Q: Short-track open-wheel racing seems to be growing an audience faster than anything else recently. Could we possibly see a return of this type of racing to television (Thunder Series) or has streaming (FloRacing, DirtVision, etc.) taken over completely? I’ve recently rediscovered sprints, midgets, late models and modifieds, and I firmly agree with you that if IndyCar reaches out to these fans, it would be a positive for all types of racing. A special heat and feature for some IndyCar drivers at the Chili Bowl or BC39 would be ridiculously positive. Those series bring more eyes to IndyCar than a commercial during a Week 1 NFL game. Do you think Roger Penske will recognize this, or will the great disconnect between big time open-wheel racing and short tracks continue?
RM: I imagine that if USAC found the funding it could approach NBCSN about a weekly short-track series or selected USAC races, or maybe pay one of those streaming sites to shoot it for NBC’s web page. Penske was the grand marshall at the Chili Bowl a few years ago so he saw the crowd and enthusiasm. I know IndyCar is aware the Chili Bowl is an untapped resource for them, but not sure if they’ll do anything with it.
Q: I fervently hope that you will report live from the Chili Bowl. Perhaps it would be too much to hope for that you can get at least one IndyCar driver to enter and ride the cushion.
Ron Ford, Muskego, WI
RM: Planning to go if I can get up the strength to walk as much as it requires, and if not, I’ll cover it off streaming like I have the past two years. Conor Daly ran there last year and I think he’s planning to return and hopefully take Alex Rossi with him since he just finished another run at Baja.
Q: With Thanksgiving in our rearview mirror, there several things I am thankful for: a good job, good health, friends and family, etc. But the one thing I was thankful to do this year was knock one item off my bucket list: getting a Bronze Badge for the 500. As soon as I stepped into the garages on qualifying day for the Indy GP, I was wondering why I didn’t start this earlier in my life. (For the record, I am 46 in December.) I went four days during May — GP qualifying, Bump Day, Carb Day, and Legends Day — and I got to see about everything.
Seeing the work being done in the garages to get a little more speed out of the cars; catching up with old friends and making new ones; getting autographs and pics from drivers past and present; and enjoying the Mario exhibit at the museum during the rain delay on Bump Day was great. I even got a picture of me with some old grumpy racing writer at the Memorabilia Show on Legends Day. All I can say is: Get the Badge. For what you get — free GA during practice/qualifying, garage access, and one hour early access to the track — it is hands down the best value for any sporting event I have ever seen.
Alex Westgerdes, Sidney, OH
RM: I’ve always said that in today’s over-priced sports world of NFL, NBA, and NHL, the Indy 500 remains the best bargain for the money. And the Bronze Badge is a close second because it affords fans a look inside that nobody else gets in NASCAR or F1. Next May I’ll tell Marshall not to be so grumpy.
Q: I got an e-mail from COTA, Could not get it to you for the Mailbag in time, but people might want to check out their web page periodically. They were offering a “Black Friday Special”: a three-day General Admission ticket to the IndyCar race for $89. It started last Friday and ended on Dec. 2. Got another e-mail today (12/1) for 20 percent off Birmingham race but ended that night so people might want to check that web site as well.
Tom in Waco
RM: Good info Tom. Wish they would keep those discounts alive for another month or so.
Q: As we think about the reality of Hinch and SeaBass being dumped and your answer last week saying, “Hell yes, IndyCar is that desperate,” along with the landscape of racing in the United States in the last 20 years, I think something no one is talking about is racing as a cultural phenomenon. I am from the Midwest, am 41 years old, and have been an IndyCar fan my whole life. I’ve been to 22 Indy 500s and countless races at the Milwaukee Mile. 15-20 years ago, when I told people I’m an IndyCar fan and went to the 500, people thought it was cool and got it. However, for the last 10 years, when I tell people I’m a racing fan and go to the Indy 500, people think I’m a straight-up redneck and I get laughed at. All. The. Time.
You mentioned in last week’s mailbag that the Daytona 500 gets six million more viewers than the Indy 500. We all know that’s not because of the racing (the Indy 500 has seen the best races ever in the last 10 years). I believe it’s a cultural thing: In the Midwest (and, really, just the northern part of the country), nobody cares about cars. The days of being loyal to Fords, Chevys, Chryslers, etc., is done. Nobody cares. In the South, car culture is still a thing — loyalty to brands; horsepower; hot rods; racing, etc. I fully believe IndyCar’s fade has had more to do with a cultural shift than with The Split — too many road courses, spec cars, etc. Racing is a niche sport in the North and a major sport in the South; but the South identifies with NASCAR and sees IndyCar as a rival — it’s that simple.
I’m convinced that no matter what major sponsor for the Indy 500 is signed or third manufacturer signs on, nothing major will change for IndyCar, mostly because it’s historically rooted in the Midwest and North, and very few people in the Midwest and North care about racing. I get the responses of the huge attendance at Road America and Gateway, but let’s be honest: Those are exceptions to the rule. I hate to be so negative as an IndyCar lifer, but, as I look around me in one of the historical hotbeds of IndyCar in the nation (Milwaukee), I can tell you, very few people care at all about IndyCar, or any other type of racing.
RM: You present an interesting analogy with some good points. We go to Pocono and nobody has a clue there’s an IndyCar race. Last year at Iowa, I had on my NBC hat and a man asked me if there was a race and I told him IndyCar was in town. He turned to his friend and said, ‘Oh, the big boys (NASCAR trucks) won’t be here until next month.” I agree that three out of four people would say “NASCAR” if you asked about racing, and between ESPN, marketing and The Split, stock car racing left IndyCar in the dust.
As for Indy vs. Daytona: One is held during the day in May when it’s usually nice outside so maybe people just record it on their way out the door, while NASCAR’s crown jewel is run in the winter when everyone is inside and pro football is finished. No comparison to the potential audience. But keep the faith: IndyCar still has the best racing and Indy remains the greatest spectacle in racing; it just doesn’t pull viewers like the days when we only had three channels.