet F1 on street tracks’ works as a vision for open-wheel racing in America.

From what I understand, oval races have better ratings on TV, but have attendance issues, and road course races are very well-attended, but fail on TV. The root of the oval attendance problem lies within a simple issue – you don’t have to go to an open-wheel race to go get your oval racing fix. There is probably a dirt track hosting something on Fridays or Saturdays, or even something like ARCA or Xfinity. In terms of quality road racing, there are far fewer options to consider, and IndyCar may be the best one on the market. It all comes down to a question.: Can IndyCar survive having only two or three ovals and not become F1.5 or a pay driver disposal facility? What happens if one or two oval tracks drop out, or get bought by NASCAR?

Filip G., Częstochowa, Poland

RM: All salient points, but IndyCar is going to repeat the same mistake over and over: a season-finale on a bad track for racing with no crowd or atmosphere that pays double points and will be decided in qualifying and feature no drama and no TV audience. Contrary to what all the experts say, Gateway was prepared to run Sunday on national television and take a chance on getting away from its winning Saturday night debut. But thankfully Laguna is only promised the finale for 2019, so IndyCar can still do the right thing. If you want to wine and dine your sponsors, great, make Laguna the next-to-last race. My mistake was thinking the owners might be impressed with better national TV exposure, a packed house and a real race in the middle of its fan base. That’s why I’m just a 50-year hack who obviously doesn’t understand anything about today’s racing and flunked out of Ball State.

Q: Robin, I love the coverage and the Mailbag, but fan negativity can be a drag on what is the best product in motorsports. This includes the debate about whether the last track is a Midwest oval or CA-based road course. The competition and business-side arguments are both valid. However, there are multiple options to lessen the competitive impact of where the last race is held. Option A would be the elimination of double points entirely, or reserve them only for Indy. This removes the impact on the standings of awarding double-points for a tough-to-pass road course.

Option B would be to keep double-points for Indy, but apply 1.5 times the points for all ovals. This, while gimmicky, would accomplish a few things: 1) Preserve the stature of Indy as the only double-points race 2) Make the total points available on ovals more equal with those on road/street courses, which comprise about 2/3rds of the schedule, and 3) Standardize where extra points are earned and thus deemphasize where extra points fall on the calendar. Neither option allows for a title to be decided on the unpredictability of an oval under the 2018/2019 schedule, but it’s never a guarantee the last race will decide a title wherever its held. I prefer Option A, but Option B could be interesting and would probably generate a ton of emails about how the world has gone to go hell in a hand basket.

Instead of bickering about the schedule and how things have changed, folks who attend races can bring two friends who have never seen one. Meanwhile, IndyCar can build out its digital content platforms, continue the momentum of great cars and a new TV deal, and search for more people who think fast – awesome to become fans.

Michael Sherrill, Chicago

RM: My feeling is that no race should have double-points. Why confuse the fans, and more importantly, why have a year-long championship be held hostage by the final race? IndyCar doesn’t and hasn’t needed any gimmicks to have the title come down to the last race. Keep it pure, but Indy is the only race that should pay double if IndyCar insists on double-points.

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