A Welcomed Break For The Teams

This weekend is a well-earned weekend off for the IndyCar teams. This is the only weekend off in a four-week stretch. In fact, this is only the fourth weekend off for the teams since March (if you count the open test at IMS on Apr 30). Since the Verizon IndyCar Series raced at Phoenix on Apr 7, teams have been off the weekends of May 6, June 17 and July 1 before being off this upcoming weekend.

Contrast that to the remaining five races. Counting this weekend, there are four weekends spaced between the last five races. That’s a more manageable span for the crews.

Over the past few years, I’ve written multiple times about the crews being overworked and needing more time off. More than one person has responded by saying they couldn’t care less about the crews, they just wanted more racing. Seriously?

This isn’t NASCAR. In NASCAR, most of the guys “back at the shop” prepare the cars during the week, but do not travel to the races. They have separate crews that are trained to come in and perform pit stops and work on the cars in emergency situations. In IndyCar, the same group that prepares the car during the week also travels to the races. They are expertly-trained mechanics that do fine-tuning to the cars in the paddock and also perform pit stops over the wall during the race wearing a hot and heavy fire suit. If one of them happens to have a CDL, they might even be called upon to drive the transporter between the race shop and the track.

Over the years, I’ve gotten to know a handful of crewmembers with a few of the teams. Believe me when I say that whatever they are making, they earn it.

To say that you couldn’t care less about the crews is asinine. To put it in football terms, the driver is the quarterback that lives the glamorous lifestyle. They get all the praise when things go well, but they also get a lot of criticism when they don’t. The crew is the offensive line. They do all the grunt work with little or no attention being paid to them – unless something goes wrong.

Everyone talks about the driver risking their lives when they go out there, but the guys over the wall performing pit stops are put in harms way several times each race. The outside front tire changer is just one example of how exposed they are. As they wait for their car to zoom into their pit stall, they must stay stationary but be aware of the car that pits just in front of them darting in at the wrong angle. And what about two cars making contact in the pits, which is not a rarity? The tire changes have their back turned to the action and cannot see. They are blind to whatever is happening just a couple of feet away.

With the danger, all the travel, the hard work and the long hours – don’t tell me that they don’t earn their pay. The drivers know this. That’s why they praise them in interviews as a group, whenever they get the chance.

That’s why I think that the front-end of the schedule is so brutal on the crewmembers. Four weekends off in four months is rough for anybody, but when you add in all of their duties – it’s downright grueling. That’s why I would like to see some effort to slightly tweak the schedule to spread the off-weekends out a little more evenly.

I’m not saying this exclusively from the crew perspective. While I love going to races and watching them on television – I appreciate the occasional off-weekend as well, and I think most other fans do to. Contrary to popular belief, there are other things in my life besides racing, but those things suffer when there are back-to-back-to-back race weekends.

The other extreme will come after next weekend’s race at Mid-Ohio. The next race at Pocono will be three weeks later. That’s a little long, especially with football starting up and baseball pennant races heating up to divert fans attention. I know that many race fans don’t follow any other sports, but many of us do. With IndyCar off of the radar for three weeks, it’s hard to get back into race mode at that point. But then there are three races in a row, before taking off the weekend before the finale at Sonoma.

While three weeks is a long time, that’s nothing like what the series did in 2013 and 2009. For 2009, the series ran at Chicagoland on Saturday Aug 29. Three weeks later, they ran at Motegi on September 18, then wrapped up the season three weeks later on Oct 10 at Homestead. 2013 was worse. The series ran the streets of Baltimore on Labor Day weekend Sep 1. They did not turn a wheel until five weeks later on Oct 5 for the double-header at Houston. That’s five weeks! Two weeks later, they wrapped up the season at Fontana on October 19.

Don’t get me wrong…I love racing as much as I ever did. But to me, the perfect scenario in a sixteen to eighteen race season is to be off every other weekend (aside from the Month of May, of course). That gives fans, drivers and teams a chance to catch their breath between races.

It would have been nice to have at least one weekend off (without testing) in April. May is obviously filled, but the weekend off after the “500” may not be such a bad idea. I’ll promise that you would have the support of the teams.

We have learned this week just how difficult it is to set up a schedule, much less change it. I get it that date equity is important. We have seen over the years that the quickest way to kill an event is to keep changing the date around (i.e. Milwaukee and Fontana). I’m not suggesting to move races to different parts of the calendar, but maybe adjust or tweak a weekend or two here and there, if possible.

I just feel it’s important to take some of the stress off of the teams on the front-end of the schedule. That would also mean a couple of more race weekends in the latter part of the schedule. That way, the Verizon IndyCar Series doesn’t just fade into oblivion for the last few races of the season.

George Phillips

4 Responses to “A Welcomed Break For The Teams”

  1. So how is the average crew member paid? Is it hourly? Is the average crew member paid during the off season? I think I’ve heard that they get laid off during the off season. My thought would be I’d want to make as much money as possible during the season, even if that meant working every week.

  2. A welcomed break for the fans, too!

  3. Ron Ford Says:

    What George said.

  4. I couldn’t have said it any better. I made a similar comment once and a NASCAR fan was in my face. I don’t many appreciate the bare bones of most IndyCar teams. I need a rest too!

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