The Schedule Needs A Few Tweaks
The IndyCar series is coming off of its first non-racing activity weekend since the weekend of April 28th. That’s a little hard to believe now that we are headed into the Fourth of July weekend. The schedule gets easier from this point going forward – in fact, it gets a little too easy. There are only two events this month, although one is a double-header – next weekend, at the streets of Toronto. Three weeks later is Mid-Ohio, while it and Sonoma are the only two races on the August calendar. Things really slow down in September. After visiting the streets of Baltimore on Labor Day weekend, there is not another race until the double-header at Houston during the weekend of October 5-6, over a month later. Then the season closes with the 500-miler at Fontana.
Hulman & Company CEO Mark Miles recognizes the inconsistency in the schedule. From racing at São Paulo on May 5th to opening weekend at Indianapolis, then qualifying weekend, Indianapolis 500 Race Weekend and then five more races over the next four weeks – it has been a very busy time for the teams. In all the time I have followed open-wheel racing, I’m not sure I have seen any of the series in charge, have an eight weekend stretch of racing activity without a single break. It wears the teams down. Now we are looking at the series trickling to a close with a five-week gap between Baltimore and Houston, before closing out the season on a Saturday night in mid-October.
I am a big believer in date equity. I think the series should look at balancing out the schedule so that it makes sense for the teams, the series and the tracks involved. We know the Indianapolis 500 runs on Memorial Day weekend. Being the traditionalist that I am, I would prefer running The Milwaukee Mile the following Sunday. Eddie Gossage wants Texas to be the first oval after Indianapolis, but the good of the series should take precedence over what a single promoter wants. Belle Isle, Iowa and Toronto should be somewhere in the first half of the summer, but ‘m not sure any of those races are date dependent.
I like the idea of Pocono running the Fourth of July weekend. I think it will be a big event in person as well as on television. Weather permitting, NASCAR will always be racing the night before at Daytona. That clears the racing calendar for Sunday afternoon for IndyCar at Pocono.
The August calendar seems fine with Sonoma and Mid-Ohio being two weeks apart, then having Baltimore on Labor Day. But here’s where I would make changes. I am a firm believer that the IndyCar series should do its best to wrap up as quickly after Labor Day as possible. Research shows that the IndyCar Series shares demographics with the NFL and College Football. Those that are very likely to tune into an IndyCar race in August are the same that will more than likely be watching the NFL on Sunday afternoon rather than a street race from Houston, for example.
Last year, the IndyCar Series wrapped up its season on a Saturday night in mid-September. To me that seemed logical, even though I had to DVR the first part because I was watching the end of the Florida-Tennessee game. But given the fact that the NFL opened its season just the Sunday before, the series avoided going head-to-head with the behemoth that is the NFL. The problem was, the season didn’t start back until late March. That made for an offseason of over six months, which was way too long.
St. Petersburg has not always been the season-opener. I say to keep their end of March date in place, but add a couple of races in front of it. I would venture to guess that the Houston race is scheduled for October because racing there in July or August would be unbearably hot. My suggestion would be to move the Houston race to early March. This season, the NFL granted the Houston Texans a road game that weekend while the IndyCars run around Reliant Stadium. That is not a guarantee every year. Why not alleviate that potential scheduling problem and move the date to early to mid-March.
While we are dealing with hypothetical situations, let’s assume the rumors of Phoenix coming back onto the IndyCar schedule are true. A late February date in the desert would be ideal. Now the offseason isn’t looking quite so long, even if you move Fontana back to mid-September.
The month of April is in good shape. Part of the reason that Barber is considered a “Beautiful facility” is because the azaleas and dogwoods are in bloom around the track. They need to keep their date, as does Long Beach. São Paulo was dry this year, but it is usually rainy there. Although they would be headed into their winter, perhaps it’s date could be moved to free up the Month of May.
The jury is still out on the double-headers. While they created nineteen races and nineteen chances for drivers to score points, I think most would agree that there are still only sixteen events on the schedule this season. Assuming all of the venues return next year from this season, and they add Phoenix – they still should add at least one more event, if possible. Phoenix would be the sixth oval. Other rumors say that Chicagoland may be in play for the future. If Phoenix is added next season, I seriously doubt that another ISC track would be added for next season. The best bet is to hope that the rift with Bruton Smith has settled and an SMI oval track might be added. That could mean Kentucky, Charlotte or Atlanta. I think the wounds from Las Vegas are too fresh for the series to return there anytime soon.
So, essentially I’m trying to make three points here. Spread out the ovals so that they aren’t all concentrated in the early part of the summer. While they are at it, they should add an oval or two. They also need to build in more breaks between races so the teams can regroup, while avoiding large gaps in the schedule. Lastly, they need to shift the schedule where the season starts earlier and wraps up earlier in order to not drop off the radar entirely during football season. That’s my two-cents worth. What’s yours?
Have a Happy Fourth of July! See you here on Friday.