Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Am I Heading to a Funeral This Sunday?

Is the future of IndyCar at Pocono hanging in the balance?
I have never felt this way heading to a race before. As I look forward to attending the IndyCar race from Pocono I can't help but feel as if I am preparing to go to a funeral and pay my last respects to a race that hasn't been around that long but will be sadly missed if this Sunday marks the final time IndyCar heads to Pocono Raceway. 

Three years isn't that long. Three years fly by like Thanksgiving weekend. It comes, it is full of family, it is full of headaches, it goes and you are left that following Monday morning wondering what the hell happened, as you are a few pounds heavier. It takes most college students three years to figure out what they are doing and even then they aren't sure. Heck I know couples that have been together for three years and are no closer to getting married than they were when they first started dating. And yet, the future of IndyCar at Pocono will be based off three years. 

It's not a lot of time but it's all the time the current business model has to give an event to grow and wedge itself into the public's conscience. God forbid a race was given five years or eight years or a whole decade to become something that people get use to as an event. It probably took some people three years into a Barack Obama's first term to realize that he was the president and yet we expect people in the surrounding area of Pocono Raceway to become accustomed to an IndyCar race being at the track in that timeframe? 

There is no changing it though. The third year is here and the future of IndyCar at Pocono, the future of another 500-mile race, the future of the IndyCar schedule rests on this weekend. 

Using hindsight, the Fourth of July weekend sounded great on paper. It was a holiday weekend. You will get more people out at the track. It will become a tradition. The one negative thing with that weekend was that a lot of people head to the Poconos on the Fourth of July weekend for other events and destinations that aren't the racetrack. I-80 was already a parking lot at 4:00 p.m. on the Sunday of Fourth of July weekend and adding another 25-30,000 race fans wasn't going to make traffic go any quicker. The on-track action isn't what caused less people to show up to Pocono in 2014. The traffic, something completely out of IndyCar's and the track's control, is what probably soured plenty people to not return. 
Either common sense or foolishness is telling me that traffic will be much better on the penultimate Sunday in August than the Sunday of Fourth of July weekend but we will find out around 6:30 p.m. ET on Sunday. 

I am optimistic that there will be a nice crowd and that afterward the track will want IndyCar back in 2016 and for many, many, many, many years to come. I hope this late-August date, after the two NASCAR weekends instead of sandwiched between them, is a little more attractive for fans. I am concerned about the lack of on-track action. There is no Indy Lights, no Pro Mazda, no U.S. F2000, no Stadium Super Trucks. There is a SVRA vintage event being held during the IndyCar weekend but that's not a competitive series. This isn't just a Pocono problem. This was the problem at Fontana as well. IndyCar weekends need competitive support series to fill the bill so there aren't hours of empty track. It's just another hurdle IndyCar has to get over to make their events more desirable for people to attend. 

The race is also starting later than the previous two years as green flag is scheduled for after 2:30 p.m. ET. This is because of television as the Premier League has a match on NBCSN from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. ET and there is an hour post match show. While IndyCar oval races go at a fast pace, anything after 2:30 p.m. is pretty late to start a 500-mile race. I would be ok if there was 10 minutes of pre-race coverage and the race went green at 2:12 p.m. ET. The race is going to take nearly three hours to complete and even if it ends by 5:15 p.m. ET, it might take people a half hour to get out of the parking lot and then another two hours to drive home. They will get home before sunset but it's going to be later than previous years and that might discourage a few people from going. 

I think the fact that this is IndyCar's penultimate race of the season could be helping with attendance despite the lack of support series and later start time. The championship is coming down to the wire, anywhere from 3-7 drivers could win the title and this race will set up who will have a shot at Sonoma and who will not and people are dying to see what will happen.

Will Juan Pablo Montoya keep up his success in 500-mile races and grab this championship by the scruff of the neck? Will Graham Rahal keep his dream season going and land another big blow to the powerhouses of Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing? Will Scott Dixon keep up his consistency and duplicate his 2013 championship run where it all turned on its head in the penultimate round of the season? Can Hélio Castroneves use Pocono as a launchpad to a championship assault and finally claim that elusive championship? Can Will Power redeem himself after having a block on his teammate cost him a shot at Pocono victory last year? Can Sébastien Bourdais play spoiler? Can Marco Andretti win at home and keep his championship hopes alive? Can Josef Newgarden continue to show he is a star of the future? Will the third time be the charm for Tony Kanaan at Pocono? And can Simon Pagenaud end his first season with Penske on a high note and perhaps make it four Penske drivers eligible for the title at Sonoma? 

There are more storylines entering this Pocono race than six seasons of any current television drama series. We have no idea what will happen. Will the old guard flex their muscles or will David slay Goliath? 

The storylines are there but lurking are dark clouds that could dump rain on the parade. The weather forecast started out as very nice. Low 80s, mostly sunny for race day. But over the last few days, that forecast has taken a turn for the worst and the forecast is calling for slightly cooler temperatures but a 60% chance of precipitation and scattered thunderstorms and the forecast isn't any better for Monday. Is the weather forecast foreshadowing the future of IndyCar at Pocono? Is all this optimism I am feeling going to be left standing in the rain like a heartbroken character on a television sitcom? Will the end of this race not be a quick execution but possibly three days of torture with the funeral being held on a Tuesday and having the turn out equivalent to that of when Jay Gatsby was put in the ground? This rain might force the start time to be pushed up and it might be green by 2:12 p.m. ET anyway. 

I am excited and yet I am melancholy about this weekend. Should I show up in shorts and a t-shirt or should I wear black, head-to-toe? Do I bring a cooler or a bouquet of flowers? When I leave will I be saying see you next year or goodbye old sport?