Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: hpd.honda.com and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD.
Your questions for Robin should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here.
Q: I just finished reading your article on the attendance conundrum and one of the races you mentioned that is hurting is Toronto. I saw one IndyCar race there in person about four years ago, and I wasn’t too impressed. It’s not that I don’t like street racing. I go to St. Pete every year and I think it’s great, but I’d much rather see IndyCar race up the road at Mosport. I watched the televised coverage of the IMSA race there this weekend and I thought it was a really good show. Has there ever been any consideration to moving the Toronto race there? It’s not that far away, and it would be so much less disruptive and expensive to do the event there. It could even be a shared weekend with IMSA. We’ll be at Iowa in two weeks (second time there) and Mid-Ohio the week after (third year in a row). They are always good races. We’re trying to do our part fighting the attendance conundrum.
Alan Hummel, St. Petersburg, FL
RM: Good man, Alan. I was talking to Bobby Rahal about Mosport over the weekend, and we both think it would draw a great crowd. I was there in 1968 when Bobby Unser won his first IndyCar race and I realize the cars are a lot quicker now and there is concern about certain corners, but as Rahal is fond of saying: “Where is the runoff area at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?” I know Ron Fellows has done a great job of modernizing the facility, so I hope IndyCar considers it some day.
Q: This was a very good piece to be sure, and the crowds are down across the board for all motorsport disciplines. The real answers are more complex and I suspect that the world of streaming and on-demand video across multiple platforms has a lot to do with it. I subscribe to NBC Sports Gold for IndyCar and the quality of the streaming is excellent. The entire NBC crew is outstanding, including you, Robin. So, the point of this is that product is so good that with a decent video platform we can watch anytime/anywhere. My wife and I did go to COTA and that experience was outstanding. They did a great job with varied programs between the IndyCar schedule. The MX-5 Cup races were amazing. I suspect we had 25,000 on race day and the place looks empty because it is massive.
My take: IMSA and IndyCar should have more joint events like Long Beach, as their target markets are very similar. I remember they did that at Road America and it was a great weekend draw. They need to let pride/ego get out of the way and work to build their live gate.
It appears that promotion efforts are highly variable, and in the case of COTA there was very little in terms of promotion in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Given that we have about 7 million full-time residents, you would think that would make sense. But on the other side of this coin, the COTA people did a heck of a job to offer varied activities for everyone from the casual fan to those of us who are enthusiasts. In your view, is there a common thread that you think has led to this decline? (Other than NASCAR on the cookie-cutter 1.5-mile ovals is painfully boring).
RM: No I think it’s a combination of gas prices, hotel gouging, late starting times and just what you said earlier: too easy to sit home and watch. If I didn’t work for RACER and NBC, I’m not sure how many races I would ever attend. Maybe Road America, Iowa (if Bill Simpson flew me there in his plane), Long Beach and Indy (but I’d leave with 20 laps to go to beat the traffic). But double-headers are the key to try and create more interest and better attendance, and I think IMSA needs to embrace that fact.
Q: To draw more fans, I think oval tracks need to put roofs over the grandstands. Remember when we’d go to the fairgrounds speedways and they all had covered grandstands? Those are great on these scorching hot afternoons when they want to run races at paved ovals. Modern construction techniques can probably eliminate the need for poles that obscure our view, or at the least minimize them. It would also be great if it decides to rain. The Speedway should consider this for those sections that are still out in the open.
If building roofs over the stands is not an option, then more tracks need lights. Saturday nights are the best times for oval track racing. Pocono would be beautiful under the lights, as it’s already a beautiful place during the day. Gateway looks phenomenal under the lights on television, same as Iowa and Richmond before it. Embrace the night. Agree?
RM: A good friend of mine brought that up the other day, and I do agree that it’s a big concern for older people to sit out in the blazing sun for three or four hours. But night racing is really the answer, because the cars look great, the weather is cooler and it’s just seems like more of an event.