IndyCar – Chicagoland: That’s a Wrap, Folks.

Photo -, 2010
Photo - Jim Haines,
Saturday night, we saw an epic Firestone Indy Lights race and equally epic IZOD IndyCar Series race. The racing action was top notch and we saw some people running at the front that we haven’t seen there in a long time. Sarah Fisher even had a good run up front for a while, leading several laps and holding off some of the best drivers in the league. Shaun was there and will have some thoughts for us later in the week including an interview with Takuma Sato of KV Racing Technologies. Recapping the races isn’t what I have in mind for tonight’s comments, however. My thoughts are a bit darker, made to appear even more gloomy in contrast by the brilliance of the racing tonight.

As we have seen over and over in the past, the Chicagoland Speedway produces some of the best oval racing of any venue on the schedule. The only thing missing from Saturday’s action were the fans. Although not as bad as the crowds at the Kansas Speedway earlier this Spring, the attendance was fairly light. From what I could see from the television shots, and knowing how the crowd looked at Kansas and what those number were, I’d estimate the Chicago crowd at approximately 20-25k. Sadly, this was not unexpected as we saw a similar level of promotion by the International Speedway Corporation (ISC) prior to the Chicagoland race as we saw prior to the Kansas race. Nil. Because of ISC’s continued lack of interest in promoting open-wheel events at their venues, we’ll likely not see any of their tracks on the 2011 schedule. This is includes the Chicagoland Speedway, home of the closest IZOD IndyCar Series finish ever and of the closest finish ever in the history of motorsports in the 2007 Indy Lights race. Not having this and other ISC tracks like Kansas, Watkins Glen, and Michigan on the IndyCar schedule is a tragedy, but so is having a partner who isn’t willing to support their share of the load.

So what is the source of this lack of willingness to promote? It certainly isn’t the racing! We the fans know that. The broadcasters know that. The teams definitely know that! Check out this tweet from Panther Racing from Saturday night.

Heard a rumor Chicagoland was off the #IndyCar schedule … Whoever makes that decision needs to watch a tape of tonight’s race & get a clue

Preach it, Brother Panther! The racing products at Watkins Glen, Chicagoland, and Kansas have been very good. I know some of you will quibble with my putting Kansas on that list, but if you saw this year’s race, you would know that there was good racing action to be had this year, and that the track has produced some of the best finishes in IndyCar history. Thinking about the straight economics, I can’t understand why a venue would fork out the money for the sanctioning fee to host an IndyCar event weekend, yet not want to recoup that expenditure by selling as many tickets as possible. There’s something at work here other than just straight money. As a capitalists through and through, I find the notion of doing business in a way other than what makes you the most money a bit perplexing and somehow unnatural. After all, aren’t these speedway businesses in business to do just that, make money? Well, apparently not JUST make money, and this is where I start getting confused. What other motivation would an entity have in spending the money to host a race event yet not do what is necessary to sell out the joint? I despise conspiracy theories by and large, but there is one that I can’t find a way to simply dismiss and that is the ISC/NASCAR connection.

NASCAR has been losing market share in the entertainment business for the last couple of years. Their race attendances have diminished and so has their TV ratings. To be sure, the are the undisputed king of motorsports marketing in North America, but they are coming down off of a very high peak in their popularity. Could it be that the slip in ratings and attendance has created a bit of corporate paranoia? Surely, NASCAR can’t feel threatened by IndyCar’s 0.4 ratings, a rating which even their 2nd tier series, Buschwide or whatever, can better. I can’t see any rational and logical reason why they would feel open-wheel racing as a threat, but their actions certainly seem to point in that direction. Keep in mind that ISC is a France family company, along with NASCAR, and Bill France has long desired to see demise of open-wheel racing in favor of his brand of stock car racing. Is this a vengeance killing? Is ISC refusing to promote their scheduled IndyCar events purely as a way of trying to further diminish the value of IndyCar racing? Economically, it doesn’t make one bit of sense, but I’m really having a hard time seeing any other explanation. If you have some deeper insight to this, I’d love to hear it. What we know for now is that the track where we’ve seen some of the greatest IndyCar racing in the history of the sport won’t be on the schedule next year. Its darn near criminal.

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7 Thoughts to “IndyCar – Chicagoland: That’s a Wrap, Folks.

  1. tab

    This race was so exciting! I was on the edge of my seat (ok, couch) almost the entire race! It was so refreshing to get really excited about a race again.

  2. Edward

    I agree with you, up to a point.

    I don’t agree about the criminal part-that is hyperbole and comes from an open-wheel fan. It is also fair to point out that ISC has no moral, ethical or legal obligation to allow IndyCar-or any non-NASCAR type series-from holding races at their facilities. I’m not saying that to defend ISC-I am not a NASCAR fan and by extension, not an ISC fan-just stating a simple logical fact.

    So the question becomes then, what should IndyCar do about this? And by extension, should the Hulman-George family allow NASCAR to race at IMS when ISC seemingly refuses to promote IndyCar? Those are questions I can’t answer. However, I do have every faith in the management of the IndyCar series doing the right things for the betterment of the series.

  3. Fair point, Edward. I will freely admit my bias and you’re right that ISC has no real obligation to support anything they do not wish to. I’m just saying that it doesn’t make economic sense. It seems as though ISC simply threw their money away with the Kansas and Chicago events this year. As for the Hulman-George’s family response, I’d think they’d want to continue making a profit off of the Brickyard 400 for as long as possible.Why wouldn’t they? The Indy Racing League, though, needs to be very leery of future deals with ISC. The need events in which the promoters are willing to be solid partners with the league. The relationship with Barber Motorsports Park is a good example. The venue REALLY wants the IndyCar event there and wants it to succeed. Its those type of parnerships that need to be found and cultivated on the oval side as well. SMI has been a good partner, but the league has to be careful about putting all of their eggs in one basket.

  4. Alan Turner

    For ovals where else do you go besides SMI and ISC? Milwaukee and Indy. That’s pretty much it.

    I don’t think it’s a conspiracy at all to think that FranceCo wants to crush Indy car racing. I honestly believe that since NASCAR has little to no real regard for historical significance outside of a marketing inflated Daytona they have shown they are willing to ignore tradition for the slightest economic benefit. If FranceCo has it’s way the Bruton Smith promoted 600 will find a new date and the NEW Indy 500 run on Memorial day will feature fendered pigs.

    Indy car needs to stay completely away from ISC with out contractual guarantees of certain monetary expenditures and marketing activity. Also, they should be wary of SMI as well.

  5. There’s still Nashville, there’s a new oval being planned right now in Denver, and there’s numerous small ovals across the country. The problem with many of the small ovals, though, is that they’re often a bit run down like Gateway in STL. But, I have to admit, Alan, pretty much SMI and ISC are it for superspeedways. Kinda puts the league in a tough spot.

  6. ATB73

    How about Jack Arute and his “fuel nozzel” ?? …. was that freaky or what???

  7. I thought Jack was going to lose a finger over the fan debacle…he needs a crash helmet 🙂

    As for the dealings, NASCAR has to want IndyCar dead because the series I think is falling into Indy’s reach. The NASCAR product is wearing on the fans and Indy seems to have a great rhythm right now. NASCAR needs it’s tracks to not promote, because a well promoted event could see brilliant fan turn out. Especially if the racing is the way it was last night. A lot better than any FranceCo show I have seen this year.

    IndyCar does need to be cautious and should develop strong promotion with these tracks if we are going to keep going. RB has it right by weeding out the pretender tracks and getting ones that genuinely care about our series.

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