30% fee increase killed IndyCar race
The loss of the IZOD IndyCar Series at Watkins Glen International raises many questions. Chief among them: Why did it happen?
Also, where does the Glen go from here with open-wheel racing, whose roots were so firmly planted there from the track's start in the late 1950s?
On Sunday, WGI President Michael Printup candidly weighed in on how, after a six-year run, the premier open-wheel racing series in the United States left the Schuyler County facility and what might lie ahead.
"It's just very disappointing these cars aren't going to be racing here next year," said Printup, who took over for Craig Rust as track president a month before the 2009 IndyCar race. "Craig put about $3.5 million in capital improvements just to get the race to come here."
The loss leaves a hole in Watkins Glen's schedule for next year, but Printup is thinking of replacements for 2012, possibly NASCAR's Camping World Trucks Series or even an ARCA event.
Printup said he's also willing to try to get IndyCar back to the Glen, saying "IndyCar belongs here."
"I'm going to be knocking real hard on their door next year, there is no question about it," he said.
Is it realistic to think IndyCar will come back to the Glen or is it just wishful thinking? After all, Printup admitted Sunday, "We have never made money in that event."
"It's always been a loss leader, but we supported it. The company (International Speedway Corp.) supported it. And we were willing to accept that because it brought classic open-wheel racing back to the Glen with some world class drivers."
Why did it lose money then?
"Our sponsors were huge. The problem was attendance," Printup said.
Watkins Glen negotiated a new contract with IndyCar each year. The nail in the coffin this time was new IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard's request for an increase in its sanction fee. Printup said the increase was 30 percent.
With the increase, he said it brought their fee to run the IndyCar race to "north of $1.5 million.
"Where do you get off, in this economy, asking for that kind of raise?" Printup said. "You've got Sprint Cup going backwards on their sanction fee, Nationwide going backwards, and Trucks going backwards."
From that opening salvo in negotiations, the return to the Glen of the premier open-wheel series in the United States was unlikely.
In the end, all four ISC-owned tracks that were on the 2010 IndyCar schedule -- Kansas, Homestead-Miami, Chicagoland and Watkins Glen -- were not renewed for 2011.
"What we had to do was look at our promoters, look at the ones that want to get aggressive and really focus on the ones that wanted to create a strategy to move IndyCar to the next level," Bernard said on the Speed TV show "Wind Tunnel" on Sunday.
While negotiations were said to be still taking place, essentially both sides were at a stalemate.
"We wanted middle of the road. We understand business. We are a pretty smart group of people," Printup said. "When you can't get the middle of the road, that's unacceptable in this economy."
Printup admitted, "We would have accepted a nominal increase.
"I wasn't going to go up 30 percent. That's ridiculous," he added. Star Gazette