Keep Pocono On The IndyCar Schedule

Lost in all of the tragic circumstances of August 23-24, was that the Verizon IndyCar Series held what appeared to be a successful race. Some may consider successful a poor choice of words given that there was a fatality in the race; but had that not happened, I think there would have been quite the buzz about Pocono.

Track CEO and President Brandon Igdalsky claims that this year’s crowd was smaller than last year’s. I don’t believe it. I’ve heard from people that were there on-site for all three Pocono races and to a person – they all say that the crowd for this race was bigger than last year. Plus, I have eyes. As soon as the pre-race show came on, it was clear that the crowd was bigger than what they had last year for the Fourth of July weekend.

Most think that Igdalsky is using this claim for leverage for a lower sanctioning fee. If that is the case, then I have a short message to IndyCar CEO Mark Miles – do it.

I have news for you; as it currently stands, IndyCar needs Pocono more than Pocono needs IndyCar. IndyCar is in a desperate need of ovals.

Fontana is already confirmed gone from the 2016 IndyCar schedule. Chances are, it will be a long time before it returns. IndyCar will probably have to completely re-establish itself on the sports landscape before Fontana will have them back – regardless of where it falls on the schedule.

Milwaukee is iffy at best. IndyCar understands the historic significance of having The Milwaukee Mile on the schedule, but there is currently no promoter willing to take it on. Unless someone gets creative and co-promotes Milwaukee with the nearby race at Road America; there is a strong chance that Milwaukee will not be back next year, regardless of how historic the venue is. After all – this is a business.

I thought the late August date worked well for Pocono – much better than the Fourth of July weekend that IndyCar had in 2013-14. Even if Mark Miles follows through on his promise to extend the season into September, I’m thinking that the late August date works well; unless it’s determined that its simply too close to the second NASCAR race that ran a couple of weeks earlier. If that’s the case, a mid-September date may not be bad.

The fact that Igdalsky is posturing for a possibly lower sanctioning fee is a good sign. If he was totally unhappy with the response for the third IndyCar race since open-wheel racing returned for the first time since 1989, he would have simply announced he was pulling the plug by now.

In the days immediately following Justin Wilson’s passing, I read a few comments from various people that IndyCar should never return to Pocono out of respect for Justin Wilson. I hate to come off as insensitive, but I couldn’t disagree more with that way of thinking. It was not out of respect for Dan Wheldon that IndyCar never returned to Las Vegas. It was a combination of the track not wanting IndyCar back and the track design being so that it encouraged pack racing. What happened at Pocono had nothing to do with track design. It was strictly a fluke accident that could have happened anywhere. Besides, IndyCar racing didn’t stop at Homestead after Paul Dana was fatally injured. Nor was Fontana taken off the schedule after Greg Moore lost his life there in 1999.

If Brandon Igdalsky wants a lower sanctioning fee, give it to him. If he wants the sanctioning fee for the next two years waved, grant him his wish but make him sign a five year deal with gradual increases in years three through five. The point is, get creative without alienating other track owners.

It’s quite possible that the 2016 IndyCar schedule could have only three ovals – Indianapolis, Texas and Iowa. Phoenix has been rumored as being added to the schedule, but nothing is confirmed. To me, having only three ovals is unacceptable.

Some claim that this is the way open-wheel racing is going. It’s just evolution, they say. They point to declining attendance at ovals while places like Long Beach, St. Petersburg and Barber are showing healthy profits. They say that fans are speaking with their wallets on what they want to see. Others claim that open-wheel cars have outgrown high-speed ovals and that road/street courses are much safer.

Call me an old relic, but I disagree with every bit of that logic. What sets this series apart from any other is the diversity in its tracks. NASCAR races primarily ovals. Formula One races strictly road-courses, with a street race or two thrown in for good measure. The Verizon IndyCar Series currently races short ovals, some banked, some mostly flat; giant superspeedways like Indianapolis and Pocono; then of course – a mixture of natural terrain road courses and temporary street circuits. It takes a different mindset to master each of those. Whoever wins and IndyCar champions is a true champion because they must learn consistency on all of the different tracks in order to be in championship contention at the end.

Ovals tend to be much more exciting than non-ovals. Look at all of the ovals races this season. Fontana was the most breathtaking, while even Texas produced good racing. Texas was just not on the level of excitement that Indianapolis, Iowa, Milwaukee or Pocono were.

As I mentioned earlier, had Justin Wilson not lost his life – there would have been a lot of buzz about the race at Pocono. There were twelve cautions and multiple lead changes. As the day wore on, conditions changed making the track more difficult to drive. That’s what happens in five-hundred mile races. If not for one fateful moment, people would’ve spent that following Monday discussing the great race that had taken place.

I am a big believer in date equity. There are a lot of things going on in everyone’s lives these days – much more so than forty or fifty years ago. Fans need to know when to expect the races in their area to take place each year. Would the Indianapolis 500 become what it did had it taken place in May one year, August the next , July the next, then back to May? For decades, the Milwaukee race always took place the weekend following the Indianapolis 500. Now it moves from June to August to July in a three-year period and they wonder why no one goes. Sonoma and Mid-Ohio are always on the same dates and they always have a good turnout. Is that just a coincidence?

Mark Miles and Brandon Igdalsky need to sit down and develop a long-term plan for IndyCar to build on what they’ve established over the past three years. They need to settle on a date and insure that that date is always reserved for IndyCar at Pocono. They also need to sign a longer-term deal than year-to year. These annual discussions of wondering will they or won’t they return, only serve to build ill will and distrust between each other along with discontent among fans.

I truly believe that a long-term approach could really build something at Pocono. There are too many open-wheel fans within a two-hour drive of Pocono for it to not work, given the right approach.

There is no shortage of pressing issues facing Mark Miles and the IndyCar powers-that-be this offseason. But I think finalizing the schedule is at or near the top of the list in order of importance. Making sure that Pocono is on the schedule for years to come is the biggest unsolved priority left regarding the schedule. Mark Miles got it right with Road America. Let’s hope he gets it right with Pocono.

George Phillips

15 Responses to “Keep Pocono On The IndyCar Schedule”

  1. Br!an McKay Says:

    Spot-on, George.

  2. Good read! I read the same stuff about never going to Pocono, etc. Well if they ever did that, better cross off Indy in respect to the Brayton family or any of the other 80 some drivers killed there, Toronto for the Krosnoff’s, Milwaukee for the Hickman family. It happens. I get the Las Vegas thing, but Pocono was a freak accident. Do the cars need some work for these tracks, yes, but I think it can be done. This is a dangerous sport! But someone could also be killed at the hairpin in Long Beach under the right circumstances….

  3. 100% on target. Consistency of dates for the races is huge.

  4. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    Remember, when attempting to make seemingly logical suggestions to Indycar regarding anything Indycar:

    | |
    | BANG |
    | |
    | HEAD |
    | |
    | HERE |

  5. I agree with you George, I just wish they’d done more to keep Fontana. It was the kind of oval (banked, fast, close) which got me into Indycar. Pocono was not a good race in my opinion until this year. Before Wilson’s tragedy we saw passing at Pocono unlike the last 3 years. I haven’t enjoyed Milwaukee much in the DW-12 era, at least until this year. I think it’s interesting how good the racing was at all the ovals except Texas, and how for whatever reason Texas and Indy saw only Penske and Ganassi up front were as the other ovals were a bit more competitive. Overal aero kits+short ovals+Pocono seem to work well and it would be a shame to lose Pocono/Milwaukee after the best racing seen at those facilities in ages.

  6. billytheskink Says:

    I don’t think it is just that Indycar needs to retain oval races (though they certainly do), they need to retain races period. The amount of schedule turnover that the series has seen in recent years, in both ovals and road/street tracks, is staggering… and that is not good.

    But I agree that it is important to retain oval tracks in particular. Not just because of tradition and the challenge that a diverse schedule poses to drivers and teams, but also because their business is promoting and hosting major league racing and there are a whole lot of them out there. There is no larger distribution channel for major league racing in the United States than oval tracks, Indycar should want to stay in and exploit that channel if at all possible.

    If Indycar wants to maintain a schedule of any substantial length, they need to find a way to draw at ovals. Here’s hoping the series returns to Pocono, among others.

  7. If you were to talk to three fans who were on site at Milwaukee for the last three races you would find that to a person they would say that the crowd has grown with each successive year. I would not be so quick to stick a fork in that race. You could follow up this post with another called “Keep Milwaukee On The IndyCar Schedule” and your points and suggestions would be just as relevant.

    If IndyCar keeps losing tracks at the current rate, they will soon reach a point whereby fans in the stands will become irrelevant. Then they can simply rent a track and put on a show for the gamers and the almighty TV folks. For those fans who went to the expense of taking a child or other potential new fan to experience the on site excitement of Pocono, Milwaukee, or Fontana last season, now they can offer the excitement of sitting on a couch and watching the drivers follow each other around the streets of Bahsten. Woo hoo!

    During discussions about track attendence there will always be comments that “this is a business”. Sure, but if your business involves selling a product, you have to be good and smart with marketing to be sucessful. How much bread are you going to sell if your bakery is open on Wednesday one week, Friday the next week, and possibly Tuesday the following the week?

    Kudos to Derrick Walker for getting Road America back on the schedule. If IndyCar knew how to market they would offer both Road American and Milwaukee for the price of one in 2016. Kids under 12 get in free.

  8. DO WHAT EVER IT TAKES TO KEEP POCONO!! if you want strictly want road and street racing then go watch the boring sideshow called f1.

    they screwed up losing Fontana (to much whining from Montoya and power)

    get phoenix, Richmond and even homestead on the schedule.

    most indy car fans want a balanced schedule. so lets hope the powers that be figure this out.

  9. Pocono has had three years, but a bad date for the first two. Give it a chance at the date it had this year and see how attendance grows. There was a better crowd than last year, and lots of happy fans milling around the garages and pits.

  10. Thanks, George, for your plea to keep Pocono. I flew out from California for the race this year. I have watched racing on the triangle from my couch, but was so afraid that if I didn’t attend this year I would miss it entirely.

    I was impressed with the setting, the track, and the facilities. I would attend again if given the opportunity. And yes, I too thought the racing was many times better than the last two years and the crowd numbers on Sunday was impressive.

    I don’t know how Mr. Miles expects teams and venues to attract sponsors when the schedule is so unstable. I am not sure he cares beyond the 500 in May what we fans need in order to plan our lives and our attendance at races.

  11. I am of the opinion to do what it takes to keep the ovals AND send an advance team to promote the races to the locals.

  12. What else is there to do in Pocono other than the race itself? Is there some kind of natural wonder to see? Great hiking trails? B&Bs? There is a reason my wife agreed to go to NOLA in 2015 and Tampa/St. Pete in 2016. An oval in the middle of nowhere 7-8 hours away is not going to happen unless there are other things to do.

    • Yes, it is in a lovely forest area with lots of outdoorsy stuff to do. Great vacation spot. (I read the AAA book on Pennsylvania)

    • Hardly the middle of nowhere, the Poconos is a vacation destination. We drove out from Indy, went biking and hiking in the mountains, enjoyed the Guess Who concert on Saturday night, and hit Gettysburg National Park on Monday on our way home.

      Will definitely attend again if the race returns.

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