If the IRL is growing, where are all the fans?
Photo by Steve Levinson
Penske team lines up just prior to start of the race.
How can the extremely intelligent Roger Penske honestly look at all those
empty seats and say the IRL is growing?
Photo: Ron McQueeney/IMS
On Sunday afternoon, numerous motorists driving along the San Bernardino
Freeway (Interstate 10) between the Etiwanda and Cherry Avenue exits
reported hearing strange noises emanating from an area north of the Freeway.
Yes, there was an IRL event at the California Speedway, so some speculated
that it might have been the sound of the IRL's antediluvian engine, or AJ. Foyt bellowing about those "danged
foreigners" or, Eddie Cheever blowing "hot air" at anyone, including Thomas
Scheckter, or, Mr. Roger S. Penske lecturing Gil and Helio about
the "Imminent Death of CART"!
Fortunately or unfortunately, it was none of the above, but instead it was
the 'rapid fire sound of nails
being hammered into a wooden coffin' carrying the body of open wheel oval
track racing in America.
Anyone who read Shav's Glick's column in last Friday's Los Angeles Times could
see the 'White Flag' of surrender being waived by ISC's President of the
California Speedway, Mr. Bill Miller. The handwriting was on the wall.
Miller had made his pre-race capitulation that the race would be a
commercial and financial disaster. Of course, he had prepared a list of
rationalizations in the form of 1) "the race was added last October"
(translation: No Time To Properly Promote, or include the race in the
season ticket package), and 2) The Grand-Am's Road
race would usurp the areas normally taken by campers and motor homes. Ah yes, this is where the 50,000
'Missing in Action' would be.
in Phoenix. The grandstands officially hold 80,0000.
They were generously estimated as 20% full for a
attendance of 15,000 to 16,000
This photo taken just before the race started shows the
sparse crowd in the most densely populated section of
grandstands. Some say attendance may have only been
Photos: Ron McQueeney/IMS
Then he went on with some very dubious and bizarre reasoning. "We have more
people than the Staples Center" (home of the Lakers , Clippers and Kings).
Then he went on to regurgitate ISC's corporate line that the 25,000 at
Homestead and the 30,000 at Phoenix were good crowds. He said, "30,000
people at any event is a good event". (Please note that numerous objective
observers at Homestead and Phoenix insist that those number quoted are
inaccurate, and that neither crowd exceeded 20,000 including the Security
Guards, Maintenance Crew, Hot Dog vendors and Ticket Takers).
about the Staples Center, since Mr. Miller brought that up. Hey Bill, people
pay good money to see the Lakers and Kings and Clippers, and I will bet that
any Laker game will out do any of your IRL events at Homestead, Phoenix and
Fontana in terms of gross business and profit!
Please don't insult the
Lakers in order to justify the massive failure of IRL's 'inaugural debut of
the Indy Racing League at Fontana.' ISC never made excuses or
rationalizations about CART's fantastic races at Michigan Speedway that drew
smallish crowds. They blamed CART and told them to take a hike.
Remember, as for Bill Miller's continued assertion
that "we will grow the event"; suffice it to say if the "Inaugural Event" is
a failure, the future does not look too good. And this is not like the
inaugural event at Las Vegas
wherein Speedway Motorsports could "Carpet Bomb" the Las Vegas Casinos with
bundles of free tickets and then stand at the gates of Nellis Air Force Base
across from the Las Vegas track and hand out more freebies. You don't have
that luxury. Perhaps Marlboro and Yamaha could snake through nearby Ontario
Mills Shopping Center and pass off a few tickets, who knows?
I'd be willing to bet that Dover Down's CART Long Beach Grand Prix will do more
business in selling paddock passes than ISC has done in it's first three
races at Homestead, Phoenix and Fontana. After all, even 30,000 paddock
passes at Long Beach at $50 each is $1.5 Million. And they sell more than
30,000, Bill. In fact every year at Long Beach they have some 50,000
people on Saturday, and that's not even race day.
As for Miller's "growing the event" rhetoric, this has not proven to be the
case at Homestead or Phoenix. In fact this year's event at Phoenix was the
6th IRL event, and the results are, to put it mildly, not overwhelmingly
"positive". The event has not shown any demonstrable growth. In fact,
the record clearly reflects that whenever the IRL has gone to a CART venue,
the attendance figures have dropped dramatically, and such was the case
yesterday at Fontana.
I keep wondering what the Marlboro organization is saying after viewing
three consecutive races and barren grandstands (see photos above)? They bravely put out a
statement about how they 'will help to grow the IRL.' Quite frankly, I don't think
they have enough money. People are aware of what's out there in racing, and
as for oval track racing, they have made their choice. It's NASCAR, however
ridiculous that is.
Roger Penske is a brilliant man. No question about it. But I can't imagine
what he really thinks? Is ISC (Roger is a major shareholder and sits on the
Board of Directors) forcing him to side with the IRL to bolster attendance
at their oval tracks? He has been rather quiet of late, preferring to put
Tim Cindric and Gil and Helio as "Front Men". Now these three gentlemen are
good and honorable men, and it must be extremely painful for them to go
before the media and mouth these 'verbal PR sound bites.' We wonder if
this has anything to do with Roger recently selling almost a $1 billion worth
of ISC stock recently.
For Cindric, it's "we need one series", almost as if they are afraid that
CART, under Pook's leadership, is gaining momentum. They will need to run
the Marlboro "Colors" at Long Beach, St. Petersburg, Miami, Toronto,
Cleveland, etc, in order to race in front of some fans, hence perhaps why
they want one series.
For Gil, it must be much more painful. He has to say that "the IRL is a very
competitive Series"...blah, blah and more blah". I still cannot forget the
look on his face at Fontana last November when I said 'Good luck in the IRL
next year, we're going to miss you.' It was sadness and pain. And then
there was his 2000 Fontana "Pole Winner's Press Conference" (he qualified at
242MPH/30.222 seconds) when he was asked about future changes to Champ car
specs. He said, "I don't really care what they do as long as the cars
remain a challenge to drive." And can you believe that in
Saturday's Indianapolis Star he was quoted as saying he much prefers the
slower more stable IRL cars now than Champ Cars. He's right about
that, the powerful and downright scary Champ Cars, like F1 cars, are only
meant for the best of the best, and for drivers who want to compete at the
very highest levels.
Hmm, some challenge in driving an IRL car, as Juan Montoya referred to as
"My Tractor", and later said in Autosport magazine...(IRL CAR) "too much
downforce and too little horsepower". At Fontana the drivers said they were flat
out all the way around with their car fully trimmed out. Is this a show
or a sport?
ISC could have tried to market Southern California's huge Hispanic
community. After all, Los Angeles is the second largest Mexican city in the
world next to Mexico City. However, ISC has not done very well with Miami's
Hispanic market either. And of course, IRL does not have the 'Mexican fan
magnate' Adrian Fernandez or now, the "Three Musketeers" , Adrian, Michel and
Mario. Mexicans are big race fans, and after 6 years or more of the CART/IRL
war, they too, have already made up their collective mind that in America,
"IRL is La Segunda Serie".
Shav Glick also said
in his recent LA Times article something that has been written about many
times on AutoRacing1, that perhaps Messrs. George and Penske fail to
appreciate, "There is reason to believe that even if open wheel racing were
to become a single series again, the damage done is so severe, that there
may be no return to Indy Car's glory days, especially on the oval tracks.'
The only hope appears to be the path CART has taken, running mostly road and
street circuits and just a few select oval races where the market can
As I concluded in my article "Stranger in a Strange Land",
save for the INDY 500, open wheel oval track racing is an endangered species
in the USA. In fact, if open wheel oval track racing was a human being
Tony George would be convicted of "willful, deliberate and pre-meditated
murder in the first degree"! In ISC/Tony George's desire to
they wound up killing the IRL @ Fontana... A victim of "Friendly Fire"!
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