The Fans Lose Again

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Usually, there are two sides to every story. I’m sure this same principle applies to the cancellation of the Boston Grand Prix that was supposed to take place in about four months over Labor Day weekend.

It makes me mad that I’m even writing about this right now. I want to be discussing the upcoming festivities regarding the Month of May. I’d prefer to be writing a nostalgic post about Sam Hanks, Tony Bettenhausen or Eddie Sachs. Instead, I’m having to talk about the latest case of IndyCar mismanagement and who might have wronged whom.

This past weekend, there was no shortage of online articles pointing the finger of blame at either IndyCar or the city of Boston. Quite honestly, in a debacle this big, I think there is enough blame to go around for everyone. I think both parties are at fault. Throw in the promoter and that’s three separate groups you can blame.

I don’t claim to know the ins and outs of this deal. It was quite obvious perusing social media over the weekend that there was a ton of people that knew the details of the deal a lot more than I did – at least, so they claimed.

This much I remember from last fall – IndyCar CEO Mark Miles put the Boston GP on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule without having an iron-clad contract in hand. It raised a lot of eyebrows at the time, but we were continuously assured by Miles, the promoter and the mayor of Boston that the event would go forward. There were only minor details to be worked out.

Every time someone would say that the last obstacle had been crossed, a new group would arise and start complaining about anything they could regarding the event. Large civic groups and activists were protesting about the impending race that they claimed would wreak havoc on their neighborhoods. Noise, traffic, crowds, carbon footprint – you name it; there was always something to complain about. It became obvious months ago that even if the race managed to run, that it was very unpopular with the locals.

At the risk of offending any New England area readers, it doesn’t surprise me that IndyCar was not wanted in Boston. I saw one tweet that said (paraphrasing): “Anyone who has followed Boston politics for the past 200 years should not be surprised at all.”

I once had a friend that moved to Boston. When she came back to Tennessee to visit, everything out of her mouth was how much better everything was in Boston. Finally becoming irritated, I sarcastically said “Good Lord, you make it sound like Boston is the epicenter of the universe and they just throw the scraps out to the rest of us.” Her response? “Well, that’s really the way it is.” Uggh!

Something tells me that that mindset came into play. Bostonians have a reputation of turning their nose up at anything that didn’t originate there. This friend ended up getting engaged to a native Bostonian. She didn’t consider it strange at all that he currently lived, went to high school and college within a three-mile radius of where he was born and grew up. The only thing she found odd was that he had never traveled out of the state of Massachusetts in his life. Ever. And he was a grown man in his mid-forties. The friend said that was quite common up there, but she saw nothing wrong with it. Funny thing, she broke off the engagement and now lives in Atlanta.

So I hope I haven’t offended any of my Boston readers. Some will say I’m guilty of stereotyping, but I don’t think so. If I’m way off the mark with that assessment, please let me know. But I’ve been to Boston many times and what I witnessed on those trips backed up my opinion. If the locals that were protesting had that mindset, this race was doomed from the start.

And what about John Casey, the CEO of Grand Prix of Boston, who was the promoter of the event? How was he allowed to keep talking out of both sides of his mouth for the past eight months? IndyCar fans weren’t buying it. Everyone seemed to know this event was in deep trouble except for John Casey and Mark Miles. They kept feeding lines to the fans about what a great happening this event would become for years.

To me, that’s the most troubling thing. Mark Miles seems to consider fans to be stupid. On the contrary, I think IndyCar fans are some of the smartest of any sport. In what other sport do fans know the details of sponsor involvement like our sport? I’m an NFL fan, but I don’t know what the official soft-drink or beer of the NFL is currently. But I know that at IMS, the official soft-drink is Coke and MillerCoors is the official brewer.

By continuously muttering that all was well to the fan base, Mark Miles was insulting the intelligence of IndyCar fans. When pressed in interviews last fall about Boston, he would get a bit surly as if he was irritated that such a question would even be asked. Well, it’s obvious now that questions needed to be asked – lots of questions.

The question now is what can IndyCar do to salvage the Labor Day weekend? Right now, the Verizon IndyCar Series is a fifteen race season. That includes one double-header (Detroit) and a venue with two races (Indianapolis). They desperately need another race, but it’s a tall order to find a site, promote it and pull off the event in four months.

We’ve all seen the same possibilities; New Hampshire, Providence, Watkins Glen, Montreal, Gateway and Fontana are the ones getting the most play. New Hampshire Motor Speedway is probably off the table because they would be hosting a NASCAR Chase race just a few weeks later. Providence would be tough because of the planning and logistics it takes to put on a street race, specially for the first time. Fontana could be a possibility, but would not draw. If it couldn’t draw with a year to promote, imagine how empty the stands would look with just four months to plan.

My good friend and One Take Only cohort, John McLallen, keeps telling me that Nashville should be in the mix. While I would love that personally, I don’t think that is a possibility at this point. To stage a race with four months notice at a venue that has essentially been in moth balls for the past few years is simply too tall an order. Plus, I fear that Nashville Superspeedway is likely to be tied up in litigation at some point, when the shady group that has been trying to buy it moves to their next step and sues Dover Motorsport for eventually turning their offer down. Please overlook the fact that they’ve missed every deadline and have no real cash. Mark my word – they’ll eventually sue and tie up that track so no one can buy it. That’s another story for another day. But it would be disastrous if they rescheduled the event for Nashville, only for that event to be cancelled over a lawsuit.

To me, the sites that make the most sense are Watkins Glen, Gateway (St. Louis) and Montreal. Selfishly, I’d like to see them race at Gateway simply because it would be a four hour drive from me. But looking beyond that, it’s not ideal simply because Gateway may make its way onto the 2017 schedule. To suddenly go there at the last minute would undercut the proper promotional efforts that should take place for next year. Watkins Glen makes sense – a lot of sense; as does Montreal. I’d like to see both of those sites on the schedule in the future. I’ve always felt that Canada needed more races and who could complain about going back to Watkins Glen?

Both of those choices make sense which means neither one will happen, more than likely. John Casey, Mark Miles and IndyCar all have egg on their faces right now. Some might say that Boston does too, but I don’t think they really care. But unless a suitable replacement venue can be found very quickly, the biggest losers are going to be the fans – again. It seems like I’ve seen this movie before.

George Phillips

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41 Responses to “The Fans Lose Again”

  1. madtad1 Says:

    Homestead in Miami has nothing until almost November and they would love to have IndyCar back…

  2. Luckily Miles has a back-up plan: a second road race at Indy. And soon the series will reveal his master plan: all races at Indy. Alternating weekly on the oval and road course tracks, all sixteen races will take place in the most lucrative venue: Indianapolis.

  3. JohnMc Says:

    Trade in the baked beans for BBQ, Hot Chicken, Catfish and the roast beef at Arnold’s! Because Dover still rents out the speedway for testing it can be set up in a few short months for an IndyCar weekend. However, I agree that the Nexovation boys more than likely have an eye for the court room that could put the end to any deal.

  4. Tom G. Says:

    I forget who said it on social media, but I tend to agree. There will be no race on Labor Day. This talk of looking for an alternate venue is just to pacify the fan base until May is over, then it will quietly disappear. Finding any track or promoter willing to host an Indycar event is a struggle in the best of situations. Finding one on short notice is impossible.

    So we are now down to 15 events at 13 venues. Sad. I wish to God they’d stop trying to put together these street events, or overseas jaunts. The track record on them is abysmal. Put that effort into building relationships with places like Road America, Iowa, Barber etc… where they aren’t going to be dealing with politics, or going head to head with NASCAR or F1.

    • billytheskink Says:

      The talk of an alternate venue is probably also to pacify the series sponsors and NBC, both of whom are probably just as unhappy about this turn of events as the fans.

      Barring a miracle, the only replacement race Indycar is likely to find is one that they promote themselves at a rented track. Whether or not they do that depends on how much the sponsors demand it.

  5. Boston … there are a zillion things going on every five minutes in Boston. Who picked Boston for this race? It’s hard to ask Bostonians to get all frothed up and care much about a street race that, let’s be honest, brings some inconvenience to residents, when, even without it, they have their choice of 21 things to do every weekend.

    • tonelok Says:

      It’s beginning to sound to me that there are a zillion reasons not to have a race in Boston. Why Boston? Can a lesson be learned here that an IndyCar event in a major metropolitan city in the Northeast is not welcomed. Nazareth is closed. Louden was disappointing at best. F1 in New Jersey never had a chance. Baltimore showed promise but was doomed to fail for more reasons than the railroad tracks. How about a non-major city? Lesser known. Or, just get the hell out of the northeast altogether.

  6. hey George. once gain they failed to learn their lesson. if you don’t learn from your mistakes you’re doomed to repeat them and they have. three they could go to fill that date are, st Louis fonanta and watskins glenn. none will sell out due to the lateness of this problem.

    so letslearn our lessons and stop asking to fail .

  7. Ron Ford Says:

    Groundhog Day-the movie-and what Yogi Berra said.

    I think that Montreal would be the easiest move to make, followed by Watkins Glen and Milwaukee. In each of those scenarios IndyCar would have to become the promoter.

    How about something just for grins?: Sarah Fisher’s spiffy new Kart Track. Fans against IndyCar drivers. Single elimination. Don’t bet against Sarah.

  8. Bruce Waine Says:

    Miles & Casey …………… With egg on their face ………… And yet under that facial egg, a smile on their faces……. Having a jingle in their pockets ……………. Still collecting a salary …….. For being ……….. (Un)successful supporters and proponents of the product that pays their existence .

    Where do we sign on for similar employment where failure guarantees that regular paycheck?

  9. S0CSeven Says:

    If you examine the Indycar schedule imho there aren’t any real “street” courses. City residents hate them like the plague.
    I accept that my research on this was relatively nonexistent but here goes.

    Toronto, Montreal, Detroit, Vancouver (for the most part), Long Beach (if you stretch it) are either public parks or darn close to it where residents are minimally impacted. Then they’re the airport circuits like Cleveland, St. Pete’s, Edmonton etc where a car race brings a pleasant reprieve from airplane noises. Then we have the permanent road courses and ovals where only Road Atlanta has to shut down Sunday morning (for local church time). Even Indy, which used to be in the boonies but not anymore, has a self contained circuit and wasn’t foisted on the populace by surprise .

    So I guess I’m saying that real street races through the middle of the city rarely exist (Baltimore) and trying to put one in downtown Boston (of all places) was doomed to failure from the outset……….. as will be all other attempts.

    Public transit to a race is a godsend but the nimby’s will always come out if you really inconvenience them no matter how obscure the reason is.

    • San Jose, Denver, Las Vegas, Toronto, Vancouver, Long Beach, Saint Petersburg, and Baltimore have hosted street races. Who in Saint Petersburg, Long Beach, and Toronto hates the races and prohibits them year after year? No one

  10. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    I guess that with all the animosity from early on, I had never really considered this race would actually be run and the most likely scenario was mentioned – two or three years, then >poof<, off the schedule.

    I've come to just see this as another annual tradition – the removal of some event from the Indycar calendar. We add some, we take some away – it's an annual storyline for the season. Hopefully that's all we'll have.

    Having a 'major-market' east coast race always seems to be such a priority (for obvious reasons), but historically isn't at all accurate or part of the fabric of this type of racing. As Pdog said, it's just such a tough ask to take something to a market like that and expect to compete favorably with all of the other daily and weekly entertainment options.

    It's a tough crowd. Go where you're wanted. If you have the right stuff, they'll have you.

  11. Kevin_K Says:

    What is most maddening is that since 2014 Indycar has killed 2 well supported events (Houston and Fontana) by giving them impossible dates where they can’t possibly succeed. Why? Because they don’t want to race in October. Then they chase these red herring events that had no chance of success from the start (Brasilia, New Orleans, Boston). Mark Miles needs to be fired. He has no freaking clue how to run a racing series. If he continues, Indycar will die. And it may already be too late. Each passing year we are seeing fewer venues and fewer competitors. And it’s all self inflicted wounds. And as a fan for more than 20 years of Indycar, this just angers and saddens me.

  12. billytheskink Says:

    With these cancellations I will always reserve a lot of blame for the fickle governments and disingenuous promoters that lead the series to believe they will allow a race to be held. Whatever issues Indycar might have do not excuse broken promises and poor ethics.

    That said, this is a clear “fool me once, shame on you… fool me twice, shame on me” scenario. Throw China in there with Brasilia and Boston and this is more like a “fool me thrice” situation. Indycar must better understand who they are dealing with and actually have things wholly in place before announcing a race or they will continue to get burned. These cancellations are a big, big deal, because these races are promised to the fans, the television networks, and the series and team sponsors. Indycar really can’t afford to anger any of those folks.

    On Boston, I visited once and enjoyed it very much, but I do have one story that kinda lines up with the stereotype. My dad and I got turned around trying to find the subway route to Fenway Park. We asked for help from folks passing by and were largely ignored, until a lanky guy in a Red Sox t-shirt said “Yeah, I’ll take you there”. And so he did, he went out of his way to take us to the ballpark and mapped out the best route back to our hotel before going back to his business. We got to talking to him on the subway ride and learned that he wasn’t from Boston originally, he grew up in… New York City.

  13. I lived in Maine for 10 years and got to visit Boston regularly. Even when nothing is going on there the traffic problem is horrific! Nobody pays any attention to traffic signals and the streets were laid out back when they were cow paths; a freaking nightmare. It’s no wonder the NIMBY crowd came out and screamed long and hard against this race for they couldn’t care less if that event was going to make thing worse for them.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      My only trip to Boston was for a trade show. Upon landing I was late for a meeting with my boss. Pursuent to your comments about the traffic there Phil, I can say without exaggeration that my cab ride from the airport to our hotel was the most terrifying ride of my life in or on any kind of vehicle or horse. Bar none! Racing down alleys with the horn blaring, going the wrong way down one-way streets, the driver leaning on the horn constantly while behind other cars at red lights. Sheesh!!! It was also a culture shock to me-being from a shot and a beer state-to see the office girls come into a bar after work and down a oyster and a beer. Double sheesh!

  14. I hope Indycar has a replacement race for Labor day- only 14 separate events is pretty sad (I don’t count Belle Isle’s double headers as 2, but Indy GP and 500 are different.) I am not very confident in Indycar’s ability to get a replacement race for Labor Day. Indycar has talked about replacement race almost every season since 2012, and has never managed to pull it off. Indycar needs/should get a replacement race, but I kind of doubt it will happen.

    Losing a race seems like it could be very damaging to sponsors and to the TV broadcasters, but it’s no like Indycar’s lost a ton of sponsors since 2012, right? (note the sarcasm). If I remember correctly the collapse of the Izod/Indycar relationship was partly due to failing to meet the contracted number of races.

    The sheer number of races Indycar has announced then not run, or only run for a single year, is kind of mind blowing. An existing track makes the most sense for a replacement race. I find it hard to believe Providence could be ready in time, and Motreal also requires shutting down a park. A replacement race makes the most sense at Watkins Glen since it is a pre-existing race track and there will be less whining about attendance than if Indycar tries to run a replacement race at an oval (which I would prefer.)

    Overall I’ve been surprised by Indycar in 2016. I expected Indycar would at least maintain the post 2012 status quo, not regress on all fronts (parity, car count, tracks, quality of racing, ect.).

  15. It seems to me the Boston GP and IndyCar announced this event too early in the planning/permitting/approval process. Public agencies have processes of their own, and these need to be respected and dealt with accordingly. Announcing an event without the proper approvals in-place shifts the dynamic from the agencies catering to the entity making the proposal to the entity needing to cater to the agencies. in other words, the promoter has a choice of being in a strong negotiating position or a disadvantaged, weak one. In Boston, the promoter and IndyCar put themselves into a weak negotiating position.

    Looking the Boston situation and back at Baltimore, etc. it really shows what a phenomenal job Jim Michaelian, et. al. do every year at the Long Beach Grand Prix. For 40+ years they have been able to able to annually achieve what other promoters cannot do at all or more than a couple of times.

  16. sejarzo Says:

    John Casey wasn’t talking out both sides of his mouth for the past eight months as CEO of the promoter. In fact, he is only the CFO of the effort if the info on the web site and his LinkedIn profile is current.

    Mark Perrone was the CEO of BGP–and legally may still be–at least until somewhere around mid-December 2015. On December 28, the Boston Globe published a piece that discussed Perrone’s various criminal convictions for failure to pay income taxes and the number of times that liens were placed on his personal property over issues with the IRS.

    The article stated “But Perrone said he stepped back from the company several months ago because of health issues and is now playing a ‘very limited’ advisory role.”

    However, a quick Google search turns up audio of interviews that Perrone did with local Boston media on October 29 and November 12 in which he clearly presents himself as the CEO.

    Interesting thing about those “health issues” that required Perrone to step back from BGP is that he was then one of the folks who ended up in Oklahoma City within the past month trying to drum up interest there.

    This whole thing had a stink about it from the get go.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      I am really glad to see that someone else here is onto that snake oil salesman Mark Perrone. He left Milwaukee under a heavy dark cloud with folks saying “Don’t let the door hit you in the rear on your way out.” He had “health issues” in Milwaukee also. Mostly directed at him. Matt Dillon would have run him out of Dodge on the noon train.

  17. JP in Colorado Springs Says:

    Once again we are duped by Mark Miles. Miles has demonstrated time and again he’s not too choosy who he gets in bed with! HE’S GOT TO GO. Doug Boles has a passion for our sport. Put him in charge, then look at bringing back Portland, Cleveland, Edmonton. Indycar would be welcomed back to these venues. Obviously it would be nice to add Homestead, Gateway, Chicagoland, Kentucky, Fontana, and Watkins Glen, but knowing there are many variables in play to get any of those tracks back on the schedule. Montreal and Mexico City should also be added. Our sport must be a North American series in order to expand and we’ve got to have date equity to have stability to promoters, sponser’s, and team owners.

    • Brian McKay Says:

      Agreed

    • Yannick Says:

      Doug Boles seems like a really good choice. And what’s even better is now that the effects of the Boston Consulting Group report on IndyCar have worn off, he would not need to stick to it anymore, like previous CEOs of IndyCar have, beginning with Jeff Belskus who commissioned it in the first place.

  18. I’d be happy to see a race at any of those venues. We only get so many each year. Hopefully “Plan B” works out…

    • Bruce Waine Says:

      I this case, why not travel further down the list after multiple planned failed venues and continue to brainwash us with plan Z.

  19. Mike Rice Says:

    What about Virginia International? Beautiful venue, cool track.
    Personally I’d like to see the series come to Portland Oregon again. We’re starving here in the Pacific Northwest. But I suppose that’s too much cross country travel again. ..except they’re coming to Sonoma about that same time of the season.

  20. You know I think Talladega is free on Labor day weekend 😉

  21. Chris Lukens Says:

    How about the parking lot outside the Tulsa Expo center.
    We know how badly IndyCar wants THOSE fans.

  22. tonelok Says:

    Is Nashville Speedway even in racing shape? When was the last event held there?

  23. Evert Wolfe Says:

    Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Milwaukee! What ever it takes Indy Car needs to be in Milwaukee. Maybe IndyCar and Hulman Corp. need
    to step up and get it back into the fold and promote it.

    • Brian McKay Says:

      Agreed

    • Yannick Says:

      Milwaukee would be the obvious choice for a replacement event, especially given the fact that John Casey says the sponsors want a race to happen, and all that Milwaukee was missing to be on this year’s schedule was a promoter and some sponsors.

      Go Milwaukee.

  24. EDGAR Emmitt Says:

    Why are we even racing at these boring street courses when we have beautiful natural road courses and our beloved ovals.

    We all knew that that Boston race was never going to work.
    I’m starting to question our leaders wisdom.

  25. Bruce Waine Says:

    A sad situation that one does not realize with regards to what the cancellation of the Boston race has cost many fans…… and lined the pockets of businesses.

    Two items from Robin Millers Mailbag for today May 4th follow:

    Q: I grew up in Boston, go to Indy every year, follow the series closely, and was extremely excited to hear we were getting a race. I tried to support it as much as I could: shared petitions with friends, wrote letters, went to hearings at City Hall, bought tickets. Despite the early doubt, I was convinced the race was going to happen. Then, I went to a hearing on April 5th and knew it wasn’t going to happen. Decisions that should have been made months earlier were still months away from being contemplated. It sounded a lot like what I’d imagine the planning sessions sound like right now in Rio for the Olympics.

    I don’t want to be too harsh but the IndyCar Boston team was ill-suited to present the race in public, particularly John Casey. He might be great behind the scenes but he somehow made one of the most exciting sports in the world sound boring and prohibitively complex, while at the same time brushing off real issues. The Boston City Council squabbled over what they were going to get (not in a legitimate “you need to offset interruptions” way, it was in a very petty “where’s my cut?” way). And let’s not forget that significant portion of Bostonians that continued their time-honored tradition of killing any fun event that takes a little creative work to bring together.

    I hope Boston gets another chance, but I doubt it. Until then, let’s race in Providence RI, let’s race in Portland ME, let’s race in Raleigh NC, let’s race in the city you suggested Norfolk VA. Let’s race anywhere that won’t kill the idea out of the gates.

    Joel Southall

    First of all, let me say I have been a huge fan of yours over the years. In fact during the whole CART/Indy break up you were the only voice of reason. My friend in Indy would send me your editorials from the local paper. I was a devoted CART fan and even went to the U.S. 500 at Michigan to support them. (Remember that first lap? I sure do). The Cars and the Stars all right.

    So here we are years later, and I find out they have organized a race in downtown Boston. I’m in. Sounds like a very cool idea. I go to the ticket site and buy my seats for my wife and I, and then go to make hotel reservations. Well, all the recommended hotels are sold out. So I expand my search and the Marriot down the street still has some vacancies.

    Since I suspect they won’t last long, I jump on the room. Two nights for almost $1200. Not that that was a bargain, but they went up quick from there. No refund (because of the ‘special’ rate). No problem, we’re committing. My wife and I were hugely excited. And then we get the email that our tickets are being refunded since the event has been canceled! Great, we got our race tickets refunded, but now we’re stuck with a $1,200 hotel bill

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