More Balance Needed In The IndyCar Schedule

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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.

George Phillips

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15 Responses to “More Balance Needed In The IndyCar Schedule”

  1. Carburetor Says:

    I agree with your thoughts on improving the schedule George. This seems like a “chicken or the egg” quandry–the series needs more races and better scheduling AND it needs a much better television broadcasting package. I’m not sure one will be successful without the other. To compete for fans, the series must be exposed by tv. For it to be appealing to tv networks, it must have a following. Having pronounced absences in the mid-late summer schedule surely doesn’t help. I hope they are paying Bernard big $$$ to figure out how to make it work….

  2. I understand the reasons to race at Belle Isle, but it should be incumbent upon the promoter of the race to work with Indycar to make track changes to improve the racing. I’d like to see the season start earlier and end around Labor Day with fewer off-weeks.

    Bernard is correct that the series needs to expand it’s schedule. Unfortunately, Bernard was correct that the series needed aero kits but apparently he’s powerless to make that happen against the (self-serving?) interests of powerful car owners.

    I want an oval prior to Indy, even if it’s the first week in May. I want a (okay, self-serving) race at the F1 track in Austin so they could add that to the Ft. Worth oval and the Houston street race and make up a sort of Texas mini-series or something. Because that would be good for me. As others have said, I’d like to add Pocono as a 500 miler and revive the old Triple Crown idea of Fontana, Pocono and Indy. And pay a big bonus to the winner of all three. I want the Indy 500 to pay–by far–the biggest check to the winner in the racing world again. And to publicize it. And open up competition to see what the pace car is. I want aero kits. I want consistency. I want–

    –oh, well. It doesn’t matter. I guess I want whatever Chip and Roger want.

    • billytheskink Says:

      I like your thought on the three Texas races.

      As for Indy 500 purse, does the race not still pay the largest winning prize money of any race in the world? I know it pays about $1 million more than winning the Daytona 500.

      • I thought it had been eclipsed by Daytona. Not sure why I thought that–and there’s every chance I’m wrong–but I had that in my head. I’ll look it up.

        • according to semi-reliable internet sources, it looks like Daytona paid 19.1 million total with 1.4 million going to the winner. Indy paid out 13.2 million with 2.4 million going to the winner. didn’t check out F1 at all. so Indy’s still the largest winners check in racing, with Daytona handing out more total money. so no surprise, I’m wrong again. that’s why I never go to Vegas.

          I wonder how it would work out if Indycar just gave out prize money for races instead of the share-the-wealth program thing they have going on?

          • billytheskink Says:

            Formula 1 has a share-the-wealth program, kinda like IndyCar or (more like) the NFL. The teams receive a certain percentage of F1′s total revenues and then divide that “prize money” equally among themselves. Last year, the teams reportedly received $686 million total. Dividing this by 24 cars and 19 races gives an estimate of about $1.5 million per car per race race.

            Before IndyCar started setting prize money values, race purses were determined and paid by the promoter of each race. I wonder if that would be a hurdle to IndyCar working with race promoters or if they would prefer the old way.

  3. I couldn’t agree more with condensing the season and ending on Labor Day weekend, with a signature event. I always hear the excuse that racing 4 out of 5 weekends is tough on the teams, and too costly for the owners, but no one ever explains why Indycar should be any different from NASCAR in this regard, and the taxicabs race every weekend.

    • Bent Wickerbill Says:

      Just a guess, but I am thinking that the taxicab sponsors cough up a whole hell of alot more cake than the IC sponsors do…

      • Yes, because the taxicab races put more butts in the seats, and viewers on the TV screens. All part of the economic challenge of growing the business. I wish there was a simple answer.

  4. Do IndyCar owners sign a contract with IndyCar that they will race every race? Not that I am aware of. If owners do not want to race in 19, then don’t show up for 19.

    I think they could start the season earlier. A race in Phoenix (though I read they are talking July!!! Racing in 115 degrees is not going to attract spectators)or Ft. Lauderdale could help that.

    Since the Indy 500 is now the May Fortnight, they should have a race two weeks before the 500.

    The order of the races is also a problem. Not just road course to oval, but city to city. Why are the midwest races all in a row? I could go to Indy, Detroit, and Millwaukee in a given year, but I am not going to 3 weekends in a row. Please feel free to move around North America a tad more.

    Lastly, I enjoy Belle Isle and hope it stays on the schedule! There, I said it.

  5. Steve C Says:

    I don’t understand why the season “needs” to end before football season begins. To hell with the NFL; we’re race fans! 2 hours of 220mph & 3-4.0 G-force speedways, or mechanically challenging & physically demanding road & street racing is FAR more appealing than 300 pound jocks slamming into each other and wrestling over a pigskin for 15 seconds at a time. One sport attracts a fan with a short attention span (NFL), while auto racing has so much more detail to absorb (lap times, sector times, where’s so & so running, does so & so need to pit again, etc). It would seem that both sports cater to very different kinds of people, so who cares if football fans aren’t watching IndyCar?

    • Marketing research has shown that the demographics for the “typical” IndyCar fan are very similar to that of an NFL fan, so they do NOT cater to very different types of people. They are going after the same set of eyes. IndyCar is struggling to get a 1.0 on ABC, while a bad NFL matchup will get a 26.0 in a local market. In order to survive, IndyCar needs those NFL viewers and doesn’t need to be fighting for them in September. The way of thinking that the hard-core fans are enough to carry this sport is partly what got IndyCar in this mess to begin with.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Personally, I’d love to see IndyCar race through as much of the year as possible, but there are reasonable reasons for avoiding the NFL season.

      TV ratings, and the demographics that accompany them, indicate that the NFL attracts about any given person in the United States. That is, the NFL doesn’t have a niche, it does well with all sorts of people. There are probably more than a couple IndyCar fans who would consider it a difficult decision to choose between a race and their favorite NFL team’s game.

      Running during the NFL season means a considerably tougher row to hoe to reach non-diehard fans, less media attention, a harder sell to sponsors and advertisers, etc.
      It can be, and obviously has been, done, but it’s much tougher time of year to create successful events. With the total number of races well under 20, it’s also not really necessary.

  6. I would like more races in the early spring as well as July and August. A 19 race schedule would be nice, eventually, but I am also against going up against the NFL. Everyone knows that I am a race fan with great passion, however, if you had the Bears vs. Green Bay and a race on another channel, I am DVRing the race and watching the Bears beat Green Bay.

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