Let The Offseason Begin
We are now almost two weeks into the dreaded IndyCar offseason. With the announcement and confirmation that the IndyCar Series would end the 2014 season on Labor Day next season, it has been a popular notion to say that this current offseason is going to be seven months long.
Well, I have good news for you. Today is November 1. The first race next season is at St. Petersburg on March 30. I never did real well in math, but the way I figure it – that’s slightly less than five months from today.
Is five months really that long? The NFL wraps up its season the first week in February. They don’t start playing for real until early September. If you want to get technical, most teams begin their worthless pre-season play in early August. Even if you count their pre-season, that’s still more than five months.
Major League Baseball just wrapped up its season with the Red Sox drubbing of the Cardinals Wednesday night. They start their regular season back about the same time as IndyCar does. It’s a little less than five months, but not by much. The NBA, NHL and NASCAR have shorter offseasons, but most everyone agrees that their seasons are all way too long anyway.
The point is, it seems that there is a lot of whining and moaning about the long offseason we are facing. Please remember that the one we are headed into is a month shorter than last year’s. The 2012 season finale at Fontana took place on September 15. This year’s season-ending race was run on October 19. One of the few things being done by this new regime is ending the IndyCar season after Labor Day. The series is in desperate need of ratings. That won’t happen trying to run races on NBCSN while the NFL or even college football is on.
Did you see the ratings for the Houston double-header on Oct 5-6? They barely even registered. Estimates are that 161,000 watched each race. That’s not in the Houston area or the Indianapolis market. That’s total for the entire US. For a nation of almost 317 million people – that doesn’t even qualify as a blip. NASCAR takes a huge hit in their ratings after Labor Day, but their ratings on ESPN are averaging anywhere from thirty to fifty times what IndyCar is drawing most weekends. With those numbers, NASCAR can take a hit and still survive. IndyCar cannot.
I said the other day that Randy Bernard listened to fans. The vast majority of fans want the IndyCar season to run through Labor Day and even through the end of October. For once, I applaud the administration for not adhering to fans wishes on this topic. I think Mark Miles deserves credit for admitting that with IndyCar in its current state, it cannot survive trying to take on the NFL for even part of its season.
Even though the selfish kid inside of me would like to have an IndyCar race every weekend, the grown-up in me knows that having about half as many races as NASCAR makes each event more special. I don’t consider five months to be a long offseason. Teams need time to reset and regroup. We fans do as well. Sometimes the speculation and anticipation of the offseason can be just as entertaining as the season can be. Considering the football and baseball offseasons are about the same length of time – I really think five months is about right.
So why have so many been claiming this offseason is seven months? I suppose they are assuming the 2015 season will be starting at the end of March also. Although I don’t consider five months too long for an offseason – seven is too long. So is six. Once the half-year threshold is crossed, all bets are off.
We have been told many times that next season is the transition year, but we can expect major improvements in many aspects of the IndyCar Series in 2015.By that, I am assuming that to mean more races at more venues – not just creating more races through double-headers. More venues mean more weekends. The 2014 season is already being compressed, by ending on Labor Day weekend. If they expand the schedule with more weekends, there is only one way to do that – start the season earlier.
While I do think the IndyCar season should end by Labor Day, I thing it should start much earlier. Golf and tennis find warm locales to host events during the late winter-early spring months. IndyCar can do the same. Remember the old IRL schedule began at Walt Disney World in January, the Saturday before the Super Bowl. I don’t think the season should start that early, but mid to late February sounds sensible to me. By the time the IndyCars are fired up at St. Petersburg next March, NASCAR will already be into its sixth points-paying race weekend. Formula One will have completed their second race before IndyCar turns a wheel in competition. Even then, we are looking at a six month offseason. Maybe if they could find a way to make the season just one or two weeks longer than the offseason – everyone would be happy.
I could be wrong, but I think in racing, there is much more enthusiasm at the early stages of the season, than at the end. It is frustrating for IndyCar fans to watch the Rolex 24, six weeks of NASCAR and a couple of Formula One races before IndyCar finally takes the stage. Although I like to look at it as saving the best for last – I don’t think that is the general perception. Instead, IndyCar fails to capitalize (again) on the excitement and momentum created by other racing series. They are forgotten about before they get out of the gate.
So before we all assume that we’ll be enduring a seven month offseason in the near-future, let’s see what Mark Miles & Company come up with for 2015. If that season starts again in late March – well, they deserve whatever moaning comes their way.