The dichotomy was front and center Saturday night at Iowa Speedway: great racing with another disappointing fan turnout.
That's the sad but true tale of oval tracks in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Once the pillar of the most popular form of motorsports in this country when USAC and CART were on top, ovals have become an endangered species. Other than Indianapolis, it's tough to draw anything resembling a crowd.
Texas Motor Speedway, once a stronghold that put 75,000-80,000 people in the stands to watch the Indy Racing League's version of Russian Roulette, has been sliding recently and withered down to 25,000 (at best) last month. After an encouraging return of an estimated 25,000 in 2013 following a 24-year absence, Pocono slumped to maybe 15,000 a couple weeks ago. Iowa, which packed the grandstands the first few races for IndyCar, looked about half full last Saturday evening. Fontana, a big ticket back in the late '90s when CART was cooking, went away after embarrassing crowd numbers for its IRL races and has struggled since returning to the schedule three years ago. Ticket sales are supposedly down for next month's finale.
Milwaukee, long the bastion of Indy cars prior to The Split and finally dropped when neither Champ Car or IRL could interest anybody, is trying to hang in there after coming back in 2012 but it's a tough sell.
And the conundrum for Hulman & Company CEO Mark Miles and IndyCar is that it needs ovals to retain its heritage, maintain its status as the most diverse series in the world and remind people why many of them fell for Indy car racing.
"We've got to keep ovals and we've got to have consistency," said Roger Penske, who owned Michigan International Speedway and Nazareth Speedway before building the California Speedway in Fontana in 1997 and then selling all of them to ISC. "It's great racing and it's part of what we are."
Michael Andretti, who stepped in to rescue The Milwaukee Mile, echoes The Captain's thoughts. "We can't ever stop running ovals," said the former CART champion who was a badass on the short ones as well as superspeedways. "It's what sets us apart from everybody else." More at Racer.com