Monday, July 6, 2009

Thoughts on a Looming IMS and ISC Throwdown….

So when I went to bed a week and a half ago I had been reading about the schedule for 2010 and all the buzz was about the split between ovals. It looked like Milwaukee was gone due to a bad promoter, Brazil was on, Barber had some details to work out. The yearly Louden watch came and went without inclusion and Cleveland “Didn’t have enough community support”.

When I woke up this morning and began reading Cavin’s IRL Notebook, I started thinking – what the hell? Two races in Brazil, Cleveland was back on the map, the SMI double play of Louden and Vegas were on the table and a date was graciously being held for Milwaukee “If things worked out”.

SO what happened in a week and a half? Well, last Tuesday June 30, the IRL sat down with ISC to talk about the 2010 schedule and how the ISC tracks fit into it. I take it Mr Angstadt, those discussions did not go well. Five ISC tracks on the schedule and 5 tracks that seemed off the radar last week. I admit, I am only reading tea leaves but this is too convenient for coincidence…

I’m going to go over a little bit of history that most of us know just to serve as a reminder and to put some of my coming contents into context.

We all remember the mid nineties when the France family and ISC helped convince a seemingly gullible President of the IMS to take a family squabble with CART owners public and break away to start a new series – “heck we’re building lots of new tracks and you boys are welcome to come and race on them any time, we’d love to have ya!”

As much as that event has led Open wheel into the current situation and as much as our take on that event still splits us into two bickering factions, another day looms as large. In 1999, during the height of the split, the ISC bought out Roger Penske’s tracks. We all know the business man Roger is so the reason must have been made out of financial necessity. Perhaps there were threats related to those tracks never hosting nascar dates. The prospects of maintaining facilities for a single race each year for a sport in disarray probably was a red ink proposition. After IMS and Milwaukee those tracks (Michigan, Nazareth and Phoenix) were our heritage, our bread and butter.

Over the time that has passed, the ISC plan now seems apparent, close down Nazareth (if you are ever flying from indy to NYC LaGuardia, on a clear day sitting on the left side of the plane you can see it sitting there - a hollow shell of itself), make only rotten dates available at Phoenix (my favorite race of all time was watching Nigel and Tracy joust on that track, it was the day I knew beyond convincing the best races in the sport were indy cars on flat 1 mile ovals) and then the recent debates and loss of Michigan, again over dates. Throw in the purchase of Pikes Peak for no other reason than to close it down, and place a poison pill into the sales agreement to new owners so that they could never host and IRL race if they wanted to. All this resulting in leaving the IRL to race on the ISC’s most marginal of tracks, the tracks that needed extra shows to be profitable.

The ISC plan was simple - divide, extract assets, and then marginalize what was left. The only thing that the ISC did not anticipate: That no matter how much we bitch about the details of our sport and who’s at fault for the split and the current situation, we will never settle for their watered down, orchestrated farce of a sport. EVER. We are still here and we still want to see races.

Back to today and the schedule. For over a year now I had hoped that perhaps the IMS would take off the gloves and go after ISC and play the same games with them that they play with us. Hmmm SO We can race at Phoenix in July and at Michigan in March…What if we moved the Brickyard to…January. After the fiasco at last year’s Brickyard it seemed the time to stake that position was at hand.

The force of the argument probably has been watered down with the duds at Kansas and Richmond. But I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall last Tuesday to know exactly what happened, I hope it’s the case that the IRL put its foot down on dates and tracks or higher sanctioning fees and not a case of the ISC going for the kill shot by finally positioning us off of all of their tracks (rumors of a Fall date at the Glen? Bring a sweater).

In the mean time, my curiosity grows as to what the new schedule will bring. It certainly appears that a closer relationship with Smith and Gossage at SMI is at hand. Given their history with ISC and ongoing tense relationship over cup dates, this might be a case of your rival is my enemy – let’s work together. New Hampshire is a flat one mile oval (did I mention what the best combination of cars and tracks were in all of racing???) Las Vegas nicely slides into the Homestead slot and the awards banquet can stay in town the following week.

It would not surprise me to see Milwaukee back on the schedule next year. Perhaps the current promoter will admit defeat, declare bankruptcy in time for the state fair board to ink an agreement with a new promoter to handle all events or perhaps the IRL or an affiliated member of the series with some experience promoting events (READ – AGR) can step in for a one year transition.

Cleveland is Cleveland – from a racing perspective, the best temporary circuit ever planned. AND I am incredibly fascinated to see what a completely flat, wall-less 1 mile oval might look like…

And for Brazil, I have always held that if some one wants you to come race and they can pay the freight with a chunk of change left over for all the teams to share – let’s go for it. The time zones are right. Add in that the home crowd will get to see some of their heroes race on a big stage in person and you can guarantee big turnouts. If there are two races perhaps there is an oval down there somewhere (I recall once upon a time – wasn’t there an oval down there that one of the series raced on). Another benefit here – it will be a while before the IRL is anything other than #2 in the US or the world as a whole, but if you can carve out some places where you are #1, then that will help you from a sponsorship perspective. We have a chance in Brazil and Canada to do just that.

Perhaps when the schedule comes out it will be the same but the sanctioning fees will have risen with the ISC tracks by 20% or perhaps it will have Homestead out and Phoenix in, a date will open up for Michigan…I can always dream. But I hope we have finally figured out that we need to keep our business in house and play hard ball with the real villains…

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