Still Mixed Emotions On Qualifying
The disclaimer I’ll throw out here is that I have still not watched the television broadcast of qualifying on the DVR. We got back late Sunday night and last night, we were both playing catch-up with “life” at work and around the house. After two weekend in the fantasy world of racing, it’s tough to go back to the hum-drum of everyday living. At least we know we’ll be going back in just three days. It’s a week from now that reality will come crashing down on us.
Anyway, as I think back on qualifying – I’m still looking at it strictly from the eyes of a spectator instead of a television viewer. Although there’s no replacing being there – viewers at home generally know more about what’s going on than spectators at the track. But looking back as a spectator, I’m still not sure what I think about the new qualifying procedure.
I know the goal of IMS management was to build the momentum from Saturday to a crescendo on Sunday. I’m just not sure they got what they wished. From my point of view, Saturday was intriguing. It had strategy playing out. It had drama and excitement. Yes, it was complicated – I had never heard of the “express” line until I saw the two lines on pit road on Saturday. It also had a race against the gun as teams were trying to get into the Fast Nine and stay off of the last row.
Sunday was different. There was no strategy. Each driver got one chance to simply get in the car and drive fast for their spot on the starting grid. To be honest, there was more drama watching the cars in rows four through eleven qualify on Sunday than the Fast Nine. You got to see some dramatic winners and losers as cars gained or lost ground compared to their Saturday times. Except for Carlos Muñoz laying an egg – the Fast Nine pretty much matched what they did on Saturday.
In short, I found Saturday to be exciting and intriguing. I considered Sunday to be interesting, but that’s about it. I’m not clamoring to go back to the four days of qualifying where the car qualified and not the driver. That no longer works in today’s economic environment. I’m just wondering what very minor tweaks might improve this version.
Maybe once I go back and watch both telecasts, I’ll be convinced that Sunday was as entrancing as Saturday. The viewer numbers bear that out – Saturday got a 0.9 rating, while Sunday earned a 1.2. If you listened to Trackside last night, you heard Curt Cavin extolling the virtues of having this two-day event on ABC. He maintains it served as a two-day commercial for the Indianapolis 500. Fair enough – but before they had mentioned it, I was already wondering if they should just cram qualifying into an action-packed one-day event on Saturday and save Sunday as your rain-date.
As they mentioned, the crowd was not good on Saturday. The question is – was that a function of the weather or the new format? Saturday was fairly miserable. It started off partially sunny, but soon clouded up with a few sprinkles. On top of that, it was cold – very cold. Sunday was pleasant. I finally shed the jacket around noon and had short-sleeves going – but that was still a little chilly in the shade.
I do have to get this off my chest to show my grumpy old man side. While there were not that many fans in the stands watching qualifying, there was a packed house in the Pagoda Plaza watching the band “Live” perform on the stage set up directly behind the Pagoda. I know I am in the vast minority, but it is beyond me why anyone would come to any race track – much less the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – and seek out a band playing while cars are on track. If they are playing during an afternoon lull, that’s one thing. But to pass up the reason the event is taking place, in favor of ancillary entertainment on the property is something I just don’t understand. Now…get off my lawn!
The concert notwithstanding, it really doesn’t matter what I think about the new qualifying format. Maybe there should be a few tweaks here and there, but they need to give this a good lengthy try. This is the third change in less than ten years. That’s no way to judge if something is a success or not. Like it or not, they need to stick with this format for a good while to get a good read on it.
But I’ll say this – I’ve been to IMS for qualifying when Mario Andretti dramatically unseated Dan Gurney for the pole in 1967 and when Joe Leonard and Graham Hill put turbines in the first two spots alongside eventual winner Bobby Unser in 1968. I’ve also been there when the entire weekend was washed out. The point is – I’ve never in my life had a bad time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. If I’m there, I’m happy. This past weekend, I was happy.