The State Of IndyCar

An offseason that has been far busier than most, was sent into overdrive on Monday with the second annual State of IndyCar event at the Hilbert Circle Theater in Indianapolis. Thank goodness I don’t consider this a news site, otherwise I would feel negligent if I left out a significant detail from all the news that came out of Monday and Tuesday.

Amid all the glitz and glamour of the event, there were many different stories coming from all angles the last two days. There were so many, I’ll offer little, if any, comment today. Instead, I’ll take a couple of days to reflect and in some cases – simmer down, before offering my opinions. Some were positive, some were expected, some were negative and some were controversial. Where do I begin?

In no particular order, I’ll start with the expected. Milwaukee was officially confirmed, although a website glitch spilled the beans last week. Michael Andretti will be the promoter, which is good; but the race will be held on a Saturday, which has the potential to not be so good. A very nice bonus was the announcement that Firestone will remain the official tire provider through 2014. Although I am a proponent of varying chassis and engines, I am a firm believer that there should only be one tire. There is too much risk with a tire war. Safety is compromised for the sake of speed. If an engine fails, a driver might lose the race. If a tire fails, a driver can lose much more.

The TV announcements were mostly positive. ABC will carry six races – one more than in the previous three years. NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) will carry the remaining ten. Driver Townsend Bell has also been added to the NBCSN pit reporting crew. Probably the most positive bit of news from the TV side was that NBCSN would be producing an all-access type show called INDYCAR 36, where film crews will follow a driver for thirty-six hours while he or she prepares for the next race. It will give fans a close inside look at the behind-the-scenes life of an IndyCar driver. Although I’ve never seen it, NBCSN does a similar thing with the NHL and it has earned high-praise. These shows will air immediately prior to each race on NBCSN. Personally, I think this could be big in generating interest from potential new fans.

The most disturbing news regarding TV coverage was that Lindy Thackston would not be returning to NBC Sports Network. To me, this is a huge loss. Lindy was very knowledgeable about the sport and had earned the respect of most fans. She seemed to get along very well with her on-air co-workers and also appeared to have a very good rapport with the drivers. I never had the privilege to meet Lindy, but I heard nothing but good things about her from my fellow IndyCar bloggers. Nothing against Townsend Bell, but I think NBCSN committed a large blunder by dumping Lindy for Bell. We’ll miss you, LindyCar.

At first glance, I believe it’s a good thing that Lids will be handling merchandise promotions on-site at the tracks. A second glance shows very little on their website for IndyCar fans. I expect that to change quickly. They are a well-known company and have name recognition. Plus, their parent company, Genesco, happens to be based in Nashville. It’s interesting how many Nashville ties there have been through the years with the IZOD IndyCar Series. Firestone, Lids (Genesco), Dollar General are all based in Nashville. Reigning champions Josef Newgarden and Dario Franchitti both called the Nashville area home last year – although Newgarden has recently relocated to Indianapolis to be near his team, which was a smart move for a rookie.

Fontana has now been confirmed as the site of the season finale on September 15. While many see that as a problem, I welcome it. The less that IndyCar goes up against the NFL, the better. The race will be a Saturday night race, which will pit it against NCAA football, but not the NFL. I’ve always been an advocate of starting the season early and wrapping it up on Labor Day weekend. This gets us closer to that goal.

An interesting development was announced yesterday, when we learned of a new twist on qualifying at Iowa. Instead of each car running alone for two laps to qualify, there will be three heat races to determine the qualifying order. The race format will remain unchanged. This appeals to me a lot more than the silly twin race format tried at Texas last season. If successful, this may be something put in place at all ovals at some point. Don’t try it at Indianapolis, though. Let’s not get carried away.

New director of Race Control Beaux Barfield introduced his new team of race stewards on Monday that would assist him on race weekends – Arie Luyendyk, Johnny Unser and Gary Barnard. On Tuesday, he dropped the news that double-file re-starts would not be used at Indianapolis, Texas and Fontana – leaving only Milwaukee and Iowa as the only ovals to utilize the double-file re-starts that became the standard last season. This time last year, I was outraged that the double-file restarts that had become popular in NASCAR would be copied and used by INDYCAR. After seeing them, I became a fan. I am disappointed that the series has chosen to abandon this practice. If double-file re-starts are deemed too dangerous at Indianapolis, how can they possibly justify starting the race three-abreast?

Then there was the little nugget that standing starts “might” be used at some road/street course at some time later on in the season. To be honest, I have no idea what I think about that. Give me some time to ponder that one.

Monday’s festivities closed with a passionate speech by Randy Bernard. I’ll admit, I have not seen a replay of it, but I’ve pretty well caught the gist of it from things I’ve read. I’ve been accused of being a Randy Bernard apologist and this won’t change anyone’s mind – but, give him a break. Some say he is too laid back at times. Now that he has shown some feistiness, he’s being attacked for choosing the wrong time. The main message from his was “…I’m not going anywhere. I’m here to stay”. Personally, that’s exactly what I want to hear. This series would again be rudderless without Randy Bernard and the course he has laid out. Let him say whatever he wants.

With that, I’m going to close. Give me your thoughts on everything we learned the last couple of days. I actually laid out more commentary than I planned. In the coming days, I plan to give a lot of thought to some of the goings on of this past week. Many things I liked, some I did not. But following this series wouldn’t be the same if everybody agreed on everything, would it?

George Phillips


15 Responses to “The State Of IndyCar”

  1. With all of the sponsor support generated fom Nashville it’s too bad that we don’t have a track.

    • DIT-TO! AMEN! and Hallelujah! If ‘Naiyshvul’ had I race, I’d be there. Great and fun city. Seems thoroughly astounding it doesn’t really. We’ve gone to Brazil and Japan for sponsors, but no to Tenn.? Hmmm…

  2. Two-wide/one-wide, standing/flying, single car quals/heat quals…it’s almost like each track will have it’s own unique rules. I can’t decide if that’s adaptation for the good of the sport or a way to confuse the new fan so much that they give up. There’s something to be said for simplicity.

    I agree, George, with ending the season early. I just wish they would start it earlier.

    I liked it when B. Barfield said he was changing the “stick to your lane” blocking rules. But have the driver’s now pressured him to change it back?

  3. Totally agree on Nashville. We have all these ties but no race or anything to show for it!


  5. My scatter-shot opinions:

    OK, so they got rid of Lindy and are keeping Robin Miller??? Talk about bad decisions! I can certainly do without seeing him on TV.

    I am extremely disappointed in the decision to dump double file restarts. I think this is a bad, bad decision as it will remove a thrilling part of the racing.

    Standing starts? Not only **NO!** but, **HELL NO!!!**. Having slept through…I mean watched some F1 races last season, I thought the standing starts sucked. Very difficult to see what’s going on and who’s getting a good start, so very poor for TV. Also, all you need is 1 joker to stall it…

    On the other hand, very happy with the Firestone decision. I think it was a huge boost to the racing.

    I love the idea of the Indy36 program! Very, very good way to put faces to names for the casual fans and people new to the sport.

    Finally, regarding Randy’s closing remarks: BRAVO! He said what needed to be said and in the perfect venue and in the perfect way. There are too many people living in the past who only keep bringing up the same IRL/CART crap, years after it’s been over (*cough*RobinMiller*cough*). Wake up, it’s 2012!

    • I have to disagree with madtad1’s opinion on the standing start issue. Take a look at the start of Long Beach (first link), last season. Exactly ZERO rows of two formed when they cross the line. Or Toronto (second link), last year, maybe two rows lined up, but not in the order they qualified. Granted, some tracks have layouts that make orderly starts more difficult than others.

      To me, trying standing starts couldn’t hurt. Paint grid lines, have everybody line-up on the same straight, turn ’em loose and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, get rid of them. I find standing starts with the entire field in one screen shot storming towards the first corner much more exciting than a few rows of two cars followed by the remainder of the field streaming past the green flag single file. Maybe standing starts can eliminate the amateur hour stuff?

      Perhaps the new faces in race control will waive off awful starts (even 3-wide @ Indy?!?), making this issue a moot point.

      Otherwise, counting the days ’til St. Pete…Should be a great year.

      • Savage Henry Says:

        I agree that Indycar has a bad record of flying starts on road and street courses. They always want to put a very slow corner right before the main straight so that most of the field isn’t even through the turn when the green drops. They need to either need to look at course design or the start procedure to clean it up. I say give standing starts a try and see how it goes. Maybe they’ll try making some changes to the flying start procedures at some other places and see which they like better.

  6. H.B. Donnelly Says:

    HEAT RACES AT IOWA! IndyCar has basically sold me (or rather, my inner dirt-track fan) a weekend package to that race with that news. Unfortunately, my toss-up was between Iowa and Milwaukee; hopefully the heat race news didn’t steal TOO much thunder from The Mile’s return.

    For all the standing start cynics, I do understand your concerns. In the cutthroat, chop-blocking world of F1, standing starts are utter chaos (especially on TV, as madtad1 points out). However, if you’re sitting on the front stretch at a race, that moment when the lights come on and the engines rev up is amazing. Will it be as cool with 12,000-RPM V6s as it was with 20,000-RPM V10s? Hard to say.

    Lastly, a big gift basket to Firestone for their support. If I’d held off for a week or so before re-treading my daily driver, I might’ve been swayed to buy Firestones by this decision.

  7. I do not understand the love affair with Firestone. Tires are important of course but there are several companies capable of doing just as good if not better job tan Firestone. For example, Bridgestone (basically the same company as Firestone) left F1. In came Pirrelli and the racing drastically improved due to the varying tire compounds taken to each race. Very similar to the Black-Red Tires however the difference is so great that you can see it as a race watcher.

    Standing starts are a must for street/road courses. The excitement beats the three abreast at Indy in my eyes. Again this is done in F1 and has proven to work extremely well. If these really are the best drivers in the world they can handle the standing starts.

    Double File restarts. I love the idea on ovals but am not sold on road/street courses. This of course is the exact opposite view IndyCar took. It is easy for the cars to get lined up 2 wide on an oval but near impossible to do the same on a road course.

    All in all I am rather disappointed with most of the news that came out of the state of IndyCar event. Millwaukee is great. TV? I can see every race and do not care which network it is on. Perhaps I think IndyCar is capable of doing much more than they really are. This isn’t F1, this isn’t NASCAR, and this isn’t CART. Baby steps seems to be the new status quo. Aero Kits anyone?

  8. I think some may have missed a very important point. Barfield said the Pace Car would remain on the track and pace the field. That could mean that instead of the field taking off in turn 3 @ Indy, Now you may see the kind of starts and restarts we all want to see. A much slower pace and possibly a later start, maybe a lot closer to the Start/Finish line that what the drivers wish.

    I do not agree with the reasoning and halting of the Double File Restarts, but just maybe, this will be even better. Schekter now has hope again to pass 7 cars again in Turn 3. Sometimes you need to be careful what you wish for.

    Ready for Milwaukee too.

  9. I am an unrepentant advocate of Saturday races, and I wish they were all on Saturday — some late afternoon; some evening. And I also wish (Indy excluded) that everything would take place on that one day: practicing, qualifying and racing (AndrettI apparently wanted to do it that way, but ABC needed/wanted an early afternoon time slot and the almighty networks always get their way). Start early and make it an all-day affair with continuous race track action, giving the paying customers more bang for their buck.

  10. Love, love, love the idea of standing starts. They’re the most exciting thing in Formula One and one of the best ways to differentiate pure driver talent in cars without launch control. Let the RPMs drop just a little, and you bog down Mark Webber-style. Stall it, and hope that they guy closing at 100mph behind you can flick the wheel. Very exciting stuff.

    Can’t say I understand why they would get rid of double file restarts as they were arguably the most exciting thing about last year. But like someone said, they’re changing a lot about the restarts so maybe they’ll fix the strung out restarts we all got tired of.

    Not too upset about Lindy Thackson. She was good in the pitlane but not very convincing when hosting the pre-race stuff. Kinda gave the whole broadcast an infomercial quality. Still, I didn’t have anything against her and I was shocked they made that change. Can anyone tell me who I need to talk to to get Scott Goodyear out of the booth?

    Actually more races on ABC is good for viewership but bad for race fans. Versus has long had a more knowledgeable broadcast team and a more thorough pre-race. I assume NBCSports will continue these fine broadcasts. Perhaps ABC will take note.

    I think I like the heat races, not because I’m a short track oval fan but because qualifying on ovals last year, with the exception of bump day, was excruciatingly dull. Mo racing is mo betta.

    Love the idea of INDYCAR36. Anything to help my wife make a connection with the drivers. She doesn’t care for cars but will root for a good story. I know she’s not alone in that sentiment.

    All in all, Indycar has made a remarkable turnaround in five months. Baltimore and Milwaukee are back. TGBB is gone. The new cars are performing and are actually here with 26+ cars in the field. Indycar actually made money last year. And everyone is talking about the upcoming season with no nay-sayers pointing to the tragedy saying that the season should be cancelled. Kudos to Mr. Bernard. Thank you for your determination. Thank God you’re sticking around.

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