Q: Surely someone had to ask: should IndyCar take a hard look at dirt after the NASCAR success? And don’t give me the crap about how the current car couldn’t do it. If there is money to be made, people will always find a way. Our current audience is so small that a special race could be run with old IRL cars and the average person would not have a clue. Look what Tony Stewart was able to do with the truck race at Eldora. Or, go back to his Prelude to the Dream race. Those events had more people watching than majority of IndyCar races.
That exposure is valuable, and if done in the Midwest, could be run any night of the week. Yes, it’s a gimmick, but it’s popular with old and new fans. It was the talk at work this week. Some liked it, some did not, but guess what, they all watched! It might not come across the Nielsen numbers because there are so many different ways to watch, but that race was talked about more than the NCAA games that played that evening. There was so much talk I had to go and find a replay of the race.
RM: You’re right, it worked, because I watched every lap and so did three million other people, which was a damn good number for a Monday afternoon race. But you can’t be serious about old IRL cars on the dirt? Somebody has to buy them and try and make them raceable for dirt (no chance), and then you need a promoter. But first you need the IndyCar owners to sign off, and that’s not going to happen. I think Power, Rossi, Newgarden, Dixon and several drivers would be game to try a midget at a real dirt track, but why? IndyCar has a format with four disciplines that rewards versatility, and while it may not be very popular, it’s authentic. A dirt race is just a gimmick. Maybe have one in the wintertime indoors, or rent a fleet of cars to go to Tulsa, but nobody has the time, interest or money to concoct an IndyCar dirt race. That horse left the barn in 1970.
Q: What is with this idea of racing on dirt with cars that are not designed to race on dirt? Oh, that’s right… gimmicks to increase attendance and viewership for TV ratings. Didn’t see any of it but read about the disaster that followed, and how NASCAR screwed Tony’s Eldora track, a natural dirt track, not one built upon a concrete surface. All these Johnny-come-latelys to NASCAR thought it was a great show. Hey, they missed a generation of great shows when they really ran on dirt tracks, smaller tracks and not those cookie- cutter mile-and-half tracks built to sell more tickets. I gave up on NASCAR a long time ago. Haven’t seen a race in years… boring! The heyday of dirt racing in NASCAR was killed a long time ago by NASCAR, and it can never duplicate what it decided was no longer needed.
Now I see IMSA wants to run its five classes on dirt with jumps and whoop de dos designed by motorcross wizard Ricky Carmichael. Stay on two wheels, bud. IMSA is by far the best competitive racing that you will ever see without dirt. And IMSA wants to use the dirt race as a preview to the 24 hours of Daytona and use the finishing order to determine qualifying for the 24 hours. Are they nuts? Why are these sanctioning bodies changing things that aren’t broken? Oh, right… $$$$. If you want to see dirt racing, get off your lazy duff and go and see and support your local racing tracks. I would suggest making the trek to Williams Grove. Now that’s real grassroots racing for about $25. Surely IndyCar isn’t thinking about the dirt?
RM: I think a lot of us geezers long for those old days of dirt racing (Hoosier Hundred, DuQuoin, Springfield, Sacramento) when it was part of the Championship Trail, and obviously it was a big part of NASCAR’s early days. But you can’t go back. To hear people rave about the great dirt show at Bristol was laughable; they’ve obviously never seen a real dirt race. I hadn’t heard that IMSA plan. (ED: It might be significant that IMSA made that dirt announcement last Thursday – April 1st…)
Q: I remember seeing The Captain at Terre Haute in 1973 hurrying to look over the first turn wall where his Indy Car driver Gary Bettenhausen had tumbled his sprint car. Fortunately, Gary B was unhurt. It was the one and only time I saw Roger at a dirt track over the decades. Mr. Penske, to the best of my muddled recollection, never drove a race on dirt during his driving career, and in his long and sterling stint as a car owner, first competed on dirt this past weekend at Bristol when Joey Logano put the Pennzoil car in the winners circle. Please enlighten me, Robin, as my browser has not.
RM: R.P. was the grand marshal at the Chili Bowl a few years ago but I don’t believe he ever owned a midget, sprinter, dirt car or dirt modified. Or drove on the dirt. He might have sponsored Gary B. in USAC, but I don’t recall seeing any signage so I think Logano’s victory was his first on the “dirt” and I use that term very loosely.
Q: As an avid NASCAR fan (Go Hamlin!), last week’s Bristol dirt race was the first time I’ve felt rewarded as a NASCAR fan in over a decade. In fact, it’s the first time I’ve felt rewarded as a motorsport fan in general in over a decade. NASCAR specifically did something in line with its history rather than pursuing bad ideas that add to an already-soulless future otherwise described by those involved as “better racing.” I’ve learned in all motorsports that “better racing” is loosely defined as “worse racing.”
IndyCar is actively pursuing “better racing” as well by testing overtake options at Indianapolis, when the reality is it is a head-first dive into further degradation of Indy’s soul. Historically, you’ve called upon those involved to answer some of the questions in your Mailbag, or even passed along ideas to those directly involved in IndyCar, so please feel welcome to pass along the thoughts of many IndyCar fans: take the P2P idea and shove it! With NASCAR returning to some of its most elementary roots by racing on dirt in Bristol, what would an IndyCar race look like if it too pulled from some of its purest fundamentals and translated it into a race?
Lucy from Toronto
RM: I think the drivers that tested P2P made it clear they didn’t think it was a good idea for Indy down the road, but as far as a dirt race for Indy cars, it makes no sense. Other than Ed Carpenter, none of the drivers have any USAC roots and I doubt the turnout/ratings could justify the expense. And NASCAR’s show at Bristol could hardly be classified as a dirt race, but it drew a lot of attention so it worked.
Q: I know you get asked all the time about predicting the future, but I have a couple of questions. If you were to guess, how many fans will be allowed at Indy? And which race or races will not take place on the 2021 schedule due to COVID?
RM: I’d say between 100,000-200,000 at Indy, and Toronto would be the one race of concern since Canada just instituted another lockdown.
Q: If the Texas race on Saturday gets rained out, will it run two races on Sunday? If so, I assume the track will honor the Saturday tickets on Sunday. Will the people with Saturday tickets be allowed to stay for the second race at no extra charge? Or will they clear out the grandstand after the first race and make everyone re-enter the facility with their Sunday ticket for the second race?
Bob Gray, Canoga Park, CA
RM: Not really sure why you would anticipate rain, but here’s a response from the Texas boss Eddie Gossage: “It’s not going to rain. We haven’t discussed a plan. The race would be rescheduled for a date and time acceptable to everyone involved. For fans, our company has the most liberal policy in spectator sports, the Speedway Motorsports Weather Guarantee: Fans with an unused, eligible ticket will have 60 days from the original race date to request a ticket credit on a qualifying future event. The credit must be used toward another Speedway Motorsports event within one calendar year of the original race date or the same event the following year, even if it takes place beyond the one-year mark. Certain restrictions may apply.”