Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Ovals, Ovals, and More Ovals

For as long as I can remember, IndyCar fans have clamored to have more ovals on the schedule.

Hey, I'm for it too, so don't look at this post as a dive into Negativetown.

But this conversation comes up a lot, and here's what usually happens: 

1) Everyone wants ovals.

2) IndyCar puts an oval on the schedule.

3) Nobody goes to said oval, TV ratings are bad.

4) Said oval falls off the schedule.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

It's obvious that Roger Penske wants more ovals on the schedule, because it is written about often, including this piece from motorsport.com yesterday. But the question(s) that also need to be asked include: How is that going to be done? and...What are we going to do differently this time? And perhaps a third great question: What is a viable oval that will become a great partner with IndyCar?

The last point is the most important. Right now IndyCar has what it spent years looking for, and that is date equity with great tracks and great partners. Just adding a track for the sake of doing so won't work, because the needs of the consumer are different than what they were years ago.

It's not just about the race anymore. People want (and expect) more from their experience than just one race. Gas, hotels, race tickets -- they all cost money, and that cost is rising exponentially faster than how people are making it. They want more for their dollar.

Natural road courses have found their niche. People go to those races because they can camp and enjoy a weekend that offers plenty of action on the track in a laid-back atmosphere where people can go watch the action anywhere on the property. 

Street courses have found theirs, too. Just like road courses, there is plenty of action on track with several different series and types of cars participating. You can wander around the course, and when everything is done you can head out to bars and restaurants with your friends and continue the celebration.

What do ovals offer? Most are out in the middle of nowhere, so you drive to the track, watch the cars go around, and go back to your hotel and watch TV. Sure, those tracks offer camping too, but it doesn't seem as popular as it is in different venues.

Ovals seem to be more for the die-hard fans, and the rest are for both the die-hards and the people who have fun when the circus comes to town once a year. Because IndyCar is a business, they have to accommodate both groups.

Lord knows they have tried. I went to the Milwaukee race the last few times it was held, and Michael Andretti did his best, and probably lost a lot of money in the process. So did Pocono, but honestly, until they get serious about some of the safety issues they have, there's no good reason to go back.

Did Iowa Speedway find the holy grail last summer? It seemed like it, with plenty of activities and sponsor activation from HyVee, the weekend was a rousing success. It also probably cost a ton of money, which if HyVee is willing to write it all off that's fine, but what other partner is willing to do the same? So far, none have stepped forward to make that commitment, although WWT Raceway is a great IndyCar partner and I have no problem with how they do their thing.

Not to mention that adding races adds costs to the teams. I don't know the exact costs to put a car on track per race, but I'm going to guess it's well into six figures. Adding events means more money needs to come from sponsors, and more possible expenses to the team, especially on ovals when crash damage can become very expensive. 

This isn't the days of alcohol and tobacco sponsorships, when money flowed from the spigots like cold, hard, green water. Back then, all of that could be covered with no problem. And yeah, for the big teams, that money can come from somewhere. But the big teams don't even cover half of the grid, what about everyone else?

Of course, everyone would find it, because racers race, and that's how it's done. How that helps the overall viability of the series is something worth the debate.

Look, we have good things right now, which is the first for the IndyCar universe in a long time. More cars are being added to the grid. More people are making an investment into the sport. We have date and venue equity for the first time in a long time. The paddock is full of talented drivers who have a passion for racing and for IndyCar. The series is better off than it has been in a long, long time.

The next step, though, is a big one. Our end is simple: go to the races, and if you don't go, watch it on TV (or Peacock, and quit crying over something that is $5 a month). Buy merch, encourage others to give IndyCar a chance, just be an overall good steward.

For IndyCar? Total rebuild. If we as fans are committed to them, they have to commit to us. Better social media, better online content, better marketing, better merch. Expect more from promoters. I covered the Texas race last year and the promotion and local marketing was awful. If they aren't willing to do that, then self-promote the race and do the hell out of it.

Overall, commit to doing more. As I blogged about last year, a Drive to Survive-type series would be great, but there are more pieces involved. DTS doesn't work without a total buy-in from everyone, including a massive buy-in on social media and a commitment to eSports.

Just thinking "more ovals" like it's 1995 won't work. Just like the apron at IMS, it's gone and it's never coming back. 

I love IndyCar, which is why I do what I do, and why I keep coming back. But a new step needs to be taken. Put it this way: it's Tuesday and social media is still talking about Ross Chastain. And for good reason, I might add.

How often does that happen with IndyCar? It needs to be after every event, because at every race something worth talking about happens. I'm saying this because it needs to be said: it's time for IndyCar to stop expecting the drivers, teams and fans to be the voice of the series. They need to do their part too.

I think the small-but-mighty fanbase has made it clear. We are all-in. Is IndyCar ready to do the same, or are they going to keep having the same discussions, over and over, resulting in the same things, over and over.

Your move, guys.

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