The 2013 Schedule Is A Mixed Bag
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?