Monday, October 2, 2023

Musings From the Weekend: I Will Say it Forever

Here is rundown of what got me thinking...

Apple could be considering paying Formula One a significant sum of money. MotoGP had a rainy day tighten up its championship in Japan. The World Superbike Championship set up its final act for the championship. Sebastian Vettel may be coming to a sports car race near you. The World Rally Championship made a spring trip to Chile. We were about 0.012 seconds away from having a devastating conclusion to the NASCAR Cup race from Talladega. IndyCar's entire marketing and promotional departments must attend a social studies class, but cultural ignorance is not the current series gripe we are tackling. 

I Will Say it Forever
The days following the 2024 IndyCar schedule release drew a range of reactions. 

Anger, optimism, a great conversation on Trackside, existential dread. Many, if not all, were understandable. There was always going to be a reaction. It was always going to be strong reaction once it became clear Texas would not be returning to the schedule. Losing a track will always make somebody upset. That is a reasonable expectation. 

Unfortunately, another reasonable expectation when an IndyCar schedule is released somebody is going to pin the blame or a responsibility on the fans, and we had that again this week. 

As Off-Track with James Hinchcliffe and Alexander Rossi went over the 2024 schedule, the inclusion of Milwaukee in the context of IndyCar's oval problem led Rossi saying it was on the fans to attend the race if they want oval races to succeed.

This is a common mantra in IndyCar over the last 15 years as ovals have decreased and struggled to survive. It is sad such a misguided statement continues to be made and now drivers chirp. 

No, no, no. Don't make being an IndyCar fan a responsibility. Don't make it the responsibility of someone living in Dayton, Ohio to make sure Phoenix is a success or somebody in Atlanta, Georgia to make sure Milwaukee breaks even. Nobody should feel obligated to travel across the country to make sure an IndyCar race succeeds. 

If IndyCar wants a race to succeed, it should make sure it works in its own market. 

It isn't on the IndyCar fans in Walla Walla, Washington, Montpelier, Vermont and Grand Rapids, Michigan for the demise of the Texas Motor Speedway race. It is on IndyCar and Texas Motor Speedway for the demise of the Texas race. 

Texas Motor Speedway isn't in a hidden corner of the world. It is located in the second-most populous state in the United States and in the fourth-largest metropolitan area. Over 7.5 million people live in Dallas-Forth Worth area. About 6.5 million people live within 50 miles of Texas Motor Speedway. Expand that to 250 miles, which encompasses Austin, Texas, part of Houston, Texas and extends just beyond Tulsa, Oklahoma, and 21.1 million people are caught in that net. 

There are plenty of people in Texas Motor Speedway's market that there is no reason why it struggles to draw a crowd at any of its races. Let's just take the 6.5 million people in the 50-mile radius. If only one-percent of the locals show up, that is 65,000 people before anyone decides to fly in and make it a destination race. If 65,000 people show up to any IndyCar race it would easily be in the top five best attended races, and there would be no way that race would not be retained on the schedule. 

The expectation should not be on the same 20,000 people to attend every race. If you have the same 20,000 people at every race, then you have only 20,000 fans, and you are not a healthy series. 

There are millions of people IndyCar and the tracks are missing within those communities. A race like Texas should never depend on travelers from outside the state. That should be gravy while the local crowd makes the race stable. 

Milwaukee will be no different, and it really shouldn't be any different. If about 50,000 people are going an hour north of Milwaukee to Road America each year, there is no reason why IndyCar should be depending on those from Tupelo, Mississippi, Butte, Montana and Aberdeen, Maryland for Milwaukee's return to be a success. 

As IndyCar descends deeper into a cult mindset, the perception that it is the fans' fault for a race that fails continues to spreads. From series officials to track owners to team owners to drivers and now to other fans. 

Nope. That isn't going to happen here because a series failure is on the series. Races failing is on the series. It should be pointing the finger at itself and look at what it is doing wrong, why it cannot connect with people that live in the areas they race at to draw them out the one weekend a year IndyCar visits. 

IndyCar doesn't need 20,000 superfans who will drive north of 300 miles five times a year to attend races in multiple states. It needs about one million fans who casually watch and enjoy, know the drivers but are not obsessed with the drivers, and see that the series will be about a 90-minute drive away and make plans to attend in April or June or August. 

If one million people attend the 16 IndyCar races that weren't the Indianapolis 500, that would be an average of 62,500 spectators at each race. Roger Penske would bite your handoff to average 62,500 people attending every other IndyCar race. Milwaukee can hold a little more than half of 62,500 people. 

That is what IndyCar should strive for as success. It should stop going to ovals and then raise its hands and think the job is done, believing this is Field of Dreams and "if you built it, they will come." The series has to get within these markets and try to build causal followings, making connections that leads people to want to attend when the series visits once a year. 

The fact IndyCar hasn't realized this after a decade of disappearing events is staggering. It should have reached that breaking point after Fontana went away or maybe after Phoenix or perhaps after Pocono was dropped despite having a decent crowd by IndyCar's standards. It is very possible the series missed its chance to change the scheduling philosophy with the pandemic and work harder on market research to determine what markets wants IndyCar to visit and are willing to attend. 

It is never too late, but IndyCar has definitely wasted time. What it should no longer waste time doing is pinning blame on the minuscule number of people already supporting that series. Nothing says "thank you" more than "it is your fault." 

I will say it forever, a fan should never feel responsible for attending races. If you like IndyCar and consider yourself a fan, it is not your duty to attend races. Never feel like you are less of a fan if you do not attend any races. That is never the case. 

You should attend races because you want to and can practically make it work. Never feel like you must book airplane tickets and a hotel to make a trip across country. If you want to make a trip for a race, go ahead, but don't feel pressure that you must go to Milwaukee or Iowa or Detroit or Nashville. If you can only make one race practically work, attend that one race. It is on the series to make the rest work. 

There are plenty of people out there for IndyCar to promote itself to and draw people to its events. If it cannot do better than the same 20,000 people the series is at fault for its own failure.

Champions From the Weekend

Nicolò Bulega clinched the World Supersport championship with his victory and runner-up finish to Stefano Manzi at Portimão.

The #88 AKKodis ASP Team Mercedes-AMG of Raffaele Marciello, Jules Gounon and Timur Boguslavskiy clinched the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup championship with a fifth-place finish at Barcelona. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Nicolò Bulega and Stefano Manzi, but did you know...

Jorge Martín won MotoGP's rain-shortened Japanese Grand Prix, his third victory of the season. Martín also won the sprint race. Somkiat Chantra won the Moto2 race. Jaume Masià won the Moto3 race, his second consecutive victory. 

Ryan Blaney won the NASCAR Cup race from Talladega, his second victory of the season. Brett Moffatt won the Truck race. 

The #51 AF Corse - Francorchamps Motors Ferrari of Nicklas Nielsen, Alessio Rovera and Robert Shwartzman won the 3 Hours of Barcelona.

Álvaro Bautista swept the World Superbike races from Portimão.

Ott Tänak won Rally Chile, his second victory of the season.

Coming Up This Weekend
The 65th Bathurst 1000.
The fourth Indianapolis 8 Hour.
Formula One's sprint weekend in Qatar. 
NASCAR runs Charlotte's infield road course.