Monday, September 18, 2023

Musings From the Weekend: The Answer to All Your Questions is Money

Here is a rundown of what got me thinking...

Max Verstappen could not make it 11 from 11th as Carlos Sainz, Jr. and Ferrari ended the streak with victory in a thrilling Singapore Grand Prix. George Russell threw away a third. Fernando Alonso reached a milestone. Logan Sargeant is doing himself no favors. Kevin Harvick will not end his NASCAR Cup career as a champion. JR Motorsports drivers keep getting in accidents with one another. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. still has a little bit in him. Both classes in Super GT were decided after the checkered flag at Sportsland SUGO. However, news from last week is what is on my mind.

The Answer to All Your Questions is Money
IndyCar's season finale last week brought us more than the conclusion of a season. There were a handful of stories that came to the light. Drivers changing teams. Sponsors leaving. There was one unexpected headline. 

It was announced that over March 22-23, 2024, IndyCar would have an exhibition race at The Thermal Club, the 3.067-mile country club racetrack that hosted IndyCar's preseason test back in February 2023. The exhibition race would award a $1 millon prize to the event winner, which would have a different format than a normal IndyCar weekend. After a qualifying session, the field would be split into two heat races with the top six finishers from the heat races advancing to the final race where the $1 million prize would be awarded.

Adding a wrinkle to the event, each team will be paired with a Thermal Club member and a Thermal Club member will get a share of the prize money that is awarded to the top five finishers. 

After years of event stagnation, it is truly something different in the world of IndyCar, and it has both pluses and minuses.

The event would take place early in the season, likely between the first and second rounds of the 2024 schedule, filling a gap that has been a regular problem for IndyCar in recent years. Nobody can really complain when IndyCar will be competing and will have an event on television. Especially when the series received criticism for having such a big gap so early in its season. 

Thermal Club is also a venue that is interested in hosting IndyCar. There haven't been many tracks lining up to host IndyCar since the split nearly 30 years ago at this point. If a track is willing to pay to host IndyCar, and it wants an exhibition race, the series does not have many other options but to take the money. It is also a good thing to be wanted.

There has been some pushback as a limited number of tickets will be available for non-Thermal Club members to attend, but I got some news for everyone, basically every IndyCar race is held at a private venue with a limited number of tickets available. That is how basically every ticketed sporting event works. A venue can only hold so many people. If all 50,000 tickets are sold for a race then somebody is going to be left out. That is what a sellout is. Nobody would complain if all the limited number of tickets were purchased at Iowa, Mid-Ohio or St. Petersburg. Nobody was complaining about the limited number of tickets that were available when the 2016 Indianapolis 500 sold out. 

However, who is this event for? 

We all want to see more IndyCar races, but who was asking for this event, besides Thermal Club?

There has not be a thirst for exhibition races. IndyCar doesn't need exhibition races. It doesn't need show events. This is a case where the prize is large enough to justify the lack of championship implications, but it does give people a reason to tune out. If you miss the Thermal Club event, you have missed nothing at all when it comes to the championship. 

As was written back in February after the test and after the Iowa ticket prices were released, it is ok for IndyCar to have big ticket events. If they can sell the tickets, make the track money and everyone is happy then great! That is capitalism, boys and girls, but this event does feel different and somewhat tone-deaf.

This will be an event held at a private venue with a $1 million prize for the winner being split in half and $500,000 given to a member of a club where it reportedly costs $5 million to be a member. 


Of all the people to be gifted $500,000 for being a lucky sucker paired with the right IndyCar driver on a  given weekend, the Thermal Club members likely need that money the least. This is more a high stakes poker game between One-Percenters playing with pocket change but instead the ace up the sleeve could be Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon or Scott McLaughlin. 

The dirty secret about motorsports is it costs money to compete, and there is no better way to fund your program than getting a rich guy interested. The Thermal Club is a gathering of spoil-rotten individuals, who likely have a few extra million to burn on top of the $5 million they already forked over to build a house on the edge of a racetrack. This is practically a recruiting exercise for IndyCar, exposing its teams and drivers to a potential new car owner or sponsor.

That is the name of the game, the price of doing business, and yet this feels like one of the worst ways IndyCar could have gone about it. But that is the perk of being rich. You can do something wrong and lose nothing at all. 

It is easy to be critical of IndyCar of chasing the money, and IndyCar deserves some criticism for hosting a event that appears to at best yield a very short-term and narrow gain, especially when what would really improve the healthy of the series is more people attending races in person and watching on television. 

However, we should be reminded IndyCar is still going to be a fan friendly series. People are still going to be able to attend Road America, Mid-Ohio, Detroit, Long Beach and Gateway for a considerably fair price. The Indianapolis 500 remains the biggest ticket steal in global motorsports. There are a few pricier events, but those are still the rare exception on the calendar, and it is ok to have an event that is targeted at a different audience. 

And while you think IndyCar is being snobby, this is the same series that holds the PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge that saw $10,000 donated to a charity after each race and was constantly promoting the American Legion's effort to combat veteran suicides. 

IndyCar is acting out of selfish interests with the Thermal Club event in hopes of increasing investment in the series, but it does look out for others who have fallen on hard times. The scales are fairly balance in that department despite this latest development with the Thermal Club money race.

In all likelihood, Thermal Club will not become some smash hit. IndyCar doesn't really do smash hits. It is more likely a one-and-done, two-and-done at best, that will be more of a kooky note in the back of the IndyCar history book and receive one too many retrospectives in five years' time on YouTube. The event is hoping to grow IndyCar but in a way we cannot see through grandstand occupancy, apparel seen worn in airport terminals and chatter heard while eavesdropping in causal conversations.

It will be broadcasted on television. Whether or not the $1 million prize, which is hardly impressive in 2023 when the Powerball jackpot is up to $638 million and it will be the fourth time in the last seven Powerball jackpots the prize exceeded more than $400 million, draws any additional interests from the audience already not watching will be found out next March, but the Thermal Club event is going directly head-to-head with the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament, so I think we know what the causal viewer will be watching that day, and it isn't race cars. 

Best of luck to all of those competing next year in Palm Springs, and may I be the first to congratulate the club member who will have his membership dues covered for the next seven years. 

Champions From the Weekend
The #1 Paul Miller Racing BMW of Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow clinched the IMS GTD championship with its third place finish at Indianapolis. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Carlos Sainz, Jr., but did you know...

The #6 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche of Nick Tandy and Mathieu Jaminet won the IMSA race from Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The #11 TDS Racing Oreca-Gbson of Mikkel Jensen and Steven Thomas won in LMP2. The #17 AWA Ligier-Nissan Wayne Boyd and Anthony Mantella won in LMP3. The #79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG of Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella won in GTD Pro. The #57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG of Russell Ward and Philip Ellis won in GTD.

Denny Hamlin won the NASCAR Cup race from Bristol, his third victory of the season. Justin Allgaier won the Grand National Series race, his third victory of the season. Corey Heim won the Truck race, his third victory of the season.

Broc Feeney and Jamie Whincup won the Sandown 500.

The #8 ARTA Honda of Tomoki Nojiri and Toshiki Oyu won the Super GT race from Sportsland SUGO after the #17 Real Racing Honda was disqualified for a skidblock violation. The #52 Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave Toyota of Hiroki Yoshida and Kohta Kawaai won in GT300 after the #18 Team UpGarage Honda was disqualified for a heigh infraction. 

The #88 AKKodis ASP Team Mercedes-AMG of Raffaele Marciello and Timur Boguslavskiy and the #32 Team WRT BMW split the GT World Challenge Sprint Cup races from Valencia.

Jett Lawrence and Ken Roczen split the SuperMotocross races from Chicagoland with Lawrence winning the round (1-2).

Coming Up This Weekend
The Japanese Grand Prix.
MotoGP's inaugural Indian Grand Prix.
The SuperMotocross finale at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
NASCAR starts the second round in Texas.
The European Le Mans Series has its penultimate round of the season at Spa-Francorchamps.
Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters has its penultimate round of the season at the Red Bull Ring.
GT World Challenge America has its penultimate round of the season at Sebring.
World Superbike will be at Aragón.