The Good and the Bad of the 2021 Schedule

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The NTT IndyCar Series did a smart thing last week, when it released to 2021 schedule just hours before the first practice for the Harvest Grand Prix. They knew it wouldn’t be completely overlooked, but that fans had a race to pay attention to and they would mentally place the schedule on the back burner.

Still, it didn’t take long for the gnashing of teeth to start up.

I’ll admit, once I saw the schedule of seventeen races at thirteen different venue – it didn’t exactly send me into a happy dance. I also realize that this is not the best time to be setting up a schedule in any sport – much less a sport where venue availability is now a big question mark. But just because I understand something doesn’t mean I have to like it.

The first bone of contention among most fans is the dearth of ovals on the schedule. Remember back in the early nineties, when fans complained that only six of the sixteen races were on ovals? Well, those seem like the good old days today. In 2019, there were five ovals on the seventeen race schedule. This year, five ovals were originally scheduled, but due to the schedule shuffling that had to be done, we actually picked up an extra oval race through the magic of double-headers. Six of the fourteen races that will have taken place by the end of the truncated season will have been on ovals. It’s been a long time since 43% of the races in one season were run on ovals.

I’ll never forget the uproar when the 2010 IndyCar schedule was announced. That was the first time that the series that evolved from the old IRL dipped below 50% for ovals. The 2009 season had seventeen races and ten of them were on ovals. For 2010, only eight of the seventeen were oval races. To many that was a sacrilege. Looking back, it was a sign of things to come.

For 2021, there will be only three oval tracks on the schedule. Four oval races make up next year’s seventeen race schedule, because Texas will host a double-header. I don’t like double-headers being run on ovals, because the possibility of major crash damage exists. How many times have we seen a car get wadded up at Texas, where the remains of the car look like random car parts piled onto the back of a trailer? Sometimes it takes teams a few days to sort through the wreckage and put the car back together. In a double-header, they’ll have to do it in a matter of hours.

Many will complain about the safety aspect of a double-header at Texas. I’ve already seen comments made about people having a big sigh of relief after the Texas race. They know that their worries are over for another year. With a Texas twin-bill, their worries will be over until the next night, when they go at it all again.

One thing I do like about next year’s race at Texas is the date change. In the past, teams would go through the grueling Month of May, then immediately head to Detroit for the double-header at Belle Isle. Then they would turn around and head south to Texas just a few days later. By the time the Texas race would be done, teams, drivers and fans (and lowly bloggers) were ready for a break.

For 2021, the series will be coming off of a weekend off following the Long Beach race. Race One will take place on Saturday May 1 (I am assuming at night). Race Two will be on Sunday May 2 (I am assuming a day race). I like having an oval before Indianapolis, and the heat should not be near the factor that it can be in early-to-mid June.

I’m also glad to see many tracks going back to their traditional dates. Barber will be back in mid-April, hopefully warmer (and greener) than the last couple of years around the first of April. Inexplicably, St. Petersburg has been moved up a week to the first weekend in March. That means there is about a five-week gap between the opening race of the season and the second race. Are they saving room for another potential race to slide in? I hope so, because five weeks is way too long to wait after you just kicked off your season.

Long Beach is back where it should be, the week following Barber. Then the aforementioned double-header at Texas takes place two weeks later on May 1-2. It will be the first year for an event to take place in May before the Indianapolis 500, since São Paulo in 2013. The GMR Grand Prix will run on the IMS road course two weeks after Texas, followed by Indianapolis 500 qualifying and then the Indianapolis 500 on its most traditional date – May 30, the day it used to run every year, no matter which day of the week it fell on (except for Sunday, when it would be moved to Monday the 31st) .

The teams get a bit of a break after Indianapolis next season. The double-header at Belle Isle will run two weeks after the 500, while Road America will be the following weekend. I’m glad Road America will not be a double-header like it was this year. We were there and it just seemed like a rushed weekend. Still, we had fun just being there. I’m even more grateful that we went, seeing as how it turned out to be our one and only race all season.

Mid-Ohio will be two weeks later over the Fourth of July weekend. I’m not wild about that because that weekend can be iffy as far as attendance goes. It helps that Mid-Ohio is historically one of the best attended races on the schedule, but I remember when Watkins Glen ran over the Fourth weekend and that was date was sited as the reason for their demise at the time.

Just one week later, Toronto returns after being a COVID casualty this season. I might have allowed an extra week in there, just in case COVID is still around and delays international travel. With Mid-Ohio ending on Sunday and the first practice in Toronto is Friday, that doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room that is sometimes needed for international travel.

Almost a month will pass between Toronto and the race everyone has been talking about – the Music City Grand Prix. I can assure you, the weekend of August 6-8 has been circled on my calendar ever since we got confirmation of the event a few weeks ago. I cannot wait for the racing world to come to my city.

Just a few days after the inaugural race in Nashville, the series returns to IMS for a second run on the road course – this time sharing the facility with NASCAR for the second year in a row, hopefully with fans in 2021. I do not share everyone’s enthusiasm for this event. I will probably go, but watching it on TV this past July didn’t really do a lot for me as I felt like IndyCar was playing second-fiddle to NASCAR on the track that made IndyCar famous. This, to me, is not a must-see event – but I may be proven wrong on this. I hope so.

The following weekend, the series returns to Saturday night racing at Gateway for a single race event – as it should be. Hopefully crowd size limits will no longer exist by then, and fans can attend the Bommarito 500 in droves, like they did for the first three seasons back.

After Labor Day weekend, the series makes the final west coast swing at Portland and Laguna Seca. If COVID is no longer a thing, I think Portland will bounce back in a big way. I still have my doubts about Laguna Seca. Internal track politics have cast a cloud over that facility for a while. I’m not convinced that the IndyCar finale will take place at Monterey, as scheduled.

So there you have it – four oval races at three oval tracks, a huge gap between the first and second races of the season, an oval double-header in the Month of May before Indianapolis, a Fourth of July event, a short time before an international event and a new race in Nashville. Those are the highlights (and lowlights) of the 2021 IndyCar schedule.

What are your thoughts? Do the Legions of the Miserable have a legitimate gripe this time, or is this about the best we could expect coming off of such a disjointed season? Do you think any other events will be added or is this the final version? Were you surprised that Richmond fell back off without ever actually taking place? Do you see Kentucky being added at a later date? These are all legitimate questions that I doubt any of us have answers to. With no race this weekend, it can sure give us something to talk about for the next couple of weeks.

George Phillips

Please Note: I am taking a short break for this coming weekend. My two brothers and I (with spouses) are converging on my mother’s house this weekend with big rental trucks. She passed away in late July and we thought we had a contract on her house, but that fell through late yesterday afternoon. We are still moving ahead with an estate sale in November, so we have from Thursday through next Monday to clear everything we want out of the house to get ready for the sale. We moved into that house in January of 1964. That’s almost fifty-seven years of accumulated junk that we need to sort through. To say I am dreading the upcoming weekend would be an understatement.

Therefore, there will be no post here this Friday October 9 or next Monday Oct 12. I’ll return here one week from today (hopefully) on Wednesday Oct 14. – GP

13 Responses to “The Good and the Bad of the 2021 Schedule”

  1. Good luck with everything this weekend George.
    My father passed away last year and I’m still going through many of his belongings gathered throughout the years.

    My biggest upset is the neglect of the northeast. Hell if the Pocono oval isn’t safe. Run the road course version that IMSA and the 500CC Grand Prix bikes use to race in the 80s. There use to be many races in the Northeast. Trenton, New Hampshire, Nazareth, etc.

    I sometimes feel like I’m the only remaining Indycar fan in the northeast haha.

    I did book a hotel for Nashville. I can’t wait to take my girlfriend to her first Indycar race

  2. Leslie Bissell Says:

    Good luck this weekend George and continuing prayers for you and Susan.

    The new schedule is not perfect (has there ever been a perfect schedule?) but I trust that Mr. Penske has done the best he can with it. I am looking forward to it, especially to that race in Nashville!

  3. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    I don’t see why everyone is so upset about the lack of ovals. The truth is that except for Indy, Gateway and maybe Texas, no one attends. I would much rather see big crowds instead of sparse crowds. Time to get real and realize they don’t draw fans. Let’s go where IndyCar is wanted by the public.

  4. I’m bummed about the ovals but hopeful for future years that more will be added.

    I also agree completely about the August race at Indy. I don’t have a huge desire to go to a race in August and am especially not interested in sharing the weekend with NASCAR. I will most likely watch from home. My only concern when we learned that Roger bought the Speedway and IndyCar was that we might have more NASCAR to deal with. I’m just fine without it.

  5. I wouldn’t come within 100 miles of Portland after this year’s lawless display. IndyCar needs a NorthWest venue but it shouldn’t be Portland.

  6. James T Suel Says:

    Hope all goes well this weekend, and we are all praying 🙏 for Susan. Too few ovals for me. I do understand some of the problems, with ovals. But I do belive if the lessons from St. Louis were acted on we could have a few more successful oval races. A good event sponsor, a busy track schedule with other series running. I admit I am an old oval track lover, been around open wheel racing since the late 50s. All the best to you and Susan.

  7. billytheskink Says:

    Personally, I’m thrilled about the double header at Texas because I get to go to two Indycar races in one weekend. The date change should hopefully facilitate better racing as well, with cooler temperatures and more time to prep the track after the last NASCAR race.

    I too would like to see more oval races, but I understand that much of Indycar’s oval schedule is dictated by NASCAR’s moves, which closed Iowa and pushed Richmond. Even the Texas double header resulted from NASCAR’s desire to put a race at COTA and push the all-star race to Texas, which forced Texas to essentially swap their IndyCar and spring NASCAR dates and pushed IndyCar into a double header because NASCAR did not have a spot on the Truck Series schedule to continue along with the Indycar weekend. The series has made a good faith effort to add ovals (and fan favorite road courses too) over the past decade and I would expect to see that happen again. Here’s hoping for a Gateway-like revival for Iowa.

    I’m pretty optimistic about most of next season happening as scheduled, but I still have to think COVID-challenges could possibly push the schedule around. Long Beach, Laguna Seca, Portland, Toronto, and Detroit are races I would not be 100% about at this time. Roger Penske himself has said that double headers are on the table at Gateway and the IMS road course if need be. I would add Road America and Mid-Ohio to that list too.

    And I pray for a smooth and peaceful weekend with little stress for you and your brothers, George. Prayers for you and for Susan as well.

  8. Victor A Lovisa Says:

    Though I’m happy for the drivers and teams that they get a week off after the ‘500’ this year, I’m bummed because IMSA is staying with their traditional Belle Isle date. Therefore, I won’t get to see both when I attend the IndyCar Detroit Grand Prix. It was a real bonus getting to see the sports cars open up for the IndyCars every year up there.

  9. I had hoped to get back to COTA this year or next to see IndyCar this time. I enjoyed my visit their for the inaugural F1 race. At least we have a schedule and it sounds like the series has plans for alternative locations if need be.

    I do not envy you and your family, George, having to clean out your childhood home. I hope you find some treasures. I look around at all the many things I have accumulated and wondered who will want them when I leave the Earth. I am ready to start downsizing collections, just not my racing things just yet. LOL

    Give my best to Susan.

  10. 1. we always enjoy Oil Pressure. enjoy (?) your break.
    2. wife and i have “cleaned house” for both our parents.
    3. time to start with our house… i threw out 14 t-shirts this week.
    wife discarded 6 pairs of shoes. steady as she goes.

  11. All the best to you and your wife. Thanks for continuing to write this blog.

    Regarding the schedule, it makes me think of how the Series had the best schedules since 1995 in 2018 and 2019. It’s a case of it was good while it lasted, I guess.

    Looks like the 17-race 14-track schedule is the best that was possible at this time while people’s main concern all over the world still is staying healthy in combination with making a living.

    So it is no surprise at all that Indyar focuses on its established core markets this time, only branching out ino Nashville where they will likely be welcomed with open arms.

    Given the statistical situation surrounding the plague, it’s actually surprised me that even one street race is now getting the Go for 2020 in the season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.
    From that perspective, I find all street races on the 2021 schedule somewhat doubtful.

    That would leave an 11-race season on just 9 different tracks.
    Bemoaning the absence of any particular venue with this backdrop seems rather irrelevant, but I’ll try:

    COTA has been an amazing race in 2019. IndyCar definitely belongs there. Due to the size of the facility, it would have worked with fans in attendance even this year but it wasn’t to be. Eddie Gossage and SMI of Texaas Motor Speedway will be pleased that their perceived competition is off the schedule. They might be the only ones, though.

    Yet, you’ve got to tip the hat to Eddie Gossage for hosting and promoting an IndyCar event through good times and bad throughout the years. Personally, I never really cared for TMS except that one night some 10 years ago that I actually stayed up until 3 a.m. here in Europe to watch Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti battle it out for P2 and P3 live on a webstream. That happened when when the natural wear had created track conditions at the place that were the most favorable for open-wheelers that this place has ever had. Since the, renovation and reconstruction has happened again and again, gradually worsening TMS for IndyCars every year, which culminated in the sticky goo that was present on the surface this year.
    In spite of al this and me not liking it much, TMS has been a valuable cornerstone of the Series’ schedule for decades now, and deservedly so. It gives fans a glimpse into how racing was like in the late 90s and 2000s because it provides a different kind of racing than what IndyCar largely presents today, and thus offers the kind of variety this series is famous for. TMS is an important part of the Series’ history, too, having been an IRL mainstay since the mid-90s and being the place where CART got dizzy.
    Given all of this, I find it bewildering that IndyCar is dealing TMS a change of date now for next year, considering date equity usually is paramount for these kind of events. After all, IndyCar has got a history of venues dropping off the schedule soon after drastic date changes. The Penske organisation should not continue this tradition from the George organisation.
    So TMS takes over the date of COTA whilst NASCAR runs at COTA instead. We’ll see how that turns out. But I now already that I won’t waste two good nights of sleep on it.

    IndyCars doing short track racing has always been amazing to watch. As much as I enjoy watching races from undulating road courses like Elkhart Lake, Mid-Ohio or Laguna Seca, watching those drivers navigate traffic on a short track is something special. It’s just too bad that there aren’t much suitable short tracks around anymore. With Newton, Iowa and the Milwaukee Mile and Pikes Peak International Speedway all sitting idle, Richmond International Raceway would have been a welcome addition. But its NASCAR owned parent company ISC has a history of seeing IndyCar as competition and fighting its competition by driving it out of their venues and keeping it out of their own. You’ve got to give Randy Bernard credit for realizing this and kicking ISC to the c*rb, bringing back Pocono and Elkhart Lake in the process, even if it also meant going to Las Vegas. When NASCAR bought Iowa Speedway, the end of IndyCar there was already in sight, given NASCAR’s strategy in their quest for domination of the market. And now, they’ve got a foot in the door, if not more, with Cup races at COTA and at Elkhart Lake. And NASCAR is destroying the place of the worldwide closed circuit speed record at Fontana, transforming it into a track that’s too short for IndyCars. What a blow to future schedules.
    I guess we will see when the economy has recovered enough again for IndyCar to expand its schedule again. Until then, it looks like double headers are here to stay.

    If street races would be called off for health reasons in 2021, there might be another Harvest Grand Prix. That event was fun to watch this year, as was NASCAR’s visit to the Daytona road course. May everybody stay healthy and safe. That would be the best scenario, also for motor sports in general because being healthy and safe enables people to have time for other interests besides the bare necessities. And then, it also becomes possible again to grow a sport. To the Northeast, to the Northwest, to Chicago, to Canada even.

  12. I hope that your brothers celebrated you on your birthday.

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