IndyCar OP-Ed: Three Wide For the Triple Crown? No thanks!

TripleCrownEditor’s Note: This piece has been generously donated by John Olsakovsky. These are his views on the three-wide announcement for the remainder of the Triple Crown. This views are of his opinion only. That being said, this is not a page where we insult folks for having an opinion. Keep the comments respectable or they will be deleted upon moderation.

Recently, our buddy Beaux Barfield announced that IndyCar Triple Crown events at Pocono Raceway and Auto Club Speedway will start the race three-wide, just like at the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. While I understand there’s past precedent for other races starting three abreast, I can’t say I like the idea.

A friend of mine suggested that it will be a safety issue and could potentially result in a horrific crash and even a fatality. I’ll argue that the start of any race, regardless of the formation could have these consequences. It doesn’t matter if they’re single-file, two or three-wide, standing, rolling or Le Mans-style start. It’s auto racing, and the potential for disaster is always present.

I don’t think the safety aspect is significant, as all three tracks where the three-wide starts will take place are wide enough to allow racers plenty of maneuvering room. At the start/finish line, Indianapolis is 50 feet wide, Pocono is about the same (Track dimensions only say it is between 45 and 60 feet wide), and Auto Club Speedway is 75 feet wide. Space isn’t an issue.

Auto Club Speedway is banked, so that nasty old gravity will play into it, but even then, there is plenty of space for drivers to maneuver around a car that won’t get going or has a mechanical issue. If they can pull off a three by eleven formation (more or less) at Indy, then I think a three by eight(ish) formation won’t be a problem. The formation at Auto Club Speedway will be the hardest to create because of the banking. I can almost guarantee the starting formation at Auto Club Speedway will be broken up, to say the least.

So if safety isn’t the issue, why am I against this idea? It’s all about regenerating public interest in IndyCar and open-wheel racing in North America. We’re all painfully aware of the downturn in IndyCar resulting of “The Split” in 1996 and the subsequent reunification twelve years later. The die-hard fans remained, but the casual fan had no interest. The glory days of open wheel racing and the adoration of the drivers is long gone, and for IndyCar in its present form to come back into public prominence, the drivers, the cars, the racing and the events themselves need to be in the minds of race fans from the long-time fan who has Indianapolis tickets willed to his first-born to the casual onlooker with just a passing interest. They need a reason to watch. They need a reason to go to a race. They need a reason to be excited.

Right now, the only ones excited about IndyCar (and more specifically, the excellent racing on the track the DW12 has provided) are the die-hards. So how do we grab the interest of the casual fan or non-fan? Spectacle. It’s why race promoters pack as much into a race weekend as possible from flyovers to concerts to zip-lines to pace car rides, autograph sessions and so on. Give the attendees and their short attention spans more to do than watch cars go around in circles, and they feel the admission price was money well spent, even if the beers are $12.00 each.

IndyCar’s flagship event, the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race has been dubbed “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” for as long as most fans can remember. In this day and age, how much of a spectacle is it, REALLY? With every race weekend (not just IndyCar, but NASCAR, Formula 1, Le Mans, and other top-ranked series) being an over-the-top event, IMS needs to one-up them all. And recently, there’s been a lot of discussion and rumor of shortening the month-long celebration of open-wheel racing in Indianapolis to a week or two, reducing the spectacular-ness (is that a real word?) of the event.

I’ve never had the good fortune to attend the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, but when I watch it on TV and see elevn rows of three cars approaching the flagstand on Memorial Day, I get goosebumps. It means something, at least to me. Seeing a similar starting formation at Pocono this weekend won’t give me that same feeling. I’ll probably laugh my posterior off watching them attempt to get in the same formation at Auto Club Speedway. There will be no goosebumps like there is at Indy. It doesn’t mean anything.

I get that these races are part of the Triple Crown, and the three-wide starts are a nod to that. That’s good marketing and it makes sense, but it simply isn’t necessary, and takes away from the spectacle that is the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Without the flagship race, there wouldn’t be IndyCar. The whole series is centered around this one race, so much so that the name to the series includes “Indy”. There’s a reason that winners of this race are called champions and not merely race winners. The significance of the Indianapolis 500 to open-wheel racing needs to be so high that no other racing event can compare. And part of that is creating a spectacle worth of the title “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”. Casual fans need to feel some of the same goosebumps that the die-hard fans feel when those eleven rows of three come together at the exit of turn four in Speedway, IN.

The TKTCcasual fan or non-fan isn’t going to care about the starting formation at Pocono or Auto Club Speedway. They aren’t going to know about or even care about the Triple Crown. I’m a pretty devoted fan, and I don’t really care about the Triple Crown, other than the hope it helps elevate IndyCar to a higher level in the North American conscious than it currently is. Would I like to see Tony Kanaan win all three events and get a big payday? Sure, but I seriously doubt it will happen, just like I doubt a horse will win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Not just this year, but ever.

IndyCar needs to keep the goosebump-inducing, three-wide starting spectacle where it belongs: in Speedway, not Long Pond or Fontana.

2 comments

  • I disagree with the notion that three-wide starts anywhere else will lessen the excitement that I feel during the start of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. The three-wide start is a Triple Crown tradition, and it’s a style of start that is unique to Indy car racing. Rather than diminishing the 500, I say it shows respect to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Nor do I feel that the Triple Crown lessens the grandeur and appeal of the 500. Rather, the fame of the 500 enhances the interest in the races at Pocono and Fontana.

    The best possible outcome this weekend is to have Tony Kaanan win the Pocono INDYCAR 400. That will create even more buzz about the season-ending race at Fontana. Like the Triple Crown in thoroughbred horse racing, the Kentucky Derby is the pinnacle event, the one steeped in tradition and prestige. The only reason most people outside of the hardcore followers watch the Preakness is to see if the horse that won the Kentucky Derby can keep the hopes alive of winning the Triple Crown. If a different horse wins the Preakness, then the interest in Belmont tanks. However, the fact that in all three races, the starts are conducted in the same fashion in no way diminishes the anxious tension, excitement, and thrill of the start of the Kentucky Derby.

    The three-wide starts simply place emphasis on the importance of these races to achieving the INDYCAR Triple Crown, but a simple similarity of starts is no where near sufficient to challenge the excitement of the start of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Look at it this way, if an arrogant and foolish Tony George and a bunch of petulant team owners couldn’t destroy the 500, then starting three-wide at Pocono is no threat at all. The 500 is bigger than that.

    • Ditto on every word written by Doug there. This doesn’t diminish Indy, it strengthens the bonds between Pocono, Fontana and Indy. If the Series can make those other two segments of the Triple Crown stronger, by getting some casual fans flipping by on the dial to say “hey, those are the cars I watch while we’re cooking out on Memorial Day weekend every year! Maybe I’ll watch this for a bit!” then all the better. Maybe it’s a bit much to try to get somebody brand new to tune in 19 times per year, but it’s a good start to try to grab them for those three Triple Crown races (specifically, I’m thinking about trying to hook NASCAR fans here, since they’re all ovals).

      There’s a ton of upside here, and basically no downside. Give it a go and see what happens.