Opinion: Indy 500 Only for IndyCar Racing
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone on October 2, 2012 | 9:29 A.M. EST
Pete Pistone says that INDYCAR should scale back and concentrate on only running the biggest race in auto racing – the Indianapolis 500. (Photo: Getty Images)
Pete Pistone says that the troubled Indy Car world should scale back and concentrate on only running the biggest race in auto racing – the Indianapolis 500.
Sounds harsh doesn’t it?
The sad truth is it may be the only way to keep American open wheel racing alive at all.
After ending yet another dismal season and embarking on yet another controversy in the wake of announcing its 2013 schedule, the IZOD IndyCar Series has reached its low point.
And that’s saying a lot.
The years after the CART-IRL merger were supposed to unify American open wheel racing and make it stronger. Indeed there was a short burst of promise when attention started to slowly return. Car counts increased, manufacturer support was on the rise, and even attendance slowly trickled upward.
Maverick promoter Randy Bernard was brought in to breathe new life and ideas into the moribund series.
Despite having not the slightest background in auto racing, the former Professional Bull Riding honcho has not been afraid to throw out of the box concepts at INDYCAR in an effort to bring the patient literally back from the dead.
The personable and likeable Bernard won over a lot of fans and more importantly some of the owners, who weren’t used to taking orders from anyone given the checkered past of both CART and the Indy Racing League. But Bernard made it clear from the start he did not work for the owners and his only mission statement was for the betterment of the sport overall.
But as early as last season there were rumblings from inside the garage not all of team ownership was enamored with Bernard any longer. A coup was rumored earlier this year and now another takeover is rumored to be in work.
This one involves former Indianapolis Motor Speedway president and IRL founder Tony George, who is said to have an investor group including Chip Ganassi, Roger Penske, Michael Andretti and Kevin Kalkhoven to purchase the series and once again head-up Indy Car racing.
The Hulman family, who owns the series and issued a strong statement on Monday, emphatically denied the rumor.
“The IZOD IndyCar Series is not for sale, and representatives from Hulman & Company and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation have not received or considered any offers to purchase the series,” read the statement. “Further, executive management from both Hulman & Company and IMSC maintain continuous and open dialogue with Indy Car team owners about numerous issues related to the IZOD Indy Car Series, and no Indy Car team owner formally or informally approached either organization about purchasing the IZOD IndyCar Series.”
So for now George or any other individual with designs on acquiring the series will be held at bay. But there are other reports despite Monday’s statement that George’s proposal may indeed be considered.
But with so much unrest and maybe more importantly non-interest from the racing public, the question is why fight this losing battle?
Television ratings, the lifeblood for any professional sports endeavor in this day and age, are embarrassing. Last month’s season finale in Fontana with the championship on the line, generated a .2-rating on NBC Sports Net, which translates into just a tick over 250,000 viewers.
There were literally more people in the grandstands at the Indianapolis 500 than who bothered to tune into that telecast from coast to coast.
The series announced its 2013 schedule this week, which includes a return to Pocono and a “Triple Crown” bonus (page from the sport’s glorious past) along with an additional street circuit race in Houston and three weekend doubleheaders, another gimmick Bernard hopes will juice up interest.
But rather than the sinking ship take on even more water, Indy Car racing should simply scale back and concentrate on the one event anyone cares about – the Indianapolis 500.
Scrap the series concept and Indy Car can own the entire month of May, like it did for so many years before the open wheel Civil War basically killed open wheel racing.
Increase the purse to become the largest in all of auto racing with a $5 million payday to the winner and teams would flock to the Brickyard in record numbers.
An opening weekend of practice, a return to the traditional two weekends of qualifying to accommodate the large number of teams and restoring “Bump Day” to one of the best events in all of sports would be just a few of the benefits.
Then come Memorial Day Sunday, the entire sports world would be focused on Indy and “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
Sure there would no longer be other Indy Car races held during the year but will they really be missed? Based on the sagging interest in recent years it’s apparent not many fans care anyway.
However they would every May when Indianapolis comes alive and once again is the epicenter of auto racing.
The 500 is the only race that matters any more and should be the only one Indy Car racing runs.