The Schedule Needs A Few Tweaks

The IndyCar series is coming off of its first non-racing activity weekend since the weekend of April 28th. That’s a little hard to believe now that we are headed into the Fourth of July weekend. The schedule gets easier from this point going forward – in fact, it gets a little too easy. There are only two events this month, although one is a double-header – next weekend, at the streets of Toronto. Three weeks later is Mid-Ohio, while it and Sonoma are the only two races on the August calendar. Things really slow down in September. After visiting the streets of Baltimore on Labor Day weekend, there is not another race until the double-header at Houston during the weekend of October 5-6, over a month later. Then the season closes with the 500-miler at Fontana.

Hulman & Company CEO Mark Miles recognizes the inconsistency in the schedule. From racing at São Paulo on May 5th to opening weekend at Indianapolis, then qualifying weekend, Indianapolis 500 Race Weekend and then five more races over the next four weeks – it has been a very busy time for the teams. In all the time I have followed open-wheel racing, I’m not sure I have seen any of the series in charge, have an eight weekend stretch of racing activity without a single break. It wears the teams down. Now we are looking at the series trickling to a close with a five-week gap between Baltimore and Houston, before closing out the season on a Saturday night in mid-October.

I am a big believer in date equity. I think the series should look at balancing out the schedule so that it makes sense for the teams, the series and the tracks involved. We know the Indianapolis 500 runs on Memorial Day weekend. Being the traditionalist that I am, I would prefer running The Milwaukee Mile the following Sunday. Eddie Gossage wants Texas to be the first oval after Indianapolis, but the good of the series should take precedence over what a single promoter wants. Belle Isle, Iowa and Toronto should be somewhere in the first half of the summer, but ‘m not sure any of those races are date dependent.

I like the idea of Pocono running the Fourth of July weekend. I think it will be a big event in person as well as on television. Weather permitting, NASCAR will always be racing the night before at Daytona. That clears the racing calendar for Sunday afternoon for IndyCar at Pocono.

The August calendar seems fine with Sonoma and Mid-Ohio being two weeks apart, then having Baltimore on Labor Day. But here’s where I would make changes. I am a firm believer that the IndyCar series should do its best to wrap up as quickly after Labor Day as possible. Research shows that the IndyCar Series shares demographics with the NFL and College Football. Those that are very likely to tune into an IndyCar race in August are the same that will more than likely be watching the NFL on Sunday afternoon rather than a street race from Houston, for example.

Last year, the IndyCar Series wrapped up its season on a Saturday night in mid-September. To me that seemed logical, even though I had to DVR the first part because I was watching the end of the Florida-Tennessee game. But given the fact that the NFL opened its season just the Sunday before, the series avoided going head-to-head with the behemoth that is the NFL. The problem was, the season didn’t start back until late March. That made for an offseason of over six months, which was way too long.

St. Petersburg has not always been the season-opener. I say to keep their end of March date in place, but add a couple of races in front of it. I would venture to guess that the Houston race is scheduled for October because racing there in July or August would be unbearably hot. My suggestion would be to move the Houston race to early March. This season, the NFL granted the Houston Texans a road game that weekend while the IndyCars run around Reliant Stadium. That is not a guarantee every year. Why not alleviate that potential scheduling problem and move the date to early to mid-March.

While we are dealing with hypothetical situations, let’s assume the rumors of Phoenix coming back onto the IndyCar schedule are true. A late February date in the desert would be ideal. Now the offseason isn’t looking quite so long, even if you move Fontana back to mid-September.

The month of April is in good shape. Part of the reason that Barber is considered a “Beautiful facility” is because the azaleas and dogwoods are in bloom around the track. They need to keep their date, as does Long Beach. São Paulo was dry this year, but it is usually rainy there. Although they would be headed into their winter, perhaps it’s date could be moved to free up the Month of May.

The jury is still out on the double-headers. While they created nineteen races and nineteen chances for drivers to score points, I think most would agree that there are still only sixteen events on the schedule this season. Assuming all of the venues return next year from this season, and they add Phoenix – they still should add at least one more event, if possible. Phoenix would be the sixth oval. Other rumors say that Chicagoland may be in play for the future. If Phoenix is added next season, I seriously doubt that another ISC track would be added for next season. The best bet is to hope that the rift with Bruton Smith has settled and an SMI oval track might be added. That could mean Kentucky, Charlotte or Atlanta. I think the wounds from Las Vegas are too fresh for the series to return there anytime soon.

So, essentially I’m trying to make three points here. Spread out the ovals so that they aren’t all concentrated in the early part of the summer. While they are at it, they should add an oval or two. They also need to build in more breaks between races so the teams can regroup, while avoiding large gaps in the schedule. Lastly, they need to shift the schedule where the season starts earlier and wraps up earlier in order to not drop off the radar entirely during football season. That’s my two-cents worth. What’s yours?

Have a Happy Fourth of July! See you here on Friday.

George Phillips

12 Responses to “The Schedule Needs A Few Tweaks”

  1. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    Would love to see racing earlier in the year. Hope you and Susan have a great 4th…

  2. Kyle F. Says:

    Good plan! Having grown up in Houston, a March date is much more likely to have seasonable weather than even October. You can try to take advantage of the spring breakers headed to the beaches of Galveston too.

    • billytheskink Says:

      A March/Spring Break race at Galveston’s Scholes Field airport would be an interesting pipe dream.

      Galveston hosted AAA National Championship races in 1913 and 1914, on a beach course. Other auto races were also held at the beach course, at their since torn down horse track, and at the airport.

  3. Yannick Says:

    Thank you George for speaking out about the schedule. I guess we both agree the one for 2013 is too tight in places and boasts one big hole in September.
    As much as I agree with your goal to start the IndyCar season earlier, I doubt ending it at the beginning of September would be a good idea.
    Call me nostalgic if you like, but in the 90s, the final race used to be near the end of October at Surfers Paradise. This way, IndyCars had a schedule that ran for longer in the year than Formula 1. I liked that a lot back in the day, so I feel IndyCar should run from the end of February to the end of October.

    Moving Houston to earlier in the year is a nice suggestion but I wouldn’t be so fast: it still remains to be seen whether Reliant Park is a circuit that provides good racing or not.

    For quick additions to the schedule, Phoenix is a nice suggestion but just like Michigan and Las Vegas, it has been repaved by ISC to allow the Cup cars to go faster. We all know how that turned out at Las Vegas, so IndyCars would probably have to run with reduced aero specifications at Phoenix and Michigan, compared to when these type of cars were there last time around. And if that would be as pleasant to watch as it used to be, remains to be seen. So having a secret test there to try out the track would be paramount before considering the circuits for the schedule.

    Things are different with Kentucky. Sparta is located right in the middle of where IndyCar’s fanbase lives. It would be a great choice for September if the right promoter can be found.

    Before too long, it’s likely the 2nd Canadian race will be held at the Fort Erie / Ontario 1 mile oval which is finally nearing construction. It won’t be ready for next season yet, though.

    The Road America ALMS (or whatever it is called these days) race should allow for a nice doubleheader with that series, given Milwaukee can be held earlier, the week after Indy.

    IRL had a good place to open the season earlier than any other series: the Mickyard. Even though having sided with CART back in the days of the Split, I have now, years after reunification happened, watched some old IRL races on youtube which were staged at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, and surprisingly, they provided some pretty exciting racing. However, for a comeback, the track needs a major safety upgrade – and such a race only would work if Disney agreed. So opening the season at Homestead might be easier.

    The Loudon/New Hampshire race a few years back was quite a good one. IndyCar should give this one another try.

    Other additions to the schedule which would be worth it include a trip to the Northwest, and there is no better place to go there than Portland.

    And with Formula 1 racing in Weehawken/New Jersey next year, IndyCar should be working to get a Saturday afternoon race there, after F1 qualifying. That would be a great way to tap into the New York market, especially with Watkins Glen now seemingly out of the picture.

    Also, have you noticed George, that with the changes made last year to the layout of Sonoma, you don’t read near as many requests for a return to Laguna Seca anymore as there used to be. That’s a good thing and proves the changes to Sonoma went in the right direction. The changes to Belle Isle were even better.

    For the latter part of the calendar, I feel they should run Fontana in early October and close out the season at Surfers Paradise as a double header with the Australian V8s, as it used to be. I still shake my head in disbelief at the fact the series let this event go right after reunification, first for the sake of Chicagoland (which was dropped later) and then Homestead (dropped since, too).

    While talking international races, I’m sure there is some interest in IndyCar in Great Britain, at least while Dario Franchitti is still racing, and there are quite a few good tracks over there as well, though the short track at Brands Hatch would probably be the preferred choice. With having 3 French drivers, a European road trip would also need to include a French round. Dijon Prenois would be just the right candidate for such a thing, given how racy that track is. The DTM race there a few years back was amazing.

    But a European road trip would only be possible if there is some truth in the rumor that Audi were to join IndyCar as an engine manufacturer: they could invite the series to the Lausitzring oval.
    I’m dreaming here because, living in Germany, this would be my home track then.

    Regarding the tight part of this year’s schedule: George, have you also noticed how little has been the number of crashed cars during those months? I guess team owners instructed their drivers to not put their cars into too much risk so they could make the races on subsequent weekends. Yet, still, they managed to not compromise the good racing in spite of this. Goes to show how good those drivers are who currently run in the series.

    Here’s hoping you like my suggestions for the schedule. I may or may not have forgotten some, but if so, maybe I’ll add them later.

  4. madtsd1 Says:

    Hey George. Sao Paulo date is determined by when Brasil’s major holiday of Carnival occurs. Because the race takes place using the parade route, they can’t do the setup of the street course until after the holiday. Once the cleanup from Carnival is done, it takes a couple of weeks to get everything set up for the race.

    Don’t forget, they are closing down a major roadway for a week for the race and, in traffic heavy Sao Paulo, this is a big sacrifice.

    I think the IndyCar season needs to start the weekend after the Rolex 24 hour race at Daytona, that is in late February. It gets the jump on NASCAR and allows for a nice, evenly distributed season. There are plenty of tracks located in places with perfect weather, as you and others have listed. Feb to Sept would give us eight months of racing pleasure. Two to three races per month would allow for a lot of racing with enough time for the teams to recover between events.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    At the risk of coming across as a total pill, moving the Houston race to early March is not going to happen, not as long as the course is at Reliant Park anyways.
    The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo runs from the last week of February through the second week of March. The Rodeo is run by some of the most powerful people in Houston, getting a road game for the Texans year after year would be easier than getting the Rodeo to move its dates.

    A mid-April date would probably be the earliest the series could run in Houston (and was the date ChampCar used in their 2nd Reliant Park race), given the amount of work necessary to both tear down the Rodeo’s equipment and set up the barriers and grandstands necessary for the Indycar race. I am not sure if this would fall into Eddie Gossage’s all-but-official “exclusive window” on Texas races or not.

    I too would like to see more ovals and Road America, as well the ovals spread out more over the course of the season. Ending the season prior to the NFL means little to me, but I understand the importance it may have for the series as a business. Not running on college football Saturdays means much more to me, personally (see the Houston race, this year).

  6. Gurney Eagle Says:

    NASCAR raced at Phoenix on March 2 and 3 this year. Would that preclude an IndyCar race in late February?

  7. I think the dirty little secret that Indycar refuses to realize is that their competition is not F1, it is Nascar. That is why the more they try to be F1 Lite, the more they hurt themselves. CART did this and went bankrupt. Twice.

    They have got to add more ovals. And they cannot do a bunch of ovals, then a bunch of road courses. What they end up doing in losing part of their fan base for an extended period, as those that prefer ovals disappear during the run of road/street courses, and vice versa.

    The league probably can compete with Nascar and keep its format by running 60% ovals, 40% street/road courses. They need to concentrate on the US market and avoid the overseas races as if they were the plague, which they are. They also need to attract more American drivers with backgrounds in oval racing.

    The Indy lights series should be used as a way to train oval experienced drivers on road courses and road course experienced drivers on ovals. There should be minimum experience requirements which would have avoided, in my mind, what happened in Las Vegas. Think how that would help the feeder series with big names required to race.

    They need to bring back the entire Month of may at Indianapolis. Make it again the crown jewel of the league (sorry Mr. Penske). Qualifications over two weekends. Go for new speed records. Bring back happy hour and get rid of the shootout. Add back the old apron in turn one to improve the racing. Have the Milwaukee race the week after indy. Bring back the old tracks like Michigan and Phoenix.

    The key to fixing Indycar is in the past. Not reinventing the wheel! That seems to be something else they don’t get.

  8. Get rid of the large gaps, spread the schedule out where possible and add Nashville.

  9. Basically agree with you George. Start earlier in the year. Intermix ovals and twisties. Avoid long layoffs. Schedule around Nascar.

    As to fixing Indycar, I don’t think the tracks matter as much anymore. It’s about sponsorship, marketing and personalities. People will watch races if they have recognizable heros and villains to root for and against. Which would get bigger ratings, a race on an oval with the usual drivers or a street race with Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Lewis Hamilton racing?

  10. Steve K Says:

    Why not open up at Sebring? If they can handle Audi I don’t see why they cant handle an IndyCar race.

    Give me more double headers. Especially at the short ovals.

  11. Giu Canbera Says:

    Houston should be in the first weekend after SuperBowl finals in Feb. and Fontana the last one – saturday night race on labor day weekend.
    To break the 5 off season months, make an Octomber race at the IMS Road Course for free (only Donations). Non points Doubleheader race, teams pairing up with several NON Indycar drivers (just like the V8SC Surfers Paradise race). Bring that Global RallyCross thing too. Practices on Saturday (all day long with guest drivers), races on Sunday.

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