Selfishly Rethinking My IMS Travel Plans

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The good thing about having a blog is that it reflects my opinion and my opinion only. Sometimes my opinion is in line with other fans. Other times it’s not. But it’s always important to remember that these are just my opinions on here and there will be some days where absolutely no one agrees with me. Today could be one of those days.

Last week, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway released its schedule for the Indianapolis 500 and the Month of May. There were some plusses and minuses compared to previous years, but if I’m being completely selfish and focusing only on how it affects me – there was one giant minus.

In a nutshell; Opening Day is technically Sunday May 3rd, when the oval aero kits are unveiled and tested for the first time. Then The Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis will take place the following Saturday. ROP and a full practice is slated for the following Monday May 11th to run from 4:00 to 7:00. Practice will run Tuesday through Friday from noon until 6:00. With Qualifications and Pole Day that Saturday and Sunday, with a final practice on Monday May 18th. A revamped Community Day will take place on Wednesday May 20th, Carb Day on Friday May 22nd, Legends Day honoring four-time winner Al Unser on Saturday May 23rd and The Greatest Spectacle in Racing – the 99th Running of the Indianapolis 500 to take place on Sunday May 24th.

In that schedule, I see a lot of positives. But when I get selfish and think about how it affects me personally;  that’s where the minus pops up.

Last year, for the weekend of the Inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis; practice began on Thursday. I took a day of vacation and drove up Friday morning for qualifying that afternoon. With the support races, there was a full day of racing on Saturday leading up to the main event – the IndyCar race that started late Saturday afternoon. By the time the race was run and the place cleared out, the sun was going down. It was a full day and an early night at the hotel. The next day served as Opening Day for Indianapolis 500 practice. Some teams chose not to run that day, but many did.

One of the more fascinating things I came across that day was also one of the first things. I was taking a detour through the garage area like I normally do, just to see if anything interesting was going on.

Simon Pagenaud had won the Grand Prix just the day before in the Oculus-sponsored car; in the teal and white livery used prior to going to the bright orange used later in the season. So, what were they doing to preserve the collectable car that had just won the historic Inaugural Grand Prix? They were peeling off the vinyl wrap to prepare it to be Pagenaud’s backup for the 500. The crew guys were nice enough to give the few of us standing around wads of vinyl off of the winning car. That indescribable wad accounts for one of my more curious bits of racing memorabilia.

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After two full days of watching not only IndyCars, but several different type cars run “backwards” for the previous two days, it finally felt “normal” to watch IndyCars being the only cars on the track and to have them going the “correct” direction. All seemed right with the world.

Perhaps it’s just me, but anytime there are cars running at IMS – I’m a happy man. Whether I’m with a group of people or just sitting there alone with my thoughts while one single car is running laps – I’m very content to just sit there and take it all in. I did just that until the track closed early for the day for lightening in the area. I headed back to the media center, did a wrap-up post and then hopped in the car and headed back to Nashville.

It was a fantastic weekend. There was the novelty of the first IndyCar race on the IMS road course and all the fun and excitement that went with it; and then it got down to what I considered the real business at hand – oval practice for the Indianapolis 500. As I was driving back to Nashville that Sunday night, I remember being tired, but very satisfied that I had done quite a lot, seen a lot of racing and knew that I still had two more full weekends at IMS ahead of me. Life was good.

The only thing that could have made it better was if my wife, Susan, could have gone. She was still in career transition then and her “survival” job made her work weekends. When she asked off for three weekends in a row in May, her employer laughed at her. They told her there was no way she was getting all three, and to pick which one she was willing to give up. She gave up the Grand Prix weekend. She now has her career job and no longer works weekends.

Since last May I’ve been looking forward to repeating those three weekends, and this time with Susan – since she had been the only missing component for the Grand Prix weekend last year.

But last week, IMS shot me a curve. Like last year; the Grand Prix weekend will still start on Thursday and conclude with the race on Saturday. But this year, there will be no track activity whatsoever on Sunday. Those of us that will burn vacation time for Friday and drive more than four hours are free to go home Saturday night.

So, if I want to see the opening practice (which I have for the last few years) – I have to spend Saturday night and Sunday night in a hotel and burn another vacation day on Monday. Sorry, I’m not doing that, since I’m already taking off the following Friday for Fast Friday and will be spending money on a hotel again.

I’ve heard and read all the arguments telling me why I’m in the vast minority. That Sunday is Mother’s Day, which is historically a crowd killer. Two years ago, we drove to Opening Day on Saturday and drove back that night only to get up the next day and drive two hours to visit my mother on Mother’s Day. Last year, I missed Mother’s Day entirely. I think she understood, maybe not.

I also understand that the crews are about to embark on a long string of Sundays when they’ll be racing. That will be their last off-Sunday (or Saturday night) until June 21st. Perhaps the new aero kits take longer to change over from the road course configuration to the oval kit. Maybe the grounds crew needs more time to convert the road course back to the oval.

Since I’ve been griping about this on Twitter, many people that were there on Sunday last year said they had the feeling of “What are we doing here?” Seriously? You’re at the most famous race track in the world, and it’s the first day of practice for the biggest race in the world and you want to know why you’re there?

Whatever the case; by the response I was getting on Twitter when I complained about it – I could tell I was in the vast minority. The thing is – those that were essentially saying “too bad” to me, all lived in the Indianapolis area. I guess they don’t really care that I take time off from work, pay for hotels that weekend and drive over four hours one-way to attend. The locals can go to the race, spend Mother’s Day with Mom and then take advantage of the additional hour the next Monday, when the track will be open for practice to all drivers from 4:00 to 7:00 following sessions of ROP. They’ll knock off work a little early and get to take in three hours of opening practice

That’s a change I am in favor of, by the way. I think they should do it for every practice day in order to bring back the old “happy hour” that sees the shadows creep across the main straightaway. With a normal closing time of 6:00; they haven’t had that phenomenon since Indiana adopted Daylights Savings Time in 2006. Nowadays, the sun still basks the front stretch in the final hour and doesn’t allow the speeds to creep up that the late afternoon shade would allow in the old days. I’ve always been a proponent of extending practice and qualifying times to 7:00 since the time changed. Of course, the new Pole Day format ends in mid-afternoon, but that’s another topic for another day.

Am I the only out-of-towner that went to the Grand Prix last year and stayed over for the opening 500 practice? Am I warped in my thinking to think that was a great weekend? I enjoyed the Grand Prix, but mostly due to its novelty. Honestly, my favorite day of the whole weekend was Sunday. Obviously, not many agreed with me.

But I now find myself rethinking the entire weekend. I’m not sure it’s worth it to burn a precious vacation day and go up there for only two days. Based on last year, it would probably be after 8:00 Saturday night by the time we leave the track. Is it worth spending money for a second night in a hotel just to wake up and drive home Sunday morning, since there is nothing going on at the track? Do I want to do all that just for the Grand Prix, which won’t be so unique in its second year?

Of course, another option is to go for a fourth weekend – for the day, anyway. On Sunday May 3rd, there will be a one-day testing of the new aero kits in their oval configuration. This, in effect, will be Opening Day. I’d love to be there to see the new aero kits in person. Maybe we’ll drive up for the day, but that’s a lot of driving. It’s just another decision to make.

No one can answer make these decisions or answer these questions for me. I’ll probably end up going to the Grand Prix anyway. Who knows, we may go all four weekends. But I’m really giving this some hard thought. Saving the money and the vacation day during the Grand Prix weekend is very tempting, but I can also see me kicking myself on Saturday morning for not going, if I don’t.

IMS President Doug Boles is a very smart man and I’m a huge fan of his. What I like about him is that he is like us – a fan. He is a fan first, and a businessman second. Boles is a native Hoosier that grew up going to every race since the seventies. Unlike the head of IndyCar; I’ve been on board with practically everything Boles has come up with. This was obviously a business decision, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. That’s why I’m disappointed they just gave up on the traveling fans like me and opted for a Monday opening practice. Here’s a video that Boles released on Friday, laying out all the plans for the Month of May.

Like I said, this is solely about my own selfish opinion and how I’m affected. Many are upset about the completely revamped Community Day on the Wednesday before the race. I’ll be at work that day and it doesn’t affect me, so I’m not the least bit interested in complaining about that. That’s me being completely selfish, but that’s what I do.

Now, about that new IMS tenderloin…

George Phillips

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24 Responses to “Selfishly Rethinking My IMS Travel Plans”

  1. My Bronze Badge is on order…

  2. This has to be the most apologetic expression of an opinion in the history of opinion expressing. Why so sorry, George? The following is not a complaint, just an observation of a business decision made by IMS: The Indy 500’s target audience are people who live within 1 to 2 hours drive of the speedway. Period. The end. You can see it in the schedule, which George points out isn’t appealing to many who can’t go to IMS during the day and sleep in their own beds at night. I don’t even blame them for that decision. That strategy gets the crowds they need to make it work, so why change? If you’re a super hard-core fan like George who lives beyond the target, that creates a lot of lamentation. But, alas, the super hard-core fans that live beyond easy driving distance to IMS is dwindling rapidly, IMO. So the decision on scheduling, etc. is just business.

    • Great take on it, ‘dog. If someday IMS finds its attendance by locals is dwindling, then they may have to spend bigger bucks and/or do some larger gestures to attract the out-of-towners for GP or even 500 weekend, but my guess is that they’re making a pretty penny off both weekends as they sit now. If something like deleting Sunday oval practice winds up costing them 10k fans on Saturday for the GP (doubtful), then they’ll put Sunday practice back for 2016. Plain and simple. Dollars drives everything.

  3. I understand your plight … but … there were probably more people working the track than actually came to the track that day. That’s a business model that isn’t sustainable. It’s definitely a business decision. If as many people who showed up to the GPI showed up on that Sunday, you can bet your beloved Mother’s Day away from mom would still be rolling right along. As you and everyone else who goes on that Sunday knows, it’s not a very good crowd and hasn’t been a good crowd for quite some time.

    While you were in your cushy hotel, IMS workers were slaving into the morning to get the track converted from road course to oval. What’s the issue with giving IMS workers (and the crews) a final break as they head into the long month of May for the most important race of the year?

    • Hard to argue the economics of it. IMS certainly isn’t to open up just to break even or lose money … Regrettable for some, but basically a math thing.

  4. This being the first year of the aero kits, I can (kind of) understand taking the extra day in conversion of the cars and the track to make sure that we don’t wind up rushing to get people out on Sunday and perhaps breaking a few race cars. If I was planning on attending this year, I, (like you) would be a bit disappointed, but I think that the number of out-of-towners for Grand Prix weekend (like us) is insignificant enough that it won’t have much effect.

  5. Phil Kaiser Says:

    George, were you and Doug Boles separated by some family trauma years ago? He looks like he could be your brother! LOL!

    Hey, you and Susan can stay with Patty and me in our Condo up at Geist in the NE corner of Indianapolis (look it up, that’s the area where all the Pacers and Colts live) free of charge and you two can have the AJ Foyt Suite I’ve sent you photos of! I’ll even take the drums out of there. You’d be in Heaven….

    I’m serious, you have my number, call me, it would be a blast!

    Phil

  6. Mothers will always say they understand. Without knowing her, I suspect that what she actually feels about her son going to the track and sending a Mother’s Day tweet, or whatever you do, may be a different story. Just sayin’

  7. George, I completely understand what you mean regarding the careful placement of your vacation days from work throughout the year.

    Living in Europe, I have not been trackside at an IndyCar race yet. But I admire these drivers for being able to go fast on all types of tracks. If I had the chance to go to the US for a race, the event which I would choose would be Milwaukee. Some might say it’s sacrilegious not to choose Indy but as a start, I’d rather see a race on a short oval. And besides, Milwaukee is usually the one of all the ovals where the drivers who came from the European formula series are the most likely to shine for their first time on an oval. At least that’s what came to mind thinking of Nigel Mansell’s performance at the track back in the day.

    Yet, as you have the chance of visiting the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and have wondered whether to go trackside or not, let me just say that the IMS road course is the only low downforce road/street course that’s currently on the IndyCar calendar. That makes it pretty special, and it should make the race interesting because some teams will find a better low downforce setup than others. As a result, a team that might dominate Barber may be well off the pace at the Grand Prix of Indy and vice versa. Just look at Jack Hawksworth’s stunning performance last year. As a low downforce circuit, the GP of Indy is to the IndyCar calendar like what Monza is to F1 these days. In fact, it was a low downforce track for F1 back in the day, even with the few additional turns it had. And it did produce unique results. So if the decision is whether to make a one-day trip with driving to and fro on the same day, I’d recommend visiting the 2nd running of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis instead of the aero kit test or a day of practise. I hope this as of any help.

    To make this more entertaining, I like to say that my motor racing related pipe dream would be an IndyCar race on the Nürburgring North Loop.

  8. I’m sure there are plenty of people who feel the same way you do. As for the economic argument IMS could certainly afford to have Sunday practice particularly in light of the Indiana taxpayer’s support they now receive. Management is still operating under the fantasy that they will somehow recoup the millions of dollars they lost during Tony’s Folly by squeezing it out of IMS. Scheduling issues are rooted in the ill-advised second race in May. Scheduling the second race for Labor Day weekend or later in the fall with good support races would result in larger net profits and eliminate the track and car configuration turn around issues.

    • Phil Kaiser Says:

      Excuse me (I can just imagine George and Billy P’Dog over in Iowa rolling their eyes right now), but I live in Indianapolis, have a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science (which means I follow local and National politics VERY closely and have all of my life) and must inform you that the IMS receives NO TAXPAYER SUPPORT OR FUNDING AND NEVER EVER HAS! Period.

      What is actually happening is that the IMS gets to keep its tax revenue from their ticket, merchandise and food sales inside The Track. The amount they keep is totally driven by what they sell there, after all, it’s their money, just like the money the IRS takes from you: it’s YOURS! That scenario is completely different from an actual transfer of wealth in a fixed amount from the Indiana State tax coffers to the IMS, which is EXACTLY what the Pacers and the Colts have extorted from us over the years, and nobody has said a word about that. The IMS has NEVER taken a DIME of taxpayer money in its entire over-a-century lifetime. Not one penny! Now, let’s talk about NASCAR, the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, now there you have a complaint about taking taxpayer money, but NOT about the IMS.

      We’ve been over this before, I wish the Media had done a better job of explaining this to fans, but they aren’t bright enough to figure it out, so here we are…..

      • I make a rule to never argue on blogs so please don’t misunderstand this as disputing you position, you have every right to look at a situation as you see it. This is merely an explanation. As a professional who spent 30 years in public finance I was involved with many deals similar to the one in question. To apply a logic to your premise the revenue does not belong the Speedway, it belongs to the paying customer who paid it to the Speedway. When an entity collects revenue on the basis that it is a tax, for example sales tax on purchases from the gift shop, and retains that revenue instead of paying it to the state, it is accepting public funds of the taxpayers of the state. It is corporate welfare whether it’s the Speedway, the Pacers, the Colts or Uncle Joe’s Bait Emporium. Not being an Indiana resident I have no dog in this fight, but I’d bet that if the proposal had been on the ballot it would have been defeated.

  9. Greg Wright Says:

    My fiance has alwasy wanted to spend Mothers Day at the track (one of the reasons I love her), obviously, we wont be doing that this year. I understand your plight, being from out of town, you have to schedule accordingly, but I still think its well worth the trip. You have a great weekend at the track and see the Grand Prix, stay the night on Satruday night, have breakfast at Charlie Browns and have a nice relaxing trip home instead of a tired trip on Saturday night. If its sunny and warm the day of the race, that would be a brutally long trip.

  10. Last Year, I did EXACTLY what you did George and even stayed until Tuesday to get an extra day of watching 500 practice. I loved every minute of it!! I don’t go out for qualifying as that is another 14 hours in the car on this old body and I’m not going to miss the race. I bought a Bronze Badge for the first time and loved all that went along with it as well.

    With the schedule changes this year, I just can’t justify the 2 trips out from Pittsburgh. I’m sure that it works out just fine for the locals, but for those of us traveling, it doesn’t.

    I’m not complaining believe me. There’s plenty of other things to complain about. Just wanted to let you know you weren’t alone in your thinking!!

  11. I believe IMS is doing all it can to have a packed and profitable month of May. And good for them because that month in Indianapolis makes the rest of the schedule possible. But I also think that INDYCAR could do considerably more to promote races outside of Indy.

    I could see where it could be tough to see everything if you don’t live near Indy. There’s a lot going on now with the addition of the other race and new aero-kits, so maybe it’s not possible to see everything anymore. But I feel for you George, because I don’t know anyone who reveres IMS the way you do, or enjoys it as much as you.

    Old “Far Side” cartoon: Two gorillas lean against a palm tree and eat bananas, the ground is littered with peels. One says “I know everyone likes bananas, but I REALLY like bananas.”

    That’s you George, “I know everyone likes the Speedway, but you REALLY like the Speedway.”

  12. It’s difficult to believe that you would even consider skipping the Grand Prix. You’d miss an IndyCar race that’s held four hours from your home? George, that’s sacrilegious. Go, have a good time. Don’t over-analyze it.

  13. The first thing that comes to mind for me is how the Indianapolis Grand Prix is for the locals only. I understand it’s purely a business decision but it gives us all insight to their target audience. They are communicating they don’t really care about George who lives in Nashville. They don’t really care about me I live in Louisville. They don’t really care about someone from Chicago. Is there a big enough audience just in the Indianapolis metro area?

    • In that case Dan, they definitely don’t care about me in California. I would kill to go to Indy for several weekends in May in the same year. My goal is to just get to the 500 one year. Am jealous George and Susan!

  14. Okay. I guess I don’t get why people think IMS isn’t welcoming to out-of-state people. People can come watch a road race on a weekend. Or the 500 on another weekend. Or go to both if you have the time and money. Or stay the whole month if you have the ability. How exactly is offering more on-track product stopping or discouraging people from attending whatever event they want?

    • Outstanding point, red. At the core of it, the chance to watch the cars on the road course on (Friday, if you can afford the vacation time and) Saturday for under $50 (it’s $41 for a 2-day general admission pass, or $30 for Saturday only) is still a scorching deal (compare it to watching any NFL/NBA/NHL/MLB game…what quality ticket are you getting for that price point, and how many hours of entertainment are you buying?). Of course, it comes with added expense (gas, food, lodging), if you’re coming from out of town, but how is that different from any other sporting event anywhere in the country? Most of the fans that attend are going to be from within a 2-hour radius, because they’re the ones who can leave their house the morning of the event, drive there, attend, and then drive home without having to spend money on lodging. However, if you deem the event “un-miss-able” enough to want to budget your own money and time toward it, it’ll be something that you’ll attend from even 4 or 5 hours away.

      I do see George’s point, though, and I do agree. With the deletion of Sunday practice, the weekend basically goes from “fantastic value” to “great value”. And with a couple more “fantastic value” weekends yet to come, I can understand skipping GP weekend, if you’re more into the oval stuff. Everybody makes choices.

      • I assumed they felt that Sunday might be needed to give teams time to deal with switching over the new aerokits from twisty to oval this year. Maybe they’ll find it’s easier than they think and George will get his Sunday practice back next year. But you’re right about value, Sgeek, it’s still a good deal.

    • These are all opinions correct? IMHO, and I have always been a out of state fan. I have driven from Denver to Indy and back 3 times in my life for the Indy 500 and 2 of the 3 I was home by Monday morning. I now live in Louisville and I am fortunate to live as close as I do to the center if IndyCar racing. Indy, MidOhio, Barber, even Detroit are all events I can now see. One hundred or so miles to see the Indy 500 feels to me like it’s now in my back yard. I defend George. Honestly, I think IMS and the IndyCar series (same thing) treat their out going trash from the speedway sometimes better than their traveling fans. For working guys like George, with lives, and a work schedule, and idle day matters. It also fuels the consistant inconsistencies in scheduling from year to year that continue to hamstring IndyCar from growing more fans to attend races. 4pm start times at tracks like Milwaukee also get people dismayed. One would think Doug Boles and Mark Miles could just tell people to just bring their Mom’s to Sunday practice. I think what ticks people off is planning a trip in advance not knowing if the schedule is going to be the same as it was there year before like George’s case and point. People spend a lot of time money and vacation days and effort to get there. I am willing to bet George will not be able to expense 4 trips to Indianapolis with lodging in 1 month. In a nutshell; IndyCar needs to offer more bang. For those of you that think it a good deal, it needs to be a better deal. And to ballyhoo: at least you can see the championship hopefully be decided, its not so bad.

      • Yes Dan, I have selfishly enjoyed the final race of the season for the last 3 years. Not sure about Sonoma in August, but I hope to go. Still not the Speedway.

  15. I was already expecting a crowd for the road race at about half of last year now that the novelty has worn off. This may impact it further.

    Want the crowds to come back? Look at what they did thirty years ago and replicate it. Including new track records. You would be surprised how that might work.

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