When To Start The Indianapolis 500?

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For the most part, I am glad to hear that there may be a possibility of moving the start of the Indianapolis 500. For years, the race started at 11:00 am local time. In 2005, IMS officials decided that moving the green flag back one hour to a noon start would increase viewership – especially on the west coast. The following year, Indiana made the change to Daylight Savings Time, which moved the start of the race to 1:00 pm local time.

Indiana was unique in that it was one of the few states that never adopted Daylight Savings Time. Instead, they were on Eastern Standard Time throughout the entire year. It was confusing to those of us, like myself, that live in the Central Time Zone. In the winter months, Indianapolis was always an hour ahead of us; but in the summer months, we were both on the same time. I would imagine it would be even more confusing living there. TV programs that came on at 8:00 pm in the spring came on at 9:00 pm in the fall. When the state of Indiana decided to adhere to Daylight Savings Time, there was some debate whether Indiana should adopt itself to the eastern or Central Time Zone. They ultimately decided on the Eastern Zone. So to the local Hoosiers, it appears that the race starts two hours later prior to 2005 – but to the rest of us, it’s still only one hour later than it used to be.

To me, the biggest effect that the switch to Daylight Saving Time had on the Indianapolis 500 was not on Race Day, but practice and qualification days. The extra hour of daylight essentially did away with “happy hour” because the shadows of the main grandstands that would always cool the main straightway are no longer there. This affects team strategy regarding the best time to qualify. In the past, it used to be that it was best to wait until the last minute to take advantage of the cooler track. Since 2006, the teams have opted for the first hour of qualifying in the day – when it’s coolest.

The idea that has been proposed is for the Speedway to move the time back to its “original” 11:00 am starting time. In essence, this would be an hour earlier than the original starting time. It gets confusing so let me try to simplify it. Before 2005, the race always started at 11:00 Nashville time. Every year since 2005, it has been a noon starting time in Nashville. With this proposed change, it would be a 10:00 starting time in Nashville – with the pre-race starting at 9:00. Move that to the west coast and it translates to a 7:00 am pre-race show and an 8:00 am start. That’s a little early.

Selfishly, I am looking at how it affects me. For the last few years, I have chosen the cheap route and have been staying in Columbus, which is about thirty-five to forty miles south of Indianapolis on I-65. We can stay two nights for less than the cost of one night on the outskirts of Indy. I like parking in the infield, which means we have to get there early before it fills up. Consequently, we have to leave our hotel at 4:30 am – something that doesn’t go over to well with teenagers – in order to be inside the track before 8:00. I can only imagine what moving the schedule up two hours will do to our plans.

The whole idea behind an earlier start is to accommodate drivers who might want to run the “double” – the Indianapolis 500 that day and the NASCAR race in Charlotte that night. I’m not sure how many takers there will be among the NASCAR set, even if they do change the time.

First of all, at the same time that IMS changed the starting time to noon in 2005, NASCAR and FOX moved the start of the Charlotte race up an hour making the travel window for drivers attempting the double practically non-existent. Even if IMS did move the starting time up to 11:00 am EDT, who is to say that NASCAR wouldn’t adjust their schedule again? I wouldn’t expect any cooperation from NASCAR to make the double possible. Although it would generate some slight buzz, the buzz would benefit the Indy 500 more than NASCAR.

Practically any driver wanting to attempt the double would be a driver that had already driven the Indy 500; and would probably mostly involve the same that have done it in the past; John Andretti, Robby Gordon and Tony Stewart. Sam Hornish and Juan Montoya would be likely additions to the list. I see no way on earth that Jeff Gordon, Dale Jr., or Jimmie Johnson would ever attempt the double. The week before the Brickyard 400, Dale Jr. made headlines saying that he would like to drive the Indy 500 sometime. That is not the same as saying he will drive it. I would like to go to Homestead for the season finale. More than likely, I won’t be there.

Even if the starting time changed, there is no guarantee that any drivers would be able to do it, even if they wanted to. No manufacturer in NASCAR is going to relish the idea of one of their drivers getting into a car powered by Honda. With only one exception, every time the double has been attempted in the past, the drivers drove for the same manufacturer. John Andretti went from Ford to Ford in 1994, the first time anyone ran the double. Robby Gordon went from GM to GM (Olds to Chevy) in 1997 and in 2002 (Chevy to Chevy); Tony Stewart went from GM to GM (Olds to Pontiac) in 1999 and 2001. The only time a driver drove for two different manufacturers in the two races was in 2003; when Robby Gordon subbed for the injured Dario Franchitti at Indy in an AGR Dallara-Honda and then drove a Chevy that night for Richard Childress.

When Tony Stewart hopped into an AJ Foyt "Tah-yota" in 2004, playing with the possibility of running it – Chevy stepped in and put a stop to it before the car got out of the garage. In this age of bailouts and woes of automakers, manufacturers aren’t too willing to have their drivers hopping into a car powered by a competitor.

I’m certainly not opposed to changing the starting time of the race, but they shouldn’t change it strictly with doing the double in mind. In my opinion, I think that IMS should move the starting time of the race up one hour to a noon local start. By the sun, that IS the original starting time. Viewers in other states would see it as the traditional starting time prior to 2005. It gives an extra hour of daylight in the case of a rain delay, but doesn’t cause major travel concerns and changes for those attending the race. It also starts the race and pre-race coverage at a more acceptable time on the west coast. More importantly, I wish they would adjust the practice and qualifying days to adhere to the previous “sun” schedule. That would make qualifying begin at noon and take it to 7:00 pm local time each day.

Moving the starting time around to accommodate a few NASCAR drivers is absurd. The Indianapolis 500 has been around a lot longer than the World 600 or Coca-Cola 600 or whatever they call the thing. If NASCAR drivers are genuinely interested in running both races, they should petition NASCAR to make changes to accommodate them. Memorial Day has been synonymous with racing for ninety-nine years. It isn’t because of NASCAR.

George Phillips

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8 Responses to “When To Start The Indianapolis 500?”

  1. Jack in NC Says:

    The times might be less confusing if everything was converted to GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) like aviation does. That way the time is the same regardless of which time zone you are in – makes things easier to calculate.

  2. From a pure living-in-Speedway standpoint, I’d like to see the time move to noon or 11 because I hate waiting around all day for it to start! Come race day, I’m ready for racing. I’ve been fully entrenched in the 500 for a month and ready to roll. Plus, isn’t there something fun about having a nice lunch of cold chicken around lap 30 when you can settle in for the race?

  3. I thought the proposal was to move it to 11am EDT. (Not sure / don’t care about the local time Indy, which is always Today minus 25 years ;-)

    Actually, I think its a good idea. From purely a business standpoint Indy needs to generate some excitement and interest going into 2011. The sad fact is they’ll still be running these old Dallara sleds for the 100th. I’ll be honest, I’d rather see Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Sam Hornish, and Jimmy Johnson taking the start of the 500 than Jacques Lazier, Buddy Rice, Milka Duno, or Nelson Phillipe. And I don’t think I’m alone in that respect.

    There is more to marketing than just TV ratings points. Buzz, and air time on Sportscenter, and space in the sports pages is important too. Getting the start times moved around to accommodate one off attempts by Nascar drivers, will do more to generate interest and buzz around the 500 than any other marketing attempts that IMS can afford at this point. I would even go so far as to say that they’d be better off moving the start time and upping the purse, than putting more money into advertising / marketing of the 500.

    I think the positives far outweigh the negatives at the moment. Indycar and IMS needs to do something to raise the profile of the 500, and Indycar racing in general. Running Grand Am, Moto GP, and even the Brickyard 400 at IMS won’t accomplish that. The league is in a bad financial position, and can’t afford to buy their way up into the ratings / sponsorship battle with Nascar.

    Do they forever need to cater to Nascar crossover drivers? No, hopefully within a few years they can be back on solid footing. But right now the reality is that even with the cost of running the entire IRL being somewhat less than the sanctioning fee for a single F1 race, they are financially stretched. Moving the start time is a cheap way to raise their profile, and get some free publicity / attention for the league and its sponsors.

    Rebuilding Indycar into what it once was, the pre-eminent form of racing in America and arguably, the world, won’t happen overnight. Small steps like this will be necessary to gradually build it back up.

  4. If you really care about the Indy 500 and you lived on the West Coast like I did from 1992 to 2003, you’ll get up early and watch the race, no questions asked.

    As far as changing the time to cater to the Nascar drivers, I say why not? If some of them want to run the Indy 500 they ought to at least have the opportunity to, whether they’re allowed to run it is another story.

    • I agree about getting up early and watching the race. I actually enjoy watching the F1 races first thing on Sunday mornings – I get my race fix early, and have the rest of the day to spend with my family!

  5. After I first read some things on this, I was hoping to hear what you would have to say about it, George. As always, you deliver!

    I personally would love to see it happen just to allow more slack time in case of bad weather, and I would like to see guys do the double. Among the other drivers already mentioned, Hornish, Juan Pablo Montoya, and John Andretti (especially now that Richard Petty has had a taste of Indy) would all be good candidates. I also think that Tony Stewart still wants to win the Indy 500, if not as a driver, at least as a team owner. I think someday we’ll see a Tony Stewart Motorsports IndyCar team.

    I hadn’t really thought about the manufacturer issue, though. Perhaps that could change if any other engine manufacturers are going to get into IndyCar? Then again, I don’t think any of the manufacturers in NASCAR have been rumored to become IndyCar suppliers. In a similar vein, if Toyota would get out of F1, could they return to Indy? It would certainly be a lot cheaper.

    Oh well, I’m doing way too much speculating now. I’ll be curious to see if anything comes of this.

  6. I think noon would be an ideal start time. All of the hands of the clock meet on the “12” and the green flag drops…that just has a nice sort of ring to it. Plus, that puts the race back to the time it always used to be for everyone but the people of Indiana.

    and George, be careful giving out the secrets of where you stay on Memorial Day Weekend…other people might discover south-central Indiana, and then you’ll never get another hotel room again! “500” attendees will discover how nice south-central Indiana is and that’ll be the end of hotel vacancy for you!

  7. Agreed. I *do* live on the West Coast, and I make the effort to get up and at least start the tape rolling during the pre-show. I half-watch that, depending on my mood or whatever else is going on, and I’m fully awake and ready to go for Start Engines.

    For me, the difference between an 8am, 9am, 10am local start isn’t that much. The upside is that the race typically ends in the early afternoon and you still have a large chunk of the day to do other things. The bad part is that, unlike the Super Bowl, the World Series, or most other events, it’s not a good pizza and beer event because it’s so early (at least not for me).

    Just from casual observation, the people who watch the 500 here tend to be two kinds: the Fans, who will make the effort to watch it no matter when it is on; and the people who watch it mostly because The Fan in the house has it on. They may enjoy it, but they probably wouldn’t watch it noone else in the household were interested.

    I mentioned elsewhere (and maybe here in a different thread) that I think the Double is pointless and (IMO) dumb. All it is is the opportunity to lose two major races in the same day. And if I were a NASCAR owner, I’d be angry if my driver showed up mentally and physically spent (no matter how many IVs they give them on the flight over) from having run a race earlier in the day. If Indy were in the evening and Charlotte at noon, I’d feel the same way.

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