Sometimes, You Just Can’t Win

This could also be titled There’s a Lot to Worry About. Last Thursday, we fans got what so many of us had been hoping for – confirmation that the NTT IndyCar Series will finally open the season on June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway (TMS). At least I thought that was what we were hoping for.

As expected, the confirmation of the Genesys 300 came with the condition that it would be run in front of no fans. It is to be a made-for-TV event only. But to my dismay, the reaction from race fans was anything but celebratory. Instead of being grateful that Roger Penske and TMS track president Eddie Gossage had somehow worked something out to make this event possible, IndyCar was brought to task by people who were angry that fans would not be able to attend.

I saw where some claimed that this move was an insult to paying customers and that IndyCar didn’t care about the fans. They implied that Mark Miles and Roger Penske are being hypocritical when they say that fans are the most important thing.

Sometimes, you just can’t win – no matter how hard you try.

I was ecstatic when I learned the news that Texas had been confirmed. I had gotten excited when the rumor was floating around that a NASCAR/IndyCar double-header was in the works. When that idea seemed to cool, so did my enthusiasm that the June 6 IndyCar race would happen. In practically every scenario that was seriously discussed about this event, it was almost always under the condition that it would not include fans.

My question is…were these people not paying attention? Do they not realize this is just the first step in getting sports back, and that we will all have to be content to watch it on television?

I don’t know what concessions were made for Eddie Gossage to agree to run this even with no fans, but I have an idea that Roger Penske was going to do whatever was necessary to make sure this event happened. With NASCAR slated to race this coming weekend at Darlington, and other sports in serious discussions about getting back to business – IndyCar needed to make sure that Texas happened.

Did Roger Penske cover the sanctioning fee out of his own pocket? We’ll probably never know, but I feel a debt of gratitude to whoever made this happen. That’s why I was astonished to read some of the fans reactions claiming that IndyCar doesn’t care about its fans. Had they not cared, this race wouldn’t be happening.

I understand the frustration. Some fans had plans to go to Texas and had bought airfare, hotel rooms and race tickets months ago – only to be told now that they must watch it at home. There is room to practice social distancing, but IndyCar officials decided to err on the side of caution for this first race. Quite frankly, I don’t blame them. But that doesn’t mean those that had planned to go shouldn’t be disappointed.

We have made similar plans for Road America, just two weeks later. We booked our flights and hotel room in January and have already paid to rent a golf cart. If the event is cancelled, postponed or run with no fans; we will probably get refunded for most, but we may lose the airfare. I’ll certainly be disappointed, but I certainly won’t be blaming IndyCar or Road America. I’ll just realize that this is the world we are currently living in and move on.

Of course, there are also those that think this event shouldn’t be run at all. They think this is just way too soon. I disagree and not just because I want to watch an IndyCar race that Saturday night.

It’s a shame that the opinions on how to deal with COVID-19 have devolved into a political issue; where if you’re worried about the nation’s economy, you’re perceived as a rotten human being that cares more about the bottom line than human lives. I believe it’s possible to care about both and I think it’s time to put our toe back in the water. We will never know if something will work unless we try it. If they run the race at Texas and take all of the precautions they say they will, and by Road America the entire IndyCar community is infected by the virus – we’ll know it was too soon. But unless we take small steps at a time, we’ll still be huddled inside our homes – scared to death.

If I’m being perfectly honest, the virus ranks third in my list of worries for that weekend. Except for testing, no one has actually raced an Indy car on an oval since last August at Gateway. The last time the field tested was at COTA in mid-February. June 6 will be the first time IndyCar has turned a wheel in months. They will have a two-hour practice that Saturday at 12:30 pm CDT. Qualifying will take place just an hour and a half after practice at 4:00 pm CDT, with the green flag waving to begin the race that same night at 7:45 pm CDT.

There will be four fulltime rookies in that race – Oliver Askew, Pato O’Ward, Alex Palou and Rinus VeeKay – that have never turned a wheel in an Indy car at Texas. This is a little more daunting than starting the season on the streets of St. Petersburg and getting lots of seat time for the Indianapolis 500, as is done in most years. To make Lap One at Texas Motor Speedway your IndyCar debut presents a tremendous challenge to the most credentialed rookie. Don’t forget, the seasoned veterans will be knocking off a lot of rust as well. It just seems to me that a two-hour practice just a few hours before the green flag of the race is way too inadequate – especially with at least four rookies in the field.

Then there is the forgotten issue of the aeroscreen. One thing that iRacing accomplished is that it got us used to looking at the new aeroscreen, which was originally set to debut at St. Petersburg. This device has not been race tested on an oval. At best, they’ve tested its characteristics at Indianapolis and Texas with just a few cars following along behind one another. They have data on that, but not when two drivers are going for the same piece of real estate in anger.

I’ve also been told behind the scenes that heat inside the cockpit with the aeroscreen is a very real issue – and that was when they were testing in October and February. Imagine what it will be like for practice on a Saturday afternoon in June in the Texas heat. I’ve been told that even now, they are vigorously trying to find a way to get more cool air into the cockpit while evacuating the hot air. Such adjustments will surely change the aerodynamics of the car. They can see what the computer says it will do the car, but with no cars running until June 6 – these changes will never be tested until that first practice session.

From what I understand, except for the transporters physically delivering the cars to the track – all team and series personnel will be flying to Texas on chartered planes that morning and will be flying back to Indianapolis late that night after the race. That would negate the need for hotel rooms, which would increase the risk of contracting the virus. IndyCar and TMS have publicized the extra precautions they will take to keep all participants safe. I won’t list them here, but from what I have heard – they are being extremely cautious.

Between the rookies in the field, the lack of practice, the unknown dynamics of racing with the aeroscreen in earnest and the continued threat of the coronavirus; there is a lot more to think about than any IndyCar season-opener I can remember – ever. With all of those weighty consequences hanging in the balance that weekend, I still think IndyCar is doing the right thing to run this event at this time. It’s a shame that fans choose right now to pile on, saying that IndyCar doesn’t care about their fans. Sometimes, you just can’t win.

George Phillips

10 Responses to “Sometimes, You Just Can’t Win”

  1. No one can win right now with any decision. The Facebook scientists seem to have it all figured out though, a disease we knew nothing about a few months ago has been solved by them.

    I don’t know the right answer on any of this, my hope is we see some racing, without fans (sorry guys I don’t see the 500 even having any fans) and I have higher hopes for 2021. Until then, no one knows exactly what to do.

    I do find it funny when athletes who have retired and made their money are pro eliminating seasons and starting over next year. It’s convenient that they have nothing at stake by this happening.

    If we don’t race or if things like baseball skip a whole season, what you get when it comes back may not be what you expect. Every day the goverment is down they are losing money, same with sports leagues. It’s a tough situation but things must reopen in some way if you want sports in the future. Not even Roger Penske can sustain long without any revenue.

    If Indycar doesn’t return this season, much like MLB or other sports, I would say that Indycar would lose half of its car count. MLB would lose a few teams to bankruptcy, etc.

    • Mark Wick Says:

      Andrew, like it or not, sports will likely never be the same as we have gotten used to. Not only will economics greatly reduce what sports will be contested, and by whom, but many people are finding other interests and have less to little interest in even watching, much less paying to watch sports.

  2. A man in the local Walmart was loudly complaining about having to navigate the aisles in one direction. His argument was that he was an American and he had the g– d— right to go any way he wanted. Instead of thanking these business owners and employees for figuring out ways to stay open we complain that they’re infringing on our personal right to care only about ourself.

    Indycar, like all sports and most businesses, is trying to figure out a way to survive this season. We should cut them some slack. I never thought I’d feel bad for Roger Penske, but what timing that turned out to be. When you think about it though, for fans of Indycar, we should be grateful the series is in his hands because it may not have survived the pandemic economy with the previous ownership.

    I’m looking forward to the race because I’m bored to death with television. But I realize it’s an experiment and just hope for the best. And really hope there will be fans in the IMS stands in the fall.

  3. SkipinSC Says:

    I will be glad to see racing back, regardless; however, let’s not forget that NASCAR is running at Darlington next weekend and there will either be complications from that conclave or not.

    Frankly, I think there should have been more practice time allowed than two hours then qualifying, then racing: the points about everyone shaking off the rust, not to mention the rookies who’ve never experienced Texas are all well taken.

    I suspect that innovation will be key as to the aero screen. Don’t forget, Indy can be an inferno in August. I would much prefer the powers-that-be schedule the start of Indy in August a bit later in the day, especially if fans are going to be present.

    To be honest, Mark Miles statement the other day that Indy could run as late as October may be a precautionary foreshadowing of what may happen. I just don’t see the 500 running at an empty IMS. EVERYONE loses if that happens, and from a business standpoint, I do not see Mr. Penske following that path.

    Because I am something of an optimist, I happen to believe that sports will return this year. I simply think we are only now beginning to discover that a lot of the doom and gloom numbers to which we’ve been exposed are suspect at best, and fabricated at worst. I’ve seen too many medical personnel saying that they have been incentivized to report deaths as related to COVID 19, simply because the individual tested positive for the virus. Anyway, that my two cents worth anyway.

    Ask me when we see what happens in Darlington this weekend.

    • Then why is every jurisdiction on earth, of just about every possible political stripe, reporting tens of thousands of deaths?

  4. billytheskink Says:

    The virus has taken a lot of racing from me already, I had plans to attend several races that have been cancelled or postponed indefinitely, and I am sad that it will take yet another race from my schedule. My favorite race… I’ve been going to races at Texas since it opened and I haven’t missed an IndyCar race at Texas since 2008. I’m not angry, though, even as someone who would be willing to attend if fans were allowed. No, I’m simply sad. I’m not happy about missing race after race after race… but I am unhappy about this with the perspective these races are being postponed or cancelled with good and understandable reason.

    That said, I am happy that the series plans to run the race and I am very much looking forward to watching it. I expect many of the drivers to take it relatively easy in the race, much as they seemed to do from 2012-2015 at Texas.

  5. Mark Wick Says:

    I understand the necessity for IndyCar to confirm intentions to run this race, and run it in the way described. George, you make many valid points. Here are a couple of other concerns. What if it rains? If anyone is injured and needs local medical attention, what about the additional intermingling with local people that will require?
    Reopening activities and moving toward what used to be is a necessary testing of the waters, but when is too soon?
    With four weeks between now and this race, much could be learned, including that running this race, even as planned, on this date, may be too soon.

  6. Dave Sutton Says:

    You have many concerns and ALL are valid EXCEPT for the fact that all of the rookies participated in the Indycar Rookie oval test at TMS in Feb/Mar before the fun & games started. All passed and that would have allowed them to do the IMS test which of course was cancelled.

    You nailed everything except for the test, which wasn’t highly publicized!

  7. IndyCar fans make it really hard to be an IndyCar fan sometimes.

  8. Saskwatch Says:

    From the movie: Fix your little and problems, and LET’S LIGHT THIS CANDLE

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