Limping Toward An Anti-Climactic Close

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The schedule takes a strange twist after this weekend’s race at Chicago. After a season of fairly regular racing interspersed with some weekend breaks here and there, the IndyCar Series will race only twice in the six weeks that follow Chicago to close out the schedule. In the meantime, College Football kicks off on Labor Day weekend and the NFL starts its regular season the following weekend. NASCAR tends to fall off the radar once football gets started. That’s why they instituted their ridiculously contrived “Chase For The Championship”. Believe me, I’m not calling for IndyCar to follow the “Chase” format – but I do think that they should consider wrapping up the schedule to not overlap much with football.

Last year, the season ended awkwardly as well – with the championship being decided at Chicago and then the non-points race in Australia officially concluded the season seven weeks later. That was a by-product of unification and fulfilling a Champ Car obligation. What is the excuse this year?

With a series struggling for fans of any type, having the series limp towards its conclusion and championship at a snail’s pace is not a good idea. Even NASCAR realizes that interest in their series wanes dramatically, once football kicks off. The IndyCar Series and CART have both vacillated over the years, between the philosophy of wrapping up the season prior to football season or going head to head. The problem is that the IndyCar Series and the NFL both share similar demographics in their fan base. This forces many fans to choose.

Plus, the timing is all off for the final two races. Right now, football is really heating up, but those of us that are fans of both sports are still pretty much in racing mode. To have the season trickle down to an anti-climactic thud for the last two races across six weeks makes absolutely no sense. You want to build momentum to your season finale – not coast into it with an “oh by the way, we’ve still got a couple of races to go” approach while football is in full swing. After Chicago, there are only two races left. The NFL will be almost a third of the way through its season by the time Homestead is run. No one will remember the IRL at that point.

Many racing die-hards tend to hold “stick and ball” fans with disdain. They arrogantly proclaim that a true racing fan should never watch a mainstream sport over a race. To do so, causes you to vacate your claim as a true racing fan. Well, I disagree. I consider myself pretty much of a hardcore IndyCar fan. But guess what – if there is an IndyCar race going on during the NFL opening day, it’s the IndyCar race that gets shuffled to DVR status at my house. Once the Tennessee Titans game is over, and I catch some of the second NFL game – then I’ll watch the recorded race, sans commercials.

If that’s what a hard-core fan is doing, then you can imagine how a casual fan approaches the last couple of races in the IndyCar season. It’s completely gone from their mind. Now this weekend, it’s different. The IndyCar race at Chicago goes head to head against the Titans’ pre-season game in Cleveland. The race trumps a pre-season game. I’ll record the game and watch it sometime Sunday. But if this were the Titans’ regular season opener against the Steelers – sorry, but the Titans would win out. I would stay up late and watch the recorded race.

Am I alone in this? I don’t think so, but I’ve probably disappointed some true die-hards that would never think of doing that. The demographics back me up, though. They indicate that most IndyCar fans are also NFL fans. Based on the ratings for the NFL, I’d say that the NFL is winning when fans are forced to choose.

My question is…why are fans being forced to choose? The NFL is a behemoth. To schedule a race or races going head to head against the NFL is suicide. The casual fans of other sports such as College Basketball, the NHL and the NBA usually don’t start paying much attention to those sports until the NFL season has wound down. Go to any magazine rack in any grocery store in June. How many different college and pro football magazines do you see? Compare that to the number of racing magazines you see touting a season winding down to crowning a champion. It’s laughable.

I’m assuming there is some reason why the IRL is dragging out their final two races. No one would do that if they didn’t have to. The race in Japan is being run in the fall this year instead of its traditional spring date. I’m not really sure why that is. After that race, there is another three-week gap before the finale at Homestead. The finale will compete head to head against Florida-LSU along with an entire slate of other college games, as well as the baseball playoffs. How many viewers will drift over to Versus by accident?

The IRL wants to crown its champion on American soil – hence the final race being at Homestead. But what if this were not such a close points battle? What if both Target cars had DNF’s this weekend at Sonoma and next weekend at Chicago? Chances are Ryan Briscoe would be clinching the title at the next race in…Japan. That’s hardly what the marketing folks at 16th & Georgetown had in mind.

The flaws in the 2010 schedule (of which there are many) have been beaten to death – on this site and elsewhere; but one of its flaws is that the IRL is repeating the end of this year’s schedule in 2010. So the possibility exists for next year that without a tight points battle, the IRL could crown it’s 2010 champion after midnight on the other side of the planet and then wait two more weeks to finish up at Homestead. Not smart.

Granted, I’m nothing more than a fan that doesn’t know or understand what pieces have to fit in making out a schedule. But if it were up to me, I would do everything in my power to assure that (a) the last few races were run in the US and (b) the season wrapped up on Labor Day weekend. NASCAR now races at Fontana on Labor Day Sunday night. My advice is to concede the viewers to NASCAR on Sunday night and run the season finale on Labor Day Sunday afternoon. There is usually only a handful of mediocre college games on Sunday afternoon. It is also the final Sunday with no NFL football. Run the final race during the day on Labor Day Sunday to assure maximum exposure at that time of year for the championship race. Saturday night is not good because that Saturday is the traditional kickoff for College Football.

Even though this is a close battle with any of three drivers still fully capable of winning the championship, interest is fading fast in the IndyCar season. It always does at this time of year. No one – and I mean no one will be watching the final two races except for us die-hards. Even then, we may be watching it through a DVR on a delayed basis – and that’s a shame.

George Phillips

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13 Responses to “Limping Toward An Anti-Climactic Close”

  1. I don’t care about the football conflicts (and also, a good number of people now own DVRs). But I am always bothered by the herky-jerky scheduling. I know it’s tough on the teams, but a regular schedule (i.e. every Sunday) makes it much easier to get into the rythmn of watching a race. Instead we get sometimes-a-week, sometimes-two-weeks, sometimes-more, sometimes on Sunday, sometimes on Saturday, and wasn’t one on Friday night when it broadcast from Japan?

    I’m constantly checking the calendar. Race this weekend? When? What time? The only reason I catch the races is that I put in the effort to find them (and TiVo is set to get them). I think this is where NASCAR’s every-Sunday model pays off big.

  2. I took a quick look at next year’s schedule and I believe there’s like 3 weeks between Japan and Florida. I understand taking a week off a couple times during the season, but three weeks is ridiculous. Basically, the Motegi trip seems to screw the whole thing up.

  3. The American Mutt Says:

    During the Dario and Dixon championship bought the final race was at Chicago at the same time as the bears opening game. My friend is a huge bears fan so we did the only sensible thing, set up two tvs side by side and muted the football game.

  4. I agree with a lot of what you wrote, George. As a die-hard football fan-Arizona Cardinals, and yes, I liked them back in the 70′s when they were in St. Louis and horrible-I would absolutely watch the NFL and tape the IndyCar race to watch later. And it seems like others will as well. It would be nice to have the season end on Labor Day weekend, before the NFL starts, but that would be really difficult. In March, the focus is on March Madness, April baseball season opens, May of course is for Indy. The schedule would have to be really compacted like NASCAR’s, and the equipment doesn’t seem to be able to stand up to an every week racing schedule. Hopefully, something will be worked out.

  5. Well said, George – I was looking at the schedule last night and thinking the same thing. These last gaps make no sense. As James O. mentions, the season needs a rhythm.

    I’d like to see the schedule filled out in April and from June through August, and wrapped up before Labor Day. This weekend’s date should be it. Why even fight the NFL juggernaut in the U.S.? Perhaps Fall would be a good time to hit Brazil, Australia, and Japan, but that still doesn’t allow the series to wrap up close to home, and they could very well run into conflicts with football in other countries, too.

    Then again, the NFL season seems to get longer and longer, so I don’t know how much you can avoid it, either. Perhaps some Friday/Saturday/weekday night races would be key for TV? Well, OK, maybe that wouldn’t work for people actually attending the races…

  6. bickelmom Says:

    I’m not sure what the ideal solution is, but I totally agree. I’m a long time die-hard Colts fan and never miss a game. This is my first full year really getting into the IRL (always been an Indy 500 gal) and I have to say it has been confusing getting used to the schedule of the IRL. It is also disappointing to see the season end in this way. It is very contrary to working up excitement about the championship.

  7. This is hard. If you ended the season on Labor Day, you’d have a 6 month off season, that would be alwful. But, something needs to be done about the NFL thing.

  8. two questions:

    1) couldn’t they start the season in february?
    2) why don’t they pair brazil and japan together?

  9. I’ve been chewing on this all day, and thinking having All the broadcasts on VS will help in the next year or two. People talk about not knowing where to find it, and part of that is the crazy multiple-channel deals we’ve had these several years: some on ABC, some on ESPN, some on ESPN2, and I remember not many years ago when a couple were on CBS. This year was better but still odd, since there was (to a fan) no rhyme or reason to why a given race was on ABC and the next was on VS. And you had the ABC guys (and Bryanne) and the VS guys (and Lindy). There was no serious continuity. Even The Twilight Zone had Rod Serling every week.

    Having all the shows on one channel will help. Having the same broadcast team each time will help. I’d prefer an Every Sunday schedule, with maybe a couple of dead weeks, or an Every-Other-Sunday schedule, so you can develop a rythmn and don’t have to consult the Farmer’s Almanac to figure out when the next race is.

    I don’t mind the long season but auto racing does seem like a warm-weather sport, and there is something odd about them racing in October, just as I don’t like baseball in November, Hockey in May, and so on. But I’ll watch it regardless.

    Frankly, as far as the Driver’s Championship is concerned, I’m not overly fond of it. I’d prefer to see, say, anyone with over 300 points be eligible, and the winner (among them) of the final race is the champion. The problem with points is that you end up with mathematical races, where all the leader has to do is finish above 8th place and he wins, or finishes 12th if the second place guy doesn’t make the podium, etc. From a fan-in-airmchair perpsective, that’s sucky racing. I want to see people racing balls-out to take the checker, not to just keep the car intact so he can place 5th and win by mathematical elimination.

    It’s kind of like racking up scores over the season, and then saying that the GB Packers just have to score 10 points to win the Superbowl. The season lead to their appearance in the SB, but they have to WIN the SB to take home the trophy.

  10. “Granted, I’m nothing more than a fan that doesn’t know or understand what pieces have to fit in making out a schedule.”

    George, you know more about IndyCar than any single person currently WORKING in IndyCar.

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