It’s Worth a Shot

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One part of the new IndyCar schedule that was released on Monday that has been sort of overlooked by fans and the media is the IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix to be held on Saturday October 3 on the IMS road course. While the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is said to be the conditional season-finale, I still have my doubts that it will run in the fall.

The fact that it is no longer listed on IndyCar.com as a TBD is telling, but I’ve heard no real speculation on it’s viability as the season finale. I just have my doubts that they will re-construct that track again in the fall, after tearing it down from an unused weekend in the spring – only to do it again next spring. Building that track three times in a one-year span sounds a bit much to me, but what do I know?

As the provisional schedule stands right now, the Harvest GP is the final race scheduled.

There is now talk that if the NTT IndyCar Series cannot open at Texas, that the weekend of Sep 27 could be used as an IndyCar/NASCAR double-header for Texas, rather than NASCAR’s existing Texas date of Oct 25. If IndyCar opened with Road America on June 21 and Texas was moved to Sep 25; finishing the season at IMS on Oct 3 would still give us a fourteen-race season. I would be fine with that.

For years, even before the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road course began in 2014 – there was talk of finishing the season and crowning the champion at IMS, utilizing the road course. With only one single qualifying weekend and then the Indianapolis 500 race weekend, the Month of May needed another weekend to avoid being known as “the two weeks of May”. That was the genesis of the Grand Prix. For six seasons, it served as a nice kickoff for the Month of May.

I will never pass up a racing weekend at IMS. I think the last time there was track activity for Indy cars over a weekend that I did not attend was the second qualifying weekend of 2009 – the last year they held two qualifying weekends. That was also the last year that I did not have any type of media credentials. I had already launched this site earlier that month, but it was not a whole lot of fun blogging from the stands on my first-generation iPhone.

I think the last time I did not go to qualifying at least one weekend was 2001, when I was still on my Indianapolis 500 hiatus that went from 1996 through 2002. When I took my two kids to qualifying in 2002 – I was re-bitten by the bug and I returned to the race in 2003 and have been going to the race and qualifying ever since.

The most grueling Month of May for us was back in 2015. There was an open test on the oval on Sunday May 3. Susan and I did a one-day turnaround that day. We left Nashville before dawn on Sunday morning, sat through a full day of practice and did our usual exploring of a fairly deserted IMS, then drove back that night in order to be back to work on Monday. That was the first of four straight weekends to make the round trip four-hour drive between Nashville and Indianapolis. By the time the race was over, my body was almost glad the Month of May was over. Three straight weekends is doable. Four in a row, with a one-day turnaround thrown in was a bit much. But it proves my point that if Indy cars are on track at IMS over a weekend – we will be there.

The Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500 have already been split up – the Grand Prix in July and the Indianapolis 500 in August. Now that they’ve added the Harvest Grand Prix in October – I’m not complaining. That will be four weekends for us in Indianapolis (counting Indianapolis 500 qualifying), but they will be spread out over a ninety-day period.

Since this is going to be such an unusual and truncated season anyway, I think this is a good time to experiment with things that have been tossed about but never acted upon. I would be in favor of the Harvest Grand Prix being the season finale and crowning the championship right in the heart of IndyCar country – the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

I also think kudos should go to whoever decided on the name, Harvest Grand Prix. That is a definite nod to the obscure past of IMS. Most know that the 1916 Indianapolis 500 was originally scheduled to run for a distance of only 300 miles. Track ownership felt that five-hundred miles may be too long for fans, since the early races took nearly seven hours to complete. They thought that it might sell more tickets to reduce the race distance to three-hundred miles. Most know that Dario Resta won that shortened event that has become a footnote in the history of the race.

The move did not prove popular with fans and proved to be a one-time exception to the Indianapolis 500. Dario Resta is still recognized as a winner of the Indianapolis 500, and we still call that race the 1916 Indianapolis 500 – even though it ran only its scheduled distance of only three-hundred miles.

When the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened in 1909, it hosted several race weekends throughout the years of 1909 and 1910. Many of these races were won by Johnny Aitken, who actually holds the record for the most races won at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – with fifteen (Ray Harroun is second, with eight). In 1911, it was decided that the track would only host one event each year – a five-hundred mile race to be held on Memorial Day. That s the way it was each year, until 1916.

Although there is a misconception that the 1916 race was shortened due to fears of the US entering World War I, that was the reasoning behind adding an additional event in September of 1916. The ownership group figured they’d better generate a revenue stream while they could, since they feared the track would be shut down the following year – which it was.

This event was known as the Harvest Classic. It consisted of three individual races, all run on Sep 9, 1916 – and they were to be the same type cars entered into the 1916 Indianapolis 500. The first race was scheduled for only twenty miles (eight laps). The second race was to go for fifty miles (twenty laps). The final race was scheduled for one-hundred miles (forty laps). Ten cars started Race I. Race II featured only nine cars, but Race III had twelve cars. All three races were won by Johnny Aitken. Given what’s going on today, it’s ironic that the winner of all three races of the 1916 Harvest Classic – Johnny Aitken – fell victim to the Influenza Flu Pandemic of 1918.

The track fell silent during the war years of 1917 and 1918. When racing returned in 1919, things went back a once a year race – the Indianapolis 500. From 1919 through 1993, the track hosted that one event per year. That ended when the track hosted NASCAR’s inaugural Brickyard 400 in August 1994. Once that happened, the seal was broken. It became more and more apparent that IMS could and should host many events throughout the season to bolster a much-needed revenue stream to support such projects like the NTT IndyCar Series.

Personally, I hope the Harvest Grand Prix becomes a fixture on the IndyCar schedule. Whether it is the only time the road course is used for IndyCar, or the second – I actually like the idea of closing the season out at the grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

There is no shame in utilizing the same facility twice. NASCAR does it at most of their venues. We always hear that sponsors love to go to wine country or some other desirable venue for the finale. I’ve been to two season finales – the 2013 finale at Fontana and the 2018 finale at Sonoma. I don’t recall seeing tons of sponsors packing the hospitality tents at those venues compared to any other race during the season. I would argue that you would have just as much sponsor participation at IMS in October, as you would at some west coast venue. I also think you’d have more IndyCar fans to draw from within driving distance, as you would get at Sonoma, Laguna Seca or Fontana.

If I’m right about St. Petersburg, I hope that IndyCar will use the Harvest Grand Prix as the season finale this season and also next season when things are (hopefully) back to normal and they can get a fair evaluation under normal circumstances. It’s worth a shot. If it is a ratings or attendance bust, then try something else.

George Phillips

9 Responses to “It’s Worth a Shot”

  1. Given the schedule pans out the way it is, I really like it to be honest. LOVE the double header weekends too! NASCAR will be forced to do the same with double headers, if they want to get close to a full schedule. I personally would rather see less weekeends, more doubleheaders to keep race counts up, across the board!

    When this is all over, people’s tastes and such are going to be different. Sports will need to respond to this. Some “fans” of sports will drift away, have decided that maybe it wasn’t all that important. The model is broken in many leagues. The impossible, happened. NASCAR fans for example, have been lead into believing that the tracks can’t survive schedule changes, well, now they must get creative. Indycar is already doing it!

  2. billytheskink Says:

    I’d still advocate for an oval to close the season out if possible, but the IMS road course is not a bad idea either. Actually, I think an IMS 500 mile combined double-header to close the season would be interesting, 250 on the road course and 250 (an relative endurance race) on the oval (a relative sprint). That’s probably not feasible, but it would be fun.

    I do wonder if the Harvest Grand Prix stays in place next season, does the May road race stay as well? If so, I wonder which one will draw better. There is more at stake in the season finale, but there is so much infrastructure around promoting events at IMS in May leading up to the 500.

  3. Jeff Petersen Says:

    I’m not so sure there’s not a secondary thought to having the “Harvest Classic” in October @ IMS. I think there’s a very real possibility this ends up being the date for the Indianapolis 500 and this was one way of creating a placeholder. If the 500 runs in August, and of course I hope it does, the Harvest Classic adds a name event to end the season. If the 500 doesn’t run in August, this date maybe saves anything left for 2020 Indycar and gives the teams a much needed revenue infusion as we go on to 2021. Sobering times, I hope we get a 500 this year and I think it’s 50/50 at best right now.

    • Paul Fitzgerald Says:

      I agree with Jeff…I think this is the backup date for the Indy 500 for 2020. I hope it doesn’t come to that but it might.

  4. I think maybe too much of anything is not good. Running the Indy cars 3 times at IMS seems like over saturation. At the same time I’m not totally sure what the answer should be. In these times maybe the “month” of May only covers 2 weekends. It would save expenses and nothing is what it was. For instance we no longer need 4 days of qualifying with hours of dead time. Just my opinion…..

  5. I fondly recall attending the F1 races at Watkins Glen in early fall. I know Indiana is no substitute for the finger lakes region. I am all for a season ending road race at IMS in the fall, weather should be great. I do agree 3 Indy Car races a year are one too many but this is an unusual year. Season ender at IMS ,makes sense as most teams are headquartered there and Indy is,a good town for conventions. IMS is very good at hospitality.

  6. It seems less and less likely that any non-permanent facilities are going to host non-virtual a/k/a IRL IndyCar races this season.
    So trying out the Harvest Grand Prix this year seems like a good idea.

    Yet, this season has proven to be utterly hard to schedule: I’ve tried scheduling my personal cycling season that usually includes a few friends joining me, and I still haven’t got any clue on when, where or if we will get any tours in. I should be on my bike right now as spring is already there but no, not possible until later.

    For now, I try to enjoy IndyCar/iRacing’s sim racing season, and it’s been interesting so far.

  7. discodavid26 Says:

    im only ok if a venue has multiple rounds in a year if each time its on a different circuit each time…………..hence why i hate the Detroit dual races (i can simply forget a dull track but i will never forgive a dual round dull track!) but i am completely fine with a indy road race and the 500 ……would only entertain the idea of a 3rd indy event in a calender year if something else was different? only “possibles” i can see is either a night race under floodlights that i dont belive indy has(??) or have a race running the oval or road course in the reverse direction!

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