“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana
Earlier this week our good buddy pressdog put together another piece of satirical brilliance discussing how the IndyCar series is adding more road and street courses called “IRL ‘Pretty Sure’ it can sell customers what they don’t want.” The send-up was built around a quote by Texas Motor Speedway’s Eddie Gossage, who said the IRL should have “80% ovals” to truly succeed”, which even your humble IRL fan will admit is probably a high number. Still, Eddie is in the business of selling tickets and he knows events like his are generally more viable than those involving right turns.
I know, I’m fanning some flames here – so be it. But the notorious flame-fanner known as Robin has joined this conversation by saying the IRL should get rid of most ovals that aren’t short tracks. Not that you would expect the man who keeps calling big oval tracks “deathtraps” to speak any differently.
With a couple exceptions, open-wheel racing and ovals no longer mesh. Sure, it's still some of the best racing on this planet and it's much better to watch on television, but it's usually a big financial loser. That's why George has had to abandon the IRL's all-oval mantra and adopt one of CART's few good ideas -- a blend of road courses, street circuits and ovals.Nice list. Here are a few others that have “thrown in the towel for various reasons”: Portland, Road America, Laguna Seca, as well as street races scheduled for San Jose, Houston, Vancouver, Denver, Miami, and (gasp!) Phoenix. Using Robin’s logic we can all conclude that open-wheel and road racing, or open-wheel and street racing no longer mesh. Sure it’s some of the most boring racing on the planet, and it’s much worse on TV, but it’s nearly always a big financial loser.
Since the split in 1996, Atlanta, Charlotte, Colorado Springs, Dover, Fontana, Las Vegas, Loudon, St. Louis, Michigan, Nazareth, Orlando and Phoenix have thrown in the towel for various reasons.
And, we're reporting right here that you can add Homestead and Nashville to that list, because neither will be back on the 2009 IRL schedule.
(MORE from SpeedTV)
Seriously, Toronto and Edmonton were just added as losers of $2 million and $1 million per event respectively while “open-wheel racing and ovals no longer mesh”. Gimme a break.
Pop quiz: the biggest open-wheel race on the planet is held at what kind of track? Here’s a hint: it has four turns. Now obviously that doesn’t mean all ovals will work for the IRL, but when places like Texas continue to show the kind of lead changes and passing (not to mention attendance) that most road courses can never have it’s incredible to think this argument for MORE twisties comes this week.
(And not to get off point here, but and quite frankly you can go ahead and get rid of Nashville this year and most folks wouldn’t be terribly upset. I know it’s a big event for Firestone, but that’s a single-lane oval and a total snooze of a race. Sorry, Tennessee.)
What a businessman like Eddie understands and a guy like Robin does not is that we can all have our personal preferences in our favorite types of tracks, but America as a nation has shown time and again to have very little interest in watching road and street racing. Why? My guess is it's because on ovals the excitement is right in front of the viewer. "Here we are now, entertain us." There go the cars, loud, fast, and passing each other constantly. The drama is evident no matter what you know about the drivers or the cars, and it’s so thrilling even your grandmother can enjoy it.
Compare this kind of racing with road courses, which are challenging not only for the drivers but also for the common spectator because by contrast there is a lot less passing. I don’t care how beautiful your circuit is, people aren’t going to line up by the thousands year in and year out and pay good money to watch a few hours of pit stop competitions. That’s a $10 Carb Day contest, not an actual race.
(Again with an aside, but laps clicking by without passing is boring on super speedways as well. It’s just a lot less likely to happen, except of course at Nashville.)
Now take the road course concept a step further with street courses. Not only do we have the passing-free environment of road racing, but there’s now the added touch of only being able to see one or two turns of the entire track. Yee haw. Because of this challenge, street race promoters have to work overtime to get people interested in watching, adding everything from grid girls to celebrity races. As a red-blodded American guy I can say I have no issues with grid girls, but notice they don’t have them at places like Indy. There they can trot out Jim Nabors to sing about “new-mown hay” and people go nuts.
The point being that although many of you – many of us – can find lots of entertaining things about road and street courses, the average consumer here in America isn’t going to give more than about 5 minutes of attention to this kind of racing. It’s a proven fact, people. Champ Car is no more because they couldn’t connect with the wallets of enough fans to sustain the series. That didn’t make them bad or evil or wrong, it just meant they had a broken business model.
Opinons are like backsides in that everyone has one so here’s mine: Stick with events that work (like Texas, Chicagoland, and certainly Long Beach) and drop ones that aren’t increasing at the gate or in the ratings book. Stop looking backwards at money-losing tracks and failed racing products and start looking ahead to what the IndyCar series can become. Look to the future, live in the present, and never forget the mistakes of the past.