The Long Goodbye of IndyCar
In Raymond Chandler’s famous detective novel The Long Goodbye, the hero Philip Marlowe must navigate a labyrinth of events, accusations, murders, lies, and betrayals to somehow arrive at a truth that both surprises and stuns. I can only think that Hulman Motorsports potentate Mark Miles must feel like Philip Marlowe as he tries to make sense of and explain what happens now as the IndyCar season goes dark for a few months.
Or maybe it’s the fans who are channeling Philip Marlowe. They also have a few questions that need to be answered. Is the first race really in St. Petersburg on March 29, or will the series pop up in Dubai or Brazil before then? Will there be a race in Canada next year or not? Will the empty grandstands in Fontana still bask in the heat of late summer? Will we soon find out who is going to direct the races now that Beaux Barfield has found greener pastures. Let’s take look at a few clues.
Clue #1: Mark Miles has been public regarding both Dubai and Brazil. Let’s hope he doesn’t fall into the trap of his predecessor by being too public and suddenly losing a race like Randy Bernard and China. Miles seems much too savvy to have that happen. We hope. A series with good news regarding ratings increases and sponsors climbing on board needs to continue saying good things. Every day a race is not announced in those locations is worrisome. The series needs TV time and sanctioning fees.
Clue #2: The old saying “You can’t fight city hall” is nowhere more evident than in Toronto. Someone wanted the Pan-Am Games and got them. It is a feather in the city’s cap and anything in the way had to get out of the way. Will the series go to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (Mosport) for a year before returning? Both Honda of Canada and Target have strong financial reasons to stay. Hopefully, that’s enough to keep a race on the calendar somewhere next year before moving back to Toronto. The old adage “Out of sight, out of mind” is a little worrisome, though.
Clue #3: The series is making money! Granted, adding a race and a concert at Indy helped, but they MADE MONEY. Complain as we will, the short season helped make the series solvent for the first time in a long time. With all the talk about making the fans happy, the series better make sure the board at Hulman & Co. is happy first. Expect very similar things next year. We will be saying adios in September once again. The changes will be incremental. The sponsors want consistency and sustainability.
Clue #4: The TV ratings are up! Whatever that means. The ritual bloodletting at the end of the IndyCar season always has one camp intoning that the ratings prove that the road to hell is paved with TV’s not tuned to IndyCar while the other camp sees salvation through increases in some statistic. I’m not a statistician; I have no idea what is proven one way or the other. What I do know is that CBS CEO Les Moonves was recently quoted as saying, “Overnight ratings are virtually irrelevant now.” Whatever that means. Statistics are designed to tell people what they want to know. I trust smart people both design and interpret these ratings. It is not just eyeballs, but whose eyeballs that matter. It is not important what I think of the ratings or what any other peon thinks of the ratings. They are above our pay grade.
Clue #5: The Verizon IndyCar Series has a new survey up seeking to determine the type of fans that watch IndyCar and how they perceive it as compared to other sports. At least the series is actively gathering information. The only deep sigh I had was when lacrosse was mentioned as one of the competing sports. Please tell me this was misdirection. Please. You can take the survey here: IndyCar Survey. Do it right now. There’s even a section where you can leave comments. It is a hater’s dream.
The series will survive. Post-season negativity and criticism is endemic to IndyCar, and while irritating, it doesn’t really affect anything. As always, haters will hate. It is their right, no matter how misdirected. In any case, at least someone is talking about IndyCar. Even though we don’t know exactly how many races will be run or where they will be racing, rest assured that the checkered flag will fall. After much cogitation, the solution to the mystery of the offseason is obvious: it is Mark Miles at 16th and Georgetown with a fistful of money.