Monday, October 5, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: A Perspective For IndyCar

Rain followed everybody this weekend. The East Coast of the United States, France, Corsica. Petit Le Mans was worse than in 2009 yet went double the distance. Dover at least got a little relief. The real fight on the track at Dover was not for the victory but for 16th and even then the battle for 16th didn't really matter. An American won in France. A Ferrari won in Italy. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

You Can't Grow If You Keep Moving
The IndyCar schedule will be released any day now and as optimistic as I am, I know the punch to the stomach is coming and even though I know it could be coming, I can't prevent it from hurting.

Fontana is already gone. NOLA is already gone. Milwaukee appears to be falling on the wrong side of the fence. Pocono is on edge but one swift breeze in any direction will decide whether it will or will not return to the IndyCar schedule. Road America is back. Phoenix has gone quiet. Some think Gateway could return. Mexico City is Mark Miles' white whale. None of this is good.

I have been on this train of thought for a while and I am staying on it. IndyCar needs to have one consistent schedule every year. The series needs to go to the same tracks on the same dates every single year.

Name a market that wants IndyCar? There is none. Boston doesn't care if IndyCar comes. Phoenix doesn't care. Mexico City doesn't care. St. Louis doesn't care. They don't. IndyCar and the tracks need to realize that the 100,000 people won't go to the race year one or year two or year three or year four, five or six. It takes time for a crowd to grow because a race needs time to become engrained in the fabric of a local community and become an event the locals look forward to attending. Does IndyCar really think Gateway would draw a better crowd than Milwaukee, Fontana and/or Pocono? It probably wouldn't and all you can ask is why not just return to the likes of Milwaukee, Fontana and Pocono and build on what you have been working on for the past three to four years?

IndyCar and the tracks also need perspective on what is a good crowd. Holding the bar at NASCAR's level is unrealistic. Not every series is NASCAR and just because the crowd is not as big doesn't mean the race is not worthy to continue. 25,000-30,000 is a great crowd. If IndyCar's average race day attendance fell somewhere between those margins that would be a higher average attendance than the NBA, NHL and MLS and that would be more than a few MLB clubs. And if you still think that is not good enough, other than NASCAR, the NFL is the only other professional league in North America that averages over 50,000 in attendance.

While 25,000-30,000 looks great on paper, we know it doesn't look pretty since most racetracks, especially ovals, have 80,000-100,000 seats. Realistically, we should ignore the seats that are empty and let the number on paper do the talking but some can't get over the visual. IndyCar's problem now is just like MLS' problem 10-15 years ago. No crowd looked good because you had teams playing in NFL stadiums. Slowly, MLS clubs started building soccer-specific stadiums that held 18,000-27,000 and now crowds look fantastic and the atmosphere has improved because you don't have 40,000 seats drowning out 20,000 people.

But IndyCar can't build IndyCar-specific tracks (ovals) with only 25,000 seats. What's the solution? Either accept there will be empty seats or IndyCar having its own seat covers to bring to ovals to cover up the empty seats. I have found a positive from the open seats at IndyCar races. It has given IndyCar a tagline that it has yet to take advantage of: "IndyCar: Plenty of Room For Everybody."

If you keep perspective, you will realize things aren't so bad for IndyCar. Yes, the series needs to hold a consistent schedule year-to-year and they need to get some more money pumped into the series and they need to sign Chevrolet and Honda for the 2016 season because as of today, neither has committed to next season and you can't hold an automobile race if nobody has an engine. Television ratings were up in 2015 and there is still room for growth but it won't all come at once.

As easy as it is to get stuck in a state of IndyCar negativity because the executives are always fighting with one another and not focusing on the series as a whole, there are plenty of things to feel good about.

Champion From the Weekend
Kenan Sofuoglu clinched his fourth World Supersport Championship with a second place finish at Magny-Cours. American P.J. Jacobsen won the race, his second victory of the season. Jacobsen has clinched second in the 2015 World Supersport Championship, the best finish ever for an American in that series.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about what happened at Petit Le Mans and about P.J. Jacobsen but did you know...

Kevin Harvick won the NASCAR Cup Series race at Dover. Jamie McMurray, Jimmie Johnson, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer were eliminated from the Chase.

Jari-Matti Latvala won Tour de Corse.

Champion-elect Jonathan Rea swept the World Superbike races at Magny-Cours.

The #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 458 Italia of Marco Seefried and Norbert Siedler swept the Blancpain Sprint Series races at Misano.

Regan Smith won the NASCAR Grand National Series race at Dover.

John Wes Townley won the NASCAR Truck race at Las Vegas, his first career victory in the series.

Coming Up This Weekend
The annual no-sleep weekend.
NASCAR will be at their home in Charlotte at 7:00 p.m. ET Saturday night.
Bathurst 1000 begins at 9:00 p.m. ET.
FIA World Endurance Championship is at Toyota's home, Fuji at 10:00 p.m. ET.
MotoGP is at Honda's home, Motegi at 1:00 a.m. ET Sunday.
Formula One heads to Sochi at 7:00 a.m. ET.
Blancpain Sprint Series ends their 2015 season at Zandvoort at 7:00 a.m. ET.
Asian Le Mans Series starts their 2015-16 season at Fuji the day before the WEC race.