Three Things You’ll Never See At IMS

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I realize that it’s a good idea to never say never, but there are a few things that I constantly read or hear people say that should happen at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or with the Indianapolis 500; that I feel reasonably sure won’t happen within the next decade or longer. In fact, if I was a betting man – my bet would be that they’ll never happen.

So here is my list of three things that I can say with relative certainty that you’ll never see at the Indy 500 or the Indianapolis Motor Speedway…

NASCAR’s stars will run in the Indianapolis 500 – I can remember when Cale Yarborough, the Allison’s and Lee Roy Yarbrough all came to race in the Indy 500; it was considered quite a big deal. But back then, the Indy 500 and the World 600 (now the Coca-Cola 600) were not held on the same day. In fact, the two races weren’t held on the same day until 1974.

Still, assuming rain wasn’t involved – there was time to finish running the Indy 500 in the afternoon and then race in the 600 that night in Charlotte, NC. Although talked about in hypothetical terms for years, it wasn’t attempted until 1994, when John Andretti drove in a one-off effort for AJ Foyt at Indianapolis to finish tenth, then hopped aboard a private jet bound for Charlotte where he finished thirty-sixth while driving in his full-time ride for Billy Hagan.

Since then, Robby Gordon and Tony Stewart have also run the “double”. The last time it happened was in 2004, when Robby Gordon had to yield his Indy ride to Jacques Lazier during a rain delay in order to get to Charlotte on time.

Over the past few years, the starting times for the two races have moved closer together. ABC wanted the 500 to start an hour later while FOX wanted their race to start earlier; making the double barely possible even under the most ideal scenarios.

In all of the “what-ifs” that are part of blogs and talk-radio, the idea of Tony Stewart returning with the armada of Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Sam Hornish, Jr. keeps getting thrown out there. I’ve got news for you. It won’t happen.

As intriguing as it may sound, too many factors work against this. First and foremost, until a NASCAR manufacturer also provides engines to the IZOD IndyCar Series, they will not allow one of their top drivers to be seen driving a Honda. Times have changed. Ten years ago, Matt Kenseth drove a Chevy on Saturday’s in the Busch Series and then a Ford on Sunday’s in the Cup race. That won’t happen today. Things have gotten too competitive and the manufacturers are pumping too much money into NASCAR to allow one of their stars to jump into a car with a key competitor’s logo on it.

Also, the car owner’s aren’t keen on having their high-paid drivers put at risk while whizzing around at 230 mph for someone else’s benefit. Open-wheel racing is perceived to be much more dangerous than NASCAR. After all, any safety developments in racing over the last twenty years, such as the SAFER barrier and the HANS device, were all invented by NASCAR – or so they would have us believe.

NASCAR has no interest in having their drivers compete at Indy. Don’t think for a moment they don’t relish the recent failures of open-wheel drivers going over to NASCAR; giving the perception that their form of racing is much tougher. They have no desire for their stars to go to the Indianapolis 500 and fall flat on their collective face and be shown up by the wine and cheese crowd at Indy.

No…the only time you may see Hornish, Stewart or any other NASCAR driver at Indy will be when they are no longer full-time in their own series. At that point, not many people would care or take notice.

There will be night racing at IMS - The Hulman-George family has always tried to be good citizens for the town of Speedway, IN. Although they are aware of the economic impact that their facility has on the area, they are also mindful of the hardships the track can bring. As long as the Hulman-George family owns the Speedway, I don’t see any form of night racing in the future of IMS.

If you’ve ever been to the Indianapolis 500, you’ve seen how long it takes to disperse that many people from the area. Imagine the turmoil caused by turning that many people out into the streets of Speedway at 11:00 pm or later. Plus things are bad enough when the hard-core party people start drinking at 7:00 am as it is now. Add to that mix the more social drinker that wouldn’t think about popping one for breakfast, but would love to start downing them around 4:00 in the afternoon.

It all paints a picture of total chaos on the surrounding streets. If you’ve ever been down 16th Street the night before the 500, you know what I’m talking about. Multiply that many times over the next night and it may be more than the town of Speedway wants to endure.

Plus, the cost to light the oval would be enormous. It would be possible, but probably cost prohibitive. I never thought lights would go up at Wrigley Field or Churchill Downs, and I was proven wrong then – but I just don’t see it happening.

The IZOD IndyCar Series should run a second event on the IMS road course - This is always a popular topic anytime the subject of scheduling comes up. There are many reasons to not do it as opposed to very few why they should. On the plus side, it would be a novelty to see IndyCars turning right at IMS and the teams wouldn’t have travel expenses. Other than that, I don’t see any reason to do it.

The IZOD IndyCar Series is looking for new markets to sell their product. Face it; they’ve got central Indiana pretty well sewn up. And with three major events already at IMS that no longer sell out, I don’t think the local market could sustain a fourth event. They certainly don’t want to draw fans away from the 500 or their other two events. Plus, it would be a black eye if there were mostly empty seats for a road course event at the facility that is the focal point for the series.

Of the three scenarios that I’ve discussed here – I think it might be the most likely to take place, but I just don’t see it happening. The negatives far outweigh the positives.

So what do you think? Will we see Gordon, Stewart and the like running in the Indianapolis 500? Will the Indy 500 or any other event at IMS be run after sundown? Will IndyCars ever turn right on purpose at the Speedway? I doubt it – what about you?

George Phillips

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20 Responses to “Three Things You’ll Never See At IMS”

  1. Good stuff again George – I don’t think there’ll be a road race at Indy, but of the three options there I think it’s the most likely.

    • On second thoughts, they do have the Race of Champions over here. Essentially it’s a racing competition that takes place in late-November / early-December every year (this year, it’s in Berlin I think) and normally sees competitors from F1, WRC, Sportcars and DTM pair up into a “nations battle” and have it out – if I remember correctly, a couple of NASCAR drivers have done it over the years to represent the US.
      They don’t race in the normal machinery of course, but buggy’s and touring cars – it’d be interesting to see if an option like that would ever be considered.

      • Oilpressure Says:

        Leigh:

        Don’t forget that it wasn’t too long ago that IndyCar drivers competed head to head against NASCAR drivers in IROC, I think the last version had them all in Dodge’s. It was a good concept when it started in the early seventies. Then it morphed into a series that heavily leaned toward stock cars with mostly NASCAR drivers at NASCAR tracks. Its popularity plummeted. – GP

  2. Didn’t they have a sports car test of some sort last year? I don’t know if the IIRS will race on the infield track, but I’d bet someone will–if not F1, then some series other than motorcycles.

    I read somewhere–another blog or Cavin, sorry don’t remember–that someone predicted the 500 would soon have a “presented by” sponsor? What do think the odds are of seeing the “Bud Light Indy 500?”

    • Yes, the ROLEX Grand Am series conducted tests @ IMS, but most feel it was some kind of political gesture since NASCAR owns GA. The DP’s don’t exactly draw crowds so the only way GA would come to Indy is comboed with a helluva lot of other race series.

  3. Fred Hurley Says:

    I agree that a rush of NASCAR drivers to the Indy 500 is unlikely, and in the short term virtually impossible for the reasons you listed. However the one caveat is that humans are notoriously bad about taking a “now” situation, and extrapolating it into “forever.” Sure, the manufacturers in NASCAR are paying a lot of money to lock up their top drivers, so Jimmie Johnson is unlikely to ever drive a Honda unless Hendrick suddenly switches engines, but at the same time, what if those manufacturers pull back their support over the next few years to the point where they can’t justify that exclusivity to the drivers. Remember that those drivers only honor that exclusivity (for the most part) because they’re paid to do so. They are almost certainly passing up other interesting opportunities in exchange for cash. Reduce that cash, and there’s a point at which guys might decide it would be fun to drive a different car twice a year (say at Indy and Le Mans). The current system is dependent on the manufacturers seeing good reason to pump a ton of money into NASCAR. That’s likely to continue for a few years yet, but after that, who knows? I think the 2015 racing season will look so different from 2010 that we’ll chuckle looking back. Think back to 2005, and where racing (and the economy overall) was then.

  4. Redd, you do remember correctly: Grand Am ran a test with both their warts on wheels daytona prototypes and a smattering of GT cars. I wouldn’t mind seeing a big, one-off sports car race as part of the Centennial Era, but who knows. On sponsorship for the race, I wouldn’t mind an “Indianapolis 500, presented by ____”. When Yum! Brands first sponsored the Kentucky Derby, people went insane; however, it’s turned out not to be so bad at all. As Yum! is a local company to the Derby, I would like to see a local company put their name on the “500” if that route were taken — Simon Malls or the Lilly Corporation spring to mind.

    George, I think we could see maybe a couple of NASCAR types in one circumstance: Speedway management truly honors the centennial of the “500” by putting next years race on Monday, May 30 (exactly 100 years to the day since “500” number 1). It would give the good ol’ boys a night to get up to Indianapolis if they so desired, and I could at least see Hornish possibly getting a chance in a Pennske car or a Luczo Dragon/De Ferran car.

  5. Agreed.
    Night racing is a gimmick used by places that aren’t attractive enough in the day, or as a unique selling point. That there are so many night races in racing now dilutes that a bit. Indy doesn’t need a gimmick.

    A IndyCar road course race at IMS would be tantamount to admitting nobody else wants an IndyCar race and this is the only way they can fill the calendar. It would be admitting failure. Completely wrong message and should only considered as a last resort.

    I don’t care about the NASCAR thing.

    • “…A IndyCar road course race at IMS would be tantamount to admitting nobody else wants an IndyCar race and this is the only way they can fill the calendar…”

      For the same reason I think a second date at Texas would be a mistake – it would scream of schedule filler.

    • I should add: there are plenty of places looking to hold an IndyCar race already, we don’t need two races in one venue. Give the likes of Baltimore a chance, and no doubt we all have our shortlists of where we’d like to see open wheel racing make a return if not a first visit.

      • I’ll agree with that. I have no interest in adding a second race at the “home track” (or elsewhere, for that matter) just for the sake of adding another event to the calendar. A second Texas date makes marginally more sense to me than an Indy road course race, but I’m still not a fan of either, because you’re liable to oversaturate your market and decrease ticket sales for the first event. Let’s get some more different tracks on the schedule before adding second dates at existing tracks.

      • It depends. For ovals, a second Texas date might be required if all the ISC ovals fall off. but two race dates per track is killing NASCAR, because instead of entering interesting new markets and tracks, we get two races at very similar facilities, it gets dull.

    • Who says the “night race” would have to involve Indycars :?: The Brickyard 400 crowds have been dropping off ,so perhaps NASCAR would resort to the night racing “gimmick” :?: :?:

  6. billytheskink Says:

    I’d rate the return of a handfull of NASCAR guys as the most likely of those three scenarios. Some may be stars, most probably won’t be.
    For one, it has happened before and within the last 10 years. Not often, but it has happened.

    While driver-series exclusivity has risen sharply over the last decade, the manufacturer money behind much of it appears to be declining after two decades of growth.
    Maybe the manufacturers will still (and always) hang on to the “stars”, but these days I would be surprised to see a scenario like the one a few years back where Michel Jourdain Jr. was supposedly prevented from driving in one of ChampCar’s Mexican races because he was under contract to drive a BuschGrandNational car that used Goodyear tires. That kind of money just isn’t there anymore for guys like Jourdain.

    There’s still enough money and prestige to be won at Indy to appeal to a good NASCAR driver, especially one who grew up going to or watching the 500.
    Full-season ride-buyers such as Sato notwithstanding, I think it is more likely that we will never see a current or former F1 star follow the footsteps of Clark, Stewart, Brabham, and Piquet.

  7. billytheskink Says:

    Also, as much as NASCAR fans like to note the lack of success that open-wheelers have in the series, 4 different drivers who have started NASCAR races this season won in Indy/Champ Cars before going on to win in -insert sponsor- Cup stock cars.

    George is right that NASCAR does not encourage its drivers to try to match the records of Stewart, Montoya, Robby Gordon, and John Andretti. I doubt the lengths that they would go to prevent them from trying if they wanted to, though.

  8. I disagree about the NASCAR thing. It’s pretty varried about how the manufacters would feel. Gannasi and Penske run both series, plus sportscars. A lot of it depends on drivers personal contracts. For instance, Jeff Gordon and Dale Junior likely have a contract with GM, but Juan Montoya and Aj Almidinger don’t nessecarly have one with their manufacter. Sadly, Stewart would be hard because he and GM are pretty close, he left Gibbs for Stewart Haas because of that relationship, and they help him and Hendrick a lot. The EGR and Penske drivers are most likely to do it, possibly Kurt Busch and Hornish from Penske and Juan from Gannasi. It would be pretty interesting to watch Busch try, because he’ll have great equipment. But with the expansion to three cars, I can’t see them adding another any time soon. He wouldn’t want to strech himself too thin, and he’s got three guys capbable of winning already.

  9. Night racing doesn’t require floodlights. An endurance sports car race at Indianapolis could run into the sunset by just lighting the pitlane and main straight, which shouldn’t prove too expensive. Car lights will do for the rest of the course.

    • AZZO45 Says:

      The only way I see a SC race @ IMS is a joint ALMS-Grand Am weekend (& politically that will NEVER happen). At least ALMS can have “world rules” to attract 1st class teams (& crowds)

      The only other logical deal would be Indycars running in the daylight followed by the sportscars into the dusk. However ,I also agree with the others who feel 2 stops @ one venue smells desperate (H*ll its not even working for NASCAR anymore… 2nd race has a crowd drop-off).

  10. Fan of Pressdog and OP Says:

    What about an 12 hour ALMS race the weekend before qualifying? Would add another week of May for the purists and cash for the coffers

  11. […] few years ago, I wrote a post on three things you would never see at IMS. For the record, the three things were; 1) NASCAR stars […]

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