Q: I see a lot of complaining about the schedule re: COTA, Richmond and Iowa. Fans need to attend races to show their support, especially ovals. Do I think taxicabs may have sabotaged IndyCar at these tracks? Maybe, but the real point is they are no friend of IndyCar, and Penske needs to play hardball. Lure Kyle Busch to race Indy. Provide tests to any other taxicab driver with the guts to race at Indy. The week after Indy is open next year. I know a track that belongs on the schedule the week after Indy at high noon: Milwaukee. Buy the track and make it a permanent fixture. Then add a second race there at night during State Fair. Oval problem almost solved.
Dan in Milwaukee
RM: NBC has preached to IndyCar and NASCAR they are on the same team, and you can see the cross-promotion of both on any Sunday. And Roger Penske owns NASCAR teams, so I think they’re going to work together (Brickyard in 2021) whenever possible. I can’t believe you snuck in a Milwaukee reference.
Q: I read your article about ovals being on the ropes, and you are absolutely right that it is not Roger Penske’s fault. Penske deserves the ultimate credit for keeping the NTT IndyCar Series on the sports radar in 2020, especially considering the pandemic and economic downturn. I do wonder if some of Penske’s employees at IndyCar deserve some of the blame for the oval ills. What is the series role in promoting events? Or do they leave that up to the individual tracks?
I don’t think in today’s day and age that IndyCar can have its head in the sand and expect the promoters to do all of the promotion; it needs to be a partnership, especially since it appears that promoting an IndyCar race is a money loser for the tracks. I know I wrote to you before the final Pocono race there was zero promotion in Pennsylvania except for a couple of billboards we saw heading towards the track. Gone are the days of billboards and newspapers working as the dominant advertising medium. It now takes a combination of things like digital, radio, TV and grassroots marketing – all areas where the Hulman-George regime failed miserably, and now Penske Entertainment Corp appears to be below the line.
Obviously promotion is the key to any event and you hit the nail on the head that Chris Blair and the folks at World Wide Technology Raceway have found keys to make it work, and Bommarito is a huge part of that.
Scott St. Clair, Erie, PA
RM: IndyCar has been forced into the promoter’s role at a few places (Phoenix, The Glen, Iowa) when it leased the tracks, and there is always a title sponsor presence in marketing the series. But to your point, IndyCar needs to spend money and help get the word out and introduce America to its young stars. But the responsibility falls on the tracks to bang the drum, and nobody does it better than Gateway.
Q: We all wish we could have the dream schedule for 2021 (like Watkins Glen and Pocono), but I have come to realize we already do. We have the IndyCar series racing after lots of doubts about any racing series running this year globally and a lot of sacrifice by many. Huge thanks to Roger Penske who gave his heart and soul, plus lots of money, to save the series and the 500 during this really difficult time. Many of the fans and Mailbag writers need to be grateful for what we have and how good this 2020 season has been. Could you imagine back in April there would be so much excitement by now to talk about?
RM: I truly figured it would be the Indy road course race, the Indy 500 and maybe Road America, because races were being canceled every week and it took Penske’s perseverance to give us a pretty damn entertaining season.
Q: I read with much amusement the bitching and moaning over the 2021 schedule – especially Jim’s comment (he’s 66) from Canada about the schedule. Fifty years ago the schedule had 18 race dates. Of those race dates, one was a Hill Climb (Pikes Peak) non-championship, five were on dirt (Springfield, Du Quoin, Hoosier Hundred, Sedalia, Sacramento) three were road courses (Sonoma, Continental Divide, Indianapolis Raceway Park), and the others were ovals: Phoenix (2), Trenton (2), Indy 500, Milwaukee (2), Langhorne, Michigan and Ontario. You’ll note that Indy doesn’t race on dirt anymore, there are no more non-championship races, and with the exception of Indy, all the ovals are gone from the 1970 schedule.
And when they were on the schedule, the oval races ran twice. You’ll also note that in the very beginnings of “IndyCar” races – in the days before board tracks and the takeover of horse tracks converted to auto racing tracks – with the exception Indy, every auto race was either a road circuit or a point-to-point race, ovals were almost non-existent. I guess my point is two fold: you race where you can find a venue, and everything old is new again. IndyCar racing still exists, we should all be thankful for that, right?
Jake, California Exile
RM: There is no denying that ovals put open-wheel on the map, and the combination of danger/excitement elevated its profile in the ’60s and ’70s. I loved dirt cars, but road courses provided a new challenge and we quickly learned that A.J., Mario, Ruby and the Unsers could hold their own against Gurney. Ovals are IndyCar’s heritage and there is still nothing as exciting as Indianapolis, but it’s a different game and audience today. And, yes, we should be happy to have 12 races – let alone 17.