Should IndyCar Run A Second Race At IMS?

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If you listened to Trackside the other night, you heard the discussion towards the end of the show where Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee both brought a list of ideas that could possibly help grow the IZOD IndyCar Series. Granted, this was essentially a brainstorming session where no idea is discounted. That’s what brainstorming is all about – all ideas are considered.

Kevin Lee came up with what he admitted was an idea he wasn’t really sold on. He was just throwing it out there, knowing that a lot of people would consider it a sacrilege. The idea was adding a second IndyCar race each year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

A 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 would not run the Indianapolis 500. 2) There would never be lights at IMS and 3) There would never be an IndyCar race on the road course at IMS. Point number one may be safe, but two and three may be in jeopardy.

When I wrote that post in May of 2010, Tony George was still in charge of IMS and IndyCar. George is now out of the picture and a revamped board is making all decisions regarding the series and the speedway. In a nutshell – all bets are now off. With financial assistance from the State of Indiana, it now looks as if lights will be added to the historic facility at some point in the not so distant future. If longstanding policies such as not accepting public funds or not holding a night race out of respect of the speedway’s neighbors can be abandoned – what makes anyone think that running a second IndyCar race at IMS couldn’t happen?

While die-hard traditionalists like myself cringe at such a thought – let’s take the traditionalist point of view out of the discussion for a moment. The question is; would it be a good business decision? Another question would be; would it be another oval race with a shorter distance, or would they utilize the road course that Formula One used?

If I were told that I had to run a second race there, I think I would choose the road course as the second race – otherwise, you are diluting your primary attraction; the Indianapolis 500. Make the races as different as possible, while still utilizing the same facility.

While decent tickets to the 500 are easier to come by than they used to be – the best seats are closely held by families year after year. One of these years, I’ll own seats in EE Stand – but there aren’t too many of those available currently. Although I’d never pass up the 500 for a second oval race in the fall, there are many that would. Some may pass on the May race, in order to get much better tickets for an almost identical race that runs only 400 miles later in the season.

I will always opt for the tradition of the Indianapolis 500. If there was the “Lucas Oil 400 at Indianapolis” later in the season, I may or may not make the trek a few months later. Living four hours away, I can’t promise I would come back to see a lesser version at the same venue.

The argument for “the month of May” all these years has been that this is such a difficult track, that teams and drivers need all of those extra days of practice to be ready for race day. Would a September race on the oval at Indianapolis demand the same amount of practice time or would they simply unload on Saturday and race on Sunday with regular qualifying procedures used at all the other tracks? That kind of makes the full week of practice in May seem rather pointless.

I may be a little more likely to attend an IndyCar road race at Indianapolis than a second oval race – just for the novelty of it if nothing else. Of course, the novelty may wear off after the first or second year. Still, it’ll be unique to see those same cars we saw in May, running the opposite direction down the straightaway just a few months later.

The first year, it would probably be a moneymaker for the speedway. There would be enough a curiosity factor that a lot of people would want to attend. The question then would be; how racy would the road course be for the DW12? So far, it has not proven to be a great design for good racing. Cars meander through the road course portion in a single file parade before running through the south end and a large portion of the front-stretch before diving back onto the road course portion. Most passing would take place on the oval portion, which would be a good thing since that is where most of the fans would be located. But if there are few passing opportunities in the first year, I suspect that ticket sales would fall off dramatically in year two.

But the biggest question is how would a second IndyCar race at IMS affect the main event – the Indianapolis 500? Ideally fans would attend both. If not, it would be good that the second race brought new fans that did not attend the 500. What would be bad would be for fans opting to attend the second race instead of the Indianapolis 500. If the result of a second race at IMS is that there are a lot of empty stands for the television cameras to see at the 500 – then they have totally defeated the purpose.

I’m not sure this could be avoided. With the 500, Belle Isle, Milwaukee, Iowa and Mid-Ohio already on the schedule; there are plenty of races in the Midwest. Can the market support another one? Plus, there is the question of where to put such a race on the schedule. On the current schedule, the logical place would be in late September. That would allow the series to finish the season on the oval at Fontana. The Indianapolis weather is still nice in September, but I wonder if October might be a little iffy. You would have to have it as far from May as possible. Of course, in September they would be going up against the Colts.

Would this be in addition to the MotoGP race or instead of it? Could you really expect central Indiana to support four events at IMS? That’s a tall order in regions far more populated than Indiana.

I can appreciate Kevin Lee’s creativity. I’m also glad he threw out the caveat that this was just an idea and not anything he was an advocate for. From a business standpoint, I’m not sure that this is an idea that IMS or IndyCar should pursue unless it was a one-time deal. As an annual event, I think it could do more harm than good in the long run.

And as a traditionalist…yes, I find it blasphemous.

George Phillips

Please Note – Susan and I are travelling this weekend. Therefore, there will not be anything posted here next Monday March 4th. I will return here on Wednesday March 6th. I hope everyone has a safe and enjoyable weekend. And remember – three weeks from this weekend is the season-opener in St. Petersburg.

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13 Responses to “Should IndyCar Run A Second Race At IMS?”

  1. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    I have often wondered why an IC road race was not run at IMS. Perhaps even a 250 or 300 mile oval race… Marketing surveys should be taken and some real analysis done, but I have always thought that the IMS was under utilized.

  2. I live in Chicago, I would go.

    Bring F1 back too, cut school lunches to pay for it all.

  3. Nat Krieger Says:

    I go to the 500 every year at a great cost, coming from NY requires flights car and hotel..I do this because I love the race..a 2nd race, I’d go once for the curiosity factor only then most likely not return. I’d come to say I saw it(just as I did NASCAR and F1(no interest in motoGp)). In may everything is built on tradition, in the fall there is none

  4. A second oval race would be a big, huge mistake. It would confuse and dilute the impact, the meaning and history, the importance of the race in May.

    On the other hand, if I owned IMS, I’d figure out a way to get some money back on that road track.

    On my third hand, the road track would need improvements to stage a quality race there and that would mean even more money.

  5. I spend enough money going to Indianapolis in May (worth it!) and I can’t spend that twice. As for the road course, I prefer Barber because it is a beautiful course and can be a day-trip from Nashville.

  6. To me this is selling to fans you already have, when they should be focussing on a new market with new fans. Two races at IMS wont increase the ratings. A new race at Phoenix might.

  7. To add to that, if a rebuttal is that a second race would be like printing money, the same money, at less effort could be had by selling a sponsorship for the facility.

  8. billytheskink Says:

    I just don’t see the need to contest a second Indycar race at the speedway, road course or not. It would lack tradition and differentiation from the 500 for the locals, and it wouldn’t be a very compelling trip for out-of-towners. Is IMS willing to put on a major event that draws half of the current Brickyard 400 crowd? I dunno, but I don’t think that is a prospect that excites the business-obsessed side of the Indycar fanbase.
    If it happened, I’d watch, but probably wouldn’t be putting it on my list of races to attend someday ahead of Milwaukee, Iowa, Mid Ohio, and the like.

    Even so, if such an event were to take place, there are ways to make it more interesting.

    For a road race, pairing the Indycars with a major road racing series, Grand-ALMS or the World Endurance Championship, would be a good way to make the event more worthwhile. This could take Grand-ALMS away from the Brickyard weekend, though. Those Australian V8 Supercars would be another interesting option, the guys who sat in front of me at the 500 in 2011 were Australians decked out in their V8 Supercar gear.

    A second oval race would be a tougher sell than a road race, it’d never be more than a really poor man’s 500. Pairing an oval race with a road race in one weekend, though, could be interesting. Make them both 250 miles for “500 mile weekend” and give a trophy and bonus points to the best average finisher between the two. Cash bonus for winning both.

    Staying in the Indy market, but leaving the speedway… an Indycar race at the IRP oval capping off a weekend of major USAC races? That’s a trip I’d schedule and a pipe dream I can dig.

  9. Lights are coming to the Horseshoe so I am convinced nothing is sacred anymore. IndyCars, at night, for 300-400 miles sounds inevitable. Might as well enjoy it.

  10. Savage Henry Says:

    The only thing that Indycar has to trade on right now is the (already declining) prestige of the Indy 500. Anything that dilutes the 500 would amount to killing the golden goose. Another Indycar race would dilute the 500.

    Find other ways to use the facility, but don’t add another Indycar race. Mark Miles talked about adding non-racing entertainment events. I think that’s a great idea. Bringing in non-racing customers is bringing in new money. Doing more racing events is recycling the same money.

  11. The series already has a dozen races that, when combined, do not total the 14 million viewers that the 500 attracts on race day. Those races cost the teams close to 10x the cost of May at Indy.

    Every added race, even another at IMS, adds more cost than revenue, making the affordability of real racing equipment less viable.

    The answer is an unmitigated no. Every race added beyond May is harmful to the health of the sport that in the eyes of the majority of people who watch a single minute of Indycar racing each year, believe only exists in May.

  12. Just more proof they don’t get it.

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