Three Separate Topics Somehow Tied Together

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Those that have followed this site over the years, know that I don’t try stirring the pot by purposely making controversial statements. Some people have built careers making outlandish statements that they don’t even believe themselves – just to boost up their ratings or internet clicks. I don’t do that. However, I do say what I think – and sometimes that riles people.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a comment and a couple of e-mails chastising me for my stated opinion on Belle Isle. I freely admit that I have never been to a race at Belle Isle, but based on what I’ve seen on television since the race moved there in 1992 – I’ve seen nothing to entice me to go. I could be dead-wrong about a race weekend spent in Detroit and going over to the isle in the Detroit River every day to watch racing. After all, shiny race cars are still zooming by – so what’s wrong with a weekend like that?

I was wrong about Sonoma. Based on years of watching parades surrounded by dead grass and dust, I always questioned why people always raved about the beauty of Sonoma. In the summer of 2018, we made the decision to finally see for ourselves. Just after we bought our airline tickets, the announcement was made that the season finale would leave Sonoma after the 2018 season, for Laguna Seca – about two hours to the south. So we got to attend the last race at Sonoma, but at least I saw for myself that the area was indeed beautiful – so I can be proven wrong.

Based on what I see on my television, however – of the fifteen different venues on this year’s original IndyCar schedule, Belle Isle ranks fifteenth on where I would want to go. It is also my least favorite track to watch a televised race from. Yes, I’ll watch it and there may even be some intriguing races there, but for the most part; I find the racing at Belle Isle has an almost claustrophobic feel to it – with concrete barriers encroaching from both sides. I also think that if you were to privately ask each driver their least favorite track – it would be Belle Isle hands-down.

Fans of Belle Isle will pound away at me over my restating my opinion on this. But until I prove myself wrong by actually attending a race weekend there, this is how I will continue to feel.

Fortunately, that will not be possible this season. It was announced on Monday that more has been whittled off of the front-end of the IndyCar schedule and Belle Isle is the latest casualty – joining Barber, Long Beach and COTA in the growing list of cancelled races that will not reappear on a now-fluid 2020 IndyCar schedule.

My oldest brother called me Monday night and asked what I thought about the new schedule. Without thinking, the first thing out of my mouth was “any schedule revision that does not feature Belle Isle is an immediate improvement”. He laughed and said he knew that was what I was going to say.

It’s ironic that those that seem to love Belle Isle, seem to detest the races at the venue that is now slated to serve as the NTT IndyCar Series season-opener – Texas Motor Speedway. I love races at Texas. I’m always exhausted after watching races there, because – yes there is danger there, but I’m always exhilarated by the way these drivers rise above the danger and perform.

Racing is supposed to take your breath away, not lull you to sleep. I think that’s what initially drew us to the sport. I appreciate what it takes to perform on a temporary street circuit, but I marvel at what it takes to succeed on a high-speed oval.

But everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I’m just entitled to state mine here, because it’s my site.

However, the bigger debate here is not Belle Isle vs Texas. It’s whether or not the June 6 Texas date is realistic, given the fact that we are still in the midst of a COVID-19 worldwide shutdown that is only in its fourth week. There are lots of opinions out there, but it is just too early to know.

Some look at the calendar and say that Texas is less than a week after Race II at Belle Isle, so why is Texas able to run but not Detroit? Well, that’s one of the easier answers. Construction for the temporary track on Belle Isle needs to start in April, really by next week. Detroit is one of the harder-hit areas of this pandemic, and they have not even reached their peak yet. With the city on lockdown, there is no way construction could start on time, even if there was a sudden eradication of the virus in May.

Texas is a permanent facility that requires no construction and little preparation. The teams can basically show up on Thursday, practice on Friday and race on Saturday night.

But will the country be ready for sports then? Many think not. I’ve probably been more optimistic than most have been throughout this nightmare, but over the past few weeks – I’ve leaned to temper some of my ambitious timelines. But my outlook throughout all this has been more positive than most.

I’ve learned that the Legions of the Miserable expand beyond racing. I’ve also learned that there are some that appear to actually be enjoying what the country (and world) is going through. They love to promote the most grim scenarios and throw water on any glimmer of hope that is reported. Just this past Monday the University of Washington, which is universally recognized as the gold standard for all the various models out there projecting what might happen, revised their model. It offered a far brighter outlook for what we can expect in cases of COVID-19 and deaths related to the virus.

In Tennessee, for example, the original projection was that by August, there would be over 3,400 deaths in Tennessee related to the coronavirus. Their latest model reduced the deaths to 537 by August. That’s quite a significant reduction (unless you happen to be one of those 537). Our original peak for new cases was originally slated for April 26. That has since been revised to April 19, and it has moved again to April 15. It was also estimated that Tennessee would need as many as 20,000 extra hospital beds to cope with the onslaught of cases. It has now been determined that Tennessee will need no extra beds at all. The existing hospital beds will be enough.

This didn’t come from some op-ed writer’s opinion-piece. This was derived from hard-core data. But it still didn’t take long for the Legions of the Miserable to cast shade on this latest model. They came up with all reasons to discredit their findings, suggesting that this was all politically motivated. It’s odd that when the University of Washington’s models were causing people to think we were all headed to certain death, their findings were embraced by The Legions. But show some positive trends that this thing may not be as bad as originally thought? Well…we can’t have that.

We’ve all heard the argument that the media focuses on the deaths and not the far greater number of people that have recovered. I saw a post from someone I consider a friend saying that while that may be true, don’t discount those recovered that will have permanent lung damage. Never pass up an opportunity to cast fear and doubt on a little sunshine.

Another good friend of mine told me on Monday that there was no way there would be any sports until 2022, at the earliest. It will take that long to completely eradicate this virus. He went on to say that any thoughts of ever returning where we were around the Super Bowl in early February, are now simply a pipe-dream. This is the new normal.

I refuse to believe or accept that. I just think there are some people who hated our world prior to this. They are enjoying this locked down environment we are currently living in, so that normally happy people can be as miserable as they are. OK…I’ll now step down off of my soapbox.

I’ve heard some say that a race at Texas can take place safely in front of empty stands. Others have opined that Texas is so big that they could sell every fourth ticket and force everyone to spread out. It’s been a while since empty seats were hard to come by at an IndyCar race at Texas, so I see their point.

Based on my multi-paragraph rant up above, you’d think I would be advocating for the Texas race to run in June – but I’m not.

I can’t speak for Texas or any other part of the country, because I’ve been focused on the trends and numbers in Tennessee. As of Tuesday, there were 4,138 cases in the state of Tennessee, with 72 deaths. The experts claim that after next week, the curve will begin to flatten. The University of Washington model projects that deaths and total cases will have tapered down to minimal levels by the end of May. Let’s assume that most of the country mirrors this trend (I know that’s a big assumption, but just hear me out). Does that mean that an IndyCar race is ready to take place just a few days later?

Even if they were to run the race with no fans in the stands, I’ll bet that there are more than a thousand people indirectly associated with teams, the series or the track on the grounds at any given race. That estimate may be very low. Perhaps they all don’t have to be there since so many people are geared toward hospitality and entertaining sponsors – but there are tons of necessary support people at all races. Firestone personnel, the AMR Safety Team, media personnel, caterers to feed the team and drivers, track personnel including volunteers, IT professionals, TV and radio personnel are all considered essential workers that would still need to be on site and will sometimes find it impossible to practice social distancing.

It takes a surprisingly large amount of people to pull off an IndyCar race on any given weekend. You don’t realize how many people it actually takes to pull one of these weekends off, until you are on-site and see what goes on behind the scenes.

Six days from the end of May is not much time to decide it’s safe for everyone to get a little closer to each other. As much as I would like to see it happen, I do agree with those that say you can’t rush things too fast. We all want things to get back to normal. We want businesses to reopen and those that have been laid-off or lost their jobs completely will be desperate to go back to work. We will all be ready to get our economy functioning again and not have to worry every time we touch a doorknob. But rushing back too quickly could be very detrimental. If sports suddenly get going in early June and we quickly see spikes in the virus spreading again – things will shut down again, and this time it could be for even longer.

There will be a fine line to tread. Those decisions will be made by people much smarter than me or any of us. As bad as we want normalcy and for sports (and racing) to resume – we have to be prudent. We all know that many of us will jump at the chance to go to a race by that time, so proper decisions need to be made.

My good friend Paul Dalbey came up with an idea that I think could work. NASCAR has already lost one of its Texas dates this season. Their next scheduled event at Texas is October 25. Why not have the first-ever NASCAR/IndyCar oval double-header. Let one run on Saturday night and another on Sunday afternoon. I know that the Firestone Grand Prix at St. Petersburg has eyes on being the season-finale. Let them schedule it after Texas runs in October. As I said last week – I’m still skeptical that St. Petersburg will run in the fall.

I’ve covered a lot of ground in one post here. I’ve gotten in my obligatory jabs at the expense of Belle Isle. I’ve gotten on my soapbox regarding the Legions of the Miserable that love to preach doom and gloom, and then I wrapped up with an argument about how we shouldn’t rush back too soon. I guess that’s enough topics for one day.

But if they try to cancel Road America just two weeks later, forget everything I just said.

George Phillips

11 Responses to “Three Separate Topics Somehow Tied Together”

  1. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    Yes George, I don’t care for Texas and do like Detroit. I’ve been to Detroit and it’s a lot of fun. But I read your blog for fun and it isn’t fun to keep reading you taking shots at Detroit. So maybe just back off a bit. As far as least favorite tracks of drivers, the only one I know for sure is that Alexander Rossi’s least favorite track is Barber. I don’t know why but have heard him say that several times. To all : please stay healthy!

    • So you’re telling the guy who takes the time out of his day to write and produce something you read “for fun” three times a week to “back off?” How about if you don’t like what you are reading “for fun” here go read something else? It’s his damned site! And coming up with stuff to write about when the season is in its half a year snooze is no easy feat, let alone throughout this nonsense! By the way, I can’t STAND Belle Isle and LOVE Texas, so put that in your pipe and smoke it. But leave George alone, or go start your own blog so we can criticize YOU!

  2. I don’t see any race happening until Road America at the earliest. I actually think the 500 may be the first race of the year.

  3. madtad1 Says:

    Speaking as an admittedly low end health care professional I can tell you that it will not be like throwing a switch and everything returns to normal. It will be a very slow, gradual process to restart not only the US, but the world economies and businesses.

    Especially travel. But especially hospitals, will take months after the worst is over before the last patients are cleared out, one way or another. The lock down will end before then, but it will take time to spin the economy back up. We will recover, but it will take time.

    This will affect disposable income for, conservative estimates, 2 to 3 years. Obviously making it harder for people to afford going to things like races, etc. I hope the races will be able to survive this worldwide catastrophe for the next year or two so we can continue to enjoy the sport(s) we love.

  4. Bruce Waine Says:

    From the brief banter previously posted and seeming is likely to continue, it would appear like an opportune time to lighten up ?

    George – What about a lottery open to readership correctly guessing either:

    1. When

    Or

    2. Where

    the first 2020 INDY Car race event will see the GREEN FLAG fly?.

    One guess entry per person sent to you

    Entry deadline April 30th, 2020 or would May 25th (Memorial Day) 2020 be more appropriate?

    I have a couple IRL decals and a new INDY Car T- Shirt that I could donate.

    Others readers willing to donate items?

    Prizes presented to the first three individuals with the correct guess or more than three individuals if more donations are received by George?

    What say ?

  5. Other than 1997 and a few others, Belle Isle has been a turd for years. It’s just a track they run but not one I look forward to or anything, but I still watch. Nothing wrong with your opinion on that.

    Honestly, there are many Indycar track that are turds often. If a road course doesn’t get some type of off sequence strategy, it can become a boring Scott Dixon, Will Power or Josef Newgarden show pretty quickly. But Detroit is often that. Either way though, when they return to the track I hope we can all enjoy these races a bit more. I am personally excited for the double headers coming up, I love seeing the drivers exhausted on Sunday having to run another full race, it brings attrition or driver into the strategy again!

    • Let me also add, plenty of people want to watch the world burn. People were convinced that we were entering WW3 in January, we were all going to die of Ebola in 2014, ISIS was going to kill us all in 2015, etc. Conspiracy theorists don’t want things to be better, even if it means the end of their time, to prove that the president is against us or the government, or anything else. They will cut off their nose to spite their faces. I am not sure about June or July or whatnot but we will get back to normal, whatever that is, soon enough and everyone will resume being jerks again, fighting about everything and looking for the next crisis to panic about.

      I invite anyone who listens to jump off of social media, check it for 5 minutes a day if you absolutely need it to contact loved ones, but otherwise, why read other a-holes opinions all day and argue over it?

  6. I feel the need to chime in on this debate because I’m one of the readers in the pro-Belle Isle camp, though I don’t think any of my previous comments on the subject led to George’s post.

    Here’s the thing: I think folks on both sides of this are correct. The people who bang on Detroit are talking about the televised product. They’re right. The Detroit Grand Prix sucks on tv. I think it pretty much always has.

    That was my opinion when a friend talked me in to attending for the first time about 5 years ago. I was certainly apprehensive. What I discovered when we got there was a Penske promoted 1st class event at a unique and cool venue that was a very entertaining experience. We’ve gone back every year since, brought more friends every year, and continue to enjoy it. Think about it…..when Roger bought the series, all we talked about is how much better things are going to get because Roger Penske does everything 1st class. Well, would you imagine he would approach promoting an event in his backyard any different? Of course not.

    That said, when I get home and rewatch the races on tv, guess what? They still suck. I just think Belle Isle is one of those places that doesn’t translate well from in-person to television. So I don’t think anyone is wrong here. Readers who like the Duel in Detroit are typically those who attend the event. Those who knock it are typically those who just watch it on tv. I think everyone is correct here.

    As far as the bizarre Belle Isle vs. Texas thing, I have no idea what the hell that’s all about. What’s next? We compare Barber to Gateway? Toronto to Iowa? Apples to oranges. Completely different races. I don’t get the debate on this one.

    Lastly, when does the season start? Like the rest of you I have no idea, but I’m thinking closed-fan races at Road America and Richmond, followed by the first fan-included event July 4th at the IMS road course. Sadly, I sort of feel even that may be overly optimistic. We shall see.

  7. billytheskink Says:

    I hope Texas is run at a date I am able to attend, whether that is in June or late. I’ve already lost a lot of plans to attend races to COVID-19, something I say with the perspective that there are much more important things than racing in this pandemic, and don’t want to miss my favorite race of the year.

    As far those who seem to be enjoying this, I’m not sure it is so much that as they enjoy believing they are right and that they something someone else may not know. I say this as someone who knows everything and is never wrong…

    On Detroit, sorry George, but I am sad to see it cancelled. I never like losing a race. I even cried over Champcar’s San Jose…

  8. SkipinSC Says:

    OK, let me say right of the top that if IndyCar abandons Belle Isle for this year I won’t be bothered. Even as avid a fan of the series as I am, Belle Isle bores me. The racing seldom lives up to the excitement of even other street courses, let alone the fixed road course facilities or speedways.

    Admittedly, I am an “ovalista.” The excitement at Texas, Fontana, Indy, Iowa, Gateway, and Pocono is what I enjoy most about the series, a natural thing since I grew up in the Indianapolis area in an era when IndyCars raced exclusively on ovals, both dirt and asphalt.

    That’s who I am, and what I have been from back in the early 60’s when I first started following the sport.

    As to the return to some sense of normalcy, I wonder how long the cure has to be applied before it kills the patient. Why do I feel this way? Simply because last evening, I saw politicians suggesting that we “Don’t dare open the economy until there’s a vaccine or the disease has been eliminated.”

    Our economy is in complete disarray right now and I am already concerned that many of the “mom and pop” bars, restaurants, etc., will NEVER reopen. We have had doom and gloom preached at us for months and frankly it sickens me to think that some people are using this crisis to their political advantage.

    So, while I like the idea of following the guidelines to slow the spread of the disease, let’s be mindful that it only works if we as, individuals AND businesses (big and small) survive.

    If that means The GMR Grand Prix is the opener, or Texas, or even the 500, I’ll be watching. (Well, if it’s the 500, I’ll be there in person.)

  9. Regarding a problem as tiny as “when will the IndyCar season begin”, I’d say we’ll just wait and see.

    At this point, it seems more and more likely that the ongoing sim racing season that is being run as an official iRacing/IndyCar cooperation is going to be expanded to include the weekend previously occupied by Belle Isle. Which tracks they might choose for additional dates is anybody’s guess, especially considering that some of the tracks have been voted on by the fans, the drivers or random draws to be included.

    And it seems more and more likely that the 2020 IndyCar season might not have a street race on the calendar because these are way more depending on set schedules to be run than races at permanent racing facilities.

    Apart from that, here’s hoping that all readers and writers on this site stay safe and healthy, can work from home and will pull through. All the best.

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