Monday, August 21, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: A Commentary of a Commentary

I went to Pocono and despite spending hours in the sun got next to no color. Team Penske's march for world domination continues. The same man won all three NASCAR national touring series races at Bristol. The Lausitzring hosted its final major motorsports event. World Supersport had a late red flag that left a few angry. The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters went to the Netherlands. The World Rally Championship was in Deutschland. Rain hampered the Super Formula weekend from Motegi but a future Formula One driver took a maiden victory. People are losing their minds over a total solar eclipse. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

A Commentary of a Commentary
IndyCar has a lot of good writers following the series. Robin Miller, Marshall Pruett, David Malsher and John Oreovicz are just a few names. They all bring different perspectives to the table. Miller is the man who has seen it all. Pruett is the former mechanic who is the go-to when it comes to anything on the technical side. Malsher fell in love with IndyCar from abroad. Oreovicz is the Generation X-er who lived through the split. Some of the times you agree with them, other times you won't but they are knowledgeable and put thought into their work. They aren't "hot take artists" trying to stir the pot.

David Malsher wrote a commentary prior to the Pocono race weekend titles Why IndyCar Needs Proactive Fans to Revive Its Mass Appeal. Some of what he wrote I agree with. Other parts I disagree with and have written about previously.

Let's start with a very valid point from Malsher. He starts by writing about the moments when he got hooked to motorsports and how the fanfare at races made him wish to be there. In the current state of IndyCar, there aren't many venues that have that kind of state of fanfare where grandstands are filled to the brim with fans louder than the cars and cheering every pass for position. With that lack of raw excitement it is hard to attract people and make them want to be a part of the crowd. In turn, IndyCar in this case won't grow.

"If hardly anyone bothers to show up in person, then that too is transmitted via media, the event's perceived value as a sporting spectacle is shredded and so the compulsion to watch on TV rapidly dissipates, too," Malsher wrote. I agree with what he is saying. I remember last year during the Olympics visiting my parents on putting on a soccer game that took place in a stadium that wasn't even close to half-filled. My mother wondered why I was watching it based only on the amount of people in the stands.

Malsher believe the lack of atmosphere has hurt several IndyCar races, most notably ovals. He isn't wrong. I love going to Pocono each year and I actually like the atmosphere. The one thing I have always enjoyed about Pocono is the fan-friendly nature of the race track. All those working at the track always greet you with a smile and are accommodating if you have a question but the atmosphere isn't a raucous crowd. There aren't 100,000 screaming fans with every 20-something woman wanting a piece of Josef Newgarden. It is more of a causal get together of speed junkies quietly moseying around, looking at the cars, lining up for autographs and then taking their seats for a 500-mile race. I love of it but if you are a 22-year-old, recently out of college, looking for a good time on the weekend that won't break the budget because you still live at home, have yet to find a job and you want to drink in the sun it probably isn't enough to get you interested.

Now to the part where I start to disagree with Malsher: "What's most worrying now is that luring even the hardcore IndyCar fans to "driver into the middle of nowhere" appears to be an uphill battle. For years we've read comments from a sizable section of series loyalists about how oval racing is vastly superior to street course racing because it's faster, there's more passing and you can see far more of the track – valid reasons, all. But are those critics actually prepared to make an effort to attend their nearest oval IndyCar race?"

Malsher continues by saying 50,000 people shouldn't be too much to expect for Gateway because it is only three hours from the Indianapolis-area and if 20% of the Indianapolis 500 crowd showed up to Gateway, it would easily break that 50,000 mark.

Some people want more ovals on the IndyCar schedule, I would like to see a few more, but I wrote about this before and you can't expect a Grateful Dead-esque crowd of the same 15,000 people going to every oval race around the country and then hoping about 20,000 locals show up to each race. It isn't on the fans for IndyCar to succeed. The tracks need to make it worth it for the locals to come and support the events. Forget 50,000 Hoosiers heading west for a Saturday night on the banks of the Mississippi. St. Louis has a population just north of 311,000 people. Why not try and get 20% of St. Louisans instead of relying on 50,000 people to make a three-hour drive.

The same goes for Pocono, Texas and Phoenix. Pocono isn't in the middle of a metropolis but it is within shouting distance of Philadelphia and New York and you have all of northern New Jersey to pick from. New York is the largest city in the United States and Philadelphia is the sixth-largest city. You have 10 million people between those two cities alone; drawing 1% of the combined population of those two cities would be enough to be the second-highest attended IndyCar race. Phoenix is the fifth-largest city at over 1.6 million people and Dallas is ninth largest at 1.3 million.

Instead of putting the weight of IndyCar's success on the already small fan base, why not look to the tracks and work on creating events that attract people out? I look at the success of the Snake Pit during the Indianapolis 500 and wonder why that can't be replicated at all the oval races? Why couldn't each oval race have an EDM concert going on in the infield? The Snake Pit for the Indianapolis 500 already draws about 30,000 people. The same could be done for these other oval races and all of a sudden you go from drawing 15,000-20,000 to 45,000-50,000. Races should be something a community embraces and look forward to each year. That is what has made the Indianapolis 500 as successful as it has been.

Fans should still drive long distances if they want to go to a race. If you live in Indiana and want to drive three hours for Gateway, do it. I would love to make the four-hour drive to Watkins Glen in two weeks time but it isn't feasible this year with work. Fans should not feel it is their responsibility to go to races to make IndyCar look good. That responsibility is on IndyCar and on the tracks that host IndyCar. For the series to truly succeed those two facets need to start attracting different people for the surrounding areas of the race tracks and not rely on the same group of people traveling multiple hours.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Will Power but did you know...

Kyle Busch swept the NASCAR races at Bristol as he won all three national touring division races.

Chaz Davies swept the World Superbike races from Lausitzring. Sheridan Morais picked up his first career World Supersport victory after a red flag for an accident between Yamaha teammates Lucas Mahias and Federico Caricasulo led to the race to be reverted to the results at the end of lap 17.

Timo Glock and Mike Rockenfeller split the DTM races from Zandvoort.

Fabian Coulthard and Jamie Whincup split the Supercars races from Sydney Motorsports Park.

Pierre Gasly won the Super Formula race from Motegi, his first career Super Formula victory and the first Super Formula victory of the season for Honda.

Ott Tänak won Rally Deutschland.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar makes its return to Gateway Motorsports Park.
Formula One is back from summer vacation and will be at Spa-Francorchamps.
Super GT runs the Suzuka 1000km for the final time and Jenson Button and Kamui Kobayashi will be there!
MotoGP heads to Silverstone.
IMSA's two GT divisions head to Virginia International Raceway.
NASCAR's second division head to Road America.
European Le Mans Series heads to the future home of the French Grand Prix, Circuit Paul Ricard.
Blancpain Sprint Series will be in Hungary.