IndyCar: Consistently Leading From The Back of the Field

Over the past several days IndyCar nation has been rocked with spectacular crash after spectacular crash, the most recent sending James Hinchcliffe to Methodist Hospital for surgery and a visit to the Intensive Care Unit. We old timers would say – and some still do – that if this were the 80s and 90s this wouldn’t be a big deal. For the most part, I agree with that. But as we all know, the perception of IndyCar as a sport right now isn’t high, and having its most popular and successful drivers suffer high profile accidents at its highest profile track will do nothing to change perception.

In the past, three cars flipping through the air would barely make the news outside of the racing community. In 2015, where unfortunately social media and 24-hour news cycles rule, anything that might come close to resembling Dan Wheldon’s 2011 crash will be the biggest story coming out of Indianapolis.

“It’s amateur hour, they’re throwing darts at a board,” said a former IndyCar champion of the process.

Casual fans forget that IndyCar, and its open-wheel; open-cockpit cousin series’, are inherently more dangerous than stock car or drag dracing. Most drivers assume the great risk for the greater reward and the show it would provide.

Fine. I get that. Cars will go 234 [check] miles per hour and there will be accidents. I’ve been around motorsports long enough to know that accidents happen. Comparing Hinchcliffe’s accident to those of Castroneves, Newgarden and Carpenter is in poor form.

[Why Helio Castroneves' car flipped – Marshall Pruett/RACER]

I’m not smart enough to speculate on the technical issues of what happened with the first three crashes, but I am smart enough to know that there needed to be some type of oval testing before the cars arrived at IMS. Or, at the very least, more time in practice before qualifying. I believe it’s unreasonable to have expected engineers and IndyCar to have actually tested the car going backwards to see if it would flip. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have an idea that cars could flip while going backwards. To that end, I can’t see a driver in their right mind volunteering – no matter what the amount of the check – to test that theory.

My single and only issue: why, if IndyCar has never tested these new aero kits on ovals, would the first place this testing happens is at Indianapolis in a compressed schedule? I’ve been largely silent on this issue, but as good (me: bad) as the Grand Prix of Indy has been, these accidents show that race is held in the wrong part of the season.

There is no reason to have the Grand Prix in May at the expense of expanded practice and testing time for the oval race. This thesis is proven further when IndyCar fails to schedule any oval races before the Indianapolis 500.

Was IndyCar right in reducing the boost in Honda’s cars as it did in Chevy without evidence of a cross-manufacturer problem? I don’t know, but I would guess that it was more a liability move than anything else. Robin Miller spoke with one driver who said, “We look like a bunch of pussies,” and that point is hard to ignore when you consider how many accidents drivers have endured in open wheel racing.

Drivers know what the risks are when they sign up to race in any series. Those same drivers understand that open wheel is probably the most dangerous because of the open cockpit, high speeds, and high G-forces they face on every lap. On the other side, sometimes someone has to protect drivers from themselves. In this case, I don’t agree with forcing the Honda teams to reduce boost and qualify in race trim. It makes the series look like it has no control over its car.

So, what are the results of Sunday’s qualifying changes? The obvious: qualification speeds were down 3-5 mph, and the resulting hype and expectation was completely erased.

I don’t necessarily have a problem with the qualifying format they used, but the Fast 9 should have been retained instead of the Last Row battle. I don’t think Indy needs two days of qualifying anymore, and I know that traditionalists won’t like that, but doing all of the qualifying on Saturday means Sunday and Monday are rain days and can be used for practice if qualifying is done. It’s literally a win/win for fans and teams alike.

To be fair, I didn’t think I’d be in favor of this format until I heard Kevin Lee and Curt Cavin talk about it on Monday’s Trackside. I was sold on it as soon as they brought up the potential to have two rain days if needed.

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Sunday will be the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500, but it would be ignorant of IndyCar to ignore the issues of a compressed May schedule. IndyCar cannot afford to have the national media ignore cars posting speeds of 234 mph because accidents that can’t be explained are happening multiple times in one week. Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles and IndyCar Derrick Walker need to lead from the front when these issues arise instead of reading the tea leaves then making a decision.

Honda won’t say it, but they were done wrong by IndyCar this weekend. I’m not a fan of making up the rules as we go, and I’m not a fan of the appearance of IndyCar shenanigans.

But for some stupid reason, I’m still a fan of IndyCar.

Leave a comment below or e-mail me at damien@morethanafan.net

Wednesday Wheels - November 12

Hi, it’s been a long time since I’ve written in this space. I’m back. Back when I started this site last year, my goal was to write here at the very least three times per week. Then life and the rest of the network got in the way. For now, I’ll start with trying to write every Wednesday and we’ll go from there. I don’t have a name I like for this column, but I’ll come up with something. If you’ve ever read any of the “College Quickies” we do at the College Football Roundtable, this will have a similar feel.

NASCAR: Touching is racing. Finale should be Stupendous

Let’s get the full disclosure out of the way right now: I’m not a fan of NASCAR’s new Chase format. In fact, I’m not a fan of the Chase at all, but writers have already wasted enough words on it, so the 32 I just wasted was more than enough. While we’re getting things out of the way, I’ll say this: most fans' commitment to one driver has blinded their objectivity about racing. What’s that mean? Stock car racing is about driving, and when someone is in your way, it’s about moving that person out of the way. If you’re interested in racing where no one touches anyone, and the racing is actually about speed and grace, then open-wheel racing is for you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdsvoloZAbg

Make sure you watch and listen to that video. It’s from Richard Childress Racing, and it’s great. Yeah, Childress owns Newman, so there’s some bias there, but the message is the same.

I love open-wheel racing, but stock car racing isn’t open-wheel. I get that many Jeff Gordon fans are upset about Ryan Newman moving Kyle Larson to advance to the Championship 4 (terrible name, btw) this weekend at Homestead, but it is what it is. NASCAR is built on the ability of its cars and drivers being able to take a punch, either by car or fist, and all Newman did is what racers in the sport have done for years.

Yes, I’m a Gordon fan, and I’d love to see him get a Cup Championship so everyone can shut up about how he can’t compete and how old he is, but it isn’t happening in 2014. Finishing 29th at Texas didn’t help his case. He did what he needed to do, but Ryan Newman gets paid millions per year and he did what he needed to do, too. Newman did more than Gordon.

So, I’ll bring in the oldest analogy NASCAR fans of sick of seeing: If Dale Earnhardt, Sr. had done same thing under the same circumstances, would anyone be complaining?

Didn’t think so.

Homestead will be great, and the brawl after will be just as exciting.

IndyCar Needs To Move Beyond 500

I love the Indianapolis 500. It’s my birthday gift to myself every year, and it’s truly IndyCar’s most important event. It’s so important, that I have the feeling IndyCar is sacrificing the rest of the sport to prop up one month.

Last year, IndyCar decided they didn’t want to compete with the NFL, so it no longer has any races after Labor Day. There was a small glimmer of hope that would change in 2015, but it isn’t the case. IndyCar shuffled the deck chairs and moved the schedule around a bit, but did nothing significant to improve its schedule.

I’m sure New Orleans will be great, finding a way to stay in Baltimore and Houston while adding NOLA would have been more impressive. Sure, I’d take another oval or two, but as I’ve said before, for the sport to survive it has to bring in more road races and street circuits. The die-hards want speed, and the casuals want to look at more than cars going in left-hand circles.

That’s the harsh reality of IndyCar right now. It does itself no favors by seemingly propping up the month of May as the only thing the sport can stand on while the rest of the schedule languishes. A few weeks ago I suggested they return to Cleveland, and I’m not stupid enough to think that would ever actually happen, but it should find a way to extend the season beyond Labor Day.

As George Phillips wrote Monday, the series could first start by being a better promoter of itself. I can’t speculate if the marketing dollars are there or not, but yeah, putting an IndyCar at or near every NFL stadium would probably get NFL fans a little more interested in IndyCar.

I promise they’d at least take the time to Google Image search the funny looking car that doesn’t look what Dale Earnhardt, Jr. drives. If they do that, and they land on IndyCar’s webpage, then marketing dollars are worth it.

I live in Cleveland, and Mid-Ohio is in the middle of August, and I see almost no local advertising for the race. When I wear Mid-Ohio gear, non-racing fans ask me where the track is, and when racing happens there. That’s the fault of IndyCar AND the folks down at Mid-Ohio. Again, not suggesting that Mid-Ohio does all of IndyCar’s advertising, but you should probably at least lock up your back yard.

So, what’s IndyCar’s solution? I don’t know, and finding the proper balance isn’t easy. Making traditional fans happy won’t happen if they hope to draw in casual fans. Traditional IndyCar fans would riot if IndyCar tried to do an elimination-based playoff system like NASCAR is doing. But would that bring in casual fans? Probably.

Would effectively ripping up the schedule and starting from scratch to include places like Road America, Watkins Glen and Kentucky work? Probably. But, how many different races can you have in the Midwest and East Coast before the market is oversaturated and all races suffer? That’s the problem IndyCar needs to solve with its scheduling.

IndyCar is no longer a mainstream sport enjoyed by millions. All the mainstream interest went away when the series split in 1996, and it isn’t coming back. So now IndyCar is a niche sport, and if that’s the case, why do you care if you’re competing against the NFL? I get TV ratings are important, but if you’re getting 1.1 ratings in July, then why do you care if you 1.1 in September? Same rating; different month.

If this place is good enough for Formula 1, it's good enough for IndyCar. FORGET TMS.

Lastly, IndyCar should race in Austin. Texas Motor Speedway’s Eddie Gossage will have a heart attack, and will threaten to pull his race.

Thanks, Eddie, it’s been real.

What’s that mean? He is either going to pull his race or he won’t, and if he does it’s no big loss compared to what IndyCar can gain by racing at the Circuit of the America’s. Texas’ attendance has been down year-over-year, and Houston proved that circuit racing works in Texas, just not in the heat.

Go to Austin, and if you lose Texas in the process then it looks like you have a built in date.

What do you think? Send feedback to me on Twitter at @damiEnbowman or via e-mail at damien@morethanafan.net. Thanks for reading, and we'll see you next Wednesday. Maybe.

Circuit of the Americas photo is courtesy of Circuit of the Americas.

IndyCar Should Return to Cleveland, but Not the Airport

This is beautiful, but don't ever race here again. Many, years ago, I lived and breathed auto racing, then something happened to me. I’m not exactly sure what happened, or when it happened, but I went from a racing fanatic, to a regular ol’ casual fan. One thing that never changed was my love for open wheel racing on the North Coast, aka Cleveland, Ohio.

IndyCar, or IRL, or CART, or whatever they’re calling themselves this week, hasn’t happened at Cleveland’s Burke Lakefront Airport (that’s a mouthful) since 2007. While I’m very much in favor of the series returning to Cleveland, I’m of the opinion that it shouldn’t happen at the airport, or anywhere else downtown.

Street circuits offer the casual fan more activities than ovals or road courses. As exciting as the racing action was for the Grand Prix of Cleveland at the airport, in 2014 it’s a terrible location for the casual fan.

To make this happen we need to talk about sponsorship dollars, a race location, and of course a race date. Let’s get to it.

Money, Money, Money

Mike Lanigan, the owner of MJ Promotions, or the company that promoted the race would probably be very interested in bringing the race back to Cleveland, but has been unable to do so because the sponsorship dollars aren’t there.

I don’t know how much a sponsorship costs, so we’ll use the ballpark number of $5 million. If you’re going to host a premier race in Cleveland, let’s try and have any one of these companies be the title sponsor: Progressive, Cleveland Clinic, University Hospital, KeyBank, American Greetings, Moen, or for shits and giggles, Mr. Hero.

The Cleveland Clinic, University Hospital and Progressive Insurance are all local, and with my proposed location the race would be run in the former's front yard. Yes, Progressive has a sponsorship deal with NASCAR that could be a problem, but since NASCAR doesn't consider IndyCar any type of threat, signing a deal shouldn't be a huge issue.

Best bet here though, is to try and recruit the non-profit Clinic or UH to sponsor the race. Both are well known brands outside of Cleveland, and would love the exposure and the chance to help build the city.

You Wanna Race, WHERE?

My proposed location for the race is simple, and when you see where you’ll understand why I suggested three very local, very east side companies.

University Circle

University Circle is home to not only the Clinic, and University Hospital, but also the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra (and Chorus), Severance Hall, and a ridiculous number of excellent museums. It also offers stunning views, entertainment and for fat dudes like me - food.

I suggest this location away from downtown, not because I don’t like downtown Cleveland, but frankly, there’s nothing scenic or beautiful about concrete and steel buildings. The new Cleveland Grand Prix could easily construct a two or three-mile course on Euclid Avenue, East, Stokes, and Martin Luther King Boulevards, while offering casual racing fans the opportunity to explore Little Italy, the museums and some of the best food in the city.

MLK_RockefellerLagoon

The promoter could construct a beer garden at Wade Oval that would feature some of the best of Cleveland’s food and craft beer selection.

Now that we have the where and the why, let’s talk about the when, because this is the touchiest subject of all.

All About That Schedule

Two easy suggestions, one the same weekend as the race at Mid-Ohio. Removing the Mid-Ohio course would be a disaster for Central Ohio, so I suggest we alternate with it on an odd/even year basis. This is the least favorable of the suggestions because of all the support series' that run at Mid-Ohio and probably wouldn't be interested in running in Cleveland.

In a perfect world, the race is held the same weekend as the Cleveland Marathon, but because that’s May 18th and right after the road course at Indy and before the 500 that isn’t likely. If IndyCar is willing to forget whatever date equity (I'm not even sure they know how to spell 'date equity' at 16th and Georgetown) it has with on May 10th and can get the marathon moved to that weekend, it would work for all parties.

Run 26.2 then watch other people drive. Built-in excitement.

Cleveland’s marathon completely ignores the east side, and the University Circle location I suggest gives visiting marathoners and locals something to do Sunday after they run 26.2.

In addition, there are no regional marathons that weekend, so it shouldn’t be very hard to move the race. That weekend is also traditionally slow for the Cleveland region. The city could "activate its brand" on the East and West side with two different types of racing, bring racing back to a city that's loved, and if the weather cooperates, be the unofficial beginning of summer.

So, what do you think? Should Cleveland host a grand prix again? Should it go back at Cleveland’s downtown airport, or is University Circle a better option? Tell me in the comments below, or find me on Twitter at @damiEnbowman. You can also e-mail me at damien@morethanafan.net.

Feature image courtesy of "Doug" on Flickr.

IndyCar Fans: Please Loosen the Sphincter on Silly Traditions

I don’t write about IndyCar enough, so get ready, because I have a lot of complaining to do. This morning I read Curt Cavin’s Ask the Expert, and the first question asked if the winner of IndyCar’s new Grand Prix of Indianapolis will kiss the bricks. Curt, as he should, gave a politically correct answer leaving it up to the winning team to decide if they wanted to do it. I don’t have to give a politically correct answer. The correct answer is YES, they should kiss the bricks.

It is time for IndyCar fans to stop living on 100-year-old traditions. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but very few (no one) is watching IndyCar these days. A lot of the reason is because IndyCar, IMS, Hulman & Company, and the fans – yes the fans – are very good at complaining and infighting. It’s time to STOP. Stop acting like this is 1992 and millions of people are watching weekly. Stop acting like IndyCar is the premier series in North America.

NEWSFLASH: IndyCar can quickly be relegated to the number three or four series in North America if SportsCar and Formula 1 take off. I know that may not seem like a big deal, but it is.

On Twitter, I proposed that NASCAR’s tradition of kissing the bricks – yes, they started it – be extended to every winner of every race that happens at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The speedway is the tradition, and the tradition needs to be recognizing that it is the ‘Motorsports Capital of the World.’ As much as I LOVE the Indianapolis 500, it isn’t the only event that takes place at IMS.

That’s a good thing.

By the way, I’m with Robin Miller, I personally don’t want to see another race at IMS in May, but I understand why they’re doing it. I’d prefer a second race happen later in the season or not at all, but if having a second race will bring more fans to into the sport, then what’s the harm?

Why are we so against having another IndyCar race at IMS? Because we hate change, but change is good. The goal is for the sport to continue for another 100 years. This can only happen if new and younger fans are brought into the sport.

These newer and younger fans don’t care about the traditions that us old-school IndyCar people care about. It is time for all of us - the old people, to loosen the reins on what we used to know and love about IndyCar traditions and adopt to whatever it will take to get people to watch. This also includes the love of ovals.

I love oval racing; it’s IndyCar’s bread and butter. The casual fan does not like oval racing. In fact, it’s NASCAR’s biggest problem. They race on too many ovals and not enough road courses, and zero street circuits. IndyCar

This is not your tradition, IndyCar fans. Photo by Kyle Hanson/IndyCar

needs to understand that races like Mid-Ohio, Road America, Long Beach and Baltimore will attract MORE fans consistently than Texas, Michigan and Pocono. Yes, the latter group of tracks are historic and part of IndyCar’s past, and need to be part of IndyCar’s future, but casual fans enjoy being able to walk around to different parts of the track and watch from there.

To grow IndyCar and open-wheel racing as a sport in America, IndyCar fans need to drop their silly hold on the past and embrace WHATEVER will bring new fans into the sport.

Green White Checkered is bad Racing

Last weekend I attended the Indianapolis 500 like I do every Memorial Day weekend. To say the race was exciting is an understatement. There were 68 lead changes in over 200 laps, which is a record and nearly double the amount of last year’s record setting amount of lead changes. In short, IndyCar racing is getting better. Finally. The end of the race was anticlimactic for some, but for those whom appreciate motorsports going to scheduled distance ending a race behind the pace car isn’t a big deal. NASCAR uses a gimmick they call “Green White Checkered” finishes, from David Newton:

A green-white-checkered finish signifies two laps will be run. NASCAR throws a green flag and the cars race a lap until the white flag -- signifying the final lap of a race -- is shown and then the drivers race that final lap to the checkered-flag finish.

You might ask how do I know this is a gimmick? Well, even one of NASCAR’s worse beat reporters admits it’s a gimmick:

https://twitter.com/jeff_gluck/status/338734187899129857

This is a novel idea, except for the fact that you’re extending the race. You have the potential to turn the Daytona 500 into the Daytona 507.5. Doesn’t have quite the same connotation, does it?

I understand racing isn’t generally the most exciting way to spend your Sunday afternoons, but sports should only go into overtime if at the end of regulation there’s a tie. In any form of racing (human, horse, auto) no such possibility exists. One racer will always finish before another.

So, why does NASCAR have G/W/C and why does everyone feel this year’s Indy 500 could benefit from it? No clue. Some say IndyCar needs to change its tradition to keep up with the times. Well, based on the television ratings no one was watching the race anyway, so adding a G/W/C won’t do much to improve viewership.

And to be honest, NASCAR’s ratings have been down or flat over the past few years, so it seems like people in general are just about tuned out of watching racing on television.

Here’s a few facts people rarely bring up or remember, Dale Earnhardt’s 1998 Daytona 500 win was won under caution and no one says it isn’t legitimate, and few complained at the time that he won under caution. Secondly, each of Dario Franchitti’s three Indianapolis 500 wins came under caution, and again, no one questions the legitimacy of those wins.

The other suggestion that’s been bandied about is utilizing the red flag to stop the race and running the remaining scheduled laps. I’m not entirely on board with that strategy, but that seems a far better procedure than modifying the race. Crew chiefs and engineers measure fuel mileage for every lap, and changing the length of races throws the entire race and pit strategy out the window.

So, I leave you with these two options: red flag and finish scheduled laps under green or finish under caution. G/W/C is a gimmick employed to keep casual fans interested in racing. Neither drivers nor real motorsport fans are crying if races end under caution.

tl; dr is a tech nerd term for too long; didn’t read. the purpose of these posts is to provide a quick summary and analysis of something interesting in the sports world.

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