Is A Double-Header Always Twice As Good?

Shortly following the successful weekend that the IZOD IndyCar Series had at Iowa Speedway last weekend, CEO Randy Bernard revealed his idea to possibly host a double-header weekend there for the 2012 season. When I first heard the news, I was against it because I thought he meant to do a set of twin races similar to what the series did at Texas a few weeks ago. Then I found out that his plan was to run two separate races that each paid full points – one to be held on Saturday night, then another to be held the following afternoon.

My initial reaction was favorable – especially since I’m now seriously thinking about going to Iowa next year. That’s quite a bang for your buck if you’re in attendance. But then I started hearing that the races would be treated as separate events and would have separate tickets. I’m sure you can buy some sort of a package to include both races, but it still will probably cost more to attend both races than it did to attend the one great race last Saturday night.

For those that live near Newton, IA, they have the luxury of picking which race they want to attend. For those of us that may be traveling great distances, of course we’re going to shell out the extra bucks to attend both races. That’s why we’re going, isn’t it – to attend races?

The logic is that if the track only holds 40,000 people, it would be better to sell 80,000 tickets than 40,000. It sounds simple enough, but will everyone buy tickets to both races? As I just mentioned, those that are covering a lot of ground to get there will, but how many drove two to three hours to go? Many probably passed up the cost of a hotel room and made a day trip out of it. Would they drive that distance two days in a row? Some die-hards might, but others won’t.

What about the on-track product? Teams were lucky in Texas, when only two cars crashed. They may not be so lucky in Iowa. Turn Two was merciless at Iowa as it ate several cars last Saturday night. Some of the larger teams would have little problem getting a backup ready for the next day, while others would have great difficulty. If Sebastian Saavedra were to repeat his Saturday night crash during the first race next year, I’m not sure that Conquest would have a car ready for him by the next day.

Another consideration for the on-track product is the quality of racing. Fans pay their good money to watch drivers hang it out on the ragged edge. They don’t expect to watch a parade of cars driven by drivers whose main goal is to keep the car off the wall so it’ll be around the next day.

Now that we’ve had a few weeks pass since the twin races at Texas, when I look back on that weekend, I feel as if that race was stolen from me. They took one of my favorite races of the season and split it up into two sideshows that had no rhythm or flow – just two sprint races that had no feel about them. I realize that a double-header at Iowa would be two full races run on consecutive days, but I’m just not sure how it would play out.

Texas and Iowa are both great events that don’t need to be spiced up. I don’t fault Randy Bernard for getting creative. That’s what he was hired to do and it’s one of his many strong suits. There are/were several events on previous IndyCar schedules that could have benefited greatly from this idea. Kansas and Homestead come to mind. Watkins Glen was another. But is the idea to prop up attendance and interest in tracks that need it or to capitalize on events that are already successful and make them that much better?

If the goal is to get closer to a 50/50 split between ovals and road courses, I think that is a cheesy way of doing it. I’ve heard some say that the IZOD IndyCar Series is having eighteen races this season – because they are counting the two races at Texas. I say there are seventeen. I count a weekend as an event, not how many races took place. If they truly want to get closer to an even split, go after more ovals.

I’ve heard Curt Cavin say that it’s not that easy – you can only go where you are wanted. Well, make them want you. Get creative on sanctioning fees. Let them know that this is not the same series that tracks chose to drop off their schedule a few years ago. It sounds like Fontana and Chicagoland may be a little closer to happening than they were a few months ago. If Las Vegas is a success, get in deeper with Bruton Smith and look at possible returns to tracks like Charlotte and/or Atlanta.

I’ll be the first to say the races were boring, but the series always had great attendance in Nashville. Al Unser, Jr. says that if they would diamond-groove the entire track, it could be a two-groove racetrack. Personally, I’d like to see that concrete surface replaced with asphalt, but that could be costly to a track that is struggling already.

But getting back to the idea of a double-header – I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, but I find myself coming up with more questions against it than reasons for it. I realize I’m an old grump that doesn’t like new ideas. I’d be willing to see the series try it once, but I hope they don’t get so entrenched with the idea that they think they have to stick with it no matter how much it fails. That has been Randy Bernard’s biggest attributes – he listens to fans and is not afraid to admit a mistake. Give him credit for trying.

George Phillips

*Please Note: There will be no post here on Monday July 4th. I’ll return here on Wednesday July 6th. I hope everyone has a safe and happy Fourth of July.

11 Responses to “Is A Double-Header Always Twice As Good?”

  1. If there was a “Twin “Weekend” at Iowa then I would want to be there, but upon further reflection I now see that the one race was good enough and that the “Twin” race is only adding an oval to the Foyt Championship half of the series. Reach out, INDYCAR! Find another track that wants you!!! You can start by listening to a proposal from the Nashville the Superspeedway and Firestone. According to the Neilsen ratings this past May the Nashville market was the fourth rated market for the Indianapolis 500 with a 7.5 rating.

  2. Savage Henry Says:

    I thought that the rule in the entertainment business is that you always want to leave them wanting more. Doing back-to-back races at Iowa would break that rule. Doing a double-header would cheapen it, I think. Anyone who chose to do two races one year (and I’m not sure there would be that many) may choose to do no races the next year, especially if the first one was a snoozer because of teams trying not to wad up their equipment.

    I think that you keep your great events great by making people want to come back year-after-year. That’s why they don’t do a second event at Indy. Auto races need to have that event-like feel to them, they’re not like football games or baseball games. Overusing the successful events seems like risking killing the golden goose, if you ask me.

    Instead, they should get creative and find ways to improve existing events or create exciting new events.

    • Savage, upon reflection I think I’m with you on this issue. Get creative with events that are struggling, like Milwaukee (there you can start by finding a promoter that knows the business).

      • Sorry …I don’t mean “you”; I mean “they” …” can start…”.

      • Bent Wickerbill Says:

        The right promoter (Milwaukee) and modifications to the track (diamond grinding) that would allow more than one line of racing (like back in the 80’s and 90’s.)

        Regarding Iowa, I also agree that there is no need for two races in the same weekend, but that if two races at Iowa in one season could be arranged, that would be the way to go.

  3. What I would much rather see from Iowa would be two RACES. Perhaps a midsummer race at night and a later race (in the daytime) in fall. The fact that there is a venue that fans will fill would seem to make this a no-brainer to me.

    I agree with George’s point that two races in one weekend (sold separately) might be overkill.

  4. Gurney Eagle Says:

    “Fans pay their good money to watch drivers hang it out on the ragged edge. They don’t expect to watch a parade of cars driven by drivers whose main goal is to keep the car off the wall so it’ll be around the next day.”

    This is an accurate description of the first Texas race which is why i’m strongly opposed to this idea.

    • Yannick Says:

      Having not slept well at all that night, I was able to see parts of the 1st and the 2nd race from Texas 2011 on a webstream even here in Europe. Drivers were indeed preserving their cars for the 2nd race. But for some, it all came to naught in the draw for the starting positions of the 2nd race. That draw for the grid of the 2nd race was not a good idea. It’s too random. DTM, the series in which Dario Franchitti raced touring cars before he went to the USA, used to run every race as a double header for the duration of several seasons. Nobody’s focus was on preserving their cars, but those were touring cars. They are more robust than single seaters. However, the grid positions of the 2nd race were determined by the finish of the 1st race with the retirements having to start from the back in order of retiring.
      I guess that’s how it should be done.

      Yet, I would prefer a 2nd 500 mile race on one of the larger ovals over a double-header. As far as Iowa is concerned, I like George’s idea of going there twice a year. As far as Texas is concerned: last year’s single race was a better one than the double header. I feel they should switch back to the old format.

      And Milwaukee needs to get back its place on the calendar the week after Indy.

      If IndyCar is looking for an oval, I’d love to see them at Eurospeedway Lausitz but that’s mainly because it’s the one oval track that’s nearest from my home. As far as European tracks are concerned: A return to Brands Hatch would also be very nice, especially for the English fans of all the English drivers in the series. And if I could recommend one other track in Europe for IndyCar, it would be Dijon Prenois because of the multiple racing lines that are possible when driving around that circuit.

      As far as Chicagoland vs Milwaukee vs Road America vs Brooklyn Michigan is concerned, as a TV Indycar spectator, I’d prefer to have all of them on the calendar, but as it is not possible, my preference would be Milwaukee. However, I watched last year’s Chicagoland race and it was pretty exciting.

      All the talk I read about IndyCar going to China worries me a little since DTM and A1GP drew only little crowds there and had to face problems with bad organisation like a hairpin corner being too tight for the cars to go round. If IndyCar wants to go abroad, I’m pretty sure Surfers Paradise will welcome them back. And all the Power fans, Briscoe fans and Dixon fans would love it, too.

      The thought of the Nashville oval surely is interesting.

  5. I’d do the Sunday afternoon race clockwise. 180 laps each (to emphasize the U-turn), and full points.

  6. Ron Ford Says:

    Since the Iowa race was so awesome (no sarcasm), why don’t we just run all the oval races there and skip those other troublesome tracks like Milwaukee (sarcasm)?

  7. Maybe we should just go ahead and file Twin races under “Ideas that sound great on paper, but don’t really work out in real life.”

    It was a great idea and I don’t begrudge Bernard at all for trying it, but Texas displayed all the problems of these situations. Running on separate days sounds like one way of solving these problems, but maybe they’re better off not being solved.

    You run into a situation where either a track holds exciting races, and you ruin that by running a twin race -OR- a track with less-than-exciting racing has a “twin” race, and you force fans to watch two boring races.

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