A Radical Idea For More Races

Every now and then, I like to throw out somewhat kooky ideas to see what sticks. So far, the Verizon IndyCar Series has not taken me up on any of them – and that’s assuming someone from the big office is even reading this age. That’s an awfully big assumption. But that hasn’t stopped my brain from coming up with new ideas to help fans enjoy this sport. So once again…I’ve got an idea.

A few weeks ago, it was discussed on Trackside that Roger Penske had said that he thought the Verizon IndyCar Series did not need to add any more races. Kevin Lee joked that if Penske said that, then there would be no more races added. They did say that on a serious note that the current seventeen races on the schedule was getting close to the limit that teams could stand without breaking the bank.

While the series is certainly on an upswing, budgets are still stretched very thin on the team level…OK, the series level also. It’s not like the old days when beer and tobacco money was flowing like water. Budgets are tight and sponsorship is still very hard to come by.

Of course, we fans are greedy. We’d like to have as many IndyCar races to travel to and watch on TV as we can get, regardless of who’s footing the bill…so long as it’s not us.

Currently, The Verizon IndyCar Series runs seventeen races at fifteen different venues. As recently as 2006, the series ran as few as fourteen races. In 2001, CART ran as many as twenty-one races. I’ve always thought that in a perfect world, twenty races in a season would be about right. But as we know, things are far from perfect.

For whatever reason, I always do my best thinking in the shower. I always listen to a local sports talk show while I’m getting ready in the morning. The other day, they were talking about NFL scheduling and the way it works. It got me to thinking, and I came up with a radical idea – create bye-weeks for teams on the IndyCar schedule.

Before you click away from this page thinking I’m crazy, hear me out.

Roger Penske wants to cap races at seventeen. OK, we’ll go with that, but get rid of the double-header at Belle Isle, making it a normal race weekend just like any other track. Then schedule twenty races in a season (assuming there are four more tracks that want IndyCar racing there). Then follow the formula that the NFL does for its bye-weeks.

Have all teams run in the first two races of the season, the last two races of the season and the Indianapolis 500.

There are twenty-three full-time cars representing eleven teams. Out of the remaining fifteen races, each team will run only twelve races – determined by the series, not the team. And the races a team misses will rotate over the years.

For example, Long Beach is the third race for this season. After running the first two races for a season – Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, AJ Foyt Enterprises and Dale Coyne Racing would sit out Long Beach, at Barber – Andretti Autosport and Ed Carpenter Racing would not participate.

As we worked our way though our fictitious twenty-race schedule, each team would sit out three races that are not the mandatory five races to participate in. In the end, everything would balance out because every team and driver would have participated in seventeen races – just like now.

The plusses are that teams would be able to save money by not traveling to all of the races, crew members would get some much-needed time off during the season and fans would benefit by having twenty race weekends compared to only the sixteen we get now.

The minuses? Well, there are some. First of all, drivers have tracks where they naturally excel. For Al Unser, Jr. it was Long Beach; for Michael Andretti, it was Toronto. Can you imagine telling Michael Andretti that he was going to have to miss the race he has won seven times, simply because of the way the schedule worked out? Another minus is for the fans. Fans in Long Beach wanted to come out and see Little Al race. The promoter and fans would suffer in the year that he had to sit out. Worse yet they buy their tickets not aware of the scheduling quirk, only to find out that weekend that Al, Jr. has the weekend off.

In order to benefit from this plan, the entire team would have to sit out the same race weekend. That means that for three races, Team Penske would not even show up. While that may give lesser teams a fighting chance, fans would be deprived of seeing three top drivers – Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud – throughout the entire weekend.

It’s complicated and would take some careful juggling by the series. But the NFL currently does it for every team to have one bye-week. Twenty years ago or so, each NFL team had two bye-weeks – thereby giving fans an eighteen week season, while teams only played sixteen games.

This isn’t just about the NFL. LeBron James takes the occasional night off in the NBA. As the Cavaliers travel around the country, each arena has fans that bought tickets just for the chance to see LeBron James play. Do they get a refund if he decides he wants to take a night off and rest? Nope – and no one even thinks about it. It’s the same in hockey and baseball. Players rest during their extended seasons, why can’t an IndyCar driver – especially when it doesn’t hurt them in the points?

I know, I know…it’s a crazy idea. And with only twenty-three full-time cars on the grid, that would leave as few as seventeen cars in those non-mandatory races that would comprise the bulk of the season. But if the series could grow to twenty-eight full-time cars – well, it might be something to at least think about. Maybe take a version of what I proposed and make it less drastic. Who knows? Such an idea may make it more attractive for additional teams to join.

What do you think? Have I lost my mind? Is this a phenomenal idea? Something somewhere in between? I’d like to hear from you. Maybe between all of us, we can come up with a way t get more IndyCar race weekends without putting too much of a squeeze on the owners. After all…who complains about more race weekends?

George Phillips

10 Responses to “A Radical Idea For More Races”

  1. If the series raced on consecutive weeks like the NFL, then I suppose it might work. As you know, there are the occasional 2 – 3 week breaks between races. Hey, nothing wrong with thinking outside the box!

  2. Bill H. in Philly Says:

    I hate to tell you this, but this is kind of how NASCAR worked up until RJ Reynolds got involved with it. There were maybe 50 races on the schedule; many of them in the middle of the week hardly anyone drove all of them. Richard Petty drove as many as he could and that’s how he won so many races and championships. Most of these were small dirt bull rings, but lots of them were places like your Nashville Fairgrounds.

    I think it’s a good idea, but I suspect most of the promoters would balk at the thought.

  3. Maybe just let a few dirt track cars in once in a while to fill out the field. Worked for Foyt.


  4. billytheskink Says:

    Actually, there has been a lot of consternation over NBA teams resting healthy star players, both from the standpoint of angry attending fans and from hits to national television ratings. The NBA has attempted to address this by beginning its season earlier this year in an attempt to cut down on the back-to-back and 4 games/5 days scenarios where most healthy player resting had been occurring.

    Frankly, I think that issue would pose a notable challenge to this idea, getting pushback from both promoters and fans. I also think teams would pushback too, as keeping them out of certain races could affect sponsorship and intentionally splitting their schedules so that they do not race against the same opponents is not going to be seen as fair. Splitting the series into separate but definitive “tours” with a handful of big crossover races would probably go over better.

    Now that idea, one of multiple “tours”, is a concept that has been and is employed successfully in auto racing, though perhaps not quite at the level of Indycar and not usually for a combined championship. The Atlantic series held East and West championships from 1985-1990, with a handful “crossover” events. NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series currently employs a similar concept, with an East-West crossover race at Iowa. AMA Supercross employs split tours for their 250cc series. And the entertainment-focused Monster Jam is now segmented into different traveling “series” where the same trucks compete against each other until the “World Finals” event in Las Vegas at the end of spring.

  5. The one thing you didn’t take into consideration is there are many teams that get sponsors to step up to be a primary sponsor but only at certain races. How would a sponsor feel if they signed up only to be told that the team they are sponsoring in the company’s biggest market, isn’t racing that weekend and their sponsorship will be seen onthe car at a race in a market where their company doesn’t do business.

  6. how about a “bye” where no points are given for participation?
    the teams can go to 20, but only get points for 17?
    and yes, you and i have both lost our minds.

  7. The problem is in the NFL they do not miss any planned events. All teams are scheduled for 16 games and they play them. Indy Teams would be missing planned events. That’s why I don’t think it would work.

    And try imagining A.J. Foyt taking bye-weeks voluntarily.

  8. I would hate to go to Barber and not see Penske racing against Ganassi. So much for the bye week.

  9. Your suggestion probably would be a dealbreaker for most sponsors. If the team they put their money in has to sit out their home race, it’s game over for the following season.
    Sorry to be such a downer this time on your creative idea.

  10. Sorry George. I spend a lot of money to go to one away race a year. If the entire field is not there I wouldn’t go. I would rather see a week between races rather than either too much time away or three in a row.

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