A Decent Schedule Amidst Great Fanfare
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…