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Will abandoning oval racing really hurt IndyCar?

by Mark J. Cipolloni
Sunday, December 11, 2011

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Horrific crashes, such as this one in 2001 at Atlanta Motor Speedway were not uncommon in  the IRL/IndyCar.  Note cars flying through the air.
This ESPN.com article argues, and rightly so, that IndyCar is wrong to blame the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for Dan Wheldon's death.  It could have happened at any 'pack' racing oval track facility.  In fact we have seen many accidents in the IRL over the years that were just as horrific as what happened in Las Vegas. 

The problem is not so much the track as it is the 'pack' racing mentality that IndyCar had.  We said for years they were going to kill someone and we just hoped they did not launch a car into the grandstands and kill 50 fans in one fell swoop.

The IRL/IndyCar has maimed and killed umpteen drivers over the years as we spelled out in this Oval Track injury report since the IRL was formed.

It was not until Wheldon's untimely death that everyone involved agreed they must put an end to the nonsense.  Drivers, especially ones as popular as Dan Wheldon, could not be 'sacrificial lambs' to satisfy the warped desire to go NASCAR one better and have Daytona and Talladega 'pack racing' photo finishes at any high banked oval.  It was a major part of IndyCar's marketing plan and they put out many press releases hyperbolizing the close finishes, and insinuating that IndyCar racing was better than NASCAR for that reason. zzzz

The article goes on to argue that CART/Champ Car died because it focused on road and street circuit racing, which of course sent the staff at AR1.com ballistic. We have had enough of the lies.

With all due respect to Terry Blount of ESPN who wrote the article (he does make some valid points), IndyCar isn't going back to the Vegas oval because despite giving away 100,000 free tickets you could shoot a cannon into the grandstands and not hit anyone.  They used safety as an excuse.

When in doubt, follow the money.  The race was a financial bloodbath. If the grandstands were packed you could bet IndyCar would be back.  They would find a way to break up the 'pack' racing.

The grandson and his "I am Indy" hat.  He was Indy alright.  Only Anton George would promote a race series with hats and shirts saying "I am Indy" the most ridiculous slogan in the history of sports.  The grandson is to blame for IndyCar's downward spiral into oblivion, not CART, not Champ Car and certainly not road and street circuits.
And the only reason, and I do mean the only reason, CART/Champ Car died is because Anton George took their biggest race away (Indy 500) and then used voodoo economics (family millions) to spend Champ Car into the ground.  He blew through 1/2 billion dollars to kill off CART/Champ Car, while CART/Champ Car was trying to run their series like a proper business.

In 1995 when the IRL was formed, CART was bigger than NASCAR, twice the sponsorship in the paddock and doing just fine with those road and street courses thank you.  Then the grandson came along and destroyed it all.  And look what we have today.

It was a pyrrhic victory - a war that when it's all over no one is left standing.  For all intents and purposes that is where IndyCar is today - barely alive as measured by TV ratings and attendance (except for the Indy 500).

We are sick and tired of reading stories by uninformed journalists saying that IndyCar would surely die if it followed CART's model. 

Excuse me?  CART run IndyCar racing was the most successful in the history of IndyCar racing.  The grandstands were full, sponsorship was huge and the TV ratings were good.

It was so successful in fact that Bernie Ecclestone would badmouth it every chance he got because he was darn worried that it was approaching F1 in worldwide popularity.

It was the grandson, Anton George, and his voodoo economics that destroyed CART/Champ Car.

It's high time these oval-centric journalists (you know who you are) take their rose colored glasses off and write the real story.  NASCAR owns oval racing in the USA.  Fans don't give a hoot about watching IndyCars on ovals save for the Indy 500, which is 'tradition.'  If they cared the TV ratings would be high and the grandstands packed.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I am not saying that IndyCar should give up on the Indy 500, certainly that race has tradition and it will always be the single most important part of IndyCar racing.  And I am not saying IndyCar should give up on oval racing altogether.  Where it makes sense (Iowa for example) IndyCar should race there.

But to artificially add oval tracks to the schedule that will be financial bloodbaths and make IndyCar look like a loser (can't hide the crowd on oval tracks) because "we must have a good number of oval track races on the schedule or we will surely die" is just the wrong attitude and it's time IndyCar stop living the lie.

IndyCar is in the entertainment business, and like any properly run business, it's product should cater to the customer's desire and where the customer will buy your product.

Look at the Baltimore Grand Prix. A race the customer loved - the grandstands were full, the grounds were packed and everyone was smiling.

Sure the race lost money the first year, every street race does because of the high start-up costs.  A cash flow diagram showing when you will go 'cash positive' is part of any proper business plan. Every business starts out losing money.  That's why banks or Venture Capitalists invest in startup businesses, to get them going and hold them over until the business generates enough revenue and income to overcome the early losses.

But building an oval track has even higher start-up costs.  How are they overcome?  ISC and SMI are public companies who used shareholder money to justify building the facilities and their huge upfront costs.  In some cases, years ago, they were built by a rich family or businessman.

Will abandoning oval racing and becoming a road racing focused series really hurt IndyCar? 

Absolutely not. 

The product must cater to the customer's desires, no matter what the type of track they race on.  The days of voodoo economics in IndyCar racing must end, and that's what Randy Bernard is trying to do and hence why he dumped the Vegas oval, dumped the Loudon oval, dumped the Milwaukee oval and is balking at re-signed the Texas Motor Speedway oval deal where SMI does not want to pay as much money as IndyCar wants because attendance has been dwindling.

Racing has always been dangerous.  That's just part of the sport.  And it has always been dangerous at Texas Motor Speedway as well, but they still raced there.  Don't think so, then check out Kenny Brack's 2003 crash there on YouTube. Check out Davey Hamilton's in 2001.  Brack suffered a broken sternum and femur, two crushed ankles and shattered a vertebra in his spine. Doctors wanted to amputate Hamilton's pulverized feet and lower legs.

It's time to stop the lies and using danger as the reason IndyCar is abandoning a lot of the ovals.

It's time to run the sport like a proper business, and Randy Bernard is trying to do that.

When in doubt, just do what's right.

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