In an interview on Inside Indiana Business with Gerry Dick, Hulman & Co. potentate Mark Miles threw the local media a bone by announcing possible changes to the qualifying procedures for the 2014 Indianapolis 500. The few hard-core fans who actually remember the traditional 30 days in May practice, qualifying, and race formats had the expected paroxysms of angst at yet another attempt to make the events leading up the the 500 more compelling. As a die-hard fan of the race, and by extension the series, I look forward to the possible changes. It is time to shake things up.
Tony Hulman, the man that critics of change like to say spins in his grave when changes are made in the May format, moved the race to Sunday in 1974 for logical reasons. Memorial Day had moved to Monday on the national calendar, and racing on the day before Memorial Day created a bigger crowd by allowing an extra day for travel and recuperation. Plus, it meant a larger television audience by being in a prime Sunday slot when almost all Americans were home. In other words, it made financial sense. At that time of course, the only thing that mattered was the 500. The series was an afterthought.
Critics can decry the changes that brought the IndyCar Series under the umbrella of Hulman & Co. all they want. It does not matter. The redheaded stepchild that is the currently unsponsored IndyCar Series is in the house and needs a seat at the table. And presiding over the feast is the new head chef Mark Miles. The cupboard may be relatively bare of sponsors, but dinner still has to be served. Miles has to take the ingredients available and make them palatable to an unruly assortment of guests that include family, sponsors, teams, drivers, and fans. He is currently whipping up a new recipe for the big dinner in May.
To begin with, Miles can now shop for better ingredients since he managed to get the local food bank, the State of Indiana, to pony up much needed cash for improvements. The process of improving the facility for racing has already begun with changes to the road course. I hope he doesn’t forget about some new dishes and silverware for the guests, though. The old stuff is starting to lose its shine.
Next, Miles whipped up an appetizer never before seen at IMS. He is using his main ingredient, the facility at 16th and Georgetown, to give the assembled guests a taste of racing on opening weekend. The Grand Prix of Indianapolis adds racing to the menu at the beginning of the two week period of on-track activity. I am still waiting on a compelling reason on how more racing is a bad thing. And simply saying “tradition” will not persuade anyone. More racing is better. Do you want one drumstick or two?
But it seems Mark Miles possible menu change struck a nerve with some. To add more excitement and value, he has proposed all cars on the track for high stakes qualifying action on both Saturday and Sunday of qualification weekend. Saturday qualifies the top 33 cars. You are in or you are out. On Sunday, all the cars that qualified on Saturday are back on the track. Positions 12-33 will be determined by requalifying on Sunday. The Fast Nine will go late in the day on Sunday. Holy cow, how you not like this new attempt to create value for fans? This will be much tastier than any value meal at Steak and Shake or White Castle. Hopefully, multiple attempts will be allowed for each car on both days. These changes would certainly add a little spice to the IndyCar gumbo.
And it seems Miles has finally added the sous chefs he needs to round out his kitchen staff. With the new entity called Hulman Racing on the marquee, Miles has added CJ O’Donnell as the chief marketing officer and Jay Frye as the chief revenue officer. I don’t think it is a coincidence that these gentlemen report to Miles and are not under the purview of any other officers. Suddenly, the racing business at Hulman and Co. is starting to look like a business, and it appears that Mark Miles is firmly in charge. He knows that too many chefs spoil the broth.
Will the new changes for the month of May and the series be a sweet treat or will they spoil on the spit? I don’t know the answer, but I look forward to a tasty new serving of racing at IMS in May.