The 2013 Schedule Is A Mixed Bag

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Like so many of us, I cleared my Sunday night calendar in order to watch the live unveiling of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule by Randy Bernard on Wind Tunnel. Unlike so many of us, I came away with not much of an impression – one way or the other. But when I went to Twitter about an hour later, I was shocked to see such strong opinions on both sides. If I had not seen the schedule before getting on Twitter, I would have thought that two different schedules had been announced. There were those that seemed almost giddy with excitement over the 2013 slate; while others were so upset and depressed that the demise of the entire series seemed eminent. Where did these reactions come from? If you kept up with any IndyCar news over the last couple of weeks, you knew that most of what was announced had been widely anticipated.

So here’s what was announced. There are nineteen races to take place over sixteen event weekends; meaning three weekends will feature double-headers (more on that in a bit). Although we weren’t sure which races would be affected, we knew that there would be at least two double-headers. Now we know there are three. Edmonton will not have an IndyCar race in 2013. We already knew that. The first nine events are identical to this past year’s schedule, the only exception being that Belle Isle will be one of the three double-headers.

The biggest news is that Pocono will be the tenth event on the schedule. That is big news, but you had to live under a rock to not know that was coming. The other two double-headers will be at Toronto in July and the already announced street race in Houston in early October. It had also been expected for Fontana to return as the season finale, pushed back to mid-October due to the heat this year in mid-September. That, too, was confirmed.

Perhaps the biggest news was what was not announced; there will be no race in Providence, New Orleans or Kentucky. Nor will there be any race for five weeks following the September 1 race in Baltimore. Hmmmm…

Put me in the neutral camp for the double-headers. Sure they seem somewhat contrived in order to get to nineteen races, but there are good reasons behind the events selected. Some question why Belle Isle was selected. Our friend Pressdog pointed out that he’s doing good to watch one race per year from Belle Isle. There’s no way that he’ll watch two in two days. Fair enough – that’s a good point. Belle isle is a dud. But the logic is to give those that might consider attending the race, more bang for the buck. They can see two full races in two days.

Unlike the diluted Texas twins of 2011, these double-headers will be two complete races paying full and separate purses and full points for each race. Suddenly, those three weekends become very pivotal on the schedule. Find a setup that no one else can at one of those tracks and there could be a massive swing in points in the matter of two days. And let’s face it – Belle Isle needed something to spice up the show. To me, that is the spot on the schedule that I wince when I look at it. Toronto gets a double header so that the series can still claim two races in Canada, which is kind of a stretch. Houston is an unknown, but with it being the fourth largest market in the US – Randy Bernard and Company look to capitalize on the excitement of a new event. Another interesting twist to the double-headers is the promise to utilize flying starts during one of the two races and standing starts for the other.

If you count events and not races, there are six ovals and ten non-ovals. That’s the exact same ratio as the 1991 CART schedule. That is not the long-term goal of Randy Bernard, but it’s a step. On the bright side, for the first time in several years – no oval dropped off the schedule from the previous year. We got them all back and added one – Pocono.

With the addition of Pocono, Randy Bernard has listened to the fans (again) and has re-instituted a version of the old Marlboro Triple Crown from the early seventies. That version included the Indianapolis 500, the Pocono 500 and the California 500 at Ontario Motor Speedway – the IMS clone. The only driver to win that Triple Crown was Al Unser, when he turned the trifecta in 1978. This latest version will feature the two five-hundred mile races at Indianapolis and Fontana along with the four-hundred miler at Pocono. Any driver that wins all three will win a $1 million bonus. If a driver wins two of the three, they will collect $250,000.

The biggest positive for me was the addition of Pocono Speedway, which opened in 1971. Indy cars raced at Pocono under the USAC and CART banners from 1971 until 1989, when it was removed from the schedule due to poor track conditions and low revenue. Now it’s back. Fans have been clamoring for years to get Pocono back on the schedule. It makes sense. It’s an oval. It’s only 100 miles from New York City and Philadelphia – two huge markets currently not exposed to open-wheel racing. Most importantly, it’s an oval not controlled by Bruton Smith or the France family. The unique triangular track is 2.5 miles in length and should provide some great racing.

Another big plus is the TV schedule. ABC will kick off their coverage with the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500. Then they will carry five of the next six races following Indianapolis. In order to accommodate ABC, the Iowa race has been moved to Sunday afternoon, but the best part of the TV coverage is that ABC will carry the Texas race during prime time on Saturday night – not ESPN, but ABC. This is big – not because I’m such a fan of Marty Reid (I’m not), but because this gives the series great exposure doing what it does best – ovals. For the most part, the series has always put on a great show at Texas. This gives the casual fan a chance to catch the cars from what will hopefully be a great Indianapolis 500, just a couple of weeks later. How Randy Bernard worked that deal after a year of declining ratings is beyond me.

So what’s the biggest negative to Sunday night’s announcement? The five-week vacuum in September, when the series is completely parked. From September 1 to October 6 – there is no race. In that time, college football and the NFL will take center-stage, as will baseball pennant races. The NHL may have ended their lockout by next September, so they will be playing pre-season games. Don’t forget NASCAR’s chase will be starting in that time. Lots of things will be going on to make the general public and even some die-hards forget that the IndyCar season hasn’t concluded. From what INDYCAR officials said on Monday – this schedule is final. There are no TBA’s in the mix for September. It’ll be a tall order to get fans back for those last two races in October.

So like most things, there was a mixed bag on Sunday night. I didn’t see or hear anything that made me want to do cartwheels, nor was there anything that made me want to jump off the ledge. I’m very happy to see Pocono back in the mix after all these years, likewise for the Triple Crown. I’m undecided, but intrigued, regarding the double-headers; and I’m very concerned about the five-week gap in September. But overall, the schedule is an improvement over this past year. And isn’t improvement what everyone is looking for?

George Phillips

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16 Responses to “The 2013 Schedule Is A Mixed Bag”

  1. If F1 can have an illogical Sumer break and come back to competition from EPL and other domestic football seasons, I don’t see why IndyCar can’t do the same.

    Why not go all the way with standing starts? Makes my Detroit decision very easy. Saturday but no Sunday.

    This is another tailor made schedule for Will Power to win the championship. How will he screw it up in 2013?

  2. Hi George, the doubleheaders are at Detroit, Toronto and Houston. Sonoma is not among them. It was discussed but it did not happen. Keep up the good work!

    • Oilpressure Says:

      Oh crap! You’re right. What was I thinking? My brain must be getting too old for this. I’ll make the correction. Thanks.

  3. I think it’s an interesting schedule and that Bernard is doing a good job considering his budget restraints, “revolting” car owners and the dismal ratings on television.

    I thought for sure some other race would be announced in the month off, but I guess not. May as well go back to Motegi as long as they’re just sitting around.

  4. I think having the double headers run TWO consecutive days is pretty cool. It is like, “tune in tomorrow for the conclusion, same Bat-time, Same Bat-channel.” Those weekends should also be an attending fan’s great wish come true. I would love it. Maybe they can do that at Barber for the next year!!!
    Okay, as for the schedule, I am warming up to it the more I think about it. I like the two-day doubleheaders, as I pointed out, and If the last race is anything like the last race this year it could be worth waiting for and might capture a few of the football eyeballs if run late that afternoon or early evening. However, NO MORE 9PM STARTS!!!

  5. Brian from NY Says:

    I like this schedule for a couple of reasons, but I am taking a long term approach. The biggest thing for me is to have continuity with the schedule while slowly expanding it. If it was up to the fans they would add a dozen races to the schedule, but that would all but bankrupt most of the owners and we would see fields with a dozen cars. I think Randy is being smart by increasing events slowly and allowing them to develop. It has to make sense for the tracks, the owners, and the series to go to a particular track and if it doesn’t you are only hurting the sport in the long term. The fans need to look at the positives. We have 19 races, another great oval, and we brought back almost all the same races.

    Now look at what F1 has done in the last four or five years and I think I know where Randy is trying to go with IndyCar. They have been adding about one race a year (Korea, COTA, NJ, Dubai, Singapore, etc). Eventually, F1 will stop at around 25 with tracks fighting to be on the schedule. Right now, IndyCar is not in a position to negotiate from a position of strength. It is why they need to stick to their guns and build the on track product and develop the races they have on the schedule. The track owners will see the benefit of hosting a race and IndyCar can negotiate from strength. It makes no sense for IndyCar to drop their sanction fee if they want to be financially solvent.

    As for the double headers, I like them because it’s three more races I can watch that I otherwise would not have seen. It is also the only way the owners could afford a 19 race schedule at this time. If you had added three other event weekends instead of the doubleheaders, the owners would have screamed bloody murder that they can’t afford it and half the field would have stayed home. The doubleheaders help the track, keep the cost down for the owners, and is good for the fans. I don’t understand how people who are fans can complain that we have three more races. They think that the doubleheader is replacing another potential race which it is not. The question is do you want an additional three races or not. I’m a fan so the more the merrier.

    Looking forward, I believe that we will see one to two tracks added each year until we top out at 24 or 25. I think that is Randy’s long term goal. He needs to make each one of those tracks an event, so that when the next TV contract comes up, he has something of value. A 25 race schedule at packed house events. The gaps in the schedule and the start of the year will be filled by new events in the coming years. Look for COTA , Phoenix, Mexico, RA, and another oval or street course to fill out the schedule in the next couple of years. Personally, great job by Randy and I look forward to the years ahead.

  6. billytheskink Says:

    A nice, levelheaded take on the 2013 schedule George.

    This is not a perfect schedule, in fact it’s quite a flawed schedule if you examine it in a vacuum. It is progress, though, and for that reason I like it a lot.
    First year since 1999 (seriously) that all ovals from the previous year’s schedule carried over. Most every race remains in its same date. These are tremendous positives.

    The most impressive thing to me is the TV scheduling. I’ve long understood that ABC/ESPN’s current contract with Indycar called for the Indy 500 and 4 other races, 5 total. Bernard was able to get them to broadcast 6 races this year, and next year they’ll have 7 broadcasts on over-the-air TV, including one in PRIMETIME. My jaw dropped when I first saw that. Has there been a primetime Indycar broadcast on over-the-air television since the Indy 500 was tape-delayed back in the 80s?
    I’m not impressed with this because I have any love for ABC’s Indycar broadcasts, but because, given this past year’s TV ratings on both networks, to get more airtime on ABC (including a primetime slot) is almost miraculous. This may be a wash or negative for the die-hard fan, but I’m sure it is a big deal to teams trying to sell sponsorship.

  7. great about ponoco ! but the rest of the schuldue is just a repeat of last year. i dont care anything about a street in houston. only street i can tolrate is st pete. kentucky, michigan and watskins glenn should all be on this slate. hopefully in 2014 phoenix will join the ranks. otherwise just a so-so slate of events.

  8. Savage Henry Says:

    My only concern is how they are going to set the field in race 2 of the double-headers. Cavin thought they might use practice times again. I don’t like that. Practice should be for practice. Instead, I think that they should do proper qualifying for race 1 and then use fastest lap times from race 1 to set the field for race 2. That could create some intrigueing reaults. If it turns into a fuel race at the front, teams may make an extra pit stop for fuel and tires in an attempt to set the fast lap. Many times fast lap is set by someone back in the field. It gives teams out of contention a reason the keep pushing through the race. I see the chance to really scramble the field for race 2.

  9. George, I have to disagree with you and all the teeth gnashers about Belle Isle for next year.

    1. As we type, the track is being repaved and new, expanded passing zones are being added to improve the track and the racing product.
    2. The race was considered to be a great event by the people who attended the race. Ditto that for the sponsors and their guests.
    3. The new CEO for the event is IndyCar’s own Charles Burns, who I’m sure knows his way around a track and will work hard to improve the race.
    4. I believe the track layout is being tweeked as well, as I remember reading they were adding a longer straight to the track.

    We need to remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Again, i will make the point that if you want more of [type of track] or a race at [name of track], then you need to support that type of racing at the existing events, either by buying tickets or watching tv coverage, so that promotors can see that it is economically feasible.

  10. Chris Lukens Says:

    About the double headers. The idea that Belle Isle is one of them is laughable. That race is just plain bad TV, it always has been, even when CART raced there. The other question about Belle Isle, is ABC going to show both days or is NBCSP going to show the Saturday parade.
    I’m surprised that Houston is one of the double headers. Houston is a complete unknown. At 1.7 miles it’s slightly larger than some go-cart tracks. I would have thought that Baltimore would have been a much better choice.

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