I probably should not be making a pun about the Charm City since the organizers of the Baltimore Grand Prix unceremoniously dumped the IndyCar series last week. No title sponsor and the loss of Labor Day weekend pushed this well-attended street circuit off the IndyCar schedule. Once more, the lack of sponsorship money continues to marginalize a series that desperately want to swim in the mainstream. It was another telling body shot to an already fragile series.
Frankly, all hard-core fans are half nuts, myself included. We long for the way it was or the way it should be. We debate on Twitter, in coffee shops, and at the tracks about what the IndyCar Series needs to do to be relevant. More ovals! More natural terrain! More street circuits! More international races! Better promotion! A better TV contract! None of those alone will solve the problem. Only money will. Mark Twain said, “The lack of money is the root of all evil.” As far as IndyCar is concerned, they are living in very evil times.
I don’t care how many races are on ovals, road courses, or street circuits. The percentage on each means nothing. Other than the family subsidized race(s) at IMS, all the other circuits need to have a promoter who turns a profit. To do that, a race needs a title sponsor to feed the bulldog. That title sponsor needs a return on investment. Sadly, great racing and entertaining personalities are not the return they need. Sponsors need eyeballs at the race, on TV, and in print. To make all that happen, a promoter needs a series with a strong TV contract and a willingness to help as a partner. And the promoter needs a little cash-in-hand to get people to attend the race as well as pay off any necessary graft. I may have been joking about the graft, but a promoter spends money on the front end expecting to make his profit on the back-end. It is always a gamble. And Baltimore just rolled snake-eyes.
The IZOD IndyCar Series needs races like Baltimore. The race was on the East Coast, was well attended, and had exciting wheel to wheel action. It should have become one of the “can’t miss” events on the schedule instead of a fading memory. IndyCar needs strong community allies. The politicos of the city pushed through the necessary funding on their end. They quelled any uprising about a failing city supporting such a massive money and personnel drain. They ignored the angry citizens who did not appreciate losing mobility on a holiday weekend. The city was a perfect partner. The promoter just needed a Mr. S. Daddy to step up to the plate to keep the wheels turning around Camden Yards. But just like Casey in Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s famous poem, the powers that be have struck out.
All is not lost, though. Even though Baltimore is off the schedule, rumors of interest from Providence, Rhode Island persist. It ticks all the same boxes as Baltimore. Unfortunately, the lack of a title sponsor would probably sink that race, too. Mark Miles, the big Kahuna at Hulman & Co., continues to say all the right things. He knows that the promoters need help, either with promotion or sanctioning fees. He also knows that hiring the right commercial director to work with promoters and help them be successful is the key to the long-term success of the series. In other words, when your promoters and tracks are on the run, your first priority needs to be keeping the ones you have happy and successful.
The Charm City will be missed on the IZOD IndyCar schedule. Let’s hope it’s not the first domino to fall.