Beating The Dead Horse Some More

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No matter what you do, it’s always good to take a break. You know that the break did you some good when you’re glad to get back to what you were doing. I took a week-long break from here and re-charged my batteries. Today is my first day back. After reading this, some may say I need to take another break. I’ll promise you, I’m not as down as I may come across. It’s just that I’ve decided to tackle a subject that is bothering me – and that’s the fact that the IndyCar Series is far away from my thoughts.

Ever since the 2013 schedule was released last fall, the gaping hole in September caught everyone’s eye. Some of us, my self included, thought that surely another race that had yet to be announced would be added. Not once did I think that the powers-that-be would allow a five-week gap to remain. But Randy Bernard was fired shortly thereafter, and there were suddenly more important matters to attend to. Thus, the gaping hole remained.

Throughout the season, I sort of tried to ignore it even though I knew it was there. Then, when the Baltimore race was over with so much controversy looming – we were all left wanting some type of conclusion at the next race. Although we’re still waiting, it now seems like a distant memory.

Since that Baltimore race, the NFL has started playing. The football season will be one-quarter over before the next race. My biggest fear about this gap; “out of sight, out of mind” has come true – for me anyway.

Although I used to be a big baseball fan, I haven’t paid the sport much mind since they lost the World Series in 1994. However, I still follow the pennant races at this time of year. My Tennessee Vols haven’t given me much to cheer about lately, but I still follow them religiously. Then there are the Titans. Here in Nashville, they are king – even though they are one of the more obscure teams to the rest of the country. Susan and I went this past Sunday and had a blast, watching the Titans win a last-minute comeback against the Chargers. Another minor distraction is that the Nashville Predators of the NHL are cranking up their pre-season already. I don’t pay much attention to them, but I still want them to do well.

What I’m getting at is that this is probably the worst time of year for the IndyCar season to go on a mini-hiatus. I consider myself to be a hard-core IndyCar fan, but I have to keep reminding myself that the season hasn’t already ended. By this time last year, it had – and for good reason. Perhaps I would be more interested in the last of the IndyCar season if the Titans were having a season like last year (they only won six games). This season, they are already 2-1 and are looking at some fairly winnable games over the next few weeks. It’s probably a bit premature, but people around here are already whispering the p-word (playoffs). That has my focus now – not Helio’s quest for his first championship.

I am amazed that I am in the vast minority among IndyCar fans by wanting the season to end around Labor Day. I think all of the distractions on the sports calendar, plus family distractions with school in full-swing, makes it hard to follow and keep up with what is right now a niche sport. As a die-hard, it’s tough to admit – but I have to be realistic. In its current state, IndyCar does not have the muscle to go up against the NFL, college football, Major League Baseball, the NHL or the NBA. Those that say IndyCar shouldn’t worry about other sports are kidding themselves.

Of course, to follow the argument that IndyCar needs to wrap up its season by Labor Day – logic would have it that the season would start much sooner to avoid such a long offseason. Unfortunately, based on what we’ve heard, it doesn’t sound as if next season will start any earlier than it did this season, it’ll just end seven weeks earlier. Surely next year is just a one-year transition season while the minds-at-work figure something out to shift the season up to a February start or early March at the very least. Surely that’s the case…isn’t it?

But back to this gap – aside from the Montoya signing, there hasn’t been much to keep IndyCar in the news. For better or worse, NASCAR managed to keep their brand relevant in football season with their “chase” fiasco. At least people were talking about it, although not in the best light.

But if we thought IndyCar was under the radar before, it’s nothing like right now in this dormant period. Actually, it’s worse than I expected. Quite honestly, I’ve found myself in pure football mode for the past three weeks. I’ve listened to Trackside each week and stayed caught up with my reading, but my interest has waned. I think I’d be more interested if this were already the offseason because the silly season would be in full swing. Instead, we’re left with this momentum killing lull.

Fortunately, last Friday, I found myself in the unique position of actually going to a bar and doing some bench-racing. One of my fellow IndyCar bloggers, Davd Zehr of Grounded Effects came in town and we made arrangements to meet Friday afternoon for a couple of adult beverages.

Of course, we devoted a lot of time talking about racing, but even two die-hard IndyCar fans spent a good portion of the time talking pro and college football. It’s such a rarity for me to get to talk about IndyCar racing with someone face-to-face in Nashville, but neither of us seemed that anxious to spend out whole time talking about it. We both follow this sport passionately and have been to more Indianapolis 500’s than we could count. Like myself David is a trivia buff on the history of IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500. If you don’t follow David on Twitter (@groundedeffects), you should. Periodically, he’ll throw out some trivia questions on Twitter that would give Donald Davidson a run for his money.

DZ

On my way home, it struck me how little time we spent discussing the sport we follow so diligently – and I wondered why. Is it the time of year and so much else is going on in the sporting world? Is it the five-week gap between races? Are we both so disgusted by the lack of forward movement we are seeing on so many issues out of this new regime? Is it all of the above? I’m not sure.

What I do know is that we’ve gone through three weekends without an IndyCar race and still have one more to go. I’m hoping that as the first of the two Houston races approaches next week that I’ll start to get a little more excited; but right now my excitement level is about as high as the TV ratings – meaning practically non-existent.

Some will read this and say; “Wow, George must be going through some tough times right now. He really sounds down”. No, it’s quite the opposite. My marriage is just as fulfilling as I had hoped, I’m happy in my job and my kids are doing very well. Things are actually going my way. Maybe that’s why I’ve temporarily lost interest because things are going so well for me away from racing that I no longer need it. Nah…that’s not it. By next week, I’ll probably start getting back into race mode. Then next March, I’ll be dying for the start of the new IndyCar season just like I always do.

No, it’s the huge gap we’re enduring right now. It’s just hard to maintain focus on a sport that takes such a long break. We’ve all beaten this horse to death, but I certainly hope IndyCar never does this again. They do learn from their mistakes and never allow history to repeat itself, do they? Well, do they?

George Phillips

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17 Responses to “Beating The Dead Horse Some More”

  1. I do love college football, but I can’t tell you the last time I watched, or cared about, pro football. It has zero interest for me. The same for major league baseball….zero interest. Hockey? Same thing, and for the hundredth time, what the hell is icing, anyway?

    IndyCar racing is by far the most exciting sport I follow, and one of very few that I actually care about. I think this long break sucks, and I think it is a direct result of Randy being canned. Had he stayed, I’m sure he had plans to put at least one more race in there.

    The whole season has been strange that way. What did we have, three or four weekends in a row? Two races in one weekend? And now, five weeks of nothing. Yeah, I hate it, but it hasn’t dulled my interest at all. In fact, my wife has a girl’s weekend planned during the Houston races, and I was thinking it would be fun to go, but it’s hard to justify the costs of traveling from the east coast of Florida to Houston for a couple of races, air fare, rental car, etc. I have no friends who care at all about IndyCar racing, so it’s either go alone or stay home. Well, maybe……

    By the way, this whole idea of wrapping up the season by Labor Day is just awful, unless they start the new season in January or early February. Just my two cents, for what it’s worth.

  2. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    I think that if the series in general was not always so up in the air and unsettled, a five week gap would still be off putting, but more of an irritation than another in a long string of scheduling starts, stops and fails…. Certainly the financial circumstances of the last 5 plus years have not helped from a sponsor and race fan standpoint, but when one looks at the manner in which this series has been run over the past several years, a casual observer (and now perhaps even an ardent fan) would be inclined to come to the conclusion that Moe, Larry and Curly were driving the boat…

  3. I’m coming around to joining you in that minority who believe we should end the season around Labor Day. My contention, excuse, defense, whatever you wish to call it with the microscopically low IndyCar TV ratings has always been, “There’s always something else to watch. If you want people to watch your program, make it better than the other programs.” For most of the TV world, that’s true. Football – NCAA and NFL – is kind of a different beast. Personally I don’t watch, follow or care about either, but others do…a lot of others. Looking at the ratings, Football automatically sucks all the air out of whichever room it enters. When on Saturday night. the NASCAR Nationwide (another series I don’t watch, follow or care about) was kicked into the wasteland of ESPN “News” so they could run NCAA football on the main network, it became clear. Television is a business, and like businesses, they like to make money. The last ratings I saw for a Saturday night cup race against football, the NASCAR race had a few more total viewers. but football won decisively in the Adults 18-49 age group the advertising world pays attention to. By these metrics, ESPN was making a business decision. They can make more money from a football game than they can from a NASCAR Nationwide race. If they can make more money from that, they can certainly make more from a whole lot of things than they can from IndyCar. So you may be right. It may be time to end the season around Labor day.

  4. Steve Jarzombek Says:

    The crap that’s done down in most stick & ball sports has made me pretty much strictly an Indycar fan when it comes to pro sports…though I will be paying more attention to sports cars next year with the unification here in the US.

    Example of my lack of interest in other pro sports…ummm, Nashville has an NHL team…since when? Uh, gee…better Google that. ….What?!?!?! Celebrating their 15th season this fall??? Who woulda thunk?

  5. Hey George,
    This time of year, when I feel like I am the only IndyCar fan in the universe (I live in Louisville). It is nice to read that someone else feels the same way I do about the “Dead Zone” * in the IndyCar schedule. I too have lost interest and at the same time, March seems too far away.

    It’s kind of like that girlfriend that constantly treats you like crap but you keep going back to her. That’s kind of how I feel about the IndyCar series. It’s like a unhealthy addiction I have, like a dysfunctional relationship. So I guess if I was healthier, I would no longer follow IndyCar. IndyCar treats its fans like crap, and yet fans keep hanging in there for more. But as the television ratings reflect, maybe fans are so disenfranchised that even the hard core fans like yourself and I are running low on enthusiasm.

    I miss Randy Bernard because he communicated. Many thought we saw too much of him, but at least (I felt) more “in the loop” or engaged as a fan. Randy was a dynamic guy with a lot of enthusiasm for the sport which IMO was invaluable. I still can’t believe he is gone.

    With the new management, it is kind of like the story of “The Wizard of Oz” some guy named Mark Miles behind the curtain pulling levers. His lack of visibility and overall, (a behind the scenes illusion that someone is actually working hard for IndyCar) MO has created more obscurity and continued that stationary orbit of stagnation, flirting with irrelevance. IndyCar almost needs someone that likes to get out in front of the media. Someone that is borderline brash (an Eddie Gossage type) I almost reluctantly admit. Unfortunately IndyCar needs to be pushed out to the masses, IMO they cant just be taking a 1 month break 3 races before the end of the season. This low profile style he has, not to mention a larger than 1 month hole in the schedule is a massive disservice to the schedule, the fans and the series as a whole. It fuels disinterest and confuses the casual fan who can’t figure out what happened to the IndyCar season and yet can’t find out who won the championship. That is because the season is not done yet! A lot of people probably don’t know that and that is a serious problem.

    I am going to speak as a general fan: I must have extraordinary patience and tolerance for a lackluster form of motorsports called IndyCar. Why this series still has fans I will never know, but I am glad I am not the only one.

    Dan Loken

    * From- Disciple of IndyCar Weblog

  6. billytheskink Says:

    We all have other sports and interests that “distract” us from Indycar racing. That has always been the case. Statistically, quite a few of us will be football fans.
    I am one of them, and though I will not miss Indycar races to watch the most any college or pro football game, I will be taping the Saturday Houston race while I attend a home football game at my alma mater. I will be at the track all of Friday and Sunday, and hopefully Saturday morning.

    You make a great point, George. This really is the worst time of year for a sport to not be making any noise. Even the sports in off-season like professional hockey and basketball are preparing for training camps and holding preseason games.
    However, I think this is actually a good reason NOT to end the season by Labor Day, especially without a much, much earlier opening race. Come next weekend, Indycar will generate some news again, maybe not major news but 6-7 months of being out of sight is probably far more damaging than 5 weeks.

    It would seem that you and David didn’t talk much about Indycar because there wasn’t much currently going on to talk about, especially not compared to every other sport. The less down time for Indycar, the better chance it has of getting attention.

  7. Here’s how I’d fix the schedule: Have a championship for the first 14-16 races called The Big Championship. Take a two-month hiatus, then have a 2 race Mini-Championship. Then take another break and go race in Japan or Australia or Egypt for the Exhibition Championship. Of course all these Championships will have their own Oval Champ or Twisty Champ crowned as well. That way none of the championships will have any meaning but they can pass out more trophies than a summer soccer league. And that will save Indycar.

    (And don’t worry about football distracting you, George–as soon as the Colts beat the Titans a couple times, you’ll lose interest.)

  8. The Buckeyes have completely taken over my attention plus the Tribe is suddenly in a playoff race and the Blue Jackets are about to start up again (I will miss those grudge matches against your Preds). I will likely DVR the Houston races whenever they are on. My RSS feeds will let me know the weekend.

  9. I know exactly what you are saying …

  10. Donald McElvain, Polson, Montana Says:

    I love racing. Watching the America’s Cup has been some of the best racing I’ve ever seen. The final is today, Wednesday, at 1pm PDT on NBC-Sports. Watch it. It will take your breath away and I hate sail boating. Go figure.

    But, the reason I’m writing is that any TV shows, NFL, F1, IndyCar, and NASCAR all take a back seat on Sundays to spending time with the wife or any other activity. We DVR everything, including the Indy 500. It just takes too much time to watch live with 20 minutes of commercials an hour. With the DVR that saves at least an hour of time for a 3 hour show. We can also fast forward between plays, pit stops, or whatever if it’s a lackluster/non-exciting event. Maybe it’s my age (64) but life is getting too short to waste on commercials and other non-interesting “entertainment”.

    On another note, ending the IndyCar season so soon is crazy. It should run at least as long as F1. Non-points paying races for out of country races makes no sense to me no matter how much the promoters pay. What if F1 paid no points for out of Europe races, what kind of nonsense would that be? All races should pay points towards the championship–anywhere in the world.

    There, now I feel better.

  11. Hey George!

    Thanks for the mention as I did of you and Susan in my (hiatus-beginning) blogpost from earlier today. As we discussed, and as pressdog among others can attest, too much ‘same s***, different day’ with Indycar it seems, so onward we go with our lives.

    I’ve always enjoyed meeting Indycar peeps face-to-face and whenever possible, over beers or the like. It’s always good to know Twitter/Blog folks are real, live humans after all.

    Look forward to chatting again sometime soon, hopefully at a racetrack, but if not, anywhere is fine with me. Good people are just good people.

  12. While IndyCar’s TV ratings will pale against the NFL (never have understood what the fuss is about; the action stops every 10 seconds), from September 2nd to October 4th their ratings will be 0.0. No racing, no ratings. As it stands, far more people are missing out on IndyCar’s excitement than are enjoying it; fair to say 80% of the viewers are diehards who watch St. Pete, Fontana, and every race inbetween. Racing after Labor Day will not largely dent IndyCar TV ratings. Didn’t the IRL try this from 2006-2008? Did it work?

    Ratings should improve in late 2015 when NASCAR comes to NBC Sports and more people start watching NBCSN, but meanwhile IndyCar need to follow NASCAR’s lead with 30 second ads that air on their TV channels (“What do you want to know?”, “Out here, anything can happen…usually does”, “Is this gonna be that day [insert Busch Series driver] gets discovered?” “These are the toughest truckers in racing…”). That stands a better chance of success than a 5 week hiatus or ending the season in September.

  13. George I find it odd that you are here lamenting a five week break and at the same time favoring a 5 (at least) month break. Current IndyCar fans will not be lost if there are races after Labor Day. If they like football and if there is a conflict, they will just DVR one or the other. I continue to maintain that we gain few new IndyCar fans with TV. There have to be races for people to go to, and to take kids and other prospective fans to. We need more races and we need them in more parts of the United States. I think Randy Bernard recognized that. If you worship the TV ratings God, please tell me how a winter race in Australia or wherever will increase U.S. TV ratings. A fall race at Road America is a sublime experience. A summer race at Fontana, not so much.

  14. Anyone concerned about the current state of IndyCar should ask themselves this: What can I do to create a new fan for the sport? Should I have him or her read one of these exciting blogs? (no offense George). Should I have him or her listen to Trackside? Will having some friends over to watch a race on TV cause them to become fans? Not very likely, but on the chance that they do show some interest, what would be your next step? If you are anything like me you would want to take them to a race where they can experience firsthand the real excitement of racing. Doing so has to be affordable. But for most of America taking a prospective fan to a race is not affordable because for most of America there is no damn race in their area!

  15. I enjoyed George’s article and his candor in criticizing a sport that he obviously cares about. There’s an effect prevalent in the blogosphere in this sport that I refer to as the “Indiana bubble”. By which I mean that there are people who live within IndyCar’s niche market(s) and either have their livelihood or the livelihood of friends tied to IndyCar as an industry. But that is not true for many IndyCar fans and 99% of IndyCar’s potential fans. IndyCar, for me, is just one of several sports options that I select to spend time on.

    And choosing IndyCar as a fan makes sense when it’s April and you’ve been away from the sport for months during Silly Season. It makes sense in May when you know you have the Indy 500 coming up (being as how both IndyCar and NASCAR have their marquee events EARLY in the season, unlike other sports). It also makes sense in the dog days of summer, where a race every other weekend is a welcome alternative to baseball and not much else.

    But it doesn’t work up against college and pro football weekends, and especially when you can’t remember the last time there was a race, or when the next one was. As an aside here, I really hate the racing this time of year because of Wheldon’s death and my residual anger over the combination of greed and negligence that led to desperate Gladiator-style marketing event on an overcrowded and ill-suited track. That race was on 10/16/2011, and the loss of my favorite driver at a time of the year where it didn’t even feel like we should be racing anymore is something I’ll never fully get over.

  16. George – Yes, this has been way too long of a break. I feel a little lost and F1 hasn’t filled the gap. Don in Montana – I too enjoyed America’s Cup and was thoroughly amazed that Oracle USA pulled off a marvelous comeback to take the series from the Kiwis. Fabulous racing! And I saw “Rush” today and am disappointed to come home with no OWR on the tube, let alone AOWR.

    However, I am not ready to put the IndyCar season to bed just yet. I want to see if Helio will win his first championship or if Dixon will triumph. How about Pagenaud playing the spoiler? Maybe even Marco. And I am trying my best to sell our sport to younger people. Ron, you are so right that just watching on TV will not make new fans. I took 3 newbies to Long Beach and may have up to 5 for Fontana. This week I spent Tuesday afternoon at the track in Fontana for the test day. Had a blast! It was even more fun to watch my young friend become enthused about the cars and the track. Then we attended the driver Q&A afterwards. I just wish we were racing this weekend.

    It looks like soccer has taken over NBC Sports. I cannot find qualifying for Houston anywhere. And where is IndyCar 36? That was a good marketing tool, but I haven’t seen a new one in ages. If NASCAR can have an Entertainment Marketing department with an office in LA (front page article in the LA Times this week) to better “infiltrate pop culture with everything NASCAR,” where is IndyCar? We have a great product and personable drivers! They are household names in my home and all of yours, but it isn’t enough. Six days to Houston!

  17. I wanted to thank you for this wonderful read!! I absolutely enjoyed every bit of it.

    I have you saved as a favorite to check out new things you post…

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