What to Change, What to Keep

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During Monday’s press conference to announce that Roger Penske had bought the racing portfolio of Hulman and Company (IndyCar, IMS and IMS Productions), Penske made a point to say that he will go around different departments within all three entities and have them tell what they think needs improving. By the time the sale is finalized in early January, he and his team will have a Top-Ten list to work from.

What I am posting here is not very original. Several people have already submitted their own list – some with tongue planted firmly in cheek, while others were dead-serious. Digging up a name out of the past; Roy Hobbson, formerly of The Silent Pagoda, decided to write his own list in a style that only he can do; this time using his real name. I miss the days of the off-the-wall IndyCar bloggers.

Others went the opposite direction and almost gave Mr. Penske his mandate on what he should or should not do. Some were written with such vitriol, they were almost scary to read

My thoughts are somewhere in the middle between being overly serious or outrageously humorous. I have a few ideas on things that I would like to see improved, but there are some that I think need to stay the same. After all…Change is Bad! I’m not even going to number these because if I took all of my thoughts from each category – they would probably still not add up to ten. But I can at least air my thoughts. So in no particular order, here’s my list…

Larger purses for the NTT IndyCar Series: Salaries for top athletes have escalated to the point where it is hard to entice them with money. The top drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series are no different. Excluding the Indianapolis 500, the purses for the other sixteen races are paltry. How much did Will Power win for putting his life on the line at Pocono this past August? $30,000. And that was before whatever split between driver and team took place. Chances are, Power pocketed $12,000 for that win (before taxes). That’s about half of what it takes to replace a damaged front wing. Just imagine what second and third place paid.

Fortunately for Power, his driving salary is estimated to be around $1.5 Million per season. That’s significantly less than what his NASCAR counterparts are making, but it won’t even sniff at what athletes in the Top-Four stick & ball sports are making. Still, he is making in one season, what most of us will work more than twenty years to earn. But not all drivers in the IndyCar paddock are so lucky.

There is speculation that some on the lower end are paid nothing. They are trying to make a name for themselves in order to earn a paying gig down the road. It could be that the only compensation they get is what portion of the purse they earn with a good finish. $30,000 for a race win is ridiculous. Make it worthwhile for a driver to win a race, or earn a podium finish. It also needs to be worthwhile for a car-owner to take part in a race or the entire season.

Return Indianapolis 500 Pole Day and Bump Day to their proper order: Some will disagree with me on this, but for the last six years – we have had Bump Day on Saturday and Pole Day on Sunday. To me, this has always seemed like a crime against nature. I realize that the two qualifying weekends will never return, but reversing the order just feels wrong to me. It was brought about because Bump Day had devolved into a non-event with only thirty-three cars entered. For the last two years, Bump Day has been more exciting than Pole Day – so they are still having their less exciting day on Sunday.

Make Saturday an all-day run for the pole and also qualify as many cars in the field as possible. However many qualify are set – but not locked in. Allow the slowest car from Saturday to still be vulnerable to being bumped on Sunday. It’ll make for a great show without manufacturing drama.

Never guarantee Indianapolis 500 spots for the IndyCar regulars: This was why Penske and the other CART owners chose not to race in the 1996 Indianapolis 500, because Tony George had created the dreaded 25/8 rule. Then this past May, Penske advocated for the same thing he had fought so vehemently against over twenty years ago. Of course, he had his own team to worry about then. Now he has to look at the bigger picture and what is best for the Indianapolis 500. Bump Day is the show, when there are several cars entered.

When qualifying was over, no one was talking about how Simon Pagenaud won the pole. All the chatter was that second-year driver Kyle Kaiser and tiny Juncos Racing had bumped Fernando Alonso and McLaren from the field. The year before that, it was that popular driver James Hinchliffe got bumped. That sort of drama should be reserved for Sunday. Guaranteed spots will eliminate any such drama.

Keep Doug Boles as IMS President: I’ve seen several articles that document that Mark Miles and Jay Frye will most likely be staying in their current roles, and they should. I’m not a huge Mark Miles fan, but he has done a good job on the business end of things. But I am a huge fan of Jay Frye. To this point, I think he may be the best IndyCar executive hire since…well…ever.

Lost in the discussion has been the future of Doug Boles. I saw him nowhere near the table at Monday’s press conference. No one is talking about where he fits in. All we’ve heard is that Mr. Penske says that he intends to utilize the people that are already in place. That and that Doug Boles joined everyone for breakfast Tuesday morning at Charlie Brown’s, and the photos were posted on Facebook.

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If Doug Boles is not retained, that would be a travesty. He works tirelessly year-round to promote every single event held at IMS. He doesn’t plant himself in some lofty perch in the Pagoda each May. He is out with the fans. This past May, Paul Dalbey and I went to Section BB to take in some practice. While we were sitting there, here came Doug Boles sitting just a few seats down from us. Not to name-drop, but he has grown to know even most of us lowly bloggers. When he saw us, he came over and talked to us for a few minutes. This was his busiest week of the year, yet there he was out mingling with the fans. Does that make for a good track president? Not by itself, but it sure helps keep fans engaged, especially when the track president is doing an excellent job like Boles has.

Like Roger Penske himself, Doug Boles loves the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He grew up there like many of us did. He is now in a position where he can combine that passion with his law degree and business savvy and be one of the lucky ones to get to earn a living pursuing his passion. I was obviously not around when Wilbur Shaw served as IMS President, but I’ve seen a lot of them come and go in my lifetime. From what I’ve heard, Wilbur Shaw and Doug Boles may be tied in their effectiveness in that role. That’s not bad company and I hope like everything Roger Penske keeps him.

Keep the coolers: This one doesn’t really affect me directly, but it is such a part of life at the Indianapolis 500 that I feel strongly that it needs to stay. It doesn’t affect me directly because I like to travel light. I don’t like carrying heavy coolers around. I’ve also gotten to where I no longer like drinking adult beverages during a race.

But if I was still inclined to slam down several beers during qualifying or during the race, I’d prefer to bring my own. IMS has been a Miller track for years. I don’t go in for today’s trendy craft beers (does that shock anyone?), but I like Budweiser and despise anything made by Miller (including Coors). I’d prefer to buy my own Bud at the grocery store and have the option of bringing it in.

Many seem to think that the option for fans to bring coolers will be the first thing to go under the new regime, but I don’t think so. There seems to be a lot of concession business going on at IMS with coolers being permitted. I think Mr. Penske will leave this alone.

Schedule more ovals: I’m not one of those that thinks the series needs to be all ovals or even predominantly ovals. But there are only five ovals on next year’s schedule – Indianapolis, Texas, Richmond, Iowa and Gateway. That’s too few. Ideally, I’d like to see the series grow to an eighteen to twenty race schedule, with eight or nine being ovals.

Roger Penske has deep relationships and he is able to get things done when no one else can. I’d like to see him use his network to get a few more ovals on the schedule.

Open up the Indianapolis 500: I’d like to see the IndyCar rulebook opened up some for all of the races, but I’d like to see it open a lot more for the Indianapolis 500. When USAC allowed more boost for stock block engines that opened the door for the V-6 Buick and of course, the famous pushrod Mercedes that Penske built in secrecy in 1994.

Indianapolis has always been known for innovation, but that innovation has been stifled since the normally aspirated cars were introduced to the IRL in 1997. I’d like to see a more liberal rulebook to encourage owners and/or manufacturers to look at Indianapolis when they otherwise would not have. It can’t be wide open and costs must be held down, but certain areas could be opened up that are currently very restrictive.

More Manufacturers: Most are thinking engine manufacturers when they say that, and I agree with that. I’d like to see at least three and possibly four engine manufacturers come on board in the near future.

But I’d like to see the Dallara monopoly broken up. Dallara has been an excellent partner to IndyCar and they obviously build a very safe and durable chassis. But whenever the new car comes online in the next two to three years, I’d like to see another chassis manufacturer.

Dallara has a sweet deal with IndyCar. The common thought is that without an exclusive contract for the whole series, they would have to charge a lot more per chassis. I’d like for Mr. Penske’s engineers and accountants to take a close look at the Dallara business model to see if this is true or a myth propagated by Dallara in order to snag their sweet deal. Maybe it’s true and only one could do it. If that’s the case, I think it should stay with Dallara. But if there is an affordable way to open it up to at least two manufactures – they should.

Keep the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Network as it is: Anders Krohn has already announced he is stepping down as the expert analyst from the network. I don’t have a real strong opinion on who fills that role, but I was never wild about Davey Hamilton when he did it. I’m hoping they can find a fresh and suitable replacement. But the rest of the crew needs to stay intact. Lead announcer Mark Jaynes, Jake Query, Nick Yeoman, Dave Furst, Rob Howden, Michael Young and Ryan Myrehn all do an outstanding job and are all passionate about IndyCar racing. They need to be left alone.

Keep the Bloggers: Some may think I’m trying to be funny with this, but whenever there is a change at the top – you never know what changes will come. Not many sports allow amateur writers into the inner sanctum to be sitting side-by-side with the media giants of those respective sports. When I started blogging ten and a half years ago, it never dawned on me that I might ever be allowed behind the curtain. But when I saw that some of the other bloggers had credentials, I thought I’d give it a shot.

Despite my selfish wants, I think bloggers provide a valuable service. We provide a fan’s perspective that some of your more veteran beat writers never experience. Many of the big names you read, rarely venture out of the media center. When they do, it’s to go to the pits or visit the paddock; which is something few fans get to experience on a regular basis. They don’t visit the concession stands at Road America or sit on the Turn-Two viewing mounds during practice at IMS. Nor do they fully understand how a fan might look at certain issues, or how something might affect the fans. Why? Because they’re not fans. This is a job to them.

Will Mr. Penske continue giving access to us lowly amateurs that don’t do this for a living, but strictly out of sheer love of the sport? I hope so, but nothing is for certain.

As I wrap this up, I now see that there are exactly ten items on this list. Coincidentally, five call for change and five are in favor of keeping things status quo. Some of the changes I ask for are fairly rational and frankly – a couple are a little out there. But that’s what a wish list is all about. What say you?

George Phillips

Please Note: On Monday, I will be undergoing a procedure. Normally I would just keep this to myself, but given the struggles that John Andretti has gone through and his #CheckIt4Andretti campaign – I’ll proudly divulge that I am having a colonoscopy. If you’ve had one of these, you know how much fun my prep on Sunday will be. Without getting too graphic, I will not feel much like writing on Sunday – so there will be no post here on Monday Nov 11. I will return here on Wednesday Nov 13.

But I am talking about it to encourage anyone over fifty to have this done, if you haven’t already. This will be my third, all of them after I started this site – even though I had never talked about it here before. I had my first colonoscopy at age fifty-one. They removed a polyp that was not malignant, but it was the type that can become cancerous if not detected and removed. Therefore, I get to have one every five years instead of the normal ten. Five years ago, they found nothing. Hopefully that will be the case again on Monday.

John Andretti candidly admits that had he undergone a colonoscopy when he was fifty, he and his family would be spared what he is going through today. He strongly urges anyone fifty or older to have one. The actual procedure is a breeze – you sleep through it. The prep the day before is not enjoyable, but makes for some great jokes – if you have an infantile sense of humor like I do. So please – get yourself checked! – GP

19 Responses to “What to Change, What to Keep”

  1. This is a good list. I would prioritize this way:

    1. Schedule more ovals

    2. Keep the coolers

    3. Return Indianapolis 500 Pole Day and Bump Day to their proper order

    3A. Never guarantee Indianapolis 500 spots for the IndyCar regulars

    5. Larger purses for the NTT IndyCar Series

    6. Open up the Indianapolis 500

    7. More Manufacturers

    8. Keep Doug Boles as IMS President

    9. Keep the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Network as it is

    10. Keep the Bloggers

    I think more ovals should be the biggest priority in the league. Keep the coolers is a big deal. It has always made Indy different. I also think a significant number of people would quit going to the actual race and the month of May if suddenly you could not bring your cooler/food, etc. Indy would become much less affordable. Both 3 and 4 are important for qualifications and are of equal importance. Pole day/bump day can again become much more exciting events but it will take a return to “tradition” to really make it work. Larger purses are long overdue. I think the top 5 are must haves. The last five are very nice to have.

    I would add restoring the Apron as it would improve racing in the 500 and the Brickyard 400.

    Probably all but two of these could be done, or reaffirmed very quickly.

  2. Not sure how guaranteed spots would have affected Kaiser bumping Alonso, since neither of them were full-time entries, but ok. If I recall correctly last year’s pole day was heavily affected by rain so we did not get the see the schedule as it was planned. I think it would have been entertaining and one of my favorite days at the track all month with bumping, pole shootout, and a long all-skate practice, but because it’s on a Sunday that makes it bad.

    I don’t believe opening up the rulebook for Indy would attract any new entries, NASCAR and IndyCar are the only major series running ovals and there’s no way we see a stock car running The 500. I’m not sure who else would care to show up since it wouldn’t really provide any benefit to manufacturers like it did 50 years ago. I can’t see any of them making a bespoke car or engine for one race….unless it goes electric and then the manufacturers would flock to it, while the fans made their way to the exits.

    • I used the Juncos/McLaren example (a) because it was recent and (b) it illustrates how exciting Bump Day can be. Guaranteed spots would eliminate some of that. – GP

      • It’s theoretically possible that some of that would be eliminated, sure, but in my opinion it’s not very likely and far from guaranteed. The full-time teams are going to be far more prepared than one-off teams so the odds are that bumping is usually going to happen amongst the one-off teams, which is exactly what happened last year. Sure, Hinch got bumped the year before but that was mostly due to them forgetting the gun goes off 10 minutes earlier now.

        A lot of the smaller full-time teams depend on the money from The 500 to get them through the season, as evidenced by Pato’s season being cut-short by crashing at and not making The 500 last year. And we almost lost Pato to F1 because of that! Just seems to me like a giant middle-finger to those small or new teams who trying to make it in the series to kick them out of the one race that their entire season depends on. Especially for something that’s only evident on a stat sheet and has no appreciable effect on the race itself.

        My opinion is no more right or wrong than yours or anyone else’s of course. But of all the issues facing IndyCar right now, this has to be one of the least consequential ones and has zero impact on attendance or the race.

        • billytheskink Says:

          Actually, in 4 of the last 6 500s that featured multiple cars being bumped, at least one full-time team has failed to qualify (including last year, where O’Ward and Chilton would have pushed Kaiser and Karam off the grid). In 2011, a rule locking in full-time teams could have replaced 4-5 drivers (depending on how you view AFS), possibly including one all the way up in row 6!

          I view Indy qualifying as a competition in itself, not simply a preliminary round to the race itself. Guaranteeing starting spots to full time entries eliminates a significant element of that competition. NASCAR has other issues pressuring things, but neutering the Daytona 500 Duel races with locked in spots has done their full time and Daytona-only entry lists no favors… not to mention attendance and viewership for the races. I’m not sure why Indy would expect different results.

          • Hard to compare Indy 500 and Daytona 500, apples and oranges. Most of the people at Daytona are probably there because they’re NASCAR fans, most of the people at Indy are there to party and don’t have a clue what happened during qualifying, probably don’t care either. I live in Indianapolis, guess how many people I know around here that could discuss anything about what happened in Indy qualifying last year? Zero, I doubt any of them could even tell me who was on pole or won. Most people don’t care about this stuff anymore, not even your average Hoosier.

            The Daytona 500 has been sold out for the last 4 years so I don’t think attendance is hurting. I believe it would have a negligible effect on Indy 500 attendance, only a small, loud group of diehard IndyCar fans care about this and most of them will still attend despite their protests.

            To be clear, I’m neither advocating for or against guaranteed spots. I see both sides of the arguments, both sides have valid points. At the end of the day I just don’t care, I’m going to be at IMS as many days as possible during May and I will attend all the qualifying and all the races. Why? I love IndyCar and I love IMS, some silly rule isn’t going to change that. Though their lack of legit tenderloins last year did piss me off a bit….

            Sorry, I usually keep these thoughts to myself because obviously nobody will agree, or care. Been a crappy week and my fingers had their way with my keyboard.

          • billytheskink Says:

            I was speaking of the Daytona 500 qualifying Duel races, specifically, not the Daytona 500 race itself. These are roughly analogous to Indy 500 qualifying in that they are an atypical qualifying procedure compared to the rest of the schedule and that they are promoted as a ticketed and televised event. Since the advent of charters, 38 of the Daytona 500’s 40 starting spots are now determined prior to the Duel races, leaving only a single spot in the race up for grabs in each. Fan interest in the Duel races has dropped considerably since, as have entries, which are at all-time lows (there were no bumps at all in 2018, and only two apiece in 2017 and 2019).

            I might argue that 500 qualifying is an even bigger deal to the Indycar than Daytona qualifying is to NASCAR. I do agree that guaranteed spots would not affect the race itself much, but I think it would affect the qualifying weekend, and that matters because Indy qualifying weekend is comparable to a regular race weekend itself. Even in its current state (“diminished” from its historical highs in attention and attendance), if you considered Indy 500 qualifying weekend as a race event, it would probably rank quite highly among all series races in total attendance. It definitely is one of Indycar’s most popular television draws, second or third to the 500 itself.

            By the way, I’m not trying to be difficult and argumentative and I apologize if I came across that way. I very much enjoy discussing this sport and I very much try to keep an even tone while doing so, but I’m certainly guilty of veering into disagreeability. And I really do hope you have better weeks ahead.

  3. Just off the top of my head …..

    Yes to standing starts.

    No to double points.

    Yes to Cleveland.

    And ovals …….. Indycar kept putting them on the schedule and nobody showed up. So why bother? Maybe brilliant marketing could make a difference (as long as somebody else pays for it)

  4. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    Good list…my first would be to increase the purse not only for the series but most importantly for the Indy 500! The last on my list is more ovals. Other than Indy I’m not a fan of the ovals and other than Indy and St. Louis they don’t draw well at all. Let’s keep doing what works and quit trying to put a square peg in a round hole. One final thing…I would love for Mr. Penske to quit referring to the INDYCAR series as the IRL. That name became so divisive that it never needs to reappear about INDYCAR racing.

  5. Bruce Waine Says:

    George – I’m very disappointed with you and your list !

    Nary a mention about Tenderlions ! ! ! !

  6. billytheskink Says:

    Though I don’t use the Robin Miller school of accounting on purses (one can acknowledge the flaws of the Leader’s Circle without pretending like it does not exist as the primary method of prize money payout), I absolutely agree that they should be increased. Adjusted for inflation (and counting the Leader’s Circle), the series purses are really not actually way out of line with those historically, even most heyday of CART purses (though winner’s shares are a good bit lower). However, the sport’s costs have well-outstripped the rate of inflation, and more money really must be made available if the series is to grow.

    The 500 itself is overdue for an increase as well, and major events in Speedway history have often coincided with increases in the 500’s purse throughout its history. The last real increase in the purse came with 2008 reunification, but there were previous spikes coinciding with the advent of national radio coverage, the arrivals of ABC and later ESPN, and the move of the race broadcast from tape-delay to live. Though the purse for the 500 is about as large as it has ever been even when adjusting for inflation, the cost increases have again outstripped the gains.

  7. Bring back the Milwaukee Mile and never start that race late in the afternoon as was done in its final years. The Indy500 enjoys good attendance because it is not started at 3 in the afternoon as the Milwaukee Mile was. Possibly combine the Milwaukee Mile and Road America as a package. The promoter of Road America is one of the very best.
    Budweiser is swill IMO.

  8. colonoscopies should be #2.

  9. As another blogger suggested, “keep the pee troughs”. This is where young boys become men and learn about gravity.

  10. Get well soon, George.

    As far as a potential NASCAR/IndyCar double header weekend is concerned, it might work better with an owner of IndyCar like Mr Penske who is competing in both series. It would be amazing if the two series combined would win over a new market together. I’d like to suggest Pike’s Peak International Raceway in Colorado for this, which would require ISC to lift their competition restrictions put on the track’s new owners when the track was sold.
    Also, ending the season in September should be evaluated again.

    I agree with you, George, on putting Pole Day before Bump Day and having no guaranteed starting spots for regulars at the Indianapolis 500.

    I kind of agree on trying to keep Doug Boles in place. Why not let the IMS track president speak the command to start engines as well?

    Other forespeakers in the comments have mentioned a return of the Milwaukee Mile as desirable. From a sporting perspective, I very much agree. However, such a comeback needs a committed title sponsor and promoter to succeed, and the Chicago crowd to join in on the fun.
    As far as adding venues is concerned, a 2nd round in Canada would probably be rather popular. Penske might be able to work out something in Australia, given his involvement in the V8 Supercar Series. That probably won’t be an oval even though there is one over there, Calder Park Thunderdome, originally built for NASCAR type stock cars.
    Also, the bloggers really do a great job.

    Things are looking good. Here’s to a new season of good and safe racing!

  11. Talón de Brea Says:

    I think more ovals would be a “nice to have” here at the outset of the Penske ownership, but adding low-profile, low-attendance ovals would not move the needle in the right direction — and could possibly negatively affect the image of the series at a crucial time. Now, well-attended, high-profile ovals would be a different thing, if such could be guaranteed …

    In the short term, and acknowledging the for-better-and-for-worse reality of the engine lease system, I think adding a third manufacturer (and, crucially, retaining Honda and Chevrolet!) would be the highest priority. Let the automotive participants compete with each other, and “encourage” them to market accordingly. Leverage their existing marketing machines to help the series.

    Getting some kind of general public promotion from the B2B sponsors, and raising the profile of the series through consumer product sponsors, are very important, but I think getting the *automotive* participants to put a little more skin in the game and ante up marketing dollars is even more so — if maybe a bit of a dream in the modern economy. If the automotive participants don’t help adequately promote an automotive enterprise, why should other potential sponsors?

  12. Keep the Indianapolis 500 as is. Change anything else to make the series and the support series better, more entertaining and an inviting platform for advertisers and future car owners.

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