A Cautionary Tale for Street Races

Posted in IndyCar on July 30, 2021 by Oilpressure

One week from today, practice will begin for the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix. While there is a tremendous buzz around town about this event, there seems be even more anticipation throughout the IndyCar community. Several teams are introducing special paint schemes for this race. On Trackside the other night, they reported that Jimmie Johnson says he is receiving more ticket requests for this race, than any other on the schedule – and that includes the Indianapolis 500.

Throughout the so-called summer break that we are currently in, I’ve been looking forward to next week’s race a lot myself. Obviously, I want this race to be a success – not only for this year, but for years to come. Now that the race is on the schedule, I want it to remain there for years and decades to come. I can’t wait to cover the race all next weekend, yet sleep in my own bed every night,

While Long Beach and St. Petersburg stand out as tremendously successful temporary street courses, I can’t help but think about some of the not-so-successful street races we’ve watched over the years. Baltimore and Houston stand out as recent examples of races that disappeared off of the schedule about as quickly as they showed up. There were also some duds back in the nineties, such as another version of Houston, as well as Denver.

None, however, can match the ineptitude of the Meadowlands Grand Prix. Like the Music City Grand Prix, the Meadowlands course was based around a sports arena – the home of the then-New Jersey Nets, while Giants Stadium loomed in the background. The Music City Grand Prix will race right next to Nissan Stadium; home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans. Hopefully, that’s where the similarities stop.

I have been watching this sport for a lot of years, several decades in fact. I have seen some bad courses and track layouts in that time, but I’ve never seen a worse venue for a combination of bad racing and a lack of fan interest as the Meadowlands Grand Prix.

This event (which is a very generous use of that term) lasted from 1984 to 1991. As you can imagine with any major sporting event in the New York area, there was a lot of anticipation for the event. Aside from the Indianapolis 500, it was the most highly anticipated event on the 1984 CART schedule. Rain hampered the first event as Mario Andretti led all 100 laps to win.

Complaints from drivers and fans about the tight 1.682 mile course prompted organizers to make a radical change in the course in 1988 – halfway though the eight-year run. The result was an even shorter circuit that measured only 1.217 miles. It was what they referred to as an altered oval. It was no oval. It was a boring layout with a sweeping turn, an almost hairpin turn and a couple of right-handers. It was practically unwatchable on television. I can’t imagine how unbearable it was to be sitting in the stands.

The changes in the course layout did not help. Fan apathy continued to increase, both at the gate and on television and the Grand Prix continued to hemorrhage red ink . After the 1991 race, event organizers decided the race needed to be moved to Manhattan near the World Trade Center for the following year. Red tape and bureaucracy eventually caused the 1992 race to be postponed to 1993. As most fans suspected at the time, the 1993 race was cancelled and the Meadowlands Grand Prix was mercifully put out of its misery.

Am I saying that the same thing will happen three decades later in Nashville? Absolutely not. The Meadowlands Grand Prix was counting on race fans in the tri-state area to come out and support open-wheel racing. The result was the same a quarter century later, when Pocono counted on the same fan base to come out and support open-wheel racing. They didn’t come.

Since I (thankfully) never attended the Meadowlands Grand Prix, I can’t say for certain – but I don’t think the event ever gave fans in the area much of a reason to come to the New Jersey Meadowlands, other than to see some boring racing. I’ve never personally been a big proponent of ancillary entertainment at a race, but I’m a die-hard and I know I’m in the vast minority.

I think the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix is going to be a phenomenal five-day event. I say five days, because events directly connected to the Grand Prix start on Wednesday, including Josef Newgarden’s Celebrity Ping-Pong Challenge. Thursday night, Lower Broadway will be closed to traffic, so that Indy cars can be run in the center of downtown Nashville for all of the tourists to witness. Practice starts on Friday, along with the impressive concert list that will be playing almost constantly Friday, Saturday and Sunday on two different stages.

As great an event I suspect this will be, I am still a little skeptical on how god a race this will be. I think the aerial shots of cars crossing the Cumberland River will look spectacular on television. The two long straightaways may provide excellent passing opportunities and provide the type of racing we are all hoping for. But we really won’t know until the green flag drops after 4:30 pm CDT.

No matter how good, or mediocre the racing may be, I still say this will be a great event. What they do in the follow-up years will be crucial. I suspect there will be several tweaks from Year One to Year Two, but I imagine the formula for the race weekend will be the same.

I have included the full-race video from the final Meadowlands Grand Prix in 1991, won by Bobby Rahal.

As boring of a race that it was (I remember watching it live), it might be fun to watch it over the next week and compare it to what we see in Nashville next week. It is my hope that those in charge of the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix have studied the Meadowlands Grand Prix, along with Baltimore and Houston and a few others as examples of what not to do. The Meadowlands, in particular, could serve as an example of a cautionary tale for street races.

George Phillips

IndyCar Jumps Back Into the Virtual World

Posted in IndyCar on July 28, 2021 by Oilpressure

Some of you may be surprised to learn that about twenty years ago, I was a fairly active simmer. I never got into any of the shoot-‘em-up video games; but I owned my fair share of PC flight and race simulators.

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Let the Speculation Begin!

Posted in IndyCar on July 23, 2021 by Oilpressure

It’s still July, and the silly season seems to be in full swing. A couple of weeks ago, Michael Andretti kicked things off when he remarked that a couple of cars could be in play at his team for 2022. He noted that Colton Herta and Alexander Rossi were both under contract, but that the other two cars could see some changes. It could be that he meant team personnel, but I think most took it to mean either James Hinchcliffe of Ryan Hunter-Reay could be gone at season’s end.

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NBC and IndyCar Reach an Extension

Posted in IndyCar on July 21, 2021 by Oilpressure

Not long ago, I publicly ate crow after the double-header at Belle Isle. I had predicted a boring set of races that turned out to be very exciting. I led off the Random Thoughts post with hat in hand and publicly admitted I was dead wrong. It wasn’t fun, but at least I acknowledged it.

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SRX Racing Comes to Nashville

Posted in IndyCar on July 19, 2021 by Oilpressure

Although the NTT IndyCar Series is on a bit of a hiatus right now, that doesn’t mean we can’t get our racing fix somewhere. What better way to get it than watching some former IndyCar stars at historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.

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Saturday Night at the Races

Posted in IndyCar on July 16, 2021 by Oilpressure

We are going to a race in Nashville. Many people have probably said that over this past summer. If you are a NASCAR fan, you could have said it back in June. The NASCAR Cup Series made its first-ever visit to Nashville Superspeedway on June 20. We were in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin that day for the IndyCar race at Road America. Had we been in town, I doubt I would have made the trek out to that track. That’s more than a fifty mile drive from our home in west Nashville just to see what I figured would be a boring race. From what I’ve heard, it was.

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Will Toronto Ever Come Back?

Posted in IndyCar on July 14, 2021 by Oilpressure

It was twenty-five years ago today that we lost driver Jeff Krosnoff and corner-worker Gary Avrin at the Molson Indy Toronto in 1996. Please keep those two men in your prayers and thoughts today.

Last weekend, the NTT IndyCar Series was scheduled to be racing the streets of Toronto. Unfortunately, the temporary street circuit was never built. The cars never left their respective shops as the teams and drivers began what is now to be a four-weekend break, before reconvening in Nashville for the August 6-8 weekend.

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