IndyCar’s Latest Scheduling Casualty

Friday brought the confirmation of what many people had been speculating about – that the Grand Prix of Baltimore will not run in 2014. Actually, the official story from the Baltimore Business Journal says it is cancelled for 2015 as well. The City of Baltimore, the promoter and the IndyCar Series could not come up with a suitable date for the next two years.

Although it was not totally unexpected, this is a real kick in the gut to IndyCar fans. There is no way to spin any positives from this. None.

Conspiracy theorists generally draw laughter from me. I tend to take things at face value. But you have to wonder, was this really over not being able to find a suitable date or was there more to this story? I really don’t know the answer to that. With approximately thirty possible decent weather weekends with which to work – you’d think that IndyCar and the city could have found at least one weekend they could agree upon.

One problem is that the area where the race is held, is also very close to the Oriole’s stadium, the Raven’s stadium and the convention center. There is no way that a race can be run during the same weekend of an MLB or NFL game, or when there is a major convention in town. Keep in mind, even though the Orioles and the Ravens play in different facilities, the Ravens had to move their Super Bowl winning Thursday night slot to Denver – simply because the Orioles were playing that night and they would not agree to move their game. That’s how tight it must be in that area.

The MLB schedule has just been released, so everyone knows what they are working with there. The NFL schedule for next year won’t be released until next April. The Ravens can request that the weekend of the IndyCar race be left open. There is no guarantee that the NFL will oblige, but historically – they generally try to accommodate a team’s request.

Apparently, the city was very pleased with this year’s attendance. There were reportedly over 152,000 in attendance over the three-day weekend. With that many people in the area of the Inner Harbor – I would think that restaurants and bars did a booming business over the Labor Day weekend. Last year’s race generated an estimated economic impact of approximately $40 million. But for various reasons, some city politicians weren’t so thrilled.

In this day and age, we are always looking for someone to blame. I’m not quite sure who is at fault here. Is it the city itself? Supposedly, Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was no longer a supporter of the event. Apparently, she was not seen anywhere on the grounds of the event the entire weekend this year. Was it the owner of the event, Race On, LLC? Perhaps it was Andretti Sports Marketing, who actually runs the event for Race On. Or does the blame eventually land in IndyCar’s lap, even if they were somewhat powerless? If I had to guess, I’d say there is a lot of blame to be spread around to all parties, but from what I read and hear – I think the bulk may fall mostly with a disagreement between the city and Race On.

I don’t blame this on IndyCar’s desire to end the season around Labor Day. From what I understand, the city had already informed the series that Labor Day would be a conflict for next year. But I do fault the series for not finding some way to keep a relatively new venue that has proven to be popular with fans, on the schedule somehow. I understand that date equity is important at other tracks, but I would think that some concessions could have been made somewhere.

I try to stay positive about this series. I believe in what they are trying to do long-term and I think their on-track product is terrific. But I have to count this as another black eye for IndyCar. This was one of the few well-attended events, yet they let it slip away. IndyCar keeps shooting themselves in the foot and adding fuel to the growing perception that they can’t get out of their own way.

The argument why there are so few ovals left on the schedule has been that very few of the potential ovals actually want an IndyCar race. The same tracks get mentioned each year as possible venues to host a race “next” season – Phoenix, Michigan, Chicagoland, etc – but when the schedule is released each year, they are not there.

If they can’t land a new oval track to add to the mix, couldn’t they at least keep hold of the decent road and street courses? Apparently not.

We have yet to see the full 2014 schedule. We got a glimpse last week of some venues through other series releasing their schedule which runs concurrent with IndyCar at certain events. It showed no surprises or date movements at races such as St. Petersburg, Long Beach, Belle Isle and Mid-Ohio among others. Yawn.

I have been supportive of Mark Miles since he took over the series. I think he is a very smart and talented executive. When others claimed he was doing nothing, I defended him by saying that just because he is not an open book like Randy Bernard, doesn’t mean he is not doing anything. I felt confident that there was much going on behind the scenes that we would learn about in good time.

But now is the time to show the fans that some forward steps are being taken. One of Randy Bernard’s greatest strengths was that he actually listened to fans. Now, fans are seeing no progress being made in expanding the series. Not only that – the silence from this new administration brings back the bunker mentality we felt from the Tony George regime, when fans were treated as nothing more than a necessary evil.

So far, the only new race we are hearing about is the probability of a road course race at IMS to kick off the month of May, which is something that some fans don’t even want. We hear no rumors of any new ovals. The only rumors we have heard is that Baltimore and Brazil may be going away. Well, one of those was just confirmed. We’re just waiting for the other one to fall. Baltimore is just the latest scheduling casualty in a long list of casualties with this series. There are certain to be more.

Other than rumors of what’s going away, we hear that there will be one more double-header added – the season-opener at St. Petersburg. That gives the appearance there will be just as many races (nineteen) as there were in 2013. The problem is, two cities are off the schedule with none added. Not to be a “Negative Nate”, but that is not my definition of a forward step or even status quo. I call that losing ground.

George Phillips


15 Responses to “IndyCar’s Latest Scheduling Casualty”

  1. Judging by what the new brain trust at 16th and Georgetown have already cobbled together, I would say that soon, we will be thankful just to see IC races in Asia and Europe in the off season (as if). So, enjoy and record what good racing there is left to watch.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Long-tenured street races (Long Beach, Toronto) seem to be the exception, not the rule. It’s unfortunate, but it was a reality even when business was good for Indycar (Meadowlands, Caeser’s Palace, Miami, etc.). Street races were fickle then, and they’ll be fickle long into the future.

    One thing I think this shows is how important it is to be able to draw at permanent tracks.

  3. Just run another race on the IMS road course! (sarcasm)

    I agree completely with you George. This move to “double headers” is just a cheap and lazy way to pad the schedule so it looks bigger than it is. In reality they are only racing at 9 facilities (IMS, St Pete, Detroit, Toronto, Houston all have 2 races). Nine. Oof. At this rate how long before they run all races in a 200 mile radius of Indianapolis?

    I’d like to see some effort to expand or grow in North America, but I’m not seeing any.

    I know people are down on the winter / international schedule, but I’d be all for it. Fact is I miss racing in the off season, and there are so many great road courses out there that F1 has abandoned. The question is “would anyone want them?”.

    Hell, most of the races left on the schedule are promoted by team owners.I don’t see Andretti promoting a race in the UK anytime soon.

    • I’m okay with racing overseas, I just don’t like the idea of exhibition races. All of them should be points races, IMO.

  4. This is the danger of the street races being supported by municipalities. When the money runs out or the political will fades…..

  5. Steve Jarzombek Says:

    What Bob said…the politics involved with street races will sooner or later doom 90% of them.

  6. I like the idea of street races, as long as the track layout allows for exciting racing. I thought Baltimore did, along with terrific views of the city. Now Baltimore is gone, and apparently my favorite street track–Brazil–is gone also. But I also understand how difficult is must be–logistically, economically, politically–for a municipality to stage a race. Maybe Indycar should race in cities that don’t have so much going on (professional sports-wise) and need an event to hang their hat on.

    Agree that double-headers are sort of a band-aid approach to fixing this schedule, but it’s not like there’s a great demand for open-wheel racing in the U.S.

    If Michael Andretti folded up shop–Indycar, ladder series, race promotions, Mario–what would be left of Indycar?

  7. dzgroundedeffects Says:

    Bob F. and Steve above nailed it and decades of history support their claims.

    Not at all reassuring when 10 of your 19 ‘events’ come from these rather tenuous locations, but I’m also afraid the next most-tenuous venues are Milwaukee and Iowa.

    Personally, I’d rather have MIL’s and IA’s ovals than BAL’s cluster-fun/carbon-clash, but you can only go where they’re paying you to show up.

    It also seems a permanent venue (with ongoing bills to pay) might want to gamble on an Indycar race more readily than those venues from which the ever-shifting political winds produce, but the opposite is evident in the 2013 schedule.

    I still maintain it is not at all in Indycar’s interest to work w ISC tracks, and maybe this can re-open/accelerate talks w New Hampshire (or even Dover?) to keep a viable presence near the major eastern metro area. Pocono is certainly great to have, but two races in that area seems essential.

    Fingers crossed we don’t lose anymore than SAO and BAL.

  8. Check into renting the Nashville Superspeedway and talk Firestone into sponsoring it.

  9. I continue to believe that IndyCar continues to try and sell champagne to promoters with a beer budget. I am referring to the sanctioning fee. I think IndyCar needs to take a hard look at their business model and adjust it to today’s economic realities.

    Milwaukee appears to be a break even event even with Andretti’s wonderful promotional efforts, it appears that the Iowa track is having some trouble paying its bills, Road American says they still cannot afford IndyCar, and so on.

    If you were to stick pins in a map of the United States for the remaining IndyCar events, there are vast areas that have no race for fans to attend. Hell, the exitsting hard core fans may watch a race in China or Australia, but IndyCar will not gain any new fans in the United States by going there. I maintain that continuity at tracks is more important than TV ratings. Current fans need to be able to expose possible new fans, particulary children, by taking them to a race so they can experiencee the sights, smells, and sounds in person. Just having them watch some race on TV isn’t nearly the same. I will not get Packer season tickets in my lifetime and my children will not get them until they are my age, but I can still pony up the bucks to take them to Lambeau Field, and that experience (except for the drunks) is much more exciting than watching on TV.

  10. It’s sad to find out the Baltimore GP has effectively ended.
    When it first started out, I was sceptical if this series needed another street race but when the track map came out, I had my hopes up high – and indeed, the layout provided great racing in all of its 3 events. I even liked the chicane ahead of the train tracks on Pratt Street. What other motor racing circuit goes across train tracks these days? None. That was pretty unique.
    Is it cynical when I say that reducing the number of road and street circuits is another way to reach parity between ovals and “twisties” if you cannot add any further ovals?
    However, this move looks like economically, the series is shrinking itself healthy again (this is an expression from my native language of German … I don’t know if it’s understandable in English, too. Sorry guys. By the way, I feel it would be great if Muscle Milk Pickett Racing could get an engine lease for next season to run Lucas Luhr. It may only be a small step towards a return to Eurospeedway Lausitz, but a small step is better than none at all. A German engine supplier would be a bigger one, though.)

  11. Chris Lukens Says:

    I’m surprised at how many people voted for “I despise street racing.”

  12. Ohio State’s August 30th game against Navy at Ravens Stadium was cited as the conflict. As a die hard OSU alumnus, I would have loved to have caught a race the day after the OSU win. It is a shame both events can’t happen.

    -Steve K

  13. Even with the great crowd this year (152,000 seems super to me), did the race make money? It is a shame, though. I enjoyed the race and the action.

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