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.

Some Post Chicago Thoughts

But not many – it’s LATE!

Briscoe seizes the moment…

I mentioned in last week’s post that if Briscoe could get a 53 point play in one of the last three races, he would have a strangle hold on the championship as that would put Dixon 33 points behind. Ryan managed to accomplish that in the first race. The race for the championship is not over but Ryan has staked his claim. If he can keep his car off the wall, Ryan has pretty much forced Scott to win the next two races. I would be more bullish on Dario if at least one of the last two races were on a road or street circuit.

While both Motegi and Homestead are mile and a half they are not the same cookie cutter D shaped tracks as Kan, TX, Chi and KY. Motegi is a more like a larger version of Milwaukee with one end tighter than the other. Homestead is like a longer Milwaukee with higher banking in the corners. So the point is that both are unique to the series and getting the setups right will be a factor in both of these races.

Other teams are getting closer…

Yes the red cars won, but Rahal and Moraes were tight there at the end. It may not happen this year but the Transition teams are closing in on their first oval win in the IRL. Some sponsorship cash for both to fuel improvement and we could have a “big four” soon which would be a welcome sight.

Boy that place looked empty…

The night race might look good on TV but a cool spell and a very late start appeared to kill the attendance. IndyCar really needs to think about pressuring ISC to de- couple the IndyCar race from the nascar season ticket. Even though more tickets may be sold as part of a package, a house that empty is a problem. In large part, that speedway and race exist so many of the Chicago based sponsors can have a home race, but I am not sure those empty seats do much to impress the sponsors.

If in future years that race avoids MotoGP weekend, enough Indianapolis fans and those displaced by the loss of Milwaukee would likely bring a bigger crowd than we saw today. If ISC is worried about gate revenue from the loss of “forced” ticket sales to the nascar faithful then they simply need to up the prices on the cup dates. For the nascar faithful the IndyCar race is like an NFL pre season game – some thing that they don’t want to pay for but are forced to pay for to get the races they actually want. The tickets then become scrap paper for the nascar fans and tedious to obtain for the IndyCar fans that really want to attend the event.

When the race lineup is prettier than the start.

Struck me on more than one occasion that during the race, cars were lining up 2 by 2 formation much better than they actually do to start the race. Perhaps Mr Barnhart can figure out how that happens it and bottle it for the beginnings of races.

Was this a rerun??

I don't mean this next thought to indicate that this evening's race was not enjoyable nor marketable to a viewership audience. Rather read it to mean that I like the variety of racing that comes with oval courses of different shapes and sizes and the road courses and street circuits that deliver a compelling race on a given Sunday...

I may have my head handed to me here by some of my readers, and I hate to go Robin Miller on you, but it strikes me that I have seen this race before. In many ways the race this evening might have well been the Kentucky race from earlier this season. Taking this one step further, it seemed to be a carbon copy of most of the previous Chicago races from years past.

The races at the cookie cutter mile and halfs certainly create close racing and finishes, but sometimes I struggle with the idea that the final finishing order depends on who gets a draft at the right moment or who gets an aero bump from behind. Starts seeming too much like nascar - Drivers in identical cars running flat out hoping to catch a tow. To me races should test the skills of the driver and involve driver skills of shifting and lifting. Of course, races on those types of ovals tend to separate the men from the boys (and yes women from girls) and the racing doesn’t seem so competitive or compelling on TV.

I remember a race from many years ago that involved Paul Tracy and Nigel Mansell at Phoenix. Still today it sits in my memory as the best race I have ever seen. The two traded the lead over and over, not running side by side with one guy edging forward on one part of the track and the other on another part, but actually having lead changes where one guy fell behind and got behind the other only to come back the next lap and take the lead back.

Perhaps I just miss Phoenix, Nazareth and soon to be Milwaukee – bear with me please…

Chris Estrada has a Post on this issue at his site. View Post

Congratulations JR!!!

JR Hildebrand closed out the Firestone Indy Lights championship today with one race to spare. After a bad qualification run and only needing to finish 13th to close the championship, he steadily worked his way through the field showing maturity and avoiding mishap to finish fifth and claim the crown.

As with other Lights champions of years gone by, It seems landing a ride in the big cars next year might be a challenge for JR. Michael and Gary – If you can’t take him on in the IndyCar series next year – give the kid a reward for his work and success – Run a Fifth car at Homestead with the AFS livery. Let JR have the chance to show his prowess to the rest of the paddock and to potential sponsors. In theory, the Atlantics champ is getting a Million dollar prize to take to a ride at the next level – A ride at Homestead would be a great reward for a guy who out classed his competition this year…

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Random Infineon Thoughts

SO much for Infine-Yawn at Snore-noma…

As much as track design and configuration plays a role in how competitive and interesting a race is over several visits. Today’s race yet again showed that circumstances, scenarios and situations can make a race. All the lead up to this race was about how bad the event would be. Not that this was by any means a classic, but thanks in part to some disappointments in quals, the first lap melee, and Versus’ coverage that made a point to find the compelling stories on the track the race that played out on TV was reasonably entertaining. It sounds like the race we were all expecting occurred a couple hours earlier in the day, when the Lights series ran.

Dario’s Last Hurrah?

For the season at least. With only mile and a half’s remaining, this looks like a two man race to me. Dario certainly is no slouch, but Briscoe and Dixon are masters of the genre. Briscoe can nearly close the deal, with a 53 point play in one of the last three races. The best Dixon could do in the same race would be to drop another 13 points to Briscoe. 33 points to make up in the other two events would be a pretty tall order for Dixon. Then again, he’s where he said he wanted to be, the stalker, no the stalked. I imagine when he said that, he wasn’t quite imagining the fiasco that was this weekend for him. For Briscoe, it would be a very nice story of perseverance and personal growth.

We have your size in stock, just not in the color you requested…

Or have you ever gone to the car dealership trying to decide if you should buy a car without certain features you want because there’s not a car on the lot with them and the special financing ends today?? As great of news as Danica’s apparent imminent signing is, one senses that the league will benefit a little less than what could have been. No matter the activation that Motorola or Boost has in mind, it pales to what an activated Target sponsorship with Danica in a starring role would have meant for the league. Judging from the Boost pig commercials airing during the race today, it will certainly be tackier.

With that said, it is GREAT news that Danica is back and there is nothing stopping her from being able to independently pursue some of the same types of activated opportunities that would have been nearly automatic with Target. Perhaps she could do for Hanes for Women what MJ has done on the men’s side. She would be the only person in the world who could pitch tools, automotive and women’s wear at Sear’s. Here’s to her management team getting VERY creative (but NOT nearly so tacky) in taking Danica to some new endorsement deals.

We don’t care about the 9 car…

Don’t remember what the exact words the Chipster actually said during his in race interview, but it struck me from the tone in his voice, that this is what he meant and he wasn’t just talking about just the run today. Dixon has started to become vocal about the potential of not being at TCGR next year (for more, download the Trackside podcast for last week). This has the taste of something getting personal. Presumably, of course, this relates back to money. Specifically, what Scott has accomplished in his time with the team, what the team may have been prepared to offer Danica and the chasm between the flip sides for both of those coins.

Dixon is credited for originating the “Cheap” Ganassi moniker, and the prospects of Gil DeFerren starting a team that has the presumptive appearance of being run with all the efficiency and success of Penske or TCGR seems to have Scott thinking of new challenges, and a thicker wallet. As much as we thought the big domino this off season would be Danica’s decision, this has the potential to be bigger, much in the same way as Wheldon’s departure from TCGR last year. You gotta wonder just how much of a hurry Graham Rahal, Will Power or potentially RHR would be to sign a contract knowing that a seat could open up at Ganassi. Just imagine what you are thinking if you are Alex Lloyd…

If neither Chip nor Scott blink, there could be an impact on Scott’s ultimate place in the history books. Two more years at TCGR with the same competitive formula probably gets Scott to 30 wins by his 30th birthday, ahead of where anyone running today would be (Tracy, Helio, TK and Dario could all have as many wins but they would be at the end of their careers). Scott would be left with his entire 30’s to chase the 10 additional wins that would put him into racing immortality passing Micheal Andretti’s total. (Yes, I know, AJ and Mario – but for the same reasons that some people argue that Richard Petty’s 200 wins should be put into context relative to Jeff Gordon’s career, I would argue that there are modern and Post modern era’s that need to be separated in open wheel racing). On the other hand, to take a startup team and lead them to competitiveness and ultimately a championship would also be an achievement of note.

A Sure Sign of the Apocalypse – A Feel Good Story in F1.

I woke up early this morning with enough cognitive skills intact to observe that Rubens Barichello won today’s European GP in F1. Two weeks ago we all thought that the story here would be the Red Baron’s return to the sport and it turns out to be the triumph of his former wingman. Rubens is 37 years old which in F1 years translates to 117 years of human aging. Good for Rubens.

What I found interesting during the race was Bob Varsha mentioning a conversation he had with Rubens where he asked what Rubens intended to do when his F1 career was over. Varsha reported that Rubens seemed interested in possibly racing in the Indianapolis 500 or some other form of racing in the US. I don’t think he was talking nascar.

So what else could there be? Thank goodness for Gil DeFerren and all the speculation we get to indulge ourselves in courtesy of his efforts. Both Rubens and Gil are Brazilian (And as any typical American surely knows, all Brazilians must know each other!!). Gil has stated the intent to continue his ALMS program next year. Given Gil’s retirement from the car, if Pagenot fills one of the IndyCar seats at Gil’s new team, it leaves the ALMS effort without drivers… Rubens in Gil’s ALMS car with Gil running a third car at Indy dovetails nicely into the comments Varsha provided.

A Good Outing for Conway

I was happy to see that Mike Conway had a good outing this weekend ending his afternoon on the podium. This season was deep into a spiral that didn’t seem to have a happy ending for the lad. He had two chances to show his quicks on street circuits before he took a deep long trip into the brave new world of American Open wheel Oval racing. I saw him in person at both Milwaukee and Mid Ohio and the change in his demeanor was pretty pronounced. At Mid Ohio I tried to offer some verbal encouragement, but not being very nimble with my vocabulary on the spot what I said undoubtedly came out as “Maybe today you won’t suck as much as the past couple months”. Certainly not what I meant.

Mike has shown speed on all the road courses. He has also shown the impatience of a young man trying to prove his worth and the incidents that accompany such efforts. The Ovals beat him down and I gave thought to writing a post criticizing the D&R team for putting a guy in the seat w/o some ovals in Lights under his belt. As things went poorly, it was commonly thought that Mike was another incompetent who had bought a ride. When Cavin suggested that he was hired for his driving potential many seemed surprised. Mike developed a rather unkind nickname and was the butt of many one liners in the blogosphere. In perspective, has he done any worse in year one than Viso or Moraes have done in year two?

It is an interesting fact to note that the last time D&R was on the podium, they got there with a guy named Briscoe.

Who’ll Sign JR??

In case you missed it, JR Hildebrand classed the field in this morning’s light race. With four victories under his belt, he needs merely to finish 13th or better next race out to claim the Lights title. With Raphael Matos, Hideki Mutoh and Richard Antinucci acquitting themselves well as rookies and sophomores, perhaps the notion that the Lights series is not a good feeder for the IndyCar series can be dismissed. Hopefully in the future, we need not worry about a Lights champion getting a shot in the big cars as it has been recently been a struggle for both Alex Lloyd and Jay Howard. A little later into the silly season I have a post planned to comment on this, but the league needs guys like JR. Hopefully this season’s success will translate to a decent opportunity next year.

Finally –

Get well soon Nelson and Will – Godspeed. As much as people complain about the current chassis, when I saw the accident Saturday afternoon, thoughts of Paul Dana and particularly Alex Zanardi came to mind. Injuries from this sort of collision probably can never be completely avoided. The Paul Dana crash involved the same car at nearly twice the speed, but if racing an “ugly” car with “Exotic materials that are too expensive” means I get to see these two drivers race again next year. I will take the “Ugly” and “expensive” car.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

JP is Bullish on 2010 Car Counts - Here's Why...

We’ve had an angst(adt) filled two weeks since the release of the schedule. Some people more stressed out than others. My main concern is for Milwaukee. Hopefully, one day the state fair board will realize that awarding the promoter contract to the same group of people trading titles from contract to contract is not going to result in getting the back cheese paid.

We are now getting into the silly season for teams, drivers and sponsors. Of course these three are linked together in a bizarre courtship dance that ultimately creates the lineup that will hit the grid next year. The past two years have each seen a shock interfere with that dance. 2008 was positively affected by the IRL ChampCar merger. 2009 saw the economy allow for only the survival of the financially fittest. The economy will continue to pressure teams for 2010 also.

Amidst the ongoing economic troubles and their affect on sponsorship renewals, there are two signs of hope for car counts in the upcoming season. The first good sings are the rumors that are everywhere for a wave of new teams born of driver empowerment or cross pollination from ALMS. Alex Tagliani has sourced an investor to help him buy the 4 Roth Racing cars and he plans to field a single man team next year with the hopes of finding and grooming a young Canadian to take his place as a two car team in subsequent years. Good for him. Good for Toronto and Good for Edmonton.

With all the uncertainty about ALMS heading into next year – the primary issue being the continued involvement of Acura, ALMS teams have been making some noise about the IndyCar series. With today’s announcement that the LMP1 and LMP2 classes being combined into a single class has to make you wonder if Acura is going away. None of the LMP2 cars, the Lola/Mazdas or Porsche Spiders have a chance a beating the Acura LMP1 cars so why would you throw them to the wolves unless you knew the wolves were going to be gone? Gil De Ferren is on the books as stating that he plans to create a two car IndyCar team for 2010. Highcroft has expressed interest and likewise Adrian Fernandez. In both cases these teams have viable sponsors which make team creation plausible.

The second reason to be optimistic is Apex/Brasil. Apex is a trade and investment agency that represents over 200 Brazilian companies looking to increase their presence and business opportunities in the US. Let me repeat 200 companies. Beyond ethanol and a race in Brazil to begin the season, we should start to expect to see the rewards of this association as new sponsors, (frankly - many we have never heard of before) start to stream into the series. Hopefully this stream of sponsorship will have a positive effect on existing teams and car counts overall.

Chances are that many of these sponsors will favor Brazilian drivers which could be indirectly favorable for other drivers associated with the league. Helio and TK currently are fully funded with domestic sponsors so impact on their teams might be minimal. But once you move onto the next Brazilian drivers in the pecking order some interesting things begin to happen. Suppose that Vitor secures some sort of Apex sponsorship. If he takes that to his current team, Foyt, then Foyt could use the ABC supply money to keep RHR in the 14 next year, running Vitor in a second Foyt entry. Likewise, Raphael Matos might bring a sponsor to Luzco which might allow Luzco to run a second car with the Air Force/Marines sponsorship. Perhaps that car would have a driver better aligned to that sponsor’s needs (WARNING!!! - JR Hildebrand apologist sighting) Perhaps JR might be the right guy for this sponsor and team. Drivers like Bruno Junquiera, Ana Beatriz, Mario Romancini and Felipe Guimaraes could bring RLR back into the mix or bump an existing team like Coyne, Panther or KV up to two cars.

All pretty cool stuff to be talking about heading into an off season that otherwise would be looking pretty bleak. On the road to Mid Ohio a friend and I did some car counting for next year and we came up with some projections. In 2009, excluding Indy, the IRL averaged 21.9 entrants in each event. We came up a conservative estimate of 25 cars for 2010 and an all stars aligning optimistic estimate of up to 31.5 cars. Let’s go team by team and break this down. The numbers in the parens – (2009 cars, 2010 conservative estimate, 2010 optimistic estimate)

Penske (2.5, 2.5, 3) – Cars 1 and 2 are set. The only question here is the Power car. Tim and Roger have liked what they have seen out of Will too much to not have him around. The only question here, will it be a deal like this year with a twist, racing on non Grand Am weekends (where Will drives both IndyCar and Grand AM weekends) or a full standing entry.

TCG – (2, 3, 3) – Again cars 1 and 2 are set, the variable here is the Danica Car. While there is no guarantee that she will be here next year, odds favor this match right now.

AGR – (4, 3, 4) – This is the messy one. Rumors are hot and heavy about a splitting of teams next year. Andretti fielding TK and Marco. Then what becomes of Kim Green, Kevin Savoree and all that other equipment?? Just seems like there is at least a single car entry there someplace perhaps if things fell just right - two.

NHL – (2, 2, 2) – While Graham is a free agent next year, he’s really knocking on the door here and the fit just seems too good to disturb. Alex Lloyd rumors are running wild so NHL seems likely to return as a two car effort next year.

KV – (1, 1, 2) – KV will be back with at least one car and if the sponsorship raffle goes well, with two.

Vision – (1, 1, 1) – Just don’t see another car here until RHR is comfortably seated with another team and James and Lauren tie the knot…

Foyt – (1, 1, 2) – Didn’t grow up a Foyt fan – JR and the Unsers were my heroes, but if AJ ran both RHR and Vitor, his team would have me as a fervent fan.

Panther (1, 1, 1) – The Wheldon watch continues and if he finds a new home, the cut in driver salary alone makes this team more economically viable next year.

Dreyer and Reinbold (2, 2, 2) – The DR plan seems to have been to have one “Merit” seat which this year was Mike Conway and then make the 23 available for purchase. This year the 23 was handled by Darren Manning, Milka and Tomas. The latter two will likely have enough money to buy back in next year. Conway is a separate post on the do’s and don’ts of introducing a new driver to this series.

HVM – (1, 2, 2) – Doornbos in already on paper for next year and there’s no reason to assume that PDVSA will be leaving Viso out in the cold. The only wrinkle here is can Viso do better with those $$ next year?

Luzco Dragon – (1, 1, 2) – See this still as a one car team, unless Jay or Rafa find some luck at the sponsorship derby.

Coyne – (1, 1, 2) – As long as we don’t have any more of that running out of fuel stuff again, Justin seems pretty happy with the road circuit strategy that guides this team. If Bruno finds some apex $$ he could be back.

Sarah Fisher (.5, .75, .75) – Unfortunately for Sarah, I think the Ideal match for Dollar General would be Sarah driving the 67 car in the nationwide series. With budgets, DG may have to decide during the off season – Do we like Sarah as an activated Driver better than participating in the nationwide series that aligns better with our core market. People love Sarah and I imagine someone would step in if DG is gone. Keep in mind, in the long term, this team isn’t just for her. There is a young O’Gara cutting his teeth on the dirt right now… UPDATE: Since I first posted this, Sarah got quite a surprise this morning (see Surprise Sarah) a new tub that will allow her to potentially do more races in the upcoming season. Two tubs will allow her to do ovals one week and a road course the next without heroics from her crew back at the shop. I certainly would not want to tell her what to do, but Sarah has never been a fan of road/street circuits - perhaps she might partner with another driver (perhaps young, up and coming) to cover that part of the season for her. John Edwards might be a nice match...

Conquest – (.5, 0, 0) – Sorry, I just see this equipment changing hands in the off season.

3G – (1, 0, 0) – See conquest.

Tagliani – (0, 1, 1) – Three cheers and one new entry for Team Canada. LaBatt’s all around!!!

Rahal Letterman – (0, 0, 1) – Could be back on the grid if Apex Dollars show up for lights driver Romancini. Otherwise, there are rumors about where the De Ferren equipment just might come from.

DeFerren Motorsports (0, 2, 2) – Pagenot and Sato are the rumored names for drivers. I would hate to see Hideki go. He has done pretty well for himself at team chaos.

Highcroft (0, .5, 1) – I sort of link this to Fernandez below – I expect one of these teams next year, if the stars align they both show up.

Fernandez (0, .5, 1) – A Mexican team, with a Mexican Driver (Luis Diaz) and a Mexican affiliate of an American company (Lowe’s) - could a March event in Mexico City be far behind?

Of course all this is conjecture – But I am optimistic about the size of next year’s field. And that doesn’t even include the cars I would field if I hit that $245M Powerball Jackpot on Wednesday. You think Mark Cuban is an exciting owner in Professional Sports…

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Three Days, Six Races and a Fierce Suntan - JP Does Mid Ohio

Hey everyone, I just spent three days at the speed and racing orgy that is Mid Ohio. Had a great time and would strongly recommend it. Six races in all: Two Headline Races – The IndyCar 200 and an ALMS event; Two open wheel developmental races – IndyLights and Formula Atlantic; Two other sports car races.

It may be a few days until I get some thoughts organized well enough to do another post, but in the mean time I thought I would share some weekend pictures with you. Enjoy!!!

ALMS: Dyson's LMP2 Mazda/Lola Entry

HVM's Entry for EJ Viso

KVRacing Prepping the #5 Car

Our Prayers are with you Mario (PS - PT kept her in one piece!)

The Pits in the Morning - A Great Day for a Race

IndyLights: Lauren - James Really Needs a Scooter...

IndyLights: Hinchcliffe, Hildebrand and Cunningham

Welcome Back Vitor!!

Hey AJ! Ryan and Vitor Would Make a GREAT Team!!

The Scene at the ESSES

Monday, August 3, 2009

The 2010 Schedule and Beyond...

I’ll admit it, I am frustrated over the schedule. Not frustrated so much at the contents of the schedule (though I will admit I am a less than overwhelmed), but rather at the perpetual moaning and groaning about the end of the world that has accompanied it. From what I can tell those most in a tizzy are the fans who were on the IRL side of the split before reunification (the Champ Car faithful are still complaining about wanting new cars that none of the old CC teams, save NHL, can currently afford to buy).

Before I spend a lot of time critically commenting on something like the schedule I like to try to understand the inputs that led to the decisions and how that information probably influenced the people making the decisions. We are conditioned these days to see sports as a fantasy world. No matter the sport there is fantasy this and fantasy that, we are the boss in some office or computer league and if we can find some idiot willing to trade Duane Wade for Jamaal Tinsley, bully for us. We are the king of our domain. I think we lose sight that the people making decisions are faced with constraints, budgets and limitations that those in fantasy leagues aren’t.

The first thing about the schedule worth mentioning is the overall split of races – the balance has been shifting towards what appears to be a 50/50 balance of ovals and twistys (road/street courses). This is what has the old school IRL faithfull so distressed. But guys think about it. I suspect this was planned, perhaps a gentleman’s agreement that accompanied the merger of the two series, an attempt to take the best aspects of both leagues and come up with some thing better than either was on their own. The IRL may be the last league standing, but it does not mean that it did not have make some concessions in order to get there. I think we would all agree that the merger has been a blessing if not a saving grace in the current economy.

For all intensive purposes it looks like there is a good chance that Milwaukee will be back. The slot was kept open and the new promoters were given a month to get their business in order. If all goes well, a venerable old track will be saved and I will have plans for the weekend after the 500. It’s a great weekend – Go and enjoy it. This addition will bring the split to an even 50/50.

I think something that may be on the horizon for the schedule is growth. After the release of the schedule a handful of drivers and key people with various teams began to start talking about wanting to see a longer schedule, and I am right there with them. I think 24 races would be perfect. Of course right now, like new cars, this is an aspiration. Most teams would not have the money to run another 6 races. The finances of the league and its teams would need to improve. A signature for the Apex Brazil deal and a title sponsor could make this happen (I’ll return to this issue later in this post). With $$ in the pocket 2 additional races a year, one oval and one twisty for three successive years would bring the series to 24 events, 12 ovals and 12 twisties.

At that point it should be noted that there would be MORE ovals than the IRL schedule had for all but 5 years of its existence. It would also create the potential for “discipline” championships. Taking lead from the Tour De France which has a King of the Mountains classification and an Sprinters Champion classification, IndyCar could award titles to the king of Ovals (This champ wear a green fire suit) and the Twisty King (Who could wear the red and white polka dot fire suit). Both would be perfect sponsorship opportunities for companies wanting to be involved but who could not pick up the full boat for a Title sponsorship.

But unfortunately there is a pretty significant obstacle, and of all things it is the lack of oval tracks interested in the IRL to race on.

This year the series, for all intensive purposes, got fired from Richmond. But this is nothing new. Phoenix, Michigan, Pikes Peak, Nazareth and California are all ISC tracks where IndyCar was essentially escorted off the grounds with a restraining order to never return. Why?? As you already know, ISC owns nascar and there’s the rub. In previous years the nascar division of ISC was awash in cash and fully funded. If the track division could make a little more money by hosting those buzzy little IndyCars, what’s the harm?? But the good old days are gone and the mother ship is suffering through a sponsorship bloodbath, and every time the IRL shows up at one of their tracks they see one thing… Sponsorship money that, in their minds, should have been spent on nascar. Spent either in the cup, nationwide or truck series.

How do they get that $ into their clutches??? Simple. Put pressure on the IRL to fail, and the easiest way to accomplish that is to deny it places to race. We were going to get run from Richmond no matter what. Accept it and move on. More importantly, get prepared for a year from now, this scene may repeat itself. I am no expert on the nascar calendar, but if either Kansas, Homestead or Chicagoland already have two cup dates – don’t plan on a 2011 IRL date at that locale

If the IRL is to source ovals who would like the IRL to make a visit, it will be best served by working with track owners who don’t have such conflicts of interest. That list starts with SMI. The IRL is already on three SMI tracks and SMI would like it on at least one if not more. SMI is very keen on the IRL racing at New Hampshire, but with two cup dates and IndyCar spending the month of May in Indianapolis, that has been a hard track to schedule. SMI wants a cup date at Kentucky and the only way to get one there is to move one from one of its current tracks and New Hampshire seems to be the place. NHMS needs the IndyCar series to replace the cup date and keep the speedway viable.

You might then assume then that NHMS is a no brainer, but apparently not. So why would IndyCar risk antagonizing the best partner it may have to replace ISC ovals and add news ones?? Foxboro…

Huh? What’s in Foxboro?? Patriot’s Stadium? Let me correct you – GILLETTE Stadium. Now let me connect the dots on this and some other things you may have seen or heard… A potential race at Gillette Stadium, Marco’s face (but not voice) and an IndyCar showing up in Gillette ads and news that representatives from Gillette have been to several IndyCar events this year. How does “The Gillette IndyCar Series Championship” sound to you?? Of course I am only speculating here, but would you race at Patriot’s Stadium for a $10m check and finally finding a decent title sponsor??? Sometimes what seems to be irrational decisions made by those running IndyCar are rooted in complexities we simply have no knowledge of.

Should all this come to pass, my hope here is that the powers that be, ie Bruton Smith, moves the second race at NHMS to Kentucky. If so that would allow IndyCar to schedule Gillette in June (ie not football season) and NHMS in September. New England is big enough for both. NHMS would draw north Boston and Northern New England. Gillette could draw the Southern Boston MSA, Providence, Connecticut and more importantly the Northern NY suburbs. If the shoe finally drops on one of the Pocono cup dates going to Kansas, a date at Pocono which always has seemed a non starter could become a possibility. Pocono would cover the Western, NJ suburbs of NY.

Overall, moving from 9 to 12 twistys seems easy enough. Cleveland, Baltimore, Mexico City or perhaps Montreal make sense for various reasons. But going from 9 to 12 ovals seems to be the challenge…I would classify 6 of the current ovals as stable (I am optimistic for Milwaukee). I fully anticipate losing the three ISC ones. If the whole Gillette/NHMS situation does not alienate Smith and Gossage, you can play a match game with SMI tracks: Las Vegas for Homestead seems easy enough. Finding a spot for NHMS seems doable even with Gillette in play. Replacing Kansas with Charlotte or Atlanta seems like a tall order, but there is history to learn from. But that is only treading water on the ovals. It’s possible that Pocono could open up, or a relationship could be reopened with Dover Motorsports. Either Dover or Nashville would need asphalt and I am not certain what the story with Gateway is.

Perhaps there’s more to look to and learn from with Iowa experiment. Newly developed, small tracks without cup aspirations and involvement from a racing legend could be a business model of success going forward. The scale of investment here is smaller than the last IMS venture into track development (Chicagoland). I wonder if the Unser name still carries weight in Albuquerque?? Perhaps an Indian tribe north of town looking for more traffic at its casino might be a partner to expand an existing facility. I don’t know, but if IndyCar wants to grow the schedule and maintain a 50/50 split, ovals on which to race are going to have to be found or created. It should be noted that as ISC discovered long ago, with creation comes control.

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