More Balance Needed In The IndyCar Schedule
Although the IZOD IndyCar Series lost one race off of the 2012 schedule, it’s still hard to believe that this season is now two-thirds over – even though it’s not even mid-July. After a period that saw five races in six weekends immediately following the Indianapolis 500, the final five races will be spread out over ten weekends – with a three week gap in between races in August, where the China race would have taken place.
Even if the China race had taken place, it seems like the season would still be limping towards the finish line with momentum quickly evaporating. I’ve made it clear before that I’m not a fan of the season going head-to-head against the NFL in September. Although most don’t agree with me on this, the series improved things quite a bit this year by wrapping up the season in mid-September – an entire month before last year’s season was completed. In fact, although there are two September races – Baltimore and Fontana – neither goes up against the NFL. Baltimore will be held on Labor day weekend, on a Sunday when not much else is going on, while Fontana will run on September 15 – which is a Saturday night.
The tail-end of the schedule is in good shape now – a well-attended street course followed by the season finale on an oval that has now been announced as another five-hundred miler. As far as I can recall, this is the first time ever that INDYCAR has sanctioned a five-hundred mile race away from IMS. CART used to do it at Fontana and Michigan, but the IRL/INDYCAR always wanted to save the five-hundred mile race as the exclusive domain of the Indianapolis 500. I’m a purist and am all about propping up IMS, but I welcome the additional hundred miles at Fontana. I think it makes it more compelling for the season finale.
So the back-end of the schedule has been cleaned up and the front-end is in pretty good shape; although I’d like to see at least one oval before the month of May. What needs cleaning up is the middle portion of the schedule. If you add in the Indianapolis 500 from late May, June contained four of the five ovals on the entire schedule along with the snoozer at Belle Isle. Add the two weeks in May leading up to the Indianapolis 500 and you’ve got a very busy and congested two months for drivers, teams and fans. Suddenly, after the race in Iowa – the season seems to be creeping at a snail’s pace as it lumbers to a close in mid-September.
Randy Bernard has made it clear that he wants more races on the schedule in the next couple of seasons. He would like to have nineteen races on next year’s schedule and as many as twenty-two on the 2014 slate. As with everything else lately, the owners oppose him on this. But I think that Randy Bernard is correct for a lot of reasons. He wants to grow this series by expanding into different markets. He has also made known his wishes for more ovals on the schedule – a school of thought that I share with him.
If the IZOD IndyCar Series were to remain at sixteen races, you would have to somehow space the races more evenly around the month of May. That leaves one to two weekend gaps throughout the season. That may be a dream come true for owners and teams, but it will kill any momentum for gathering new fans. Personally, I loved the month of June with a race almost every weekend. There needs to be a balance struck that will give the teams some off-weekends, while creating some consecutive weekends for continuity sake. The best way to do that is by adding more races for the months of July and August.
If it were up to me, I would try to have a minimum of eighteen races next season with at least nine being ovals. That would be an increase of four over this season. I would keep all five from this season and in my perfect world; add Phoenix, Pocono, Michigan and Nashville (hey, I said in MY perfect world – can’t I have a race in my hometown?). At the expense of two of the non-ovals, I would add Road America or Laguna Seca while dumping Sonoma and Belle Isle. Unfortunately, I don’t think Belle Isle is going anywhere but I can dream, can’t I?
Unfortunately, at Toronto on Sunday – Randy Bernard shot down any chance for Road America or Michigan showing up on the 2013 schedule. The logic is that he wants Milwaukee and Belle Isle to be able to stand on their own before adding competing tracks so close in proximity. Fair enough, but I’m hoping some of the other tracks that fans are wanting will still be considered for 2013.
The series needs to add more races at the back end of the schedule or run the risk of losing the interest in what fans they have. It’s a little disconcerting to know that there are only five races between now and September 15. It’s hard to stay focused on a racing series when it isn’t racing very much. When NFL training camps start gearing up and baseball pennant races get into full swing, it’ll be hard for even hard core fans to get overly excited about a points battle with so few races in the next two (plus) months.
The INDYCAR schedule makers got it right by trimming races from the fall, now let’s see if they can follow suit by beefing up the July-August portion of the schedule.