A Decent Schedule Amidst Great Fanfare

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Tuesday morning was agonizing. With each passing moment, you could feel the anticipation building. Throughout the early morning hours, I kept wondering which tracks would and would not be on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve, I was so giddy thinking about all of the possibilities that were awaiting us.

For those that don’t know me, the previous paragraph was called sarcasm.

The 2016 schedule was unveiled with a resounding thud yesterday. Mind you, it wasn’t the content of the schedule that caused the thud. It was the fact that we all had known what was in it for weeks. Then they cheesily tried to build suspense on social media with a countdown in the final hours and minutes, as if none of us had any idea what was about to be announced.

To be honest, I think this schedule is a significant improvement. Two tracks are finally on the schedule that open-wheel fans have been coveting for years – Phoenix and Road America. I wasn’t sure if we would ever see those CART staples ever show up on the IndyCar schedule. Phoenix disappeared from the IndyCar slate after the 2005 season. Road America has never appeared on the IndyCar schedule, but was on the final Champ Car schedule for 2007. It’s been a long wait for both and they actually showed up together in the same year.

I also give high marks to whoever was ultimately responsible for the return of Pocono for a fourth year on the schedule. There seemed to be an increase in attendance at this year’s event. Regardless of the tragic circumstances that surrounded this year’s race, I always thought it was imperative that this event be given more time to grow – especially with the new August date.

The schedule-makers seemed to pay more attention to date equity this time. Toronto returns to its traditional mid-July date after having to run in June this year, as a result of scheduling around the Pan-Am games. The only departure from a traditional date is moving Sonoma into mid-September. Apparently, most were happy with Sonoma as the season finale. The area seems to be popular for entertaining clients and as an ideal setting for the Championship Banquet.

Not only are there the two tracks returning after long layoffs, but a brand new street race in Boston will serve as the penultimate race on Labor Day weekend. Due to the fact that this race is in a major market in the Northeast, this event is a huge plus for the series. That is, if the locals allow it to take place.

The fact that this race is even in question after appearing on the official schedule is inexcusable. Kinks should have been ironed out months ago – long before the event was publicly announced. Once again, local politics are playing havoc with an IndyCar event and it may or may not take place regardless if it’s already on the schedule. Usually, this type of foolishness only happens on foreign soil. This time, it’s getting ugly in our own country. I don’t know if this is the fault of the promoter, or IndyCar or who – but someone should have made sure that every little potential problem was thwarted before anything was announced publicly.

Now that the race has been announced for a couple of months, the locals are suddenly in an uproar that they will be inconvenienced by what they see as a misuse of their tax-dollars. It always seems that individual citizens have little interest in what an event like this brings to the local economy. They see it strictly as a major inconvenience where their usual routes are disrupted. They choose to see no tangible benefit to the business in the area. This race should have been presented and sold to the locals before it was ever announced and printed on the official IndyCar schedule. I’ll say it again, to have a somewhat tentative date on any major sports schedule is inexcusable. Hopefully, it will eventually happen.

There are a couple of tweaks to existing races. Sonoma is scheduled to run at what will be an evening race on the east coast. The green flag will drop about an hour and a half before the NFL Sunday Night Football game kicks off. Another change that doesn’t make as much sense sees Iowa moving from Saturday night to late Sunday afternoon. I’m sure there’s a good reason for it, but I don’t know what it is. If you listened to Trackside last night, you know that Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee were searching for the answers as well.

Of course, for every positive – there is a negative. To counter the three new venues on the docket, the Verizon IndyCar Series lost three tracks that were on the 2015 slate – Fontana, Milwaukee and NOLA. I’m most distressed and perplexed by the loss of Milwaukee. Michael Andretti pulled the plug on his support of that event, despite the fact that it appeared there was greater attendance. The history of open-wheel racing at Milwaukee mandates that The Mile should be on the schedule. Hopefully, someone will come up with the magic formula to make Milwaukee work sometime in the near future.

Not only are those three tracks not on next year’s schedule, but there’s another track that had been rumored to be in the mix but didn’t make it – Gateway. I’m hoping that IndyCar CEO Mark Miles can find a way to get the egg-shaped track across the river from St. Louis on the schedule very soon,

While I’m making my wish list – a return to Michigan would be nice and I still carry a selfish torch for a revival of Nashville Superspeedway so that it can somehow return to the IndyCar calendar. The track isn’t great, but it was always a fun event and Nashville certainly supported it. Plus, I like a race weekend where I spend the night in my own bed.

So, while I thought the build-up in the last few days was very anticlimactic and a little on the cheesy side – I’m pretty pleased with this schedule. Although it contains sixteen races as this year’s did, by starting two weeks earlier and ending three weeks later – it lasts five weeks longer than 2015.

Would I like to see more races each season? Of course. I’d like to see a minimum of eighteen races per year and that doesn’t count a double-header at Detroit. One of my biggest disappointments is that the twin-bill returns to Belle Isle. My hope was that Detroit would be trimmed down to a traditional single-race weekend as Toronto has been. To count a double-header as two races of sixteen, still rings as cheap and gimmicky to me.

Some may think that most of the tracks staying in their same slot on the calendar is boring, but I see that as a big plus. As I mentioned earlier – date equity is the best way to grow fledgling events. If they can leave Pocono in the same date each year, it should only keep growing and become a new tradition for the local area.

So there you have it; the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule in a nutshell. At least there were new tracks that are very popular with fans. They are also (hopefully) headed to one of the largest markets in the US in the most populated region – Boston. They’ve also gotten down to only one double-header. Now if they can just get rid of those double points…

George Phillips

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41 Responses to “A Decent Schedule Amidst Great Fanfare”

  1. Inexcusable to not have Baltimore…oops, I mean Brasilia…oops, darn it, I mean Boston, locked, cocked, and ready to go with an ironclad contract LAST YEAR, before announcing this schedule. Also, again, only 16 races. Pathetic. There have been so many, non-Boston Group suggestions on how they could grow the calander, if only someone there gave a good goddamn.

    Gee, I wonder why all the sponsors are leaving?

    • I believe there probably is a contract in place for Boston, otherwise there wouldn’t have been a press conference to announce the race and constant statements from Mark Miles that the race is going to go forward. It just sounds like some of the locals are wanting that contract to not be carried out.

  2. Not sure why it is so hard to get some tracks back like Cleveland but they would rather risk it on questionable circumstances like Brazil and Boston. Overall though, it’s not bad. Phoenix was a staple that was missed for many years and Road America should be nice. I can live without Milwaukee and Fontana if it meant a return to the roots of Laguna, Michigan, Cleveland, etc but doubtful that will happen. Watkins Glen and Gateway were always pretty boring to me. Would also not complain to see Dover back and Richmond.

    • Cleveland: needs a sponsor to not just front the money to put up grandstands and billboards all over town, but also the money required to shut down a working airport for 4 days. Methinks that’s not so easy to find anymore.

      • Correct; Mike Lanigan would host races in Cleveland and Houston if he had title $pon$or$. City-street and airport courses, which don’t have all the infrastructure standing and ready, seem to cost more to ready for racing. Costs may include paying airport operators (Saint Petersburg, Cleveland, Edmonton) and compen$ating downtown businesses that are adversely affected by creating race tracks in Boston, Baltimore, and Saint Petersburg – restaurants and retailers and Dalî museum.

  3. Fontana was the highlight of the year. Twitter was blowing up while NASCAR was in rain delay saying there was a race that just HAD to be seen.

    • As the ‘on-track product,’ the racing, was so entertaining to television viewers and fans in the stands, it’s really too bad that INDYCAR’s relationship with AutoClub Speedway soured so much by monkeying with the race date and thus ruining ticket sales (and the track’s revenue).

  4. The street races will always have problems since they rely on tax money. I disagree with you in that I think the people of Boston should be upset that their tax dollars are being used to support a sporting event for another corporation. I would like to see all of these tax payer sponsored events go away.

    Phoenix and Road America are nice to see, but not at the expense of Fontana and Milwaukee. And why assume Phoenix, Road America or even Pocono will be there three years from now? That’s not the history.

    • I agree 100%, Bob. No tax dollars are warranted for ICS events. Just because some municipalities have been duped into building new stadiums for NFL teams, etc. etc. is no excuse for claims that ICS deserves such support.

  5. First off George condolences for your loss in your family.

    Mostly good news on the 2016 schedule but, Milwaukee being eliminated, to me, reaches deeper into IndyCar’s pocket of troubles than I care to think about. I am sure Ron Ford can enlighten us further since he is the man on the ground.

    As you said, date equity is probably the most positive highlight of the schedule for 2016 that, adding Phoenix and the season extension to 5 weeks are big plusses. At this point, a longer season by a day is a positive. Consistency in the schedule is a significant key to success for the future.

    Concerns for me are: 1 race in August, no Milwaukee (maybe gone forever), inability to settle on a date with Fontana and as you mentioned the debacle in Boston.

    Expanding on Boston, the rumblings of local resistance is pretty common but I agree with you why would they announce a race if they were not 100% sure they were going to be able to pull it off? IndyCar is looking more like the SCCA every day. Their credibility just slipped another notch. Next time they announce an international race I will just laugh at this point. Inaugural street events are a such a challenge since they affect so many people. I grew up around Denver and it was the same thing there. There is always resistance but what I struggle to grasp is how business people do not understand the economic return and national exposure a city gets that comes from having such an event. Most of the resistance comes from naysayers that are non-fans or have never been to an event and know nothing about racing and have probably not even seen an IndyCar in person much less in anger out on a race track. Its sad but reality. Unfortunately those numbers are and will continue to grow.

    What are your thoughts on the current construction project at IMS? I am sure you are planning on writing about it in the future.

    • I forgot to mention Road America. +!

    • What/Where is the work at IMS being done? I was at the Museum on Saturday but whatever is being done was not obvious from that area.

      • All the work is being done to the stands on the outside of the track, along the main straightaway. The roof has been temporarily removed to completely revamp the stands, which also includes taking out many of the view obstructing posts in the upper deck. Look for a concourse to be where Georgetown Road is/was. I also believe the old suites north of the yard of bricks are to be removed to make way for a new part-deck area. – GP

      • Where is the work being done at the speedway? The roof is being removed from the upper deck. A new roof that is higher will replace it. New stadium seats are being placed in the upper deck, with additional seats due to a higher roof. Also the fencing around the track has been removed. A new black fencing will replace it. Lastly power lines and poles on Georgetown Road are being removed. Elevators are being added for upper deck seating due to the “Handicap Act”.

  6. Road America will definitely make an impact on the series. I look forward to watching it and I am happy for the fans who have access to the track.and plan to attend. I accept the rest of the schedule and I do have access to two tracks and I already have tickets and plans for one. Indianapolis. The other, Birmingham, is a maybe. However, with that I am a happy camper. However, I wish that Nashville had buyers that were true professionals instead of the clowns that made a bid a year and a half ago. Maybe we would have an August race here is the Music City.

  7. Every time IndyCar loses a race people blame promotion. Rubbish. They come and go based on market forces. I don’t support taxpayer-funded street races (or any races, for that matter). If one was proposed for my town I’d be against it for ROI reasons. In the continuum of tax dollar investments, there are about 1000 that drive better ROI. Given the ardor for Road America, I assume the place will be packed. Overall a decent schedule. The absolute smartest part about the schedule was the timing of the races to either come right after a NASCAR race (TV ratings boon) or avoid going head to head (TV ratings death). I think that was the reasoning for the Iowa time.

  8. billytheskink Says:

    I’m being speculative, but it looks to me like NBC was the biggest decision-maker on the 2016 schedule committee.

    Why was Iowa moved to a Sunday afternoon? Probably because NBCSN is airing NASCAR from Kentucky on Saturday night that weekend.

    Why only one race in August and no Gateway? Likely because NBC’s networks are carrying the Summer Olympics in 2016 in addition to their obligations to NASCAR and other sports properties.

    NBC was probably a big factor in why Indycar rebuffed Fontana’s proposed October evening date too.

    It is understandable that NBC has such power, given that they provide the series with its only real means of national exposure after May and actually pay the series for that privilege. I’d much rather have the networks kowtowing to Indycar instead of vice versa, but such is the situation the series presently is in. I do give all parties credit for keeping races off of CNBC, unlike the last couple of schedules.

    • billytheskink Says:

      I’m seeing another source that says that Mid-Ohio and Toronto will be on CNBC instead of NBCSN, so I may have to retract that last line. Indycar’s website says otherwise so I am going with them for now, but NASCAR does have races at Pocono and New Hampshire likely scheduled for NBCSN during the Toronto and Mid-Ohio dates.

  9. I see the same BS happening with the Iowa race now that affected the Milwaukee race in a negative way. Since there will not be a race at Milwaukee this summer, I intended to attend the Iowa race assuming it would once again be on a Saturday night. Since the race has been moved to a Sunday afternoon, I will not be attending. I suspect that I will not be the only one not attending for that reason

    You can believe that IndyCar will wind up pumping some of it’s own money into the Boston race to make it happen. IMHO such money would be better spent investing in another race at the Milwaukee Mile. On a day next summer I will be found sitting up in the stands there, with a wee bit of single malt, watching ghosts of the past wrestle their cars around that iconic track. It probably won’t be long before our idiot governor orders the bulldozers in to turn this wonderful track into a parking lot or, God forbid, a Walmart.

    From Barney Oldfield to Sebastian Bourdais and countless open wheel and stock car drivers in between, it had one helluva run.

    • Not sure about your idiot governor, but IMHO the Milwaukee race fan has spoken. I as well as my wife and 2 sons attended every race since it came back to the schedule, from central Indiana. Andretti promoted the heck out of that race, yet we all saw the result. I really enjoyed that trip/race. Maybe you should be mad at your neighbors for not attending. Regardless, we all lose.

      • Oh – I was inclined to agree with Ron Ford: “IMHO such money would be better spent investing in another race at the Milwaukee Mile.” But if you say that Andretti Sports Marketing heavily-promoted its races on the Milwaukee Mile … it’s too bad that many more car-racing fans in the region didn’t go.
        As Ron wrote, it would be a crying shame if that historic track were bulldozed. “From Barney Oldfield to Sebastian Bourdais … it had one helluva run.”

      • I agree with you that Andretti promoted the heck out the race. In my long memory, no one has done it better. I am very grateful that you and your family traveled there from central Indiana. (My mom and grandparents were farmers near Sedalia). I will not be mad at my neighbors, however, First of all, I think that 25,000 plus or minus may very well be the new normal for oval races for a whole variety of reasons. I think the IndyCar business model needs to reflect that. Secondly, allow me to pose this question:
        If the date and start time for the Indy500 were to change each year, do you think that attendence would hold steady or grow?
        Start times are usually changed to accomodate the TV suits at the expense of fans like yourself who spend the time and money to attend a race. Taking the long view, IMHO that can only lead to less promoters willing to lose money and the current dog and pony show will have to find new venues about every three years.

        • Wow, I think NASCAR draws way more than 25,000 to virtually ALL of their 34 oval events every year, so I don’t think your proclamation is in any way factual. It might be for IndyCar, but not for “ovals” as you say.

          As for the Indianapolis 500? It’s the largest single-day sporting event in the world in the largest stadium ever built by man which is going to hold its 100th race next year; no matter when you held that event folks will come!

    • Ron, how many other events of any sort, outside of the State Fair run, make use of the grandstands? What was the justification for investing in that 10 or 12 years ago (I forget the exact year)? The old stands were probably quite decrepit and non-ADA compliant, but was there any talk of the facility hosting more events as a result of that?

      Thanks!

      • Yes, the old grandstands had seen better days. Those old Offenhausers were so loud they would shake the pigeon dust off the rafters so we had to hold our hands over our beer cups. The new grandstands were built without a roof to save money, so almost all of the seats are in the hot sun. I think the justification at the time for rebullding the grandstands was the expectation that there would always be racing there. Now, other than a racing school, the facility is only used for concerts during the State Fair. As I stated above, it would be sacrilegious to suggest the Indy500 to be on a different date and time each year, but the series still seems to believe they can do that to other track promoters and expect fans to fill the seats.

  10. hey George. once again a so-so schedule . they let two top ovals go to add a street race .

    while st Louis wants on was left off. when these events return then it will be a full deal. these events are Kentucky, watskins glenn,

    and Fontana to return the triple crown to the seris. when will they learn. look nascar just signed a five year deal with all there tracks to insure race dates and the way they do there money break down.

    again just a so-so effort on the schedule that will be just okay.

  11. In my own personal opinion, 1995 was about as good as IndyCar racing got (there have been studies that say that one is most fond of things the way they were when they first became interested in them and/or the way they were when they were a teenager…for me those years were 1991 to 1996, so with 1995 still including Indy, that’s where I put my personal high water mark).

    1995 – 6 oval races, 7 street course races, 4 natural terrain road course races

    2016 – 5 oval races, 6 street course races, 5 natural terrain road course races

    1995 – First race: March 5th; Last race: September 10th

    2016 – First race: March 13th; Last race: September 18th

    So, while I am bummed that we’ve lost Milwaukee and Fontana (and, to a much lesser extent, NOLA Motorsports Park) and I’m mildly concerned by a single race in August (though that really just represents two weekends off between Mid-Ohio and Pocono and a single weekend off between Pocono and Boston…unfortunate, but a more or less understandable fluke of the calendar, since if Pocono occurred a single day later, it also would have been in August), I’m beyond excited for the return of Road America and Phoenix and very intrigued by the addition of Boston. Is it a perfect schedule? Oh, of course not. But it’s solid, and sports a large degree of date equity (when possible) and sane TV scheduling (avoiding NASCAR races: a good thing).

    Bring on 2016.

    • I think for a lot of long time fans, the sport itself had been in some decline since the 80’s. One of the reasons was the imbalance in the schedule between ovals and road/street courses. The split was in response to the problems, not the start of the problems.

      This schedule remains way out of balance and represents the loss of two very good oval races. I cannot get excited about this and a negative trend continues.

  12. Gateway may well have had an August race date in 2016 if not for the Olympic coverage on NBC. The track does have an agreement for testing during the 2016 season which likely means a race date for 2017. Given how hot and humid it generally is in August there, I’m not sure that would be the best time, but NASCAR runs in the heat and humidity.
    The Iowa Sunday date is because of NASCAR races that weekend on NBCSN.
    Now, what I want to know is how Canadians will be able to see the races on TV or internet there as that is where I will be starting in April.

    • I don’t know where you’ll be in Canada, but I’ll say that I’d love to see INDYCAR race in Montreal, Vancouver, Portland, Watkins Glen, and Port Imperial, New Jersey.

  13. Bruce Waine Says:

    From Rip Van Winkle ……..INDY STAR Headline on their motorsport web page………………… INDY CAR Close To Completing ’16 Schedule… Headline topic released 2 Weeks, 6 days ago….

    Yawn, stretch, & continue to ……… – Rip Van Winkle

  14. People seem to be forgetting that the CEO of ABC Supply said very plainly in 2014 that the future of the race in Milwaukee depended upon more local sponsors, that ABC Supply was not in a position to back it to the extent they had in 2013 and 2014.

    I have to wonder if ABC Supply ultimately decided that their support would be better spent on keeping Pocono alive for 2016, and given that no other local title sponsor had developed for the 2015 race at the Mile, no other promoter had any interest in taking on the event.

    • The woman who runs ABC Supply is one of the richest people in America. Their business is based in Beloit, Wisconsin. I appreciate her past investment in the Milwaukee Mile race. The man who runs Road American is a master at getting Wisconsin based event sponsors. The difference is that he is the track owner and in Milwaukee the track is owned by the State Fair Park board who have neither the interest or expertise in attracting event sponsors. IMHO.

  15. I really hate that there are no Indy Car races on NBC or ESPN

    • Now that the NHRA is moving to Fox Sports, I’m pretty sure there are NO races (any series) on ESPN next year. They just have no interest anymore. Just the IndyCar races on ABC.

  16. A little late to the party.

    The Toronto promoter and the Toronto fans wanted a return to their double header weekend but were denied due to (Probably) too packed a schedule, TV, other stuff……….

    The fans and demand are out there. Things are good in some places.

  17. “Now that the race has been announced for a couple of months, the locals are suddenly in an uproar that they will be inconvenienced by what they see as a misuse of their tax-dollars. It always seems that individual citizens have little interest in what an event like this brings to the local economy. They see it strictly as a major inconvenience where their usual routes are disrupted. They choose to see no tangible benefit to the business in the area. ”

    I think citizens have become very tired of their state and local political leaders committing to spending what may be 10s of millions of dollars of public monies, without their consent, on projects and sports events that will have negligible positive impact on their communities.

    The recent history of failed Indycar events aside, it’s been shown repeatedly that public monies spent pursuing these “halo” events to allegedly bring in substantial new business and spending don’t do either on a consistent basis. Books such as Field of Schemes, and Judith Grant Long’s recent book delineate chapter and verse on the utter failure these spending sprees are.

    It sounds like you’re a bit peeved that citizens have the nerve and audacity to question this project; perhaps if the public had been given the opportunity to have all of the relevant details then maybe Indycar and Boston wouldn’t be in this position. But given Indycar’s recent history-Baltimore, Brasilia, etc no one should be surprised that Indycar hasn’t done it’s due diligence. It seems to be a habit.

  18. Better late than never. Is Sonoma really a night race? I hadn’t read that before. It makes me madder about the loss of my home race at Fontana.

    As for using tax payer dollars, I do sympathize. We haven’t had a NFL team for ages and don’t want to fund a new stadium either. However, these things change and maybe we will have the Bolts and Raiders. Not sure where the Rams can be parked.

  19. I miss Milwaukee. I know why it’s not there (yet) but I miss it nonetheless.

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