Tinkering With the IndyCar Schedule

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We got official word this past Wednesday that the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series schedule has already been altered by the pandemic, long before the season has started. The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which has traditionally served as the season-opener for the past several years, has been moved from the original date of March 7 to April 25. The season will now kick off on April 11 at Barber Motorsports Park.

Personally, that suits me fine. I was not a fan of the five-week break that was scheduled to take place between the first and second races of the season. That would be like going out to dinner, getting the appetizer – then being told to go back home and then come back in two hours to eat your entrée. Now we don’t have to do that.

The thought is that Green Savoree Racing Promotions could not take another financial hit like they did last year. If you’ll recall, the pandemic hit with full force the week of last year’s season-opener at St. Petersburg. Practice was to commence on Friday morning, but the Wednesday and Thursday nights beforehand were filled with the cancellations of college basketball tournaments, spring training baseball games and the NBA and NHL seasons. NASCAR had already cancelled their race for that weekend, so IndyCar looked like the last sporting event holdout.

I’ll never forget that morning. It was Friday the thirteenth. I had to travel to one of our remote offices to lay off an employee. I was already an emotional wreck. I think there are some evil people out there that really enjoy firing people, but I’m not one of them. I’ve been on the other side of that desk and I know what it feels like. It exhausts me to fire someone. After that chore was done, I went to my car to go to my main office in Nashville. That’s when I got a group text from a couple of my racing buddies. They thought I had already heard the news that not only had St. Petersburg been cancelled, but so had COTA, Barber and Long Beach. The season would presumably open up with the Indianapolis 500 in May.

I will never forget my feeling that day. Not only had I just delivered devastating news to someone; the season-opener I had been counting down to for months was suddenly cancelled about an hour before the first practice. Little did I know what would be coming in the next few weeks and months.

My feelings probably didn’t come close to what Kim Green and Kevin Savoree were feeling. To build a track for a temporary street circuit takes weeks and costs millions. How many millions? I have no idea, but I know it’s a lot. That is why I couldn’t blame them for not giving refunds, when the event was cancelled. I think they honored some tickets when the race finally ran in October, then allowed the others to carry over to this year’s race. Still, they were looking at possible financial ruin. So with the spike in the pandemic numbers in early January, they decided the wise move would be to move the event back. With a March 7 race date, they probably had to start the track build in late January or early February at the latest. They needed to make a decision fairly soon and I think they made the right one.

Barber has the ability to be more flexible. The track is there for use twelve months a year. Nothing has to be converted over many weeks, like at a temporary street course. That’s why Long Beach made the decision it made prior to Christmas. They knew their April date would not work in a heavily restricted state like California, so they chose to make it the season finale in September.

So now, we have no giant gaps just after kicking off the season.

If I’m allowed to be selfish, I would have preferred if one of the rumors we kept hearing came to pass. For a while, the rumor mill said that St. Petersburg would be moved back to April 25, which did happen. But along with that, rumors had Barber moving back a week to April 18 to start the season. Why is that selfish? Because we always go to Barber and I want warm weather.

Each weekend in April makes a big difference weather-wise. For the last two or three years (before last year’s cancelled race), Barber has been the first weekend in April. Not only can it be a little cool then, spring usually doesn’t spring until mid-April. Barber in 2019 ran the weekend of April 3-5. Not only was it a little chilly, but the grass was brown and none of the famous azaleas or dogwoods that make that place so spectacular were blooming. It still looked like the dead of winter.

April 11 may look a little better, but April 18 may have been the perfect weekend. I know the thought is to always try to avoid Easter (April 4) and The Masters. But guess when The Masters is – April 8-11. They could avoid The Masters and take advantage of potentially warmer weather and the colors of spring.

What probably deterred IndyCar officials from going that route is the fact that the double-header at Texas will be looming just six days later. That would be a lot of travel over three straight weekends, heading into the Month of May. Still, as a fan I would much rather dive right into the schedule head-first, than wade into the water a little bit, then run back to shore and staying there until another race five weeks later.

I actually like the changes that have been made to the schedule so far, but make no mistake – I don’t want any more changes. More changes means that the Indianapolis 500 will be impacted, and I don’t want that. We fans put up with moving it to August just so some of us could go. When fans were excluded, I then wished that they had just run it in May with no fans, since fans were left out anyway. Moving it again to give everyone time to be vaccinated is a dicey proposition, in my book. We’ve seen a lot of mismanagement in the few short weeks it has been available. If you think everyone will be vaccinated by late summer – you are more trusting than I am.

So if IMS and IndyCar officials end up deciding between having the Indianapolis 500 with no fans or running it in late summer (most likely Labor Day, with a crowded August and the Olympics to work around) with fans being able to be vaccinated – my choice would be to run it as scheduled in May. As we saw last year, nothing is guaranteed for later with this virus.

George Phillips

3 Responses to “Tinkering With the IndyCar Schedule”

  1. I’m just hoping that we’ll be at the point where we don’t have to worry about significant (or even any) restrictions for Nashville in August

  2. billytheskink Says:

    I do not envy the folks whose job it is to suss out all of these schedule changes and potential rescheduling scenarios.

    I do plan to be at Texas in May.

  3. George do you know how lucky you are toiling with event changes this coming year? Where I live, we had 2 events a year, the IRL and ChampCar, now we have nothing and the future does not look good. Now the closest event is 1000 miles away for me. I hope the best for this coming season.

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