Q: I was reading some questions and answers in the Mailbag about the health of the series, and personally I am enjoying the car count and influx of new teams, (although the short season is still a shame). I wanted to ask you about sim racing. Whether it is the online championship for the official F1 game, or the iRacing league, the trend is for this segment to grow, and it worries me. While I don’t have numbers, the number of people who play online has likely eclipsed the number of people who watch an IndyCar race on television. Prizes of $100,000 are given to the season champ. McLaren has named gamers to its team. I’m seeing a dangerous trend. The games are better, the graphics are unreal. How long before advertisers switch their dollars to this platform which seems to be capturing the youth and early adult market?
There is no denying the demographic for race fans is creeping towards the grey scale. When I was in Portland, I felt like I had found the fountain of youth as my age of 47 felt young indeed. Real racing revolves around sponsorship, and as the series struggles to attract new fans, will we soon start cheering for the No. 22 Depends Penske Chevy (rebadged Buick to appeal to old guys), or the No. 5 Flomax Honda, where in the TV ad Hinch feigns missing Indy 500 qualifying due to spending half an hour in front of a urinal? All while fat, unshaven 20 year-olds in sweat pants win big bucks playing sim racing from their parent’s basements.
Trevor Bohay, Kamloops, BC
RM: Good question, Trevor. I know several longtime IndyCar fans that play iRacing who haven’t been to a race in a long time, and I’m sure you are right about the demographic of all those young people attracted to it as well. It’s easier to sit home and watch a race while you can also “race” in your basement on your computer, and I only see this trend growing as the die-hards get older. Thankfully, some people still like camping at road courses or hanging downtown at Long Beach or Toronto, and even driving to St. Louis for an oval. And that remains a decent platform for advertising/marketing and B-to-B relationships for sponsors, but when you hear that 25,000 people turned up to watch gamers battle in LA or that the Fortnite World Cup offers $30 million in purses, you might want to worry for motorsports as we know it. At least with corporate America.
Q: This may be old news, but I have to add my two cents about crowd attendance. I completely agree with your points about cost, but I also see people spend the same or more to go see a baseball or football game in my area. I think some of it has to do with the lack of information about what’s happening on track. At other sports you see all the action, all the time and you can hear what’s going on. Many race courses lack the ability to see and hear all of the action. I mean, the PA system at a racetrack is a joke when the cars are running at full speed. Why do they even mess with that anymore?
I have been attending Road America since 1989. Of all the tracks I’ve been to, this is the only place I would go to year after year. It has improved dramatically over the years. We have way better bathrooms, there are a lot of resources, the food selection is awesome… I could go on and on. But personally for me, the biggest improvement was the big screen TVs they added years ago. I’d like to see more in certain locations, but at least I have a few to choose from. However, I hate missing out on the broadcast. When I was younger, that’s just the way it was. Getting information or seeing television broadcasts from anywhere but your home live was non-existent. Now, I can watch a race from anywhere I get reception on my phone.
Unfortunately, this is also lacking at RA (and many other courses) because the reception is horrible at best. However, if IndyCar can figure out a way to get that same information to people at the track, they might get a better crowd. I realize there is an experience to be had by going to a track, and you obviously still get that over the entire Sunday or that weekend, but during the race I want to hear and see everything instead of guessing or asking around. What about track WiFi and a code for race ticket holders that allows them access to watch the broadcast on their phone? You don’t need it at every track, but a four-mile road course in the hills of Wisconsin sure could use it!
Erik Steinbrecher, Oswego, IL
RM: The cost of installing WiFi at a place with RA with 640 acres would be $3 million so that’s not feasible, but I’ve often thought IndyCar should invest in a few big screens and take them to road courses and street circuits.
Q: For John from Hermann, Mo.: Here’s my bill from Road America in 2019 from the IndyCar weekend. Don’t know if you can reproduce it in the Mailbag, but it’s $100 for the tickets for four days (required when you buy camping), $65 for the camping wristband (allows you to come and go from the property all four days) and $40 for a campsite for tents or pop-up campers for all four days and you could stay until Monday if you choose. (Campsites nearby charge $43 per day). All that adds up to $217. Add one more ticket and camping wristband and it’s $382. I am not sure that the price is so expensive, it’s an amazing weekend for the price and based on how they need to open overflow campsites every year, many other campers feels the same. Keep up the great work! See you at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
RM: Thanks for that breakdown, Mike. Compared to three or four nights in a hotel, it sounds like a bargain in terms of pricing. I’d never heard any complaints until this year and George Bruggenthies instituted that $100 discount before Labor Day a couple years ago, and it seemed quite popular.
Q: I’d like to address John Humason’s comment about price “gouging” at Road America. Paying $500 to camp on-site at the racetrack is likely a good deal considering I paid $300 for two nights at a hotel in Fond du Lac, plus the $100 for a set of race weekend tickets. The hotel I stayed at recently changed ownership and they honored the rate that I got when I made the reservations in advance, but the going rate at the time was much more expensive, which would have put it close to the $500 John spent staying at the track (and how can you compete with that?). While on the whole the trip can be expensive, I simply look at going to Road America as a tradition that I enjoy, love to support and, to me, the IndyCar race is worth it. Also, add me to the list of those grateful for to George Bruggenthies for the start time, especially coming from St. Louis. See you at Gateway!
RM: First off, George is my hero for sticking to his guns and making IndyCar go with his starting time, because he understands people can’t be heading back home at 6 p.m. on a Sunday night. But if you attend an NFL or NBA game in Indianapolis and want to buy two good seats, it’s easily $500-600 dollars before you pay to park or buy your first drink. And the access at Road America is second to none.