It’s not a pipe dream, or a couple of fans fantasizing, or idle chatter on a radio talk show. It’s a bona-fide concept. And a damn good one.
An IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader is exactly what both series need right now to see if they can restore some life to oval-track racing. Think not? Look at all the empty seats at Bristol, Michigan and Richmond this season for Cup, and last Saturday night’s turnout at Texas for IndyCar.
There is no hiding the fact that the fastest and most exhilarating form of motorsports in this country has lost both its mojo and its box office. Gateway is the only oval in IndyCar to have come along in the past decade that’s managed to draw a good crowd and keep it, while NASCAR’s most impressive turnout is for its road race at Watkins Glen.
Think about that. You can sit anywhere you want at Bristol nowadays for either race, but there’s hardly room to walk, let alone park, at The Glen.
So if nobody shows up for ovals in either camp anymore, what’s the game plan? Keep putting up billboards, printing tickets that don’t get used and hope for a resurgence? Or try something radical? Something, by the way, that your television partner (NBC) thinks is a cool idea.
Sam Flood, the NBC executive producer and president of production, is a fan of the doubleheader concept. From what I’ve been told NASCAR’s Mike Helton is interested, and so is Jeff Behnke, NASCAR’s VP of production for NBC. IndyCar’s Jay Frye has been pushing the idea for a couple years, and it’s his NASCAR connections that have opened people’s minds.
That’s a lot of heavyweights, and NBC spends a lot of money trying to get people interested in motorsports, so maybe both sanctioning bodies should take this seriously.
What are the pitfalls? Well, somebody has to go first, but hell, that’s not a hurdle, that’s a no-brainer. IndyCar runs on a Saturday night under the lights, and NASCAR takes the spotlight on Sunday afternoon.
Where is the best place to pull it off? What track is best suited for a non-stop weekend of action and willing to do it? Even if means changing their date?
Don’t tell me the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, that’s a terrible idea if for no other reason than we’ve already got two IndyCar races, and the Brickyard 400 is hardly a showcase for stock cars.
Kentucky, Chicago, Fontana, Charlotte or Richmond could probably work, but what about Gateway? Curtis Francois and Chris Blair do everything gung-ho and they’ve got the best title sponsor in IndyCar, John Bommarito, in their corner. The obvious pitfall is that Cup doesn’t run there yet – just the Truck series.
So an obvious choice would be Texas Motor Speedway.
“It takes all four parties, IndyCar, NASCAR, NBC and the track, and I like the idea,” said Eddie Gossage president of TMS over the weekend. “We’re interested if they’re interested, and I think it would help both series.”
Gossage already has a super ticket in mind. “How about a World of Outlaws show on Thursday or Friday night, Robby Gordon’s trucks, Legends cars, USAC quarter midgets and then cap everything off with IndyCar under the lights and Cup the next day? I think it could be huge.”
‘Huge’ is a relative term these days, but if Texas filled half its 112,000 permanent seats for IndyCar, that would be a great start. In the early IRL era there were 75,000-100,000 fans, but now IndyCar appears to struggle to draw 25,000, and the NASCAR turnout last March at TMS looked like one of the lowest in recent memory, so that could use a boost as well. Gossage would also entertain moving his traditional June IndyCar date to accommodate the NASCAR show.
Obviously, the hook for NBC is that it televises the entire NTT IndyCar Series and half of the NASCAR schedule, so if it did the double, it could televise two races for the price of one, more or less. But only if it could fall in the second half of the NASCAR season, since FOX has the first half.
Of course the slam-dunk promotion would be to have some of your biggest stars trading rides.
The natural double drivers would come from Team Penske and Chip Ganassi since both field cars in IndyCar and NASCAR. Will Power said on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s podcast he’d love to drive a Cup car, and Josef Newgarden echoed that thought last weekend. Not sure if Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski would be up for 215 mph at Texas for 250 laps, but maybe they’d try something tamer like Gateway.
Kurt Busch did a fine job at Indy back in 2013 and Ganassi teammate Kyle Larson belongs in an IndyCar so that’s an easy swap, while IndyCar’s gold standard, Scott Dixon, deserves to get a chance to branch out and try a tin-top.
Texas has the size to easily accommodate both paddocks, and after 31 IndyCar races Gossage needs a fresh angle besides good racing on his high-banked oval. If Richmond gets back on the IndyCar schedule for 2020 then maybe a 2021 twin bill could be possible, and all Gateway needs is a Cup race to pursue a doubleheader.
I can hear all the “experts” already weighing in about why this won’t work because IndyCars are much faster and NASCAR won’t go along with it, but the bottom line is that both series could help each other and draw some national media attention, as well as more eyeballs and maybe a big sponsor.
If it doesn’t work, so be it. But why not try? What would either side be afraid of? Empty seats?