McDonald: IndyCar on borrowed time (Update)

UPDATE Q: I don't know how credible any of this is but I just read an article by Norris McDonald, Wheels Editor, from the Toronto Star website. His article dated 1/25 is titled "IndyCar on Borrowed Time; TSN, SportsNet Ignore Daytona" cites an email from a 'friend' that claims the following: "I recently read that at least one major IndyCar sponsor isn't with the series this year and two are on their last year and won't renew because of the short season. If that isn't a wake-up call, then what the hell is Miles waiting for?" I'm assuming the one sponsor that was talked about was the National Guard? But have you heard anything about other major sponsors pulling the plug? I will now refer to IndyCar in any future emails I compose as the 'NFL' (for Not F-ing Listening!)
Rob Peterson, Rochester, NY

Robin Miller, Not sure which sponsors Norris was referring to but his story echoed what a lot of us have been writing and saying the past several months. I won’t go into detail (yet) but one IndyCar owner told me he sent Miles an email a couple months ago because one of his primary sponsors was going to bail after 2015 unless the season got lengthened by at least two-three months. (BTW, he claims he’s still waiting on a response from Miles). Another owner showed me a letter from a longtime sponsor that declined to be involved this season because a six-month season wasn’t workable. It appears that the only people who think a short season is a good idea is Miles and, of course, the Boston Consulting Group. But the short season isn’t why The National Guard pulled the plug.


Norris McDonald thinks Mark Miles (above) is running IndyCar right into the ground

There were a lot of IndyCar drivers on hand for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, which was won Sunday by Chip Ganassi Racing with Scott Dixon in the saddle at the finish.

In addition to Dixon, James Hinchcliffe, Tony Kanaan, Sebastien Bourdais, Charlie Kimball, Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Jack Hawksworth, Sage Karam and Townsend Bell were all in cars and I hope they enjoyed their experience because I don't know how much longer the Verizon IndyCar Series is going to exist.

At some point in the not-too-distant future, they might have to find other employment.

A friend send me an email Sunday afternoon that contained this information: "I recently read that at least one major IndyCar sponsor isn't with the series this year and two are on their last year and won't renew because of the short season. If that isn't a wake-up call, then what the hell is Miles waiting for?"

"Miles" of course, is Mark Miles, the CEO of Hulman and Co. The IndyCar series is one of that corporation's businesses. There are others he oversees, like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and a firm that manufactures most of the baking powder used in the United States. He has a big job. The real question, of course, is whether he and the board of directors no longer dominated by the heirs of Tony Hulman really care all that much about the series and races in places other than Indianapolis, like Toronto.

Rolex 24 podium shows the crux of IndyCar's problem. Note the flags the drivers are holding. The NASCAR drivers are American, the IndyCar drivers foreign. As great as both those foreign drivers are, IndyCar will NEVER be popular until the majority of drivers are American and winning races.
Brian Simpson

This is nothing new, by the way. Hulman bought the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the end of World War II in order to keep one race going: the Indianapolis 500. Of course, to have the Indianapolis 500 you had to have Indy cars, so he had an interest (and was instrumental in the establishment of the U.S. Auto Club in 1956 after the AAA stopped sanctioning racing).

But his interest was mainly to ensure there would be enough cars around to race at his track every May. It was just business. Maybe the times and the business have changed.

When Miles was hired, he took a very businesslike approach. He discovered there was a small number of Indy car fans who did an awful lot of talking. They made a lot of noise. When it came to showing up at the races, though, not many did. And they weren't watching on television either. The U.S. ratings were abysmal.

So he commissioned a study to find out how he could change this around. One of the suggestions was that the series stop racing as of Labour Day weekend each year because the NFL, college football and the NASCAR Chase for the Championship were too much competition for it in the fall.

The series has stopped racing as of Labour Day weekend for two years now and people still aren't going to the races and the TV numbers are so small they're embarrassing. The chattering class, though, is convinced that this "short season" was a huge mistake – and they might be right. What I can't understand, though, is their expectation that people who won't go to a race in August will suddenly go to one in October. They didn't before – which is one of the reasons the consultants concluded the competition was too stiff and that it was better to try a different approach. They are now probably out of suggestions.

As a result, it appears that the end might not be that far off. You can't keep kicking a dead horse. The 100th year of the Indianapolis 500 will be 2016. I think it will be shortly after that when things will start to happen.

There have been suggestions recently that, if adopted, could pretty much put IndyCar out of its misery but still protect the one race and one race track that people still seem to care about. (Do you really think people still care about the Honda Indy? This is a metropolitan region of between 4 and 5 million people and how many of them show up for that race these days? Twenty thousand? The worst part is that the rest don't appear to even know it's on. But I digress.)

The idea would be to have big money paid out on the basis of qualifying positions and the results of two races at Indianapolis every May. The race on the road course in mid-May would be followed two weeks later by the Indianapolis 500. The Speedway would pull out all the stops to attract sufficient sponsorship/prize money to make entering worthwhile. Besides the one-off entries, sports car teams – maybe even NASCAR teams – could run satellite operations to make it happen. I think it's worth looking into.

Trying to attract sponsorship to run a car in the IndyCar series these days is like pulling teeth. Guys like Calgary's Ric Peterson are paying out of their own pocket to support a team (okay, it comes from his trucking company but it's the same thing). How many wealthy people like him are around?

And face it, friends: if it wasn't for Roger Penske, whose first love is Indy car racing, and Chip Ganassi and Michael Andretti, who raced Indy cars and are loyal, there would not be any IndyCar anyway.

Those are cold, hard facts. I adore Indy car racing but there's a time for every purpose and time passes. There is little or no value in Indy car racing any more – other than at Indianapolis. So maybe a "season" built solely around Indy in May would not be such a bad idea. Norris McDonald Wheels Editor/Toronto Star

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