Once again, the world of Indycar racing has not failed to give its legions of fans something to talk about. Thursday night, series CEO Randy Bernard appeared on the Trackside with Cavin and Kevin radio show (also available in convenient podcast form, so none of the aforementioned legions has an excuse for missing this essential weekly discussion show). He talked about a number of things, some expected and some not.
First, the events and opinions surrounding the Texas Twin races last weekend. It's well known that not everyone was pleased with the halftime show and blind draw for the second race's grid. The good and the bad were pointed out and discussed. The good: the fans in the stands seemed to love it, every driver got some TV time, interest was created. The bad: Race One winner Dario Franchitti was relegated to the 28th starting position while his nemesis Will Power drew the 3rd starting place, the show ran a little long, and TV ratings didn't improve as much as was hoped-a situation exacerbated by the long intra-race break. To Bernard's credit, he admitted that a mistake was made and that at least two changes would be made for next year's Twin races (even if they aren't held at Texas): A blind draw will not be used to set the field for the second race, and the halftime show will be shorter. Good moves, and probably the best compromise even with all this year's format's advantages.
He also pointed out that, with tobacco sponsorship out of the picture, Indycar is free to market to kids again. They've already begun with reduced minimum ages for pit and paddock passes this year, but I'm looking forward to whatever else they have in mind. Naysayers may observe that 10 year olds can't buy tickets, souvenirs, concessions, etc, but they have parents who do. Parents that might indulge their children's interest and take them to races, buy merchandise, etc, and create fans for life.
While ratings were up less than hoped for at Texas, Bernard also pointed out that ratings number will be slow to improve and that we should not be discouraged by slow short-term growth. Many things in life happen much slower than we'd like, and this is no different. We should not expect Milwaukee to sell out this weekend, nor should we expect its ratings to beat those for NASCAR at Michigan (though anyone flipping channels between races will likely find the better one to be on the West side of Lake Michigan). Groundwork will be laid, however, and after a couple of years much more progress should have been made.
The big moment was when he talked about working on getting a race run at Phoenix International Raceway. The understanding was that Bernard wished to run a race early in the year, before NASCAR's flagship Daytona 500 in February. His hope was to run on the oval at Phoenix, but he revealed tonight that, after placing a number of calls to the track president there, none were returned. Bernard was clearly insulted by this and had some choice words for PIR's leadership. Good for him. Talk tough with the ISC tracks (which are, in essence, controlled by NASCAR's leadership). It is baffling that they wouldn't want to talk about holding an event that would make them money... There is a precedent, however. (And I'm going partially on memory and partially on search engine results here) In Champ Car's final years, they made overtures to run a race at PIR. They were offered an embarrassing Thursday night date before the NASCAR weekend. Rejecting this proposal, the Champ Car leadership pursued a street race in downtown Phoenix. As they dealt with the local government to make it happen, PIR's track leadership (the same individual who allegedly hasn't returned Bernard's calls) and NASCAR stepped in and offered opinions that such a race would not be worthwhile, again using pointed language. That race was eventually cancelled, and Champ Car merged with Indycar not long afterward.
From an outside observer's perspective, it appears that Indycar isn't wanted at PIR. As long as the current leadership is in place, it should probably stay away. Which is just as well. Two Cup dates at the track (that I doubt sell it out) are very steep competition.
Instead, I suggest another venue for an early-season race. A 500-miler at California Speedway. The climate should be good and there is only one NASCAR date to compete with.