Monday, February 11, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: Do Start Times Matter?

Rain keeps stealing the show in Daytona. William Byron won pole position for the Daytona 500 but a teammate took top honors in a rain-shortened Clash. A pair of winter series concluded this weekend, one in a stadium and the other during a sunny day in the Southern Hemisphere. Ken Roczen took the Supercross championship lead in Minneapolis but he has yet to win a race this season. IndyCar tested at Laguna Seca, where rain forced that session to be cut short but IndyCar will be back on track tomorrow for the first official test of the season from Circuit of the Americas. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Do Start Times Matters?
It is that time of the year when you scan over the schedules that you have been looking at for five or six months and actually start digesting what it says.

When it is first released, we are focused on where we are. Is there a new venue? Is there a returning venue? Then we focus on the dates. Is a race shifting toward the front of the schedule or closer to the end? Will one race be held during the heat of summer and feel like it is the face of the sun or will one race be early enough or late enough in the year where you will need to bring a heavy jacket and gloves? Then comes the start times and that is the point I reached over the past few days.

I have been pretty staunch when it comes to start times. If it is a Sunday and it either the Eastern or Central time zones, then there is no reason why it shouldn't be a 1:00 p.m. ET start and I would not mind if it was earlier than that. Most series do not share that same sentiment.

IndyCar is close on a few occasions. St. Petersburg and Austin will each start at 1:30 p.m. ET. The Road America race will be at 12:30 p.m. ET. The Indianapolis 500 will start at noon. Outside of that, the times are consistent but all over the board.

Six races will start at 3:30 p.m. ET this year for IndyCar. Laguna Seca will start at 3:00 p.m. and Pocono will start a half-hour earlier than that. Barber and Long Beach each start at 4:30 p.m. There are three Saturday night races and Iowa will start at 7:30 p.m. with Texas and Gateway each starting at 8:30 p.m.

NASCAR doesn't come close this year. The earliest start for a Cup race is 2:00 p.m. ET. Fourteen races will start at either 2:00 p.m. or 2:30 p.m. Thirteen of 36 races will start at either 3:00 p.m. or 3:30 p.m. The other nine races will either start at 6:00 p.m. (the 600 and the Southern 500), 7:00 p.m. (the Las Vegas Chase race) or 7:30 p.m. (both Richmond races, the first Kansas race, the July Daytona race, Kentucky and the August Bristol race).

Start times do matter. There is a reason why they are chosen but between the battle for television audience and at-track attendance, when you look at the size of both you wonder who is really winning?

Motorsports fans travel but they also don't travel. People will drive 300 miles round trip to see a race but if that race starts too late then they will not even bother. It is the one issue with all these series. Sometimes series and tracks rely too much on that crowd instead of branching out and trying to draw from the swarm of local people who are not going.

This group of people who have to make it to work on Monday but do not want to arrive home at midnight stay in and the television ratings are not spectacular but we are told the start time is selected for the best possible viewing audience. But is it really that much better? Granted, it is not like NASCAR ratings are down three million viewers because Pocono starts at 3:00 p.m. instead of 1:00 p.m. The problems run deeper than that but how many more people are actually watching? It is the same gripe we have had for over a decade now.

The start times aren't always for television. Tracks get a say. Barber seems like it should start earlier than 4:30 p.m. but that later start time allows for all the Road to Indy races to get in and it gives fans a full-day of racing. The same could be said for Toronto. Long Beach has to start at 4:30 p.m. It is on the West Coast. The Grand Prix of Indianapolis starts at 3:30 p.m. but that is also on a Saturday and people are more flexible when it comes to Saturdays.

Something about this offseason hit me and maybe this is acceptance kicking in after all these years of fighting the fruitless fight. Do the start times really matter? Do I really care if a race starts at 4:30 p.m.? Is it really killing me that Pocono is at 2:30 p.m. for IndyCar? I am going to watch anyway, same goes for most NASCAR races. What is the big deal with the start being two hours later than desired?

I have said it before; there are advantages to earlier start times. If you are staying home, a race ends, you can have dinner and you can enjoy your evening. If you are going to a race you will likely get home earlier and likely get home before sunset. In some cases it could be the difference between getting a hotel or not depending on how long the drive is.

But later start times are all that bad. You have the morning. You can get chores done, go get groceries and then end your day with the race.

It is also comes down to the type of person you are. I am a morning person and I prefer earlier race starts. I am up early. I don't want to have to wait nine hours between opening my eyes for the day and the green flag. I would rather wake up and know in six hours the race is going to start. But plenty of people wake up late and do not mind having a race start at 3:00 p.m. because they got up at 10:00 p.m.

Maybe it is a bit of acceptance that this isn't going to change and while I wish it were different it is not the end of the world.

There are still a few issues and I think these are reasonable qualms. For example, why is the NASCAR race from Pocono in July starting at 3:00 p.m. and the IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio starting at 3:30 p.m. on the same day? I know the IndyCar race will be on NBC but why split the deck? Either start the IndyCar race at 12:30 p.m. or 1:00 p.m. or have the NASCAR race start at that time. NBC could set itself up for a full day of racing with one race leading into another. Wouldn't it be better for both races if they were at separate times than simultaneous? I am sure there is a reason this is happening again and I am sure Mid-Ohio likes having the IndyCar race end the day.

But while there is still this one conflict, the schedules do avoid conflicts as much as possible, especially when both are on NBC. The IndyCar finale will be on NBC with no NASCAR race conflict, as the Cup race is the day before at Richmond.

In the 21st century, nothing seems set. Everything changes every five minutes. Every change is calculated to be better and each calculation seems to be just slightly different. Who knows? In three years every race might be starting at 10:00 a.m. ET or studies will say the best time to start a race is 6:00 p.m. on Saturday night and schedules will be shaken up massively.

There is no point in letting it bother you.

Champion From the Weekend

Liam Lawson won the Toyota Racing Series championship with a victory in the New Zealand Grand Prix.

Jean-Baptiste Dubourg clinched his fourth consecutive Andros Trophy championship with a third place finish at Stade de France.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Liam Lawson and Jean-Baptiste Dubourg but did you know...

Jimmie Johnson won the NASCAR Cup Series exhibition race, the Clash from Daytona, his second time winning the event.

Marcus Armstrong and American Cameron Das split the first two Toyota Racing Series races from Feilding.

Olivier Panis and Aurélien Panis won the Andros Trophy race from Stade de France outside Paris.

Cooper Webb won the Supercross race from Minneapolis, his third victory of the season.

Coming Up This Weekend
Daytona 500 but before that two qualifying races where two cars will go home on Thursday night.
Rally Sweden.
Mexico ePrix.
Supercross is in Arlington.