Good lord, are we really still five-plus months away from St. Pete? Ugh. Since we have time, let's throw out a few things to discuss. I'll give you the topics.
*F1 to NBC Sports Network. It was a very interesting development to see the F1 series leave Speed and move to NBCSN, and of course lots of speculation is happening on its effect on IndyCar, especially given that four F1 races will be run on the same day as an IndyCar race, giving true open wheel fans an entire Sunday of racing.
Overall it can be a boost to the series, so long as NBCSN is a good partner and includes cross promotion between the two. The double coverage may bring some fans back because while many fans left IndyCar for NASCAR years ago, others went to F1, and given the on-track product in IndyCar now would be a good time for them to check out the sport again. To me a perfect day would be to show the F1 race then go straight into an IndyCar 36 before moving to pre-race. That would be cool and a lot of people would stick around and keep watching.
But at the same time, the series (and the fans) need to focus on what IndyCar can do for itself as opposed to what kind of a bump comes with F1. The actual race production itself is fantastic but contractual bindings keep IndyCar from making like it is 2012 and pushing the product through several other mediums.
(Editor's note: Before I go on with my criticisms/observations, let me remind everyone that Tony George negotiated this honey of a TV deal.)
Where IndyCar woefully lags behind is in streaming and live action. If you want to be considered a major motorsport series, it is inexcusable to have your qualifying done tape delay, and if it is, even more inexcusable to not stream the video online live. That's just embarrassing. I'm not privvy to any contracts, and if I were they are still way above my pay grade, but how in the world is IndyCar roped into this and why are they the only series where this is so?
Production costs aside, all on-track action needs to have a live, streaming presence in one way, shape or form. Heck, just throw some webcams up around the track and then go with the in-cars (yes I know it is harder than that). Just give people something that they can watch. We are a visual society now and companies who want our business have to roll with those kinds of expectations.
Another important decision will come with who is chosen as the play-by-play announcer to replace the retired Bob Jenkins. This is a huge decision because a good play-by-play person is gold. Paul Page (who would be a great choice but his age -- 67 next season -- might be a factor) made the CART broadcasts back in the day. From time to time I watch his Indy 500 intros with the Delta Force music in the back and it still gives me chills.
Guys like Page, Mike Joy and Bob Varsha bring races alive with their knowledge, skill and passion. Not to mention, Joy and Varsha keep the conversation going during the week by interacting with fans on Twitter, which also builds interest in the sport.
That's the kind of person IndyCar (NBCSN) needs to bring on board, and with a further commitment from ABC I think that side of it needs to be addressed as well. It's nothing personal, but Marty Reid doesn't get me fired up about the races, and Scott Goodyear is incredibly smart and knows the sport, but his delivery just doesn't move me. And for a guy who last I knew lives up the road from a majority of the teams' headquarters, he doesn't give us anything new.
I don't see what they do as bringing in and engaging new fans or giving the people a reason to watch the races. I know it's probably a homer point of view, which I don't get into often, but Kevin Lee would fit either seat. Other people appear to feel the same way, so he would be a popular pick.
I'm happy that F1 and IndyCar are going to be on the same channel, but expecting to hitch a ride onto F1 and expecting that to reap some sort of benefits is a little dangerous.
*Tony George. There are still some rumblings going on about this story, and a few points brought up by Curt Cavin lately in the Indy Star (among other sources) raised my eyebrows. The first point is that George is on the board of Hulman & Co., which owns IMS and IndyCar. So how is that not some sort of nasty conflict of interest? If he is serious about this takeover (and that's what it is) then he needs to get his ethical ducks in a row.
Is this illegal? No. Is it poor form? Absolutely.
Another point Cavin made in his Q&A today is that George would like to see more ovals (who wouldn't) and that his backers could provide him more "seed money" to try to make that happen. Now, with deep pockets like Chip Ganassi, Roger Penske and Kevin Kalkhoven allegedly involved in this, wouldn't they be keepers of said "seed money"? And if they are, why don't they just give it to Randy Bernard and help him grow IndyCar?
As the layers of this unfold, it seems like this is more of a power play funded by the owners. Tony George reportedly doesn't want to own the series, he just wants to have his hands in it. What the owners want is a Bud Selig (baseball's commissioner), a front guy who makes them all money by doing their bidding and what is best for them instead of the sport. George is that guy. This is all a quest to get Bernard out of the big chair and someone in it who will do their bidding, fans be damned. Baseball is working the same way.
I will give George this: he and his family are wonderful curators of the greatest racecourse and the greatest race in the world. The fact that they have kept a massive entity like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway going for 67 years without taking a dime from anyone is a testament to their ability to run their business. They have also been forerunners of safety and its advances over the years, which is a great legacy to have.
George can run the Speedway, but outside its gates he is just absolutely clueless. Whether or not you like Bernard or jive with his vision or direction, I think you can agree with me that they made a great decision to turn IndyCar over to an outside person and let them do what they are good at doing. Randy answers to the board and not the owners and whether it is Bernard or someone else as the CEO, the health of the series depends on that arrangement staying that way.
*By the way...how is it that Penske is unable to field a third car next year without more funding, but he can be part of a hostile takeover of the series? Yes, I appreciate and understand that he funded his own cars for quite some time (well, his business entities did), but when a man is worth of $1.1 billion (I looked it up) you won't get much sympathy from me.
*Goodbye top 35. I know this is an IndyCar blog, but I have to make mention of NASCAR getting rid of the Top 35 rule at the end of this year. The previous rule, based on owners points assigned to a car, was intended to make sure that the cars (not drivers) in the Top 35 would make the race each weekend. It was a safeguard to protect the teams -- and especially the big-name drivers -- from missing a race should something go wrong on race weekend.
That part made sense, but the rule was bent in so many different directions it had outlived its intended purposes. Owners were swapping cars and points (and people) around so much that it went against the spirit of the rule and was starting to fall out (if it hadn't fully already) with the fans.
Starting next year, the field will be set with the 36 fastest qualifiers, followed by the next six cars based on owner's points, with the final spot going to a past champion. If all past champions make it in by other means the spot will be given to the next spot in line on owner's points. This makes sense and covers all the bases. If Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon or whoever crashes in qualifying or loses an engine or whatever, they have seven different criteria to make the race other than speed. Meaning, if something goes bad, they will still get in.
Another change is that qualifying will be done by a blind draw as opposed to practice speeds, which should add some extra twists. I like it...qualifying should be an important part of the weekend, and in IndyCar, especially on twisties, it still is. But in the previous format qualifying seemed like a formality or a let's-just-get-this-over-with affair. I haven't read anywhere how this affects Daytona qualifying or the Duels, but I hope the change is for the better because I think those races are much more exciting when guys have to race their way into the race. Over the past couple of years it seems like only one or two spots were up for grabs, so hopefully this changes things.
*Post-season awards. As has been my tradition over the last two years, I will be handing out some awards soon. This time it will have a new twist: Most Popular Driver. Hit me up here or on Twitter (@15daysinmay) with your favorite and the vote will constitute a good portion of my selection process.
Happy Friday! (Well, almost)