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.