As April heads down the short chute into May, the beginning and the fate of the 2020 IndyCar series hangs with the pandemic, which states may allow spectators to sporting events, and how soon life could return to semi-normal. Or, how many tracks will bite the bullet and run a race in front of empty grandstands?
IndyCar’s options are much more limited than NASCAR’s because of the latter’s monstrous television package, and it’s safe to say that without paying customers, it’s difficult to see two of the three races set for June (Road America and Richmond) running in their current slots.
To be honest, the lifeblood of IndyCar promoters is the gate, title sponsor, pit passes, camping and suites, because there is no television money.
Only Texas and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway appear equipped to face the music and run with no fans. And that’s because the FOX/NBC pot of gold could cover, or least support, the IndyCar events if they run on the same weekend.
It’s believed The Brickyard 400 receives $15 million along with another $5 million for the Xfinity show, so that’s why the paltry attendance of the past few years really is not that important, and wouldn’t have much effect on July 4th when IndyCar shares IMS with Xfinity on the road course.
I’m not sure what Eddie Gossage and Texas Motor Speedway receive for their NASCAR weekends, but he went from being adamant about not hosting an IndyCar race in a vacuum to re-considering reopening to racing “very soon” after getting the blessing of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, NASCAR’s Steve Phelps and Marcus Smith of Speedway Motorsports.
In a recent story by RACER’s Kelly Crandall, Gossage admitted the track could still barely make a profit because the TV money is a significant portion of the revenue, and while nothing is official, there is still an outside chance that NASCAR is willing to move its postponed March date at Texas to June to make it into an IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader and at least reap the benefits of TV bucks.
It’s also possible that IndyCar could just waive the sanction fee for Texas to make it less damaging financially.
Roger Penske knows the longer things are idle, the worse it is for the competitors and sponsors, so he’ll probably do whatever is necessary to get things started at Texas. But the next stop for IndyCar would be Road America on June 21, and that’s when things could get tricky.
The scenic, spacious, 4-mile road course is one of IndyCar’s best draws with an estimated 30,000 in attendance last year, all 1,600 camp sites sold out and between 700-800 golf carts already rented for this year.
“Obviously flesh and blood makes Road America special,” said Mike Kertscher, president and general manager of the Elkhart Lake track. “We rely on our fans, great partners, 60 corporate sponsors and longtime supporters.
“We want to get going again and we’re in constant discussions with county and state government so we’ll look forward to whatever the new normal is, but nobody has the answers right now.”
Kertscher says RA’s 640 acres might make it easier to allow spectators.
“I’ve been thinking about one of the best places on the planet for social distancing and it’s Road America with our wide open spaces, camping and exterior gates so we could check people,” he said. “Obviously we don’t like to practice social distancing, but if that’s what it takes, I’m on board.”
As for moving the date back if fans still aren’t allowed by mid-June, Kertscher said:
“As far as a contingency date, the calendar is such flux, it’s a moving target. But right now I’m confident our June date is still intact. IndyCar is only one piece of puzzle, we’ve got a Superbike race, and our August NASCAR show got bumped up because of Olympics. It’s our 65th year at RA and we pride ourselves in making good decisions, but it’s got to work for everybody. It’s a driver’s track, the fans love it and it’s America’s national park of speed. We want to survive and prosper, but we also want to do the right thing.”
Road America has the REV Group presented by American Medical Response as the title sponsor, but unfortunately Richmond doesn’t have one for IndyCar’s scheduled return to the short oval on June 27. That would seem to make ticket sales imperative, so there’s a lot riding on the state or national decision to allow fans to attend.
Other than the Indianapolis 500, no IndyCar promoters get television money from NBC, so beyond a title sponsor or a reduced/canceled sanction fee, the paying customers determine your fate. But there’s a good chance of a decent rating if things run on June 6 at Texas because IndyCar can have a captive audience – just not a live one – at one of its more exciting tracks.