In the two weeks since Roger Penske’s blockbuster acquisition of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and NTT IndyCar series, he’s undoubtedly been bombarded with suggestions on personnel, rules, upgrades and schedule additions. The Captain even said he had a top 10 list of things needing attention, and that opened the floodgates at RACER.com because everyone has an idea or opinion they want to share.
R.P., his son Greg, Bud Denker, Mark Miles and Jay Frye will spend a couple of days in Indianapolis this week kicking around ideas in what figures to be the first of many meetings on the future of IMS and the series.
And rest assured, there will be changes – visually and internally – during the next year as the smartest man in the room applies his experience and calls on his Penske team to pluck the potential out of open-wheel racing and IMS.
The Indianapolis 500 is R.P.’s baby, and you would imagine it’s going to get the most attention – as it should. Not that Roger needs any help from someone who flunked out of Ball State, but here are 10 ideas that I think might be worth considering come this May:
- The purse has been the same for a decade and it’s woefully short of serving the “greatest spectacle in racing,” with nearly a third of the field getting just $200,000 for a month that eats up their budget (an $80,000 tire bill for starters). R.P. knows everybody that’s somebody, and his people can surely find a $5 million title sponsor. And that can all be dumped in the purse. The Menard’s 500 at Indianapolis doesn’t bother me in the least if it gets the teams a well-deserved raise. John Menard is worth $11 billion according to the latest list from Forbes, so get the man who sponsors Simon Pagenaud to ante up at the place he loves. And find $1 million for qualifying so the risk vs. reward factor justifies the Fast 9.
- Bring back the Apron. That’s Danny Sullivan’s plea, and it’s a great idea because it instantly makes the racing better – and might even help make the Brickyard 400 watchable. Just Google “Johncock and Rick Mears 1982” or “Mears and Michael Andretti 1991” if you’re too young to understand what Indy’s been missing for 25 years.
- If the track cannot be widened, then at least put up a safety fence on the pit wall like MotoGP had here during its run, then fortify the fence behind the pits. Indy has dodged bullets for decades with the ever-present possibility of one car running over another’s wheel and being launched into the pits or Tower Terrace.
- Overhaul the restrooms and pave all the roads and parking lots. Bring them up to Penske standards.
- Let the mechanics park inside the track, closer to the garage area, instead of out behind Turns 3-4; and move the media back inside as well. Put glamping in the Coke Lot.
- Widen the area on Georgetown Road behind the main grandstands. The fact that nobody has ever been trampled to death before or after the race is a miracle.
- Mark Miles was instrumental in the gambling referendum being passed to include IMS, so go with him to the State Legislature and try to get parimutuel windows installed at the track. They could be open for qualifying and race weekend, and it would be a boon. Then, take a percentage of the handle and share it with the competitors after Penske Entertainment gets its cut.
- Don’t charge fans to park for practice or qualifying. Just be glad they showed up.
- Tear down the museum and build something worthy of the most famous race track in the world. And take all those cars that are hidden in the basement and show them off. (Why the hell else would you have them?)
- Keep the dirt track but run the BC39 in May the week of the race when it’s got an open-wheel audience. Then give the winner a ride in the Freedom 100 after a day of testing.