Is Racing In China Right Or Wrong?
When INDYCAR officials announced last week that China would host an IZOD IndyCar Series race in 2012, many groans were heard from all corners of the IndyCar community. Regular and long-time poster “Bent Wickerbill”, who I had the pleasure of meeting at Barber and Indianapolis last year, posted his displeasure with the race in the comments section here last Friday. On many fronts, I’m inclined to agree with him – but I’ll probably disappoint a few of you by saying that overall, I don’t really have a problem with it.
On one hand, I was glad to see the string of races at Twin Ring Motegi come to an end. Even when CART raced there, I always found it to be a boring race at a remote location that was very hard to get to – even if you lived in Japan. The fact that the series went to the trouble to load up two 747’s with cars, tires, tools and parts and fly everything halfway across the globe and using three weekends in the calendar for one race seemed just a little absurd – especially when we got the privilege of tuning in close to midnight to see a dull race.
When the series announced last year that 2011 would be the last visit to Motegi, my initial reaction was “Thank God!” Then, when they announced that earthquake damage would force the race to be run on the road course at Motegi, I was none too happy (as most of you know). The race turned out to be a dud and would have been completely forgettable had it not been for Helio’s outburst at Brian Barnhart afterward.
I guess that’s why everyone assumed I would be staunchly against another race in Asia. To paraphrase AJ Foyt; that’s really not quite true.
Let’s get two things straight right now. I know very little about the Chinese economy and even less about Chinese geography. Just so you’ll know; when I say that this race will take place in Qingdao, which is located in the Shandong province – you may rest assured that I got that from the press release. Prior to the announcement, I had never heard of Qingdao nor did I have any idea where Shandong was located.
I will also not be pretentious and spout off a bunch of boring facts and figures to explain why the Chinese economy is flourishing – but I know that it is. Apparently, INDYCAR held a sponsorship summit last year and from what they learned, China was the No.1 desired destination outside the United States for current sponsors.
I have nothing to back this up, other than I’ve heard this from more than one source – but word has it that that the IZOD IndyCar Series stands to make a ton of money by running this race. For a series that has bled millions over the years and finally has some discerning eyes paying attention to the bottom line – this seems like the proverbial no-brainer. If this alleviates a lot or most of the red ink for 2012, then I’m all for it.
Financially, the series has to do something to make up for mostly empty grandstands in the U.S. With Chevy and (presumably) Lotus joining Honda in the series next season, the stakes are getting higher. Those two new partners will bring more promotional dollars along with what the series currently enjoys from IZOD, but for the long-term – the series cannot keep losing the money it has really since its inception in 1996.
Tony George kept propping up the series and its teams for years until his siblings decided they had seen enough of their fortune dwindling away. Since his ouster in 2009, it has been up to Jeff Belskus and Randy Bernard to make prudent decisions regarding IMS and INDYCAR. That means doing whatever it takes to eventually get the series into the black. If that means taking the series around the globe for a large sum, then so be it. The series is beyond the point of trying to satisfy only the taste of the racing purist. That mentality helped get them where they are today. Some will say the series has become a prostitute going to the highest bidder. Again I say – so be it.
This race will take place on a 3.87 mile street circuit, which is a little long for any road course – especially a street course. If there are any slow-speed hairpins, it could take quite a while to get around just once. Road America is 4.0 miles and it is considered fairly high speed. When CART ran the majestic course at Elkhart Lake, their races were generally fifty laps and they started pitting around Lap 18. Have a flat tire shortly after passing the pits and you’re done. I imagine the same will apply in China.
Does this mean I’ve changed my tune on ovals? No, not in the least. I desperately want more than four ovals on the 2012 schedule. I don’t want to have to wait a few years. I want as many as possible, but at least six. I keep holding out hope that the reason for the delay of announcing the schedule is that Randy Bernard is doing his best to strike a few more deals with places like Kentucky, Phoenix and Chicago. It sounds more and more like Las Vegas may be a street race next year, so that only leaves Indianapolis, Texas, Iowa and Fontana for next season. If running a race in China gives INDYCAR the financial freedom to bargain with domestic oval tracks – well, that’s fine with me.
I’m not in favor of the same issues that were dealt with by going to Japan, which includes crossing the globe and racing across the international dateline, giving us a race at God knows what hour. Plus, three weekends will be used for this one race – pretty much eating up the entire month of August, when the points battle is really heating up just before football takes over. I would prefer this race take place in the spring when we’re happy to see any type of racing, but what do I know?
But one thing I do know is that I trust the judgment of Randy Bernard. At the risk of sounding like a Randy Bernard apologist, he has given me no reason to think he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Although the stands looked empty at Las Vegas, my understanding is that he sold practically all of the corporate suites at Vegas and the race actually turned a profit. After what happened, no one was really in the mood to examine the balance sheet of Las Vegas, but the event was a financial success.
Unless he starts making a series of inexplicable, boneheaded decisions – I will continue to trust the job that Randy Bernard has done for this series. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I shudder to think where this series would be with the previous administration still running things. He has made huge strides in the two seasons he has been on board. I fully believe he will have things on much better footing and even more momentum than the series had just before Las Vegas, after three more years at the helm. Oh, and for the record – I don’t always agree with everything Randy Bernard has done.
But I do agree with this move to race in China. If it will bring money to the series, let’s get Firestone to develop a snow tire and run in Alaska. The race may be a bust – both aesthetically and financially – but at least the powers that be are trying something different. If it doesn’t work, stop going – but give it a shot. If you keep doing the same thing, you’re standing still. In racing, standing still is never a good thing.