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The paradigm has shifted: IndyCar is a street course series

Hoosier humorist Kin Hubbard once wrote, “T’aint what a man don’t know that hurts him. It’s what he knows that just ain’t so.”  I have no authority or research to show that he was a fan of racing, but the blindness to reality of many IndyCar fans is summed up in that aphorism.  IndyCar has changed…forever.  The time has come to accept that truth.

That’s not to say that change is bad, but it is certainly inevitable.  The fact is that IndyCar, in its current incarnation, is a street course series, and that is not going to change anytime soon.  On the current 18 race Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, eight of the races are street courses.  This number is likely to increase domestically in coming years.  And it’s a simple reality why this is true: it’s more value for everyone.

Before any of my tens of readers respond with Tony George, IRL, IMS, or spec racing rants, let me offer a piece of advice: shut up.  The war is over.  You lost.  And keep in mind that I am a true aficionado of all things oval.  As an oval fan, my choices were to quit caring about IndyCar, which will never happen, or embrace the great racing going on in front of me.  I choose to embrace.

We are a festival society.  We love to go to metropolitan downtown areas and party.  Cities have Irish, Italian, and German fests.  Giant art fairs take place around the country.  We celebrate beer, brats, and ribs.  Music festivals draw huge crowds.  Racing and speed are just other things to celebrate.  Most cities have vast experience hosting these spring, summer, and fall festivals.  They bring people downtown after business hours.  Cities want in.  And it is in IndyCar’s best interest to get in.

The fans that IndyCar needs to court do not care about CART or the IRL.  They do not care about spec cars or Tony George.  They do not care about horsepower or aerodynamics.  They care about getting entertainment value for their dollar.  Currently, the Verizon IndyCar Series is the ONLY racing series making a concerted effort to bring racing to where the people are, in revitalized or revitalizing downtowns.  The series OWNS this.  No one does it better, or for less investment, than IndyCar.  The suggested F1 foray into Long Beach will fail simply because of the vast infrastructure investment required.  IndyCar will race on the course that is there.  That’s value.

Street courses have proven to be good business.  Look at what Roger Penske has done in Detroit, a failing city with a successful race.  Penske made it successful by courting business as his primary way of generating revenue.  The Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit actually removed seating to add the much more valuable chalets for business customers.  This business-to-business model works very well in city centers with easy access to hotels, dining, bars, and the racing itself.

Street courses offer the regular fans something not offered on most ovals: on-track action throughout the day(s).  The entire Road to Indy support series can be put in front of spectators, not to mention their sponsors.  Add in the Pirelli World Challenge sports cars and Robby Gordon’s Stadium Trucks and you have action and value for the fans and the sponsors.  THIS builds the series, not the constant rehashing of past politics and the self-scourging by fans longing for an oval or CART based salvation.

Accept it.  The future of IndyCar is going to include a majority of street courses because that is where the money and the people are.  And by happy chance, the racing is great.  William Shakespeare said, “What’s past is prologue,” and he’s right.  All the history, politics, bravery, greed, and stupidity have brought us here to this moment.  Embrace the street race!

 

 

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5 thoughts on “The paradigm has shifted: IndyCar is a street course series

  1. I agree with many of your points. From my perspective, road and street races are THE big differentiator for IndyCar. Even the Indy 500 has a street race festival vibe going, with many (most?) of the attendees going as much for the spectacle as the actual race. Finally, Champ Car tried to do an all twisty, Festival of Speed, attendance-based approach and it went belly up. So either that business model can work if the right people run it, or history could repeat itself. I just wonder how many fans who were forced with the choice of stop caring about IndyCar or adapt to the twisty chose the former.

  2. John Thomas on said:

    Damn the ovals, if I want to watch stupid boring races, then ovals, but if I want to see mastery of vehicle dynamics then bring on the street/road courses and jettison the ovals. NASCAR has proven the inane ness of turning left. Kimosoul.

    • Phil Kaiser on said:

      John says “NASCAR has proven the inane ness of turning left.” Oh, so THAT’S why NASCAR is the most popular form of auto racing in all the world (don’t even try to argue that fact, you’d be wrong) for, lo, these past 20 years? 34 ovals and TWO road courses a year? I am a diehard IndyCar fan from about 1967, but let’s be real here: boring road and street courses are NOT the way to get more butts in the seats for IndyCar….

      Phil Kaiser
      Indianapolis

  3. While I almost totally agree with you and I am a road and street, sports car fan since the ’50s I do have a few concerns. SCCA, IMSA, F1 et al have a tremendous amount of experience at road and street racing. IndyCar should look unashamedly at them for direction. F1 qualifying is almost unbelievably tense and exciting. IndyCar is a comparative snooze fest. Other stewards have very little problem identifying a foul from a racing incident and are ready, willing and able to mete out appropriate punishment. In IndyCar there is always suspicion that Penske and Ganassi have some extra wiggle room. I could go on but I just want to see great racing and right now F1 is clearly ahead with the combined GrandAm/ALMS a close 2nd. Indy is down the list a way, at least in my book and I would love to see them catch up.

  4. SkipinSC on said:

    Sorry, Mark, but like you, I am an ovalista. I can live with a balanced schedule, but, frankly we’ve seen this scene before, and it has twice ended badly. While your arguments make sense, the fact is that when the series ignores its history which was based in Midwest oval racing, many of us who have followed the series since the 60’s begin to lose interest. I am already at the point where I only watch the oval races live, the rest get DVR’d.

    I get that the beauty of the series is in its diversity, but the double points bonus for the triple crown races should help raise the interest level. I think there’s a real possibility of getting bigger fields for the three 500’s IF they’re allowed to grow.

    Moreover, the way to develop more oval racing interest is to do the same thing with ovals that is done with the street circuits: offer more of the Road to Indy ladder races on the ovals. I think there’s a real possibility for this at Pocono where you have a significant amount of camping. There should be a minimum of three races at each oval venue with the possible exception of Indy. (The other advantage of this is that you are “training” more drivers in the art of oval racing.)

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