Archive for April, 2019

A Question From a Reader

Posted in IndyCar on April 19, 2019 by Oilpressure

Earlier this week, I received an e-mail from a longtime and loyal reader. He began by saying that he had started to put his question out on my site as a comment for how boring the racing was at Long Beach. But he decided against posting it publicly, out of fear that his question would be viewed as a “troll-like” comment and he would receive some unwanted backlash. I can completely relate to that.

Since he fears being viewed as a troll, this person will remain anonymous. But he had been thinking about it for a while, so he decided to ask me instead. To be honest, it was an excellent question and one that I didn’t have a great answer for – so I’ll throw it out to you.

Are IndyCar street and road courses really entertaining sports programming, or do we really just make excuses because we want IndyCar to be successful?

That’s one of those direct questions that makes you scratch your head and go Hmmm…

I’ve been accused of being a cheerleader for IndyCar in the past, even though I don’t agree with that assessment. When the series has done things I don’t agree with, I think I’ve publicly disagreed as much as anyone. Conversely, when they do something I like – I try to heap praise on them. I like to think I’m fair on this site, no matter who I’m talking about.

But to be completely honest with myself, I may sometimes subconsciously gloss over things. It’s not because I don’t want to upset the powers-that-be in the IndyCar offices; but it’s because I do want this series to thrive and be successful.

But to answer his question, I think we have to look at things two completely different ways. First you have to look at a road or street course as an event worth attending. Separate from that you must look at it as a sports property worth televising. If you do that, I think you get two completely different evaluations.

I’m not the right person to make such an evaluation, because I’m one of the hard-core fans. If I’m at a race track, I’m happy. Plus, I’m older than the targeted demographic for most events. What appeals to many would not appeal to me and I know some of the things I look for in any event, would not appeal to the masses.

But I can say this…going to a road or street race is an entire weekend event. I’ve been to one street race (St. Petersburg), four road course events (Barber, NOLA, Road America and Sonoma) and five ovals (Charlotte, Nashville, Fontana, Pocono and Gateway). The non-ovals are all three-day events, whereas the ovals are all two-day events. I have not included the two races at IMS because they are both so different than anything else on the schedule. Of the oval races I listed, only Pocono was run on a Sunday afternoon. The others were all run on a Saturday night.

In some ways, having the oval as a two-day event makes sense. But does leaving Sunday open cut down on your attendance? I think so.

Going to the non-ovals is a blast for a fan. For three days (sometimes more) there is track activity from early morning until dusk. There is almost a festival-like atmosphere. Food is very important to me, and most non-ovals offer an endless variety of choices. There seems to be a lot for kids to do, and many of the permanent road course facilities offer camping as an alternative. That’s not my thing, but it appeals to a lot of people and it’s a way to boost your attendance.

Most of the ovals offer limited concessions or merchandise options, with Gateway being the exception. Gateway has concessions that would rival St. Petersburg, which is some of the best I’ve seen anywhere. In 2017, I attended Pocono on one weekend and Gateway the next. At Pocono, I saw one tent selling merchandise and apparel inside the track, and a couple more outside the track behind the main grandstands. As for concessions, I don’t recall seeing any inside the track and just a few behind the stands. Do oval tracks limit the food and merchandise tents because few people attend, or do few people attend because of the scarcity of food and merchandise tents?

At Pocono, they featured the NTT IndyCar Series and that was it. It was a two-day event. The first IndyCar practice was Saturday morning, another in early afternoon and qualifying late Saturday afternoon. What was on the track between IndyCar practices? Nothing. Gateway had Indy Lights and the K&N Pro Series, a lower level stock car series along with the IndyCar race. Next season, Gateway will pair the NASCAR Truck Series with IndyCar. The point is, race fans like to have race cars in front of them – no matter what level the series.

Having no other series to share the track with is a recipe for disaster, and it shows in Pocono’s ticket sales. If you want to attract fans in New York and Philadelphia to drive two hours to the Poconos, you have to give them more of a reason that a few IndyCar practice and qualifying sessions and a race on Sunday, along with pretty mountains. Race fans want to see racing.

But getting back to the reader’s question, although road and street courses are fun to go to, how well do they translate on television? The answer is, not very well at all. You can’t smell the aroma of brats cooking at Road America on television, while you sit in one of the many secluded spots to watch cars manage a particular corner. Television doesn’t capture the changes in elevation at COTA, Road America and Barber. Viewers cannot comprehend what it must be like to wake up in your tent to the sounds of engines warming up in the paddock at Mid-Ohio. But television is very good at showing cars turning laps in the same order, lap after lap with no chance of passing; while totally failing to capture the sense of speed.

On the other hand, TV does an excellent job of showing side-by-side action at Texas and Iowa. But television also shows the partially filled stands at most of the ovals.

So you have races that are well-attended, but incredibly dull to watch; then you have edge of your seat racing that looks great on television, but has no one in the stands to watch – which sends the message that there are no fans, so maybe you shouldn’t be one either. It’s really quite a dilemma.

If I’m being completely honest, I was bored during the race at Barber. I remember thinking to myself that I sure hope this is playing out better on television than it is in person. But as I said – If I’m at a race track, I’m not complaining. I went back and watched the first thirty laps of the race the night after we got back from Barber, before I dozed off. I figured I’d come back later in the week and finish it. I never did.

It’s a tough assignment to grow the series when one of their premier events (Long Beach) is typically a boring race. It’s also tough to market Texas as a nail-biter, when fans tune in and they see empty stands.

For the most part, I defended Long Beach earlier this week. But it wasn’t because I was trying to convince everyone how exciting it was. I was taking issue with everyone who seemed shocked that it was boring. It’s always boring.

We race fans know that any race at any time has the potential to be a dud. That happens in any sport. But we also know some of the nuances of racing that make it exciting without having photo-finish races. It’s the same conundrum with baseball. Many of us understand all the slight little adjustments a manager makes throughout a baseball game. That’s why we find baseball so fascinating. But to the average person, baseball is a slow and boring game. Susan puts up with all of my football in the fall, but if I want to watch a baseball game – I’m banished to another room. She absolutely hates baseball and refuses to even have it on in the den.

Baseball is slowly dying. Last summer I read a stat that the median age of a baseball fan in fifty-six. That means hardly anyone in their twenties is following baseball these days.

So can IndyCar avoid the fate of baseball? There are different dynamics involved, but America’s love affair with the internal combustion engine sadly coming to a close doesn’t help things. But too many races like Long Beach will have the coveted young and casual fan wonder why anyone follows this sport.

So to answer the reader’s question…Yes, I think most of us are guilty of making excuses for boring races, simply because we all want IndyCar to succeed. Perhaps we should make the tracks and the series more accountable and say No to the boring races on road and street courses. Then again, no one is saying Yes to the good races found on ovals and some of the better non-ovals. Maybe saying No will do more harm than good. I’m glad this is not really my problem to fix. I guess I’ll just continue to keep being a cheerleader for IndyCar.

George Phillips

Please Note:  We will be travelling to spend the Easter weekend with my mother and my two brothers and their families at my mother’s house. With the busy Month of May on the horizon, I am going to take this opportunity to take one last break before May hits. Therefore, there will be no post here on Monday April 22. I will return here on Wednesday April 24 – the same day as the Indianapolis 500 open-test at IMS. Enjoy the weekend! – GP

Should IndyCar Change the Rules?

Posted in IndyCar on April 17, 2019 by Oilpressure

When we were at Barber Motorsports Park a couple of weeks ago, there was a Saturday press conference that Susan and I both attended. It featured Hulman & Company CEO Mark Miles, and IndyCar President Jay Frye. There were no bombshells planned for the gathering, but more of a chance for the media to ask questions of the two of them.

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Random Thoughts on Long Beach

Posted in IndyCar on April 15, 2019 by Oilpressure

If you are a longtime fan of the NTT IndyCar Series and you were disappointed in what you saw yesterday in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, then that’s on you. If you’ve been watching Indy cars at Long Beach for very long, you should have known what you were going to get. Yesterday’s race was fairly typical for Long Beach. It was a parade-like race with little passing that is usually won in dominant fashion. More times than not, that’s how it plays out at Long Beach; so no one should have been surprised yesterday.

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Long Beach Preview

Posted in IndyCar on April 12, 2019 by Oilpressure

For the first time this season, the NTT IndyCar Series has races on back-to-back weekends. Just a few days ago, the series was set up in the deep south in Birmingham, Alabama. Just like that, they picked up and moved everything to the west coast and set it all up again to be ready to go for the first practice later this morning.

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A Good Time Was Had By All

Posted in IndyCar on April 10, 2019 by Oilpressure

By Susan Phillips

On Qualifying Day at Barber Motorsports Park, George and I usually watch qualifying from the stands in the Fan Zone. We climbed aboard the tram and shortly after we got on, a couple with a young child got on the tram and sat across from us. They had a dazed look about them and I could tell the little girl was starting to get bored. The tram stopped at the Museum stop and they looked at each other and questioned if they should get off at this stop or was there more to see.

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Random Thoughts on Barber

Posted in IndyCar on April 8, 2019 by Oilpressure

First of all, I must put out the disclaimer that I am typing this out on Sunday night in the car as Susan drives us back to Nashville, so there may be more than my usual amount of typos. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

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Sato Dominates at Barber Motorsports Park

Posted in IndyCar on April 7, 2019 by Oilpressure

The tenth running of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is in the books. Takuma Sato was in control all day – that is until Lap 85, when he went off course and ripped some of the underbody off of the car. That was about the only suspense up near the front. For just a second, you wondered if Scott Dixon would be able to take the lead in the last few laps and possibly win. It was not to be. This day belonged to Sato.

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