|(c) 2018, Leavitt, LAT|
Upon reading this article by Robin Miller for RACER today, I’ve again returned to my thoughts and this blog in considering the existence of ovals on the Indycar schedule.
On a nearly per-oval-event basis, most longtime and/or devoted Indycar fans offer thoughts on the waning existence and popularity of the “meat and potato” ovals for which there seems little opportunity for change to satisfy the cries for more on the schedule.
|(c) 2018, Mark J. Rebilas, USA Today|
Indycar has billed itself as having the most versatile menu of drivers in motorsport. Marketing slogans are often a wry exercise in embellishment, but one would be hard pressed to find the top 20 drivers of any racing series more adept at racing not only multiple styles of tracks, but also multiple types of vehicles than found in the Indycar Series of this decade.
Great drivers can drive most anything it seems, but the current depth of talent found here is worthy of comparison to the legendary greats who raced in the golden era of Indycar (I place at approximately 1960-1979). In 2015 I noted how we seem to have a habit of missing just how truly excellent the current generation of Indycar driver is, but that is another matter. The recent venues of Indycar are of which we discuss today.
Phoenix is another example of an historic Indycar oval venue, rich in golden-era legend, that apparently lacks present-day popularity if judged by crowd size and ticket sales. The same can be said for the likes of Milwaukee, Trenton, Ontario, and Michigan.
Pocono is a golden-era exception whose efforts toward modern-day Indycar have been welcome and notable, but even this grandly unique and historic Indycar speedway doesn’t begin to fill its staggering capacity for seated or camping customers.
The ovals associated with the IRL era (1996-2008) such as Walt Disney World, Nazareth, Nashville, Kansas, Homestead, Richmond, Kentucky, Charlotte, Atlanta, Michigan, New Hampshire, Las Vegas, Dover, and Chicagoland also failed multiple times to be an attraction to the ticket-buying public. Numerous factors have conspired at different times to cease those Indycar relationships, but often it seemed that in the waning years of an Indycar event at these venues, the dedicated promotion was reduced to nearly nothing instead of increased.
|(c) 2017 Gateway Motorsports Park|
Gateway Motorsports Park in St. Louis is the most recent oval addition (from the IRL oval era) and they’ve impressed beyond most expectations with their commitment and execution for the return of Indycars in 2017. They have exhibited a motivated desire to see Indycar succeed by lavishing the local markets promoting their race which worked to astounding results.
I might contend, as I have for many years, that the need for an event to succeed at the ticket office, drives the effort by the track to promote the race accordingly. With few exceptions, the tracks noted above are either defunct for Indycar racing, demolished, or owned by International Speedway Corporation (a subsidiary of the NASCAR ownership), or Speedway Motorsports Incorporated (a company who hosts several of the major NASCAR events during their season). Despite Miller’s desire to see Indycar return to the few remaining legendary tracks of the golden era, often to the extent that he rarely finds fault with ISC/SMI Indycar race promotion efforts, but I think I see their efforts in a different light.
While one could argue that none of those venues want to host a failed event, I’ve always felt that the ownership with such close ties to their primary client (NASCAR), has little impetus to spend to the degree equal to a NASCAR event required to make it a success.
Fans who’ve joined this sport in the last 20 years, often have little knowledge of the significance or attraction of the golden-era or even IRL-era tracks for newer fans. When seen with an unbiased eye, the oval racing was in actuality almost always either boring processionals or horrifically dangerous pack-races, neither of which entertained in quite the manner that pleased fans of both sides and the larger audience.
In the modern era of versatility as a selling-point, it would seem preferable that the recipe of scheduling include no preponderance of any particular flavor, but a skilled blending of several. For this, I applaud the current Indycar management – especially Mark Miles and Jay Frye – for working tirelessly to continue to perfect the blend of available seasonings and present a well-balanced and flavorful schedule of events.
It also has long been a mystery to me why, when the opportunities arose, to possibly purchase a few venues along the way, none were nabbed. It makes perfect sense to seal a few locales into the schedule through ownership just as NASCAR has done in a more substantial way, but there’s little doubt the Hulman and Company coffers to do so were less flush with cash than ISC’s, but there remained a few that possibly could be available for the taking.
Nashville, Pikes Peak International Raceway, Gateway, Rockingham, and Iowa among others have all traded hands at some point in the last 10 years and IMS/Indycar would’ve benefited from having at least a couple of those.
Essentially, to lose Phoenix would be a shame as it holds an historic place as a unique track within the larger Indycar pantheon, but mainly only for those whose value as an Indycar fan is tied to the nostalgia of bygone oval-based eras. Losing Phoenix shouldn’t be viewed as a deal-breaker, nor ultimately is the loss of any venue whose bread is so heavily buttered with NASCAR dollars.
With IMS forever the crown jewel of the series, Gateway quickly cementing their place in the schedule, Texas the oft-prickly stalwart, Pocono committed, and Iowa still hanging on, the mix of ovals for 2018 and beyond should be viewed as an appropriately well-balanced blend on the schedule, each of which to be celebrated in their own way, and as a group, properly testing all manner of driving ability.
Certainly, this also represents a fair sample of the types of ovals Indycar has raced upon in the last 40 years and I will continue to rate higher the actions of serious commitment and dedication to Indycar than any lip-service toward fading historic value.