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.

1 comment:

  1. How about Rockingham, NC? Owned by Andy Hillenberg, not ISC or SMI...


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