Sunday, August 30, 2009

On Moving the 500 start time and 2011

This weekend Tim Cindric and Michael Andretti offered suggestions that the 500 should be moved back to it’s original 11 am local time. In order to potentially persuade other (read: nascar drivers) to participate and get a ratings bump. Some die hard traditionalists insist that the ratings decline for the race is a result of the time change, which is not a fair representation of the data. The decline began 20 years ago and accelerated when the split began to marginalize the event and the series. The start time is not the primary root of all evil issue, some people just don’t like seeing their cheese moved.

The first thing to mention here is that the 11 am start time from 20 years ago is not the 11 am start time of today. Indiana got with the rest of the country a couple years ago and finally went to Daylight savings time. In the olden days an 11am Indianapolis start meant a noon NY start, an 11 am Chicago start and a 9 am LA time. To match those local start times for the daylight savings time era would mean starting at noon. Starting at 11 with DST means a 8am west coast start time that probably hurts ratings more than helping…

Keep in mind that the 500 isn’t the only race to have changed it’s time. The 600 would also need to slide back an hour to really make cross pollination possible.

As for how much cross pollination would actually occur?? My guess is 3 – 4 drivers actually pull the trigger at best. I am sure John Andretti would give it a try, though his near miss on qualifying this year may scare him away from taking risks with Richard Petty’s reputation. I definitely think you could get Hornish and JPM back and for the teams the drove for in the day and now drive for in nascar. As part of the centennial celebration they NEED to be here in 2011 (I list a couple others down below…). Then I think you could get AJ Allmendinger interested, he is after all an Open wheel guy. The old boy open wheel roots racin’ boys of Tony Stewart and Robbie Gordon might give it a go. The wild card, go figure, might be Kyle Busch.

Past that, I just don’t see it. The two forms of racing are simply too different for guys to try to pick up in a couple weeks time. These guys are too proud to go out on race day, run a few uncompetitive laps and park it before things go wrong. Don’t be snowed by the PC answers that drivers like Junior or Jimmie Johnson give – sure they’d “Love” to but they are simply not trying to offend anyone. That is the approved response to that question from the secret book of nascar sanctioned canned responses. A more complete and patronizing response is given by Jeff Gordon when he says he “respects these guys and what they do” too much to try to do it himself in a way that cheapens what they do.

One thing I would love to see as part of the 2011 race and celebration is to expand the field from 33 to 40. There were 40 participants in the original 2011 race and this one time only expansion would allow, for lack of a better description Honorary “provisionals” that would flesh the field out with all capable and available drivers who were a part of making the race and the series what it is today. A legacy stipend of $500k could be made available for down on their luck guys to find rides.

Seven spots and seven drivers. Here is my list.
Past winners: Hornish, JPM, Rice and Lazier. (This list might expand if some one like Wheldon falls on hard times between now and then)
Heroes of the Split: Tracy and Bourdais. Tracy is the most important open wheel driver of the past 20 years to have never (officially!?!?) won the race. Seabass was to Champ Car what Hornish was to the IRL. Both being the most accomplished drivers from either series to never race in a unified series. Unfortunately for AOW, both jumped ship the year before unification into greener pastures that weren’t available in AOW at the time.
And finally Tony Stewart - the local boy who left for greener pastures.

I would also think about having a couple extra pace car drivers for the 2011 event. This would be a way to honor people for what they have accomplished or what they have meant.

My three: AJ Foyt, Alex Zanardi and Jeff Gordon. Foyt is obvious, on that day it is possible that he could again be matched or potentially passed, but he was first. The second two never got the chance to participate in the race. Alex Zanardi is one of the most inspiring stories for a driver ever associated with AOW racing, he deserves the ovation he would receive. Jeff Gordon casts a long shadow over the series to this day, what might have been and why things are what they are. He will likely never race in the race he so wanted to race in when he was a young man, but the chance to pace the event on it’s 100th anniversary would say a lot.

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