Playing Hardball With The IndyCar Schedule

This time of year is usually known as the start to the silly season – that time of year when rumors start flying about which drivers may be switching to which team for next season, or what driver may be dropped from a team’s line-up. While there are a few rumors swirling about Scott Dixon’s future, there isn’t a whole lot of buzz just yet about most drivers’ future plans. The same cannot be said about the 2019 IndyCar schedule.

I don’t like dealing in rumors. I speculate on things as much as anyone, but there are some crazy rumors out there being reported as fact that end up not coming true. I’m not a reporter. I don’t have sources. I just comment on what we already know. But with these rumors flying all over the place that everyone has already heard and are talking about – I might as well address them. But please understand, these are nothing more than rumors.

We already know that Phoenix will not be on the schedule for next year. That was confirmed almost three weeks ago after months of speculation. But recently, the rumors have been flying about what tracks may be added and what other track may fall off of the schedule.

Homestead is the consensus rumor of what track will replace Phoenix. That doesn’t excite me because it’s another ISC track and ISC is notorious for not promoting IndyCar races. When no one shows up, they pull the plug on the race. Homestead has a recent history of poor attendance at its IndyCar races, so I’m not sure what makes anyone think it will work this time. Remember – the definition of insanity is doing the same thing the same way over and over, yet expecting different results. What will be different this time at Homestead?

The last time the Verizon IndyCar Series ran at Homestead was as the season finale in 2010. It was run on a Saturday night in October, going up against college football and Major League Baseball playoffs. The championship was down to two drivers – Will Power, who led the championship over Dario Franchitti by twelve points going into the race, but handed it to Franchitti when he crashed past the halfway point. To hardcore fans, that was an intriguing matchup. To the casual fan in South Florida, it didn’t stir a lot of interest to see a Scot battle an Aussie for the title.

CART and IndyCar had raced there since the track opened in 1996, but by this time Homestead was an ISC track and they had seen enough of lagging attendance at their IndyCar race and the race was dropped from their portfolio of races. Perhaps someone has an idea what to do to draw a better crowd, but I can’t get too worked up over Homestead. Still, if they plan to use that date – I’m not too sure what warm-weather ovals would be available for the first week in April.

Nothing has been announced or confirmed, but it is sounding more and more like we can expect Homestead to be announced for 2019.

There are also rumors that Laguna-Seca will be added to the schedule, but I’m not sure where it would fit. Geographically, only 150 miles separate Laguna Seca and Sonoma Raceway. Sonoma sits about an hour north of San Francisco, while Laguna Seca is about an hour and a half to the south. Northern California aren’t the only things these two venues share. They are both tight tracks that Indy cars find tough to race on. No matter how far apart these races are spaced, I’m not sure they can both be supported in that region.

I’ve also heard a faint rumor that the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas may be in the works for 2019. That one has been percolating for years, mostly due to fans wishes than any substantial information. While I would like for it to happen, I’ll believe it when I see it.

But one rumor I’ve heard more than once may give some credence to the COTA rumors, and it’s the most disturbing rumor about next year’s schedule that I’ve heard. Rumor has it that Texas Motor Speedway (TMS) may fall off of the 2019 IndyCar schedule. For oval fans like myself, that would be a huge blow to take.

I will stress that this is just a rumor I heard making the rounds. I’ve heard no credible source whatsoever, say that this will happen. However, I do remember Kevin Lee stating emphatically on Trackside a few weeks ago that it is not a slam-dunk that Texas will return. I took note of the tone in his voice and wondered at the time if he had heard something without coming out and saying it. I dismissed it after a minute or so, but when I heard rumors from other places – I recalled what I had heard on Trackside a few weeks earlier.

This is a very delicate situation. I see both sides to this conflict and you will probably read some comments from me  here that seem to contradict each other. But I am not conflicted on the outcome that I want. I want Texas to stay.

TMS President Eddie Gossage has been adamant that he wants his track to host the race immediately following the Indianapolis 500. I have no problem with that. I think that would be a great follow-up to the Month of May. The problem is that he wants a two-week gap between the races. I think if you wait two weeks after the “500” for your next race, you lose all of the positive momentum from May.

Roger Penske is the promoter for the double-header at Belle Isle. He is also adamant that his race take place the weekend after the “500”. My problem with that is that I feel like Belle Isle is a horrible track to use to capitalize on the momentum of May. I’d prefer that the series sit idle for a week after the Indianapolis 500, rather than follow it up with that double-header dud of a race.

But Roger Penske gets what he wants, and if Eddie Gossage thinks he will win a power play against Roger Penske with IndyCar, he is dead wrong. I think Eddie Gossage is right to want Texas to be the follow-up race to the Indianapolis 500, but he will lose this battle and he should. Roger Penske has done a whole lot more for IndyCar than Eddie Gossage ever has or will in the future. I’m aware of the Penske haters out there, and some say his money and power have ruined the sport. But the man has done a lot more good for this sport, many times over – than any harm he may have brought. If Roger Penske wants the weekend after Memorial Day for his twin bill in Detroit – I say let him have it.

Having said that, I think Gossage’s argument makes more sense. He truly believes he will sell more tickets to his race if he has two full weeks after the “500” to promote his race as the next race. Roger Penske wants that date just because it’s been that way in the past and the timing works better for preparing and taking down the facilities on the island.

Eddie Gossage has played hardball before, using his track as hostage. The thing is, he could mean it this time and have it hurt him less. In the days when IndyCar ran twice a year at TMS and he was drawing 80,000 fans or so – he was making a lot of money off of his IndyCar dates. Now there is only one IndyCar race each year at TMS and they are drawing about half of what they used to. If he’s barely breaking even and showing only a small profit, it may be worth it to him to get exactly what he wants or drop the race altogether.

I’m not sure, but I’ll bet a majority of the drivers that don’t love ovals would just as soon see Texas drop off of the schedule. It’s the fans that would suffer. To a lot of oval fans, Texas is one of the races they look forward to the most. Those that still attend the Texas IndyCar race seem to love it. The problem is that there aren’t more of them.

If all of these rumors turn out to be true, the 2019 schedule would no longer have Phoenix or Texas, but would have Homestead, Laguna Seca and possibly COTA. That would be eighteen races, but only five of them on ovals. That’s going the wrong direction. The series should always have a long-term goal of having an even split on ovals and non-ovals. On an eighteen race schedule, IndyCar’s goal should be for nine of them to be on ovals – not five.

IndyCar is not in a good position with Eddie Gossage and Texas Motor Speedway. He controls the cards and he knows it. IndyCar CEO Mark Miles is a negotiator and looks at any potential deal as what is best for IndyCar, the business. This time, he needs to look at what is best for the fan base of IndyCar. In this one case, he should not be consumed with “winning” the deal and playing hardball. He needs to do whatever it takes to keep Texas on the IndyCar schedule.

I am certainly aware that this position conflicts with what I just said that Roger Penske should get what he wants. So, Mark Miles needs to gather Roger Penske and Eddie Gossage and see what compromise can be worked out for what is best for IndyCar fans. By one definition, an effective compromise is where both parties are dissatisfied with the end-result; so both Penske and Gossage should be willing to give up something they really want. If neither party is willing to budge, Gossage will likely walk away and Texas will be off of the schedule. If that happens, the true loser in all of this will not be IndyCar, Roger Penske or Eddie Gossage. It will be the fans.

To underscore what a rumor this probably is; yesterday, Adam Stern of the Sports Business Journal reported that Eddie Gossage is expecting IndyCar back in 2019. "Should be done soon" Gossage said in a text message to Stern. "No big deal. Just working on the deal. Typical stuff. They want more than we can pay, but that’s always the way it is with sanctioning agreements. We’ll work it out." Let’s hope so.

George Phillips

24 Responses to “Playing Hardball With The IndyCar Schedule”

  1. BrandonWright77 Says:

    I’m really curious what an IndyCar race at COTA would be like. I think I’m one of the few who is a fan of that track, I’ve driven it lots on the simulator and it’s really fun and challenging. I think IndyCars would race well there but I doubt there’d be much of a crowd, the F1 crowd is hit-and-miss and all the other series I’ve seen race there draw virtually no crowd at all.

  2. I noted on other posts like this, what is the point of going back to tracks that failed over and over again. Homestead, Fontana (sadly), Milwaukee and Watkins Glen are a few examples of this. There are other NASCAR style tracks that could be used, even try Bristol, Martinsville, Darlington, etc. Dover races were interesting as were Richmond races.

    If the argument is the tracks being unsuitable for Indycars (as that was said about Vegas). Well, make the cars suitable. No one is going to build a track specific for Indycar….

    • billytheskink Says:

      In fairness to Homestead, it didn’t fail “over and over”, its Indycar history consists of 15 uninterrupted years on a CART/IRL/Indycar schedule, from 1996 to 2010.

  3. No race will succeed if you constantly change up dates or start times. Especially if you don’t promote the race. Already warning signs out there for Iowa.

    In my opinion the Indycar war on Ovals continues. All the comments out west about Phoenix was that there was practically zero promotion. And apparently a lot of that fell back on Indycar. And the race is gone in spite of what appeared to be increased attendance. Similar to Milwaukee.

    This is why, although I’d like to go to Mid-Ohio or Road America, I just can’t do it when Milwaukee, Kentucky and now Phoenix are off the schedule. I can’t support Indycar on road or street courses when they won’t support the Ovals except Indy.

    Loss of Texas would be devastating to the sport, although they don’t see it. Laguna-Seca and COTA?? Please. Trying to appease an F1 fan base who think little of Indycar anyway?

    I’ve attended all the Indy Grand Prix since it began several years ago. But I decided after Phoenix was lost that, as my own way of protest, I will not be attending the Indy Grand Prix in the future. So at least in this instance, not supporting Phoenix will cost them some $$$ on their road course.

    • I think I’ve asked you this before, but if there’s an ongoing “war on ovals”, then why did IndyCar add Phoenix to the schedule at all three years ago? And Gateway last year? Seems to me like it’d be more efficient (and WAY less costly) to let the ovals just wither off the schedule by their own volition and then not replace them, no? I don’t think I understand the business model at all where you add new events with the end goal of “the event goes terribly, loses a bunch of money, and then we get rid of it three years down the road”. I guess I haven’t read a whole lot of business books, though, so maybe this is an entirely valid state of affairs for highly successful businesses.

      • Shyam Cherupalla Says:

        I totally agree there seems to be an ongoing war (with ovals) in general with several factors not synchronized with indycar likeoval track owners, spectators not showing up and I think also the Nascar fatigue is affecting oval racing, they’ve beaten it to death in all forms and classes of racing in ovals that its simply not entertaining and spoiled it for everyone. That is showing up with low attendance in Indycar as well. Indycar at the moment should look to rebuild a schedule that is stable with the most exciting permanent and street tracks and if there are few ovals that want Indycars we should have it otherwise we need to say goodbye to those locations. Nascar will eventually go back to what it was in 60s in my opinion

  4. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    George….I couldn’t disagree with you much more about the split of races. My feeling is that in an 18 race season there should always be a split of 6 road courses, 6 street races and 6 ovals. There is no possible way that there are 9 ovals out there that will support the series with a decent crowd. Unfortunately, other than Gateway, Iowa and of course Indy, ovals are dying. I would love to see Milwaukee come back and I hope Pocono stays. I’m not very optimistic about either happening. I’m on the fence about Texas. The crowds are so so, and the racing is either good like this year or terrifying like last year. I’ll take the good racing but never want the terrifying again. I would love to see COTA get on the schedule. The only race I want to see Detroit move for would be a return to Milwaukee. My wife and I have attended three races this year: Indy 500, Detroit number 1 and Road America. We love Indy. We love Road America and we sort of liked Detroit. (It was hard to see much of the track) I also remember Homestead and the horrible attendance and really don’t want it back. I’m not sure where they should go but I guess COTA, Mexico City and another race in Canada would be my top choices.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      I am glad to see you mention Canada Paul as Canada seldom if ever is mentioned as an option during these tortured discussions. There are lots of IndyCar fans in Canada.

    • Meh, I’m not convinced that IndyCar is ever gonna manage to convince another city to put on another street race (the start up costs for such a thing seem pretty odious, to me, but the ones that are already going understand and seem comfortable with sustaining their events), so I think the current number of street races (five, at four different venues) is about what we’re gonna see from here on out. Add in the fact that the non-Indy ovals are pretty touch and go, and I think the majority of schedule expansion is going to have to come down to whether or not IndyCar can add more natural terrain road courses. Good news: they generally put on good shows at those tracks, and the fans seem to actually turn out for them…

  5. Bruce Waine Says:

    Selling the brand? ……………. No.

    Increasing the consumer base? …………… No.

    Expanding the consumer base? ………….. No.

    Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Europe………

    Keep all your eggs (race venues) in your protective U.S.A. territorial basket, and some are bound to spoil.

    One ingredient not discussed was the wide (aka non-U.S.A.) fan base which continued to support CART and INDY Car “back in the day”. Then the decision was formulated that non-U.S.A. venues (excluding the token Canada venue) were walled out .

    All one has to do is to read the recent enthusiastic fan reception that Takuma & the Borg Warner Trophy received in Japan……………

    Neglect that (Non-U.S.A,) fan base and you have what INDY CAR is currently and rightfully deserves and will continue to keep experiencing……………

    • Point taken, but somebody’s gotta foot the bill to send the cars and teams to those races, though. Air fare for a couple hundred thousand pounds of cars and equipment ain’t cheap. Until somebody cuts the checks for such a thing, it ain’t gonna happen (though I truly hope that it does happen, someday, because I’d love to travel to Europe or Asia to watch IndyCar race someday).

      • If I remember correctly the promoter foots the bill for the overseas team travel. That is a lot of $$.

      • Bruce Waine Says:

        The finances & financiers were there years ago and could be here once again.

        The stars & planets need not be in alignment.

        Believe it is called “thinking outside the box” these days.

      • Br!an McKay Says:

        Going to Canada and México doesn’t require costly air freight.

  6. billytheskink Says:

    On Homestead – Returning would not quite be the definition of insanity, as Indycar last visited the track in the fall and is now looking at a spring date. The spring Homestead races appeared to draw notably larger crowds than the last few fall ones, even with St. Petersburg on the schedule. Homestead was also the victim of the 2010 falling out between ISC and Randy Bernard’s Indycar (4 ISC tracks left the schedule before 2011) as much as it was an isolated failure. I would rather like to see how the new cars race on the track, it isn’t as “cookie-cutter” as its reputation.

    On Texas vs. Belle Isle – Much as I sympathize with Gossage’s desire to be the next race after Indy (something I’m sure the teams and crews would like too, for the prior weekend off), I do not see why the status quo is untenable going forward if Penske and Chevrolet won’t budge on Belle Isle. It has been working well enough for 7 years now.

    On COTA replacing Texas – Barring Gossage’s demands being truly unreasonable, I would be quite surprised to see Indycar leave a Texas race that has drawn competent (relatively speaking) crowds, television ratings, and sponsorship in recent years for the unknown that is COTA. COTA’s non-F1 and non-MotoGP weekends have struggled greatly to attract crowds (not to mention that the big name concert now included with the F1 ticket is promoted with nearly equal billing to the race). On the other hand, with the loss of its top-level sportscar events, COTA may well be hungry to promote a new event. Personally, I would love to see COTA on the schedule and would be there in a heartbeat… but only in addition to Texas, not at its expense.

  7. Ron Ford Says:

    I would like to see IndyCar investigate Canadian possibilities to a greater degree than they have thus far. There must be a Canadian track or tracks suitable for IndyCar racing perhaps with a ambiance similar to Road America where fans could enjoy a Canadian bacon sandwich along with a ice cold Molson, LaBatts, or Moosehead beer while watching Hinch and Wickens. Eh?

  8. SkipinSC Says:

    As much as I think Belle Isle is a mediocre race at best, Roger Penske has done enough for the series to merit getting his way. That said, let’s not forget that Penske was one of the authors of two IndyCar insurrections, both in the formation of CART splitting with USAC and “going its own way” when Tony George formed the IRL.

    If the Captain still had ownership of Michigan, a compromise that included a return there would work, but that is sadly not the case. Add to the look of the calendar with no Phoenix and maybe no Texas the fact that unless I’ve missed something, Pocono’s not a done deal either. Now you have Gateway, Iowa, and Indy, perilously close to the “no ovals” days of CCWS.

    It pains me greatly to say this, but, aside from Long Beach, most street racing bores me. I enjoy natural terrain road courses (with the possible exception of “Snore-noma”), but I grew up on racing on ovals, and unless and until the series can come up with better marketing for oval races, I do not see this trend reversing.

  9. Why doesn’t Michigan even come up in this discussion? MIS is a great, competitive oval to consider. Do I assume a deal cannot be made there??

  10. Can’t believe George hasn’t mentioned his guest star appearance on the IndyCar special about Hinch. Nice close-up!

  11. At least a couple of prominent F1 people will make disparaging remarks about an IndyCar race at COTA and IndyCar people will be forced to defend

  12. Yannick Says:

    TMS fully deserves its place on the calendar of this reunified series by the name of IndyCar. It’s been a mainstay of US open wheel racing for decades. Come next year’s race, there should be more grip in the warm up lane so that they can cut down the area where the pit lane speed limit applies back to the pitlane proper only.

    When it comes to what tracks I like and what tracks I don’t like, my decidedly European perspective factors into where TMS is ranked on my preferred IndyCar tracks, and it’s in the lower half. A lot of that has got to do with time zones.
    But COTA is a track that I have never even seen a race on on TV, because by the time F1 started racing there, I had almost completely lost interest in F1. I only ever watched an F1 qualifying session on TV at COTA and didn’t find it any more interesting than Yeongam or Buddh. I have no idea if IndyCars would race well there, but from a business perspective, promoting the heck out of a proven venue with an existing fanbase like TMS is the option that management should prefer.

    As far as Laguna Seca is concerned, it appears as though the renewed SCRAMP (who run it) are actively courting IndyCar. It might work for one year as a replacement in the time slot previously occupied by Phoenix, until Mexico City is ready. And the same goes for Homestead. But it shouldn’t be for longer, otherwise the series would irritate venues that have always been loyal to the series like Sonoma or St. Pete.

    Even though Sonoma is my least favourite road race currently on the schedule, it wouldn’t make any business sense dropping it.
    But putting St. Pete at risk for Homeastead doesn’t seem too smart. Yet, the April date doesn’t leave too many options because of the weather.

    It’s going to be rather interesting how the new schedule is going to look like.

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