Was Last Year Really That Bad?

Santa has come and gone, all of the bowl games have been played (except for the National Championship game between Clemson and Alabama) and the ball has dropped in Times Square. That means it’s time to put away the Christmas decorations and turn our attention back to our favorite topic – IndyCar racing. Before we tackle the upcoming year, let’s take one more look at 2016.

It seems that it was quite popular to bash 2016 as it was on its way out last week. While some cited the results of the presidential election, others exclaimed that 2016 claimed more than its share of celebrities – especially rock musicians.

While I won’t comment on the election, I’m not sure that 2016 was any more cruel to TV and movie stars than usual – although the deaths of Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, the very next day are still very fresh and shocking. I will concede that it seemed as if more rock stars than usual, met their demise in an untimely fashion. The one that bothered me the most was one of the first ones of last year – Glenn Frey of The Eagles, who passed away last January 18 at the age of sixty-seven.

Many more rock and pop icons left us in 2016, but I was not really much of a fan of any of them. Not that they were necessarily bad people mind you, I just didn’t care for their music. Unlike a lot of people, I never really got too wrapped up in the personal lives of musicians. They were judged purely on whether or not I liked their music. So whether they were benevolent and good, or really rotten people – I just paid attention to the music. Perhaps I’m showing how shallow I truly am, but I’ve never drawn inspiration from a musician or poet. If I liked their music, I bought it. But I never felt compelled to have my life steered by a musician that may have been just a little removed from my reality.

Having said that, I’m still sure I’ll be crucified by announcing that I did not care that much for David Bowie, who died just a week before Frey; nor was I much of a fan of George Michael, who passed away on Christmas Day. Prince didn’t do too much for me either, although I did like some of his stuff.

For those who mourned the death of every rock/pop star in 2016, I’ve got news for you – I don’t think 2017 or many years to come will be much better. They’re mostly baby-boomers and some of them have reached the normal age to die. We grew up listening to these voices. For many of us, that means this was forty or fifty years ago – or more. While we were teenagers at the time, they were more than likely in their twenties or early thirties while they were cranking out songs that would become classics. That means that many are now in their sixties and seventies.

Ringo Starr of The Beatles is now seventy-six. Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones is seventy-three. Roger Daltrey of The Who is seventy-two. They are all approaching the age where things can go south quickly. And here’s a news flash – a lot of the rockers and pop idols of not only the sixties and seventies; but also the eighties and nineties – lived very hard lives. Hard living can take its toll on a body. It may not be evident as they ease into middle age, but their bodies may be prone to giving out at an earlier age than usual.

This is not a musical site, so why am I droning on about overage rockers? Just to prove a point that we should be prepared for more of the same regarding our music icons from our teen years and early adulthood, and that this may be the new norm for the next several years and that 2016 may not have been as bad as some claim.

Personally and professionally, I’ve had a satisfying year. Susan and I both seem very secure in our jobs (knock on wood). Susan lost her brother in 2016, but other than that – we both had a lot of good things happen to us last year. As we approach our fifth wedding anniversary this May, we are still very happy in our marriage and still enjoy doing things with each other. Best of all, we are both (seemingly) in excellent health without really trying.

When it comes to sports, 2016 was a mixed bag for me. I was glad to see the Chicago Cubs finally win the World Series. In football; my college team (Tennessee Vols) underachieved, while my pro team (Tennessee Titans) overachieved.

But when it comes to the Verizon IndyCar Series – I thought 2016 was a very good year.

The TV ratings were up in a time when practically all sports TV ratings were falling. Now we’re not talking Super Bowl numbers or anything like that, but an increase is an increase. A few more years with the type of ratings growth the series experienced in 2016, and it won’t be long until the series is where it needs to be.

The series welcomed three old friends to the schedule with Phoenix, Road America and Watkins Glen returning to US open-wheel for the first time in years. While Phoenix had a nice start, it still has some work to do to grow its attendance to where it needs to be. Road America, on the other hand, was a rousing success from the get-go. Susan and I went and immediately fell in love with the place, so much so that we plan on returning this year. If you can only attend one race this coming season and it can’t be the Indianapolis 500 – make it Road America.

Watkins Glen was thrown together quickly as a substitute for the failed Boston Grand Prix. While the Boston fiasco will certainly not go down as one of IndyCar’s shining moments for 2016, it may have been a blessing in disguise. It opened the door for Jay Frye to leverage some of his relationships and get IndyCar back at Watkins Glen. While it came together at the last minute, the results were encouraging. The race was relatively well-attended, all things considered – and it appears to have better momentum there than it ever had during the last decade.

Another plus for IndyCar was when the 2017 schedule was announced. It was sooner than later for once, and featured all of the tracks featured in the 2016 schedule, pretty much in their same spot on the calendar. Best of all, there will be a new old friend joining the schedule in 2017 – Gateway, just across the bridge from St. Louis.

On the track, there was a new champion in Simon Pagenaud. He brought Roger Penske only his third series championship since Team Penske came over from CART fulltime in 2002. There were eight different winners over the sixteen races. Simon Pagenaud fittingly won the most races (five), as his nearest challenger won three after missing the first race with inner-ear problems.

There were nail-biters (Indianapolis and Texas), while there were also runaways (Iowa and Watkins Glen). Youth was served with Josef Newgarden winning going away at Iowa and landing a ride with Team Penske for 2017 and Alexander Rossi winning at Indianapolis. The old guard also performed well with no fewer than eight races being won by drivers over the age of thirty-five.

Another reason to celebrate the 2016 season is that no IndyCar races produced any racing fatalities, unlike 2015 when we lost Justin Wilson. However, Indianapolis 500 driver Bryan Clauson lost his life in a midget race in Belleville, Kansas in August.

Based on the 2016 season, I think the future looks bright for the Verizon IndyCar Series. The leadership that is in place, Jay Frye in particular, bodes well for the series ability to grow in terms of more races and ultimately more teams. As it stands, there are only eight owners in the Verizon IndyCar Series. That needs to increase. Jay Frye is the most competent person I’ve seen in decades who is capable of taking the appropriate steps necessary to increase car count.

So while 2016 has seem tragic in some aspects, it’s been a very good year in others. Here’s hoping 2017 is even better on the IndyCar front and that we all experience a whole lot of happiness in the next twelve months.

George Phillips

9 Responses to “Was Last Year Really That Bad?”

  1. IndyCar indeed had a very good year in 2016. I can think of a few things that could have made it even better, like softer walls at Watkins Glen or two different teams fighting for the drivers championship. Yet, even without this, it was a really good season, including the preparations for the next one, with the one notable exception that KV Racing probably won’t do much this year.

    I like rock music, and, just like for you, personal lives of the musicians don’t matter much to me either. I won’t list any favourites here, though, because it would take up too much space for what’s essentially offtopic on this blog.

    Here’s wishing everybody a happy and healthy 2017.

    Now, let’s imagine we would be just 3 weeks away from an early start of the IndyCar season at a place with nice weather in January such as Homestead. I wonder if fans and teams would like that, as it has been tried out already in the IRL of the late 90s at the Mickyard, and was discontinued around the turn of the century. What do you think? Would a race in the Miami area attract a crowd in January?

  2. 2016, on and off the track, was the best year for Indycar in some time. Some smart moves have been made with regard to new venues and holding existing ones. I only hope it continues.

    The TV ratings issue is one that has to play out. I’d like to watch Indycar but I don’t get the NBC sports network. To get it, I’d have to pay for ESPN as well and I’m not willing to give them any money if I don’t have too. I’ve been surprised that the NFL has gone down this road as well (Cable games.) It could be part of the reason their ratings are down. I’m not sure Indycar ratings will grow significantly until their TV package changes.

    I will be at Indy again this year for both races. We are also considering a road trip to either Iowa or Pocono.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    Plenty of things happened that I was not terribly happy about in 2016, but I also attended the 500 last year, so it is hard for me to view the year as a whole in a negative light.

    I took the loss of Bryan Clauson harder than all of the noted celebrity deaths of the year combined.

  4. IndyCar will take a hit soon, when all the open wheel icons such as Foyt, Rutherford, the Unsers, Mario, Parnelli start fading away. It is imperative that IndyCar has a plan in place when this starts to happen.

    Our plan is to attend both Indy races, maybe a trip to Iowa again, and we definitely are returning to Watkins Glen. I really enjoyed that trip. Weather was spectacular but just like Indy, the place is sooo large. The people who work there are really nice people. I will plug the local Lions Club workers who drove you anywhere you wanted to go in the facility on there golf carts.

    Looking forward to 2017 racing.

  5. Thomas Metcalfe Says:

    Scheduling wise….I was just in Downtown Cleveland yesterday visiting my daughter. Her office has a really nice view of Lake Erie. Was telling her about the races at Burke. Would love to see it return. Not sure that they could pull that off with Mid Ohio so close by. One can hope. Enjoy your new year!!

  6. In keeping with musical thoughts and with apologies to Guess Who:

    Been hangin’ round gas stations
    Been workin’ on cars……………..
    Been hangin’ round grease monkeys
    Been workin’ on tars (tires)……………
    Been hangin’ round Oil Pressure
    Been waitin’ for George…………..

    Welcome back blogger dude. Happy New Year to you and Susan.
    Congratualtions on those Titans making the playoffs. Playoffs?!

    I thought the best thing to happen to IndyCar last year was Jay Fyre.
    Losing Bryan Clauson hit me hard. I still love dirt and he was one of the best. A good person and one helluva wheel man. Have not heard anything about what Curt Cavin has been up to. Regarding TV ratings: The cable TV industry is in the midst of reinventing
    itself in the wake of internet connected TV. How important is it for Joe Racing Fan to pay big bucks to watch a race live when he or she can watch it the next day at their convenience on YouTube? Free.

    • Bruce Waine Says:

      Curt Cavin – Indy Car’s gain & a loss for what remains of the Indy Star.

      Should be a notable 2017 benefitting Indy Car with Curt onboard fulltime.

      • Yes, for a long time logging onto IndyStar to read Curt’s stuff
        was one of the first things I did each morning. All our major newspapers here in Wisconsin are now just USA Today clones.

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