Q: During my business career I listened to plenty of overeducated MBAs preach their beliefs of various topics. One of these was Popular Leisure Habits of Americans. No. 1. Always reported was gardening (I feel that included plenty of lawn mowing.) No. 2. Almost always camping! Think about camping for a moment. Road courses are loaded with families camping at the track for a weekend. Dad is probably an IndyCar fan, mom can take it or leave, but kids may become new fans! Promoting ovals with not work at all ovals, but sure Pocono, Kentucky and hold on, even Milwaukee could work. Charge for camping and include free tickets or free camping with two or four ticket purchase. Some combo of the above suggestion could work. It seems much better than repeating past failures of drawing a crowd to ovals. Maybe Gateway folks could run with the idea to get one more oval race somewhere. Should I pitch this to Penske?
Dave Harder, Westfield
RM: In its heyday, the Pocono 500 had massive infield crowds but that all went away, and I don’t think Kentucky and Milwaukee have nearly enough space to make that a hook for a promoter. Iowa always seemed packed with camping overlooking the backstretch, but that’s not enough people to make it work. You’re right that camping crowds can generate some new fans and road courses offer three-day tickets, golf carts and room to roam so that’s why they’ve made a nice comeback in the past decade.
Q: Been reading your stuff since the ’90s, and always enjoyed it. Whenever I read about the Indy greats I am always amazed that Al Unser isn’t close to a unanimous pick. At Indy his results clearly exceed anyone’s. Hell, if Menard hadn’t run out of tires he might’ve won in ’92 with a Buick. Heard he had fastest car on track until the last stop; feel free to correct. Sure, he did not seek attention and wasn’t a great interview, but what about the results? Then, factor in the years he drove totally uncompetitive cars to some solid finishes for VPJ, Hillen, leading until clutch problems with the Bernstein underperformers. I’m guessing Al’s not the type that would even care about his legacy, but I have never understood the lack of appreciation for his record at Indy. Am I right? Is he underappreciated?
RM: He might be among the general public just because he never tooted his own horn and shied away from media and public speaking, but the racing fraternity certainly doesn’t underestimate his accomplishments. He was as good as anyone at Indy, a master on the mile dirt tracks and a damn good road racer to boot. Big Al was one of the smartest to ever strap on a race car.
Q: In last week’s Mailbag you answered a question about whether IndyCar could race on the oval at Lucas Oil Raceway. Part of your answer was “No SAFER barrier.” You have mentioned in the past when asked “why doesn’t IndyCar race ‘here’ or ‘there'” that the lack of a SAFER barrier was at least part of the reason.
Do you know if anyone at IndyCar has ever looked into creating a portable SAFER barrier that could be installed where needed at tracks and then removed and installed as needed elsewhere? I understand that the SAFER barrier is expensive. However, by using it at potentially several tracks a year that IndyCar otherwise might not be able to race at, seems to be worth at least considering this possibility.
RM: Glad you asked. I was wrong. IRP (sorry, Lucas Oil Raceway) does have a SAFER barrier (NASCAR installed them when it ran Xfinity and trucks) but there is still not enough room for IndyCars. As for your portable SAFER barrier, not sure it would meet the FIA’s standards and could be properly anchored.
Q: What is your insight into why Ford seems to be terminally allergic to participation in today’s IndyCar? Did the end of CART/Champ Car leave a financially bad taste in Ford’s corporate mouth, or was it something more personal? As much as I’d like to see a third engine manufacturer, I can’t see how three manufacturers supplying a series with at most 24 full-time cars could make financial sense for any of the manufacturers.
Mike Matisko, Newburgh, IN
RM: Back in 2014, Edsel Ford II said there was “no value” in Ford getting into IndyCar racing so I guess you answered your second question as well.
Q: If anyone would wonder why attendance at a road course would be better than at an oval, perhaps my experience could help explain the difference. I’m in Minneapolis, which sets me up perfectly for the Road America/Iowa Speedway doubleheader, seeing the stars of IndyCar race on the longest road course immediately followed by the shortest oval on back-to-back weekends! Awesome, right? Well, a full weekend Road America advance ticket is about $120 and gives me free run of the place. Admission, parking and paddock all included. Plus, kids, up to age 16 (!) get in free. The schedule has the three-tier Road to Indy support program (two races each) and the main event on Sunday. Total weekend cost for the pair of us $120 for at least seven races.
Iowa Speedway on the other hand, kids only got in free until age 9, which required us to buy two tickets for Friday (just getting the cheapest for $15) and a Garage Pass/Fan Walk ticket was an additional $40 each – per person, per day! Ouch! And with so little track activity scheduled, especially the second time I went in 2019 when it did not have Indy Lights (2018 did, with just seven cars), you need to go to the garage area just to occupy your time. Good seats up high on race day were $65 each. You could say “skip the garage passes on race day” but again, there were literally hours with no competitive track action, so you really do want something interesting to do.
Add that all up and you are up to $320 for a Friday night ARCA race, (which an IndyCar fan may or may not care about), a Friday night concert you may not care about and an IndyCar race, which may be delayed by nearly five hours by a storm (2019). That’s just two races with comparable access, and it cost us $200 more. I don’t know how a comparison between Mid-Ohio or a street race vs. Texas or Gateway would come out, but based on my experience, a road course is an infinitely better value when you consider the number of races plus the access you get for your dollar compared to the a la carte pricing of a weather-dependent oval event with just two races, one of which was stock cars.
RM: Thanks for your report and support, Jeff. As we’ve seen, Gateway is the only oval that’s truly figured out you had best give the paying customer a lot more than just an IndyCar race and it’s two days of non-stop action. And your price comparison rings true with all the mail I receive from people applauding Road America for giving them such a great weekend for an affordable cost. The days of people going to an oval and sitting around for hours before the start of an IndyCar race are over — except for the Indianapolis 500.