Rebuilding the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race
Getting Up To Speed
One thing that drew people not only to the track on race day, but on pole day and every qualifying day thereafter was the thrill of seeing those incredible speeds! People came to see blazingly fast cars, the brave superhuman drivers that piloted them, and to hear track announcers like Tom Carnegie announce, “And it’s a NEEEEWWWW TRAAAACK RECOOORD!” Some of you know what I’m talking about! For those that don’t, please check out this video from IndyCar’s YouTube page:
It’s this type of drama and excitement that drew pole day crowds of 100k+. We certainly don’t see that anymore, because we don’t see the potential for anything special to happen. It’s just another qualifying session, no big deal. Well, I for one think it SHOULD be a big deal. The Indianapolis 500 Mile Race should be a big deal! To make it a big deal, though, it needs to be special. There must be some excitement and suspense. Right now the single-lap track record stands at 237.498 mph set by Arie Luyendyk in 1996; his four-lap average was 236.986 mph. 1996 folks! That was thirteen years ago! This year, Helio Castroneves won the pole with a four-lap average speed of just 224.864 mph, twelve miles per hour slower than Arie’s speed. At these respective speeds, Helio would have finished 10 laps down behind Arie.
I’m not saying that the speeds need to get crazy-fast and that the cars need to be breaking records every year. In fact, I think it would be less than optimal if they did break a record every single year. What is needed is the potential to break a record. The casinos have figured this out, haven’t they? You don’t win every time you play, but you have the potential to win and that’s what makes it fun and exciting. If the speeds were close to Arie’s record so that there was the potential that someone might best it, then there would be more excitement during pole day. Qualifying would be an event again, and it would draw people back to the track. Adding that excitement during qualifications would naturally build excitement and enthusiasm for the Race as well and that will bring sponsors. After all, what allows the teams and drivers to build these amazing machines and pilot them at insane speeds is the money sponsors give them to put their names on the sidepods. In the end, this is about the money, but with more eyeballs on the cars both at the track and on television, the IndyCar product becomes more attractive to sponsors thus bringing more money and more stability to the sport.
Now I hear those of you who think we go too fast already, “Doug, don’t you care about the safety of the drivers? Are you so sadistic that you’d put people at risk solely for your entertainment?” Well, no. I wouldn’t want to put people unduly at risk, and yes there is a point at which things can get too fast. CART found that out in 2001 at Texas, didn’t they? The Indianapolis Motor Speedway isn’t the same as your typical D-shaped oval. The drivers aren’t running in a circle for the majority of the time pulling the constant g’s that was the source of the problem at Texas. The corners at IMS are a much tighter radius than at most 1.5-ovals, and the straights are that: straight! This means there isn’t the constant g-loading on the drivers and you minimize the grey-out and tunnel-vision issues that CART faced in 2001. When there is an incident, the modern tubs and the advent of the SAFER Barrier do a far better job at keeping the drivers safe than the tubs and facilities in the past, and 12 mph is not going to add significantly to the risk factor the drivers already face.
So in the end, I say get the speeds up close to the track record. Give the teams and drivers the potential for getting into the record books. Give the fans the potential of seeing history made. Then watch the sponsors come over looking to get their ads on cars and on the broadcasts! It’s a win for everyone.
Have different ideas? Think I’ve nailed it? Think I’m full of crap? Let’s discuss it in the Forum or in the comments section below.