Keep Pocono On The IndyCar Schedule
Lost in all of the tragic circumstances of August 23-24, was that the Verizon IndyCar Series held what appeared to be a successful race. Some may consider successful a poor choice of words given that there was a fatality in the race; but had that not happened, I think there would have been quite the buzz about Pocono.
Track CEO and President Brandon Igdalsky claims that this year’s crowd was smaller than last year’s. I don’t believe it. I’ve heard from people that were there on-site for all three Pocono races and to a person – they all say that the crowd for this race was bigger than last year. Plus, I have eyes. As soon as the pre-race show came on, it was clear that the crowd was bigger than what they had last year for the Fourth of July weekend.
Most think that Igdalsky is using this claim for leverage for a lower sanctioning fee. If that is the case, then I have a short message to IndyCar CEO Mark Miles – do it.
I have news for you; as it currently stands, IndyCar needs Pocono more than Pocono needs IndyCar. IndyCar is in a desperate need of ovals.
Fontana is already confirmed gone from the 2016 IndyCar schedule. Chances are, it will be a long time before it returns. IndyCar will probably have to completely re-establish itself on the sports landscape before Fontana will have them back – regardless of where it falls on the schedule.
Milwaukee is iffy at best. IndyCar understands the historic significance of having The Milwaukee Mile on the schedule, but there is currently no promoter willing to take it on. Unless someone gets creative and co-promotes Milwaukee with the nearby race at Road America; there is a strong chance that Milwaukee will not be back next year, regardless of how historic the venue is. After all – this is a business.
I thought the late August date worked well for Pocono – much better than the Fourth of July weekend that IndyCar had in 2013-14. Even if Mark Miles follows through on his promise to extend the season into September, I’m thinking that the late August date works well; unless it’s determined that its simply too close to the second NASCAR race that ran a couple of weeks earlier. If that’s the case, a mid-September date may not be bad.
The fact that Igdalsky is posturing for a possibly lower sanctioning fee is a good sign. If he was totally unhappy with the response for the third IndyCar race since open-wheel racing returned for the first time since 1989, he would have simply announced he was pulling the plug by now.
In the days immediately following Justin Wilson’s passing, I read a few comments from various people that IndyCar should never return to Pocono out of respect for Justin Wilson. I hate to come off as insensitive, but I couldn’t disagree more with that way of thinking. It was not out of respect for Dan Wheldon that IndyCar never returned to Las Vegas. It was a combination of the track not wanting IndyCar back and the track design being so that it encouraged pack racing. What happened at Pocono had nothing to do with track design. It was strictly a fluke accident that could have happened anywhere. Besides, IndyCar racing didn’t stop at Homestead after Paul Dana was fatally injured. Nor was Fontana taken off the schedule after Greg Moore lost his life there in 1999.
If Brandon Igdalsky wants a lower sanctioning fee, give it to him. If he wants the sanctioning fee for the next two years waved, grant him his wish but make him sign a five year deal with gradual increases in years three through five. The point is, get creative without alienating other track owners.
It’s quite possible that the 2016 IndyCar schedule could have only three ovals – Indianapolis, Texas and Iowa. Phoenix has been rumored as being added to the schedule, but nothing is confirmed. To me, having only three ovals is unacceptable.
Some claim that this is the way open-wheel racing is going. It’s just evolution, they say. They point to declining attendance at ovals while places like Long Beach, St. Petersburg and Barber are showing healthy profits. They say that fans are speaking with their wallets on what they want to see. Others claim that open-wheel cars have outgrown high-speed ovals and that road/street courses are much safer.
Call me an old relic, but I disagree with every bit of that logic. What sets this series apart from any other is the diversity in its tracks. NASCAR races primarily ovals. Formula One races strictly road-courses, with a street race or two thrown in for good measure. The Verizon IndyCar Series currently races short ovals, some banked, some mostly flat; giant superspeedways like Indianapolis and Pocono; then of course – a mixture of natural terrain road courses and temporary street circuits. It takes a different mindset to master each of those. Whoever wins and IndyCar champions is a true champion because they must learn consistency on all of the different tracks in order to be in championship contention at the end.
Ovals tend to be much more exciting than non-ovals. Look at all of the ovals races this season. Fontana was the most breathtaking, while even Texas produced good racing. Texas was just not on the level of excitement that Indianapolis, Iowa, Milwaukee or Pocono were.
As I mentioned earlier, had Justin Wilson not lost his life – there would have been a lot of buzz about the race at Pocono. There were twelve cautions and multiple lead changes. As the day wore on, conditions changed making the track more difficult to drive. That’s what happens in five-hundred mile races. If not for one fateful moment, people would’ve spent that following Monday discussing the great race that had taken place.
I am a big believer in date equity. There are a lot of things going on in everyone’s lives these days – much more so than forty or fifty years ago. Fans need to know when to expect the races in their area to take place each year. Would the Indianapolis 500 become what it did had it taken place in May one year, August the next , July the next, then back to May? For decades, the Milwaukee race always took place the weekend following the Indianapolis 500. Now it moves from June to August to July in a three-year period and they wonder why no one goes. Sonoma and Mid-Ohio are always on the same dates and they always have a good turnout. Is that just a coincidence?
Mark Miles and Brandon Igdalsky need to sit down and develop a long-term plan for IndyCar to build on what they’ve established over the past three years. They need to settle on a date and insure that that date is always reserved for IndyCar at Pocono. They also need to sign a longer-term deal than year-to year. These annual discussions of wondering will they or won’t they return, only serve to build ill will and distrust between each other along with discontent among fans.
I truly believe that a long-term approach could really build something at Pocono. There are too many open-wheel fans within a two-hour drive of Pocono for it to not work, given the right approach.
There is no shortage of pressing issues facing Mark Miles and the IndyCar powers-that-be this offseason. But I think finalizing the schedule is at or near the top of the list in order of importance. Making sure that Pocono is on the schedule for years to come is the biggest unsolved priority left regarding the schedule. Mark Miles got it right with Road America. Let’s hope he gets it right with Pocono.