OP-Ed – Rebuilding the 500 – Part 4 of 5 – Speed

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.

The 2009 Bump Day crowd is a mere pittance compared to years past.
The 2009 Bump Day crowd is a mere pittance compared to years past.

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.

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4 Thoughts to “OP-Ed – Rebuilding the 500 – Part 4 of 5 – Speed

  1. I love the idea of standardizing the safety cell on the car but leaving the rest up to the team…

    I love the idea of standardizing a max power output and letting anyone show up with an engine….

    I would love to see the speeds get over 237 again, but I think this part of your argument is the least likely to happen. Since Arie put in those laps, the track has been slightly narrowed by the addition of the SAFER barrier, giving the drivers even less margin to work with on their low downforce qualifying runs. Maybe if they opened up the apron again…..

  2. I understand the concern you and others have regarding safety, but we’re not talking about jumping from 185 to 250 mph. We’re talking about a 5% increase in speed. 12 mph. That amount of dv wouldn’t have significantly changed the outcome of TK’s incident on the backstretch, nor Vitor’s incident in Turn1. Also, we don’t necessarily need to see speed records every year. In fact it would be preferable NOT to have speed records every year, but rather have the speeds close but with records happening only rarely. When those records are broken, they shouldn’t be by much. Through the 70s, 80s and early 90s, speeds were greatly outpacing the facility’s and equipment’s abilities to handle those speeds. Those concerns are no longer valid. The facility has improved, the cars have improved, its now time for the speeds to improve.

  3. ATB73

    Ithink the addition of speed should be down the straights. 220 on exit 237 at the end of the straight., make them lift again entering the corner. Nowadays the car is underpowered and has soo much downforce my ‘grandmother could drive one. JPM” The corner speed does not differ much from the top end speed at the end of the straight. When it was exciting to watch, the second the car got off the corner and set straight, you would see a huge jump in speed. What I see is static mum, round and round. wind ‘er up and pray you don’t ever have to crack the throttle. glorified go-karts. I also think that hanz and safr have made autoracing as safe as is practical. To think a race driver will never again be injured is naieve sp?. If people can’t handle it, then motorracing, OWR in particular, is probably not the best sport to get involved with. When the drivers complain about the lunacy of running in a pack formation at 220+, then what the hell are we doing? The fans aren’t there watching and they aren’t watching on TV either, and that is not a new phenomena that afflicted us since directtv dumped versus. The harsh reality is that the drivers hate the 1 1/2 milers. But if they want a decent shot at the 500, they HAVE to run the full season to be compettive in their class. Which is second to P & G. The fact we run these assinine tracks is merely a lasting effect of George’s Vision turned Nightmare and hopefully te new regime will correct this. I put my faith in them continuing to flog this dead horse for another 10 yrs, if that.

  4. Savage Henry

    I agree that speeds have to come up. Safety has improved to the point that they could run 235 at Indy. If they feel they need to slow the cars down on the 1.5 mile stock car tracks then they should do it. Or maybe find an alternative to running on the stock car tracks.

    Its hard to convince fans or potential fans that you are running the best cars in the world when they are running 10-15 mph slower than the cars of 15 years ago. They need to be running near the edge.

    I think that bringing more diversity and speed also can make the race more interesting. I remember in the 70’s and 80’s, a driver would be tweaking his car throughout the race and finally get the setup right in the last stint or 2 and make a move for the front. That doesn’t seem to happen now. The last 3 of 4 winners have won from the pole. You just know that the Penskes and Ganassis are going to start at the front and stay there, barring issues in the pits. I’d like to know that a driver could sit back in 8th place for most of the race and still have a chance at the end when he got his car dialed in. That’s not going to happen with the current cars.

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