IndyCar has announced that they will be racing twice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway next May by starting the month on the road course and ending with the Indy 500 on Memorial Day weekend. I think it is a truly awful idea. Here's why.
It's no secret that I'm an IndyCar fan. I've advocated for the sport amongst staff here and amongst you, the readers, because I feel that there are a lot of great things going on there. I'm of the opinion that the on-track product is unparalleled right now in terms of diversity and excitement.
The Indy 500 is the tops when it comes to IndyCar. Nothing is better. It's a month long spectacle capped with the ultimate prize in American open wheel racing. Now, I totally agree that the 500 isn't what it once was. Sellout crowds have become very, very large crowds. Fields of 50 plus cars vying for the 33 starting spots have become 33, maybe 34, cars vying for those spots. TV ratings have plummeted. We could go into all the reasons behind why IndyCar and the 500 is less popular than it used to be, but I don't want to write a book.
Indy needs a fix. It definitely does. The problem is that IndyCar now plans to start the Month of May on the infield road course. That doesn't sit well with me at all.
I'm bothered because IMS says 40-50,000 people will be a "good" turnout. On TV it'll look totally empty, even if 75,000 show up. As a point of reference, MotoGP had a turnout of about 65,000 for this year's race at IMS. Look at the grand stands:
It's a ghost town. The problem with an event like this at IMS is that, even if a good number like 65,000 show up, the place will be about two thirds empty. It's an impressive facility, especially when full of people. But if it's empty, it'll also be super lonely. How impressed are casual fans going to be seeing an empty crowd? What about people flipping the channels on TV? Would you watch the broadcast of a football game at an empty stadium unless you were invested in the team?
I know I wouldn't.
IMS is one of their fastest tracks and they'll put the cars on the road course where they'll just look slow no matter how fast they're moving.
I do think the layout looks great, and anywhere else it would work spectacularly. But Indy is a cathedral of speed, a place where the words "and it's a new track record" echoed over crowds ecstatic about new fast times. It's not a place where you want to see the cars that run in the premier race go on the track at half the speed they normally run.
My fear is that on TV and in person, it won't look impressive. It might be great to drive, but will the product build interest?
Mark Miles, IndyCar's CEO, said "we need to expose Indianapolis race fans to IndyCar racing." That's an actual quote from the announcement. If people in Indy don't know IndyCar racing, the problem might be bigger than a road course race can solve.
Here's a big problem: It diminishes the 500.
If casual fans just wanted to go to the track in May, they went to the 500. Now they can go for less money, so why would super casual fans go to the 500? Sure, a $125 Bronze Badge gets you a ticket to the road course race, dubbed the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, and the Indy 500, but the majority of fans who show up on Memorial Day weekend aren't buying Bronze Badges. They're hanging out in the infield, sitting in the stands, enjoying a day at the track.
And the 500 is a pretty expensive day at the track. General Admission tickets to the Indy 500 are $40 a piece. General admission to the road race is $25. That might not seem like a big difference, but a family of four has $60 more in their pocket and can still spend the day at the track. Suddenly a bunch of people who went to the 500 as their Memorial Day weekend activity decide that they can do something else that weekend from now on. They've gotten their IMS fix.
I see a few scenarios. The infield crowd for the road race is huge and the 500 infield crowd diminishes because of the savings. Infield crowds at both races are mediocre because some people go to the road race and others stick with the 500. The road race crowd is empty because why go to the pretender when you can go to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing (Oh, and because the road race will be broadcast locally in Indy, something that has never been allowed with the 500. Why pay when you can see it for free?)? Or I'm totally wrong and it makes the 500 have the biggest crowd in years.
Instead, I think IndyCar would be better served taking a NASCAR approach and promoting the hell out of their drivers. Let them get in fights. Don't fine them every time they say something bad about the series or another driver. Publicize it like mad. Build animosity. IndyCar used to be popular because of two big things: Speed and rivalries. Speeds are slower and rivalries are diminished. Get that back, and you have something that the public will love.
I'm not in the business of IndyCar. I'm a passionate fan. If this race builds interest to the 500 and makes the Month of May magic in Indy again, I will gladly eat my words.
Please prove me very wrong IndyCar. Please.
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