Random Thoughts on Nashville

Based on what I’ve read on social media, there were not a lot of kind things said about the racing that took place in yesterday’s (last night’s) Big Machine Music City Grand Prix. When I first heard the 4:30 pm starting time, I figured the race would be over well before dark. When I learned that there would only be eighty laps run over the 2.17 mile circuit, I feared in might only take an hour and a half to run the race. Silly me.

When you factor in nine caution periods, along with two red-flag periods – which is exactly what happened yesterday, you can see why Marcus Ericsson was celebrating his win under the nighttime sky.

In the post-race press conference, someone asked third-place finisher James Hinchcliffe what changes he would make to the track for next year. Without batting an eye, he immediately responded with “…throw some lights up and run it on Saturday night”. That produced a few chuckles from the media, but Hinch kept a straight face and said he was dead-serious. That would certainly take care of the heat problem.

The big debate from what I’ve heard from the drivers and what I have been reading on social media is – does the track need changing, or do the drivers need to learn how to drive the track better. To the three podium finishers that were in last night’s press conference, there is no debate. Those that got caught up in some of the melees, were the recipient of moves by impatient drivers. To those on social media, the track is way too tight and must undergo a complete makeover. I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Scott Dixon seemed convinced that the issues bringing out most of the yellows were the fault of the drivers, not the track. I’m not a driver, so I have no way of knowing. But as tight as the track looked, much bigger cars from different support series were able to navigate the track fine, without bringing out nine yellows in their respective races.

Whatever the case, I was sorry the fans that came out in droves were treated to a race that had no flow or rhythm to it. I had a few co-workers text me from their homes during the race, one of which was my boss. For most of them, this was their first time to watch an IndyCar race. They tuned in yesterday mostly out of curiosity and to see what I’ve been talking about for years. More than one asked if there are always this many crashes in IndyCar races. They were surprised when I responded that sometimes they have none. From what I could tell, none of them were impressed with the racing they saw.

That’s a shame, because new events bring new potential fans. You want the first race to be really special. I think most fans that came this weekend had fun, but they probably left the grounds more than a little confused on what they saw in a race that lasted until 7:30, with daylight becoming a precious commodity.

TV Coverage: While we have not seen the race broadcast yet, we did go home and watch the archived practices and qualifying each night on Peacock. That’s one of the many advantages of having a race in your hometown. I thought Kevin Lee did a great job subbing for Leigh Diffey, who has been in Tokyo broadcasting the Olympics for NBC. Then again, you can put me in the camp of thinking that Kevin Lee should get the job permanently, if Diffey ever grows tired of the gig.

Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy seemed suitably impressed with Nashville and the track, although that may have changed over yesterday’s race. On a side note, I sure wish Tracy could learn how to pronounce Romain Grosjean.

We plan to watch the broadcast over the next couple of nights. If I come across any major flubs, I’ll discuss it later.

The Event: This section, I’ll divide into three sub-sections; What the promoter did right, what there needs to be more of next year and what there needs to be less of.

What They Did Right: The organizers of the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix did a lot of things right, especially for a first-time event. First of all, they did a great job of promoting the weekend. Keep in mind, at this time last year – this event had not even been announced. Not only did they do a good job promoting it locally; they were very successful in promoting it throughout the IndyCar community for the past eleven months. An event that had not even turned a wheel was suddenly a destination event for IndyCar fans everywhere. This wasn’t just due to Nashville’s reputation as a fun city. Event organizers properly promoted this race throughout the offseason and the pandemic.

They also did a good job of bringing in the various support races. I’m a proponent of the Road to Indy, but a lot of fans have trouble knowing one open-wheel ladder series from the other. The Trans Am series, the GT America series and Robby Gordon’s Super Trucks were on-track all weekend, keeping fans entertained while the NTT IndyCar Series was not on-track. It might be good to at least see Indy Lights next year.

There was no shortage of concessions. I was surprised to see many of the stands in the football stadium open for full business. You could find whatever your heart desired in the stadium – both for food and beverage. That counts alcoholic beverages too, and not just beer. There were full cocktail bars available for whatever you wanted. On the paddock side, there were fully erected concession stands, as well as a full assortment of food trucks. As long as you had the money to spend, you had no excuses if you went away hungry or thirsty this weekend.

A month ago, I wasn’t sure about this track. But after this weekend, I was in the camp as one who thought they got the track right. And then the race started. Is the course tight? You bet. Does it need some tweaking? Sure, especially the pit exit and the Turns Four through Eight complex. But a lot of the carnage was on the drivers, as well.

If I was going to change one thing, I think the starting line for all restarts should take place coming off the bridge, before they get to Turn Nine – like they did to start the race.

What They Need More of Next Year: First of all, they need an abundance of trash cans. On Friday, there were none to be found. Saturday and Sunday there were a few more scattered throughout the grounds, but many of them were overflowing. I don’t know if this is traced back to staffing shortages everywhere, or if this was just a simple oversight for a first-time event. With the amount of spectators on hand each day – this needs to be high on the priority list for next year.

There was a tremendous shortage of video boards around the course. There was only one along the main straightaway, and it was at the south end, facing the stadium. If you were on the pit side, like we were – you were out of luck. That was one common complaint I heard from fans throughout the weekend.

There is also a need for more pedestrian footbridges. I realize this is a temporary facility and these things are probably not cheap to put up. But unless the track is cold and you know the few places where you can cross (we crossed the track once the entire weekend) everyone is directed across the one pedestrian footbridge that crosses over the pit exit section of the track. Everyone, and I mean everyone had to use the one bridge that connected the stadium side to the rest of the paddock and pit area. We walked directly behind Chip Ganassi on Sunday and saw Roger Penske on the bridge on Friday. Oddly enough – no one seemed to have a clue who they were. Another bridge in the Turn Eleven section would alleviate a lot of traffic and needless walking.

As a Nashville resident, I am a little disappointed in the overall attitude of the event staff. This is the third inaugural event we have covered; with Barber (2010) and NOLA (2015) being the other two. At both of those events, the staff at the gates, concessions and everyone a fan came in contact with, went out of their way to make sure all guests were greeted warmly. Say what you want about NOLA, but their volunteer staff were extremely friendly and helpful. In short, both venues were flowing with southern hospitality.

I wasn’t feeling the warm and fuzzies in my own hometown. I did not see an abundance of customer service this past weekend. The staff seemed more concerned with catching people doing something they weren’t supposed to do, rather than helping them. I was hoping the staff would kill all the guests with kindness. That didn’t happen, in my opinion. There were a few that were friendly and helpful, but that was the exception – not the rule.

What They Need Less of Next Year: This is simple – fewer overzealous security guards that don’t know the procedures. A lot of the traffic flow is pointless and awkward. We spend a lot of time visiting with friends in the Honda Hospitality coach at each race. Friday and Saturday, we walked past a gate where fans were being directed through metal detectors. We also went through metal detectors each morning and were given different colored wristbands to indicate we had been scanned for the day.

After leaving Honda on Sunday, we were casually walking past the metal detectors – as we had on Friday and Saturday – when a security guard stopped us and told us we had to be scanned. We showed him our wristbands, but it didn’t matter. We showed him our media credentials, but it didn’t matter. Our subsequent protests didn’t matter either. He would have none of it. It also happened that a tour bus had just dropped a bus load off at the gate. We were forced to go to the very back of the line where they were searching everyone’s bags. It took over twenty minutes of standing in line on blacktop in the heat, to prove what our wristbands already said – we had been previously scanned and were carrying no weapons.

That was the worst of several situations we encountered like that through the weekend, but others had worse experiences. We would go through one gate with a simple nod at our credentials. We would go through the same gate an hour later, and we would be turned away by a different guard with an attitude. There was absolutely no consistency among any of the staff for any protocol or procedures. Their answer was always the same  – a very dismissive "I’m just doing my job". The problem was, they didn’t know their job.

It seemed that those wearing Atlas Security uniforms (like our "friend" at the metal detectors) were the least informed and the most arrogant. Some of them were armed and were happy to let you see that. I was talking to a photographer after the race, who witnessed one of his colleagues (wearing the proper credentials and photographers vest) who was shooting through a photo "hole" to shoot the track, when one of the Atlas guards came up and told him to leave the area. He showed him his credentials, but he was insistent. It quickly turned to a battle of wills, but when the guard put his hand on his holstered gun, his buddy felt like no camera shot was that important. Although the photographer had every right to be there, the incorrectly informed guard got his way.

To sum it up, many fans and media felt bullied by a staff that really had no clue what they were doing.

This sounds like I’m griping about the event and I’m not. The promoters did an outstanding job pulling this off as well as they did. No event of this magnitude is going to come off perfectly – especially in the first year. My hope is that someone with the event will read this and take it as constructive criticism for future years.

The Points Battle: Points leader Alex Palou did not have a great day yesterday, but it could have been a lot worse. With his grid penalty, he started ninth after qualifying third. He was rather quiet all day, but managed to finish seventh. The good news for Palou was that his closest rival, Pato O’Ward, had a worse day and finished thirteenth. With Scott Dixon finishing second, Dixon jumped ahead of O’Ward in the points battle and is now only forty-two points behind Palou.

O’Ward is still close behind, trailing Palou by forty-eight points. Josef Newgarden finished tenth yesterday and needs a lot of help, trailing Palou by seventy-five points. With Marcus Ericsson winning yesterday, he is now only four points behind Newgarden. The remaining five races are going to be fascinating to watch unfold. My money is still where I said the championship would land before the season started – with Scott Dixon.

All in All: The Music City Grand Prix was a big success any way you look at it, regardless of how the race ran. Sometimes, that just happens. I only hope the fans that came or tuned in for the first time realize that. The first one was a rousing success. But will they come back for years two and three and so forth? They certainly need to make a few changes next year, but I think the majority of the changes that need to be made are off the track.

I was proud of my hometown coming out to support the race, and I was proud of how IndyCar treated this race. Let’s just hope the continue to tweak things and this event continues to get better and better.

George Phillips

13 Responses to “Random Thoughts on Nashville”

  1. I agree with your comments about the security guards and some of the volunteers. I was actually told I couldn’t walk under the grandstand to the stairs leading to my section. Wasn’t sure hjow I wa s supposed to get there.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    It was definitely one of the messiest races I’ve seen, though probably not unprecedently so (Toronto 2011, anyone?). While the drivers bear responsibility for that much more so than the track, the track’s tightness is especially unforgiving (and I think the number of single car incidents this weekend bears that out). I do not think the lack of incidents with the larger support cars is an especially apt comparison, as the drivers of those cars are not racing at the speeds or with the stakes that the Indycar drivers are (and also, none of the other series at Nashville had Will Power in the field).

    That said, the race was certainly not boring and the cars racing across the bridge was as great a visual as I imagined. I cannot say I was rooting for Ericsson after he ran over the back of Bourdais, but he was penalized as the rules state and overcame that to win, so I also cannot say it was an deserved victory.

  3. weddle74 Says:

    Excellent post. You covered most everything. My biggest complaint was that my grandstand (6) wasn’t completed until Sunday morning. Then on top of that they mislabeled the rows in our section which caused a big mess right before the Indycar race was about to begin. We checked out many of the grandstands over the weekend and determined that only one of them offered a decent view. We did have a great time though and are already looking forward to year 2.

  4. The bridge section was great

  5. Shyam Cherupalla Says:

    They should replace the turn 4-8 complex where the cars come from korean bridge to left Hermitage/1st ave-right to narrow 1st Ave So-left to peabody and back left to Hermitage, with Korean bridge to left at 2nd Ave left to Peabody all the way to Hermitage Ave for the left before the circuit makes the right turn back to Korean vererans bridge. Also they should consider widening the Russell st and S. 2nd street in the stadium complex (I don’t know how they will do it), the narrowness contributed to so many accidents there plus over exuberant drivers. And George I agree the start/finish line also should be somewhere at the bridge or perhaps the road that is the segment between turns 9 and 10 with the entry to pit lane on that same road but following the course to where the cars were pitted this year

  6. Oliver W Says:

    I feel Tony Cotman’s legacy here depends on the changes made for next year.

    • Shyam Cherupalla Says:

      I respect Tony Cotman very much, however, I think there is a general acceptance to have a not so perfect track between Tony, organizers and Indy. I mean we all knew as soon as we saw the track or even before the race looking at google maps of the roads that might be used as part of the track that its going to be narrow. The fact they try to put on a race knowing that it will be a narrow track, not so many passing zones and not so many escape roads and knowing that it will be a deficient product going in is what I cant understand and I feel that there is not much respect given to fans, and drivers. Its up to fans to accept it and for drivers to make it work despite it being not even an average circuit. They are going to look at it and make improvements are the comments post race, but I dont expect they will change anything for next year.

  7. The aerials were amazing…maybe make the after-bridge complex just a Long Beach style hairpin?

    “It quickly turned to a battle of wills, but when the guard put his hand on his holstered gun, his buddy felt like no camera shot was that important. Although the photographer had every right to be there, the incorrectly informed guard got his way.”

    Thanks for letting everyone knows this happened, it seems, at best, beyond authority for a private security guard to do?

  8. Indycar might have some new fans.
    the NASCAR crowd we were with
    enjoyed the race on TV.
    as they say: Rubbin’ is Racin’.

  9. jollinger Says:

    I watched it on TV. On the one hand it was a big debacle, and I would have traded the final red flag for a yellow-flag-finish. And I’m having a lot of trouble swallowing the idea that someone can be in a wreck at the beginning, serve penalties, and still win.

    Still in all, I want an unpredictable race that’s what I got, and in that respect I was thrilled. I don’t like dominant, pole-to-pole finishes. If Herta had managed to get the lead back on the last lap, I could have accepted it, but to be honest I was thrilled when he took himself out late in the race. By far my biggest problem with modern F1 is that all to often, whomever leads at Turn 1 on Lap 1 wins.

  10. I hate when the rules apply differently at different times. At least IMS seems to have that together MOST of the time! The event was great for me though, I mean I think the track needs a little work and some fine tuning, people comparing it to NOLA though and all that. Some “fans” just want to watch the series fail.

  11. Great write up George. Interesting to hear your first hand comments. I had to watch this one on TV and I loved the course layout. Definitely needs some tweaking but I like the teams having to choose between low downforce for the bridge or high downforce for the twisty sections. It was fascinating to watch Herta being all over Ericsson but just not being able to get by because of the way each car made it’s lap time. I was hoping Herta would be able to get it done but watching his effort made the race for me. I am getting a little tired of watching cars obliterate their opponents, getting a penalty, and then coming back to win anyway. It was a great drive by Ericsson AFTER his little mistake at the beginning. I’m just not sure the penalty is stiff enough if you can still win after pulling a move like that. That’s a little too “Nascar-y” for me.

  12. I watched from my couch and I was entertained. Herta is quick, but has a lot to learn about winning a championship. Reminds me of where a certain Red Bull driver a couple years ago.

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