History Keeps Repeating Itself

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There is an old saying out there that conveys the message that those who ignore history, are doomed to repeat it. Every few years, the NTT IndyCar Series will figure out that it is not a good idea to hold an IndyCar race over the Independence Day weekend – that’s the Fourth of July weekend, for those that are historically challenged. But as soon as they learn the evils of not avoiding that weekend, they slip up and do it again. History just keeps repeating itself, in a never-ending cycle.

This weekend, the Honda 200 will be staged at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course near Lexington, Ohio on Sunday July 4. Mid-Ohio is traditionally run in early to mid-August. Last year’s race there was originally planned for August 16, before COVID forced a postponement to a double-header run over the Sep 12 weekend.

Last year, the GMR Grand Prix was held on Saturday July 4, but that was also as a result of COVID after the race in May was postponed for the pandemic. Last year was so crazy I can’t fault anyone for any scheduling snafus that occurred. But I’d like to know what the reasoning was to scheduling this race over the Fourth of July weekend. Was it to avoid the Olympics slated to run in late July and early August? Was this the idea of NBC, IndyCar or the track? I really don’t know, but history has shown that IndyCar races do not attract attendees or viewers over Independence Day.

From 2001 to 2006, IndyCar staged races at Kansas Speedway over the July 4 weekend. Although there was fantastic racing on-track, there were few fans in the crowds to witness it. They finally moved Kansas off of the Fourth weekend in 2007, but moved their date to late April or early May, when the temperature is not exactly balmy in the Kansas City area. A chilly day in 2010, when few showed up, was enough to convince Kansas Speedway (ISC) to pull the plug on IndyCar going forward.

Did IndyCar get the hint about avoiding the Independence Day weekend? Apparently not, because they slid Watkins Glen immediately into the slot vacated by Kansas. For four years, Watkins Glen suffered at the gate while voicing their displeasure over the date of their event. After the 2010 race that actually ran on the the Fourth of July, Watkins Glen went away for a few years.

By that time, things finally dawned on IndyCar that perhaps running races over the Independence Day weekend wasn’t such a good idea. For a year, the Fourth weekend was left open. But in 2012, Toronto was run over the Independence Day weekend. To me, that made sense because to Canadians, the Fourth is just another weekend. I guess it made too much sense,

In 2013, a new venue was coming onto the schedule for the first time since 1989 – Pocono. What better way to insure there be a huge crowd than to schedule it over the Fourth of July weekend? Pocono ran over the holiday weekend in 2013-14, to dismal crowds. Moving the race to August didn’t help a lot, but it helped some.

After 2014, the Independence Day weekend was avoided like the plague. IndyCar officials seemed to have finally learned their lesson that the Fourth is different from Memorial Day or Labor Day. It is the unofficial midpoint of summer and unlike those other holidays – it still sometimes falls in the middle of the week.

Lots and lots of people take off around the Fourth to make for a long weekend, no matter where it falls. A few hard-cores will want to spend a weekend at a track, but even a lot of die-hards will opt out for family time around the Fourth. The same goes for sponsors. While many sponsors and executives would love to be wined and dined at a track in June, late July or August – you’ll be hard-pressed to find many that are willing to give up their Fourth of July weekend to be entertained at a race track.

Why does it work for NASCAR and the race formally known as the Firecracker 400? NASCAR has a different fan base, and I’m not sure that it really does. Have you seen their attendance for that event the last few years? In fact, the race is scheduled this year for August. At least NASCAR had over sixty years of date-equity at Daytona for that race, before moving to August 28. This year, the Cup Series will race at Road America on July 4. It’ll be packed this year, because it is their first year to go there – but what about future races in this same slot?

I don’t pretend to know what hoops the schedule-makers have to go through to put a schedule together each year. I know that it’s tough, but the Olympics can’t dictate everything every four years. After being held in August for so many years, why was Mid-Ohio bumped to July 4? If it had to be in July, why not put Toronto over the US holiday weekend and Mid-Ohio in mid-July? Now that Toronto is cancelled for the second year in a row, we fans will go for over a month with no IndyCar races until the Music City Grand Prix on August 8, before two more races in a row. The spacing could be much better.

Some will say that no one knew that Toronto would cancel. Seriously? I think we all had doubts Toronto would run before the first of the year. I’m doubtful that Toronto will ever return, after missing two years. The race was popular with the locals in the nineties. With the city growing all around Exhibition Place and squeezing the track from all sides, I’m hearing that the locals no longer care for this event happening in their town anymore. But I digress. I’m talking about staging races over the Fourth weekend – not Toronto.

Sometimes conflicts cannot be avoided. I get that. But my opinion is that having a race over the Fourth of July weekend is something that should be avoided, and not pursued. IndyCar should concede that family cookout, get-togethers and fireworks carry more clout with a lot of fans than a holiday race weekend.

George Phillips

11 Responses to “History Keeps Repeating Itself”

  1. Yannick Says:

    It’s got to be avoiding the Olympics.

    Here’s hoping the Penske Organisation is fully aware of the fact that IndyCar has lost many, many venues even since before re-unification by shifting around their dates. Date equity is key.

    Sure, this and the previous year were different, but Mid-Ohio on the 4th of July and TMS in April? Really, that cannot be a longterm plan.

    When I first saw this year’s schedule, I was surprised by the huge break during August. The last time there was such a huge gap, that was about 10 years ago when Kentucky Speedway didn’t renew and their slot as the penultimate race of the season was left open.

  2. David : Fort Wayne Says:

    George there will be a huge crowed at Mid Ohio this weekend . I have been attending races at MO every year since 1971 and the Indy Car weekend has always been extremely well attended. I am going to camp (RV) on premises (carrousel turn) for the first time ever and have convinced my wife to accompany me in this experiment . I need good weather to have any chance of getting her to camp again. I think MO fans would attend a race on Christmas Day if the weather permitted . Now as for a live TV audience I think the ratings will suffer running the event on a holiday weekend but a lot of DVR’s will be in use. I don’t follow NASCAR so didn’t know they were racing at RA this weekend . As you well know RA is such a great venue the live spectator crowd will be big as well no matter the holiday. I attended a F1 race at IMS on the 4th one year and I think that was a mistake for that race at that venue as there is limited camping on site which I think is a big draw.

    I assume NBC had a great deal to do with the IndyCar calendar this year due to their Olympic coverage

    • Just to clarify I think a F1 race at IMS is a great idea but just not on a holiday weekend for reasons stated

  3. S0CSeven Says:

    Canada Day is July 1st. Most years, like this year, it overlaps with the July 4th holiday.

    • Yannick Says:

      Interesting. Maybe, it would be a suitable time slot for a future race in Mexico City then? But I guess it would be better to race there during early spring or late fall.

  4. Leslie Bissell Says:

    I live in Kansas City and I think there is a lot more to the lack of attendance at the Kansas race. The race was never properly promoted, no media attention, no ads and most people here never knew there was a race. Also, the track required fans to purchase season tickets which resulted in a lot of Nascar fans ending up with Indy Car tickets they did not use. That race was doomed from the start. The date was only one factor.

  5. Pete Van der Goore Says:

    I’ll be at MO Sat & Sun but my wife is pissed. I hoe they go back to August next year. The only saving grace is that the race is at Noon so I’ll be home in time for dinner.

  6. billytheskink Says:

    NBC’s commitment to showing the various Olympic trials and qualifiers further constrains TV time during these summer Olympic years. It is something Indycar will have to live with if they remain with NBC, unless they are willing to allow live races to be Peacock exclusives in the late summer. I suspect they are not, at least not at this time.

  7. smattiko Says:

    It’s why I’m not going and I only live 1.5 hours away. Was bummed when I saw it that weekend on calendar.

  8. Brent Blaine Says:

    I hope your wrong…we are going with our usual crew. Having the Monday Holiday as a “recovery day” is actually a benefit. Looking forward to a great weekend as the weather forecast looks perfect for the campers and the track schedule provides 3 days of non stop action.

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