For the last number of years, IndyCar has been in need of something to improve. Viewership, interest, and ratings are all things the once prominent American racing series is in desperate need of. You can blame it on the open wheel split, Tony George himself, or just the turbulent economy, but however you want to look at it, IndyCar has been in a downward spiral for over a decade. Personally, this is the saddest thing in racing today.
I constantly wish I lived in an era where the high speed, pointy little super cars were on the rage like the 60’s and 70’s, where it would have been an impossible choice to decide whether to see Bobby Unser win at Trenton in a Penske Cosworth or see David Pearson win the Southern 500 in a Wood Brothers Mercury. What I am trying to say is I want American racing to be an equal and intense battle for fans, ratings, viewers etc., between NASCAR and IndyCar. I doubt this will ever happen or anytime soon but there are a few ways I believe IndyCar could bridge the gap to the NASCAR juggernaut.
The easiest improvement I see happening is that of the schedule. This year’s tour consists of 18 rounds to the championship. Three venues have double-headers (Detroit, Houston, and Toronto) so basically 15 race weekends. This is one of the shortest schedules on all of national motor sports. This schedule doesn’t even start till the very end of March which makes it one of the last seasons in racing to begin. Also with the season finale at Fontana being on August 30th, the season will be the first major auto racing season to end, just over two months from now.
The way I see it, I don’t think that they will add too many races to the schedule but I strongly think they should start the season much earlier. Just think about the long offseason for a moment. You are all so desperate for some racing action. By mid-January comes around you’ll watch any kind of racing you can find on TV. You don’t care what it is, you’ll watch Supercross just because it’s something! Now imagine if the IndyCar series started somewhere around early February, before NASCAR. I bet lots of people would tune in to watch as there is not much else on. Lots of NASCAR fans who have never watched IndyCar may just tune in and like what they see. Maybe IndyCar would gain some new viewers that would have the interest to follow the series through the season. Just like that, there’s some new full-time fans.
Heres my idea for a “Dream” 2015 IndyCar schedule.
1) Sunday Feb 8th - New event in Dubai - ABC
2) Sunday March 1st - Brazil return in Sao Paulo - ABC
3) Sunday March 29th - St. Pete (Unchanged) - ABC
4) Saturday April 11th – Phoenix, return under the lights (First Oval) - NBCSN
5) Sunday April 19th - Toyota GP of Long Beach (Unchanged) - NBCSN
6) Sunday May 10th - Angie’s list GP of Indy (2nd running, Mother’s Day) - ABC
7) Sunday May 24th - 99th INDY 500 (Triple Crown) - ABC
8/9) Saturday/Sunday May 30-31 - Chevy Duel in Detroit (Unchanged, Doubleheader) – ABC (Last on ABC)
10) Sunday June 14th - New Event in St. Louis (Gateway, Doubleheader with Trucks) - NBCSN
11) June 27-28th - Houston Doubleheader (Unchanged) - NBCSN
12) Sunday July 5th - Pocono Indy 500 (Unchanged, Triple Crown) - NBC
13) Saturday July 11th - Iowa Corn Indy 300 (Add laps, night race) - NBC
14) Sunday July 19th – Toronto (Not Doubleheader any more) - NBCSN
15) Sunday Aug 2nd - Kentucky (Mid-Ohio is too boring) - NBCSN
16) Sunday Aug 16th - Milwaukee Mile (Unchanged) - NBC
17) Sunday Aug 23rd - GoPro GP of Sonoma (Unchanged) (Road/Street Finale) - NBC
18) Sunday Aug 30th - MAVTV 500 at Fontana (Unchanged) NBC
19) Saturday Sept 19th - Shares NHMS with Sprint Cup at Loudon! - NBCSN
20) Sunday Sept 27th - Season Finale at Circuit of the Americas! – NBC
So there is my ideas for a schedule. Some are never going to happen but it is fun to dream! Different venues lead to expanded horizons and new markets which IndyCar needs.
Leadership is another big key in a successful series. One guy who had some great forward thinking ideas was Randy Bernard. Bernard served as the Chief Executive Officer for IndyCar from 2010-2012. In his short term he did a lot of good for the series. The one thing he did that I was totally in favor of was a 50/50 split of the schedule between oval tracks and road courses. I feel like this is something the series needs today. Some F1 or other open wheel fans want to see IndyCar be like an American F1 division racing only on road courses.
Other fans of the old IRL want ovals as a bulk of the season because the crown jewel of the series is its namesake, the Indy 500 (an oval). The best way to please the majority of fans was to have this even ratio of oval and road course. I also believe that a true open wheel champion should be able to negotiate the tricky twists and turns of a road or street course as well as the tight packs of high speed oval racing equally. Another interesting element that came from this idea was two sub-season championships. A tally of a driver’s points on just ovals creating an “oval champion” and the same for just the road and street courses. It was just another thing to keep the fan intrigued. Sadly, this was not to last long as Bernard was promptly ousted by the IMS Board of Directors. Anyone who followed IndyCar closely would argue that Mr. Bernard was far from a strong public speaker. He struggled to show much confidence in some of his interviews with press. But what he lacked in media skills he made up for in a true devotion to the sport.
That to me is why he was a strong leader. But unfortunately in this corporated out world of business, his faults made him an easy target by the powers at be in Indy. Bernard’s termination was like that of an ousting of a Middle Eastern dictator. The way they went about his termination was shady and classless according to those who were closely involved with the series. Drivers and team owners alike were all left in the dark as to what was happening with it all and it lead to embarrassing negative publicity that the series so desperately needs to avoid.
It’s neither the drivers nor the on track product that is leading to the issues facing IndyCar today. The racing is as good as ever and the driver are all likable, talented, diverse athletes that provide a great show week in and week out. When the series was under the IRL name, the field was a group of less than 20 unknown faces. The racing was lackluster. The series has come a long way. Well known champions such as Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon and American Ryan Hunter-Reay, race wheel to wheel with fan favorites like the always smiling Helio Castroneves, and funny guy, James Hinchcliffe providing great racing. Anyone can pick a favorite or two among the group. GM fans can pull for all the Chevrolet powered cars, Americans can root for their champ RHR or Mario’s grandson Marco Andretti. If the officials can just put together a stronger personal, diverse schedule and a strong TV package, we could just have a good competition between NASCAR and IndyCar for American racing supremacy!