Is Randy Bernard's INDYCAR Abandoning Ovals?
IS THIS THE END OF A SIXTEEN YEAR SUCCESSFUL RELATIONSHIP?
Will TMS Be The Next Oval Cut By INDYCAR?
FT. WORTH, TX -RIS- The bigger challenge is the future of the Texas Motor Speedway with INDYCAR. There have been newer voices within the series that have expressed a desire to see more road racing and less oval racing in the series, labeling 1.5-mile tracks as “NASCAR tracks”, and hence, dangerous.
Eddie Gossage came under flak for responding quickly to the implication that the so-called "NASCAR ovals" - his in particular, due to the placement of catch fence posts - was dangerous, pointing out (quite rightly) that Texas had hosted 23 very successful Indy Racing League and INDYCAR events since 1997.
Gossage seems to have sensed a change in the prevailing winds from Indianapolis and is unlikely to pay the hefty sanction fee Randy Bernard will ask of him.
Bernard mentioned to assembled media today that he would be interested in returning to Texas only if the financials were right (i.e. TMS was willing to pay INDYCAR's reportedly-hefty sanction fee.) He even expressed a willingness to try to rent the track, and have INDYCAR promote the event - something Bernard doesn't feel Gossage is willing to do.
It might be asked why Gossage SHOULD let INDYCAR promote the race. Gossage clearly knows more about promotion than anyone at the sanctioning body.
Bernard's promotional experience comes from Professional Bull Riding, where he would arrange to rent a venue (e.g. Lucas Oil Stadium) and bring everything the organization needed - cowboys, bulls, dirt, advertising, promotion, etc.
Unfortunately, this plan failed miserably in Las Vegas last year. Dan Wheldon's untimely death at Las Vegas probably saved Bernard from a thorough accounting of how the Vegas event neither sold, nor delivered on the "$5 Million Las Vegas Challenge," which was to have brought a major name like Jacques Villeneuve, Tony Stewart or Alex Zanardi to the final IndyCar race of 2011.
So on one side is Eddie Gossage - resolute that the Texas Motor Speedway knows what it's doing, and that it is one of the best motorsports complexes in the world. Rightly so. And on the other side is Randy Bernard, still a neophyte in the world of racing, who probably sees more value in the product he is to sell than it actually possesses at the moment.
But Bernard isn't married to the notion that Indy car racing need include ovals. When asked today what race might replace Texas should TMS leave the 2013 IndyCar schedule, he suggested the Circuit of the Americas in Austin which, of course, is a road course (and not without its own financial issues at the moment).
In fact, Bernard has mentioned no new ovals under consideration for next year, while temp circuits at Houston and Ft. Lauderdale are likely to be added to an already road/street heavy schedule.
Some feel that Bernard is receiving too much advice from former Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) and Champ Car World Series (CCWS) employees who are now working for INDYCAR - both of those series financial failures. In fact, Bernard confirmed the arrival at INDYCAR of Matt Beeden, who was formerly Vice President & General Counsel for the Champ Car World Series. Beeden has been assigned with ironing out details on the 2013 schedule.
Since Bernard's arrival, Kansas Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, Kentucky Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway have all been cut from the schedule. Attendance at all of these events had been relatively good, but Bernard made it clear that an equivalent crowd at a temp circuit race doesn't look as bad on television. In short, it isn't about the quality of the racing - competition on ovals generally being the stronger of IndyCar's two venues, ovals and road/streets; it's about appearances.
For example, a recent press release from the unwatchable Detroit Grand Prix grandly spoke of attendance: "On Sunday alone, more than 45,000 fans attended the day’s activities as nearly 30,000 reserved grandstand seats were sold out that morning," yet, aerial video shown during the ABC broadcast clearly showed half-empty grandstands throughout an event in which Scott Dixon led all laps on a track that even the drivers admitted was difficult to pass on. It apparently isn't about the quality of the event - it's simply that there IS and event, and that the absence of a crowd can be disguised by trees, concrete barriers and empty metal seats.
Meanwhile, the legendary Milwaukee Mile oval is endangered on the schedule, since promotion of this race has proved difficult in recent years. The Auto Club Speedway in California is on the schedule this year, based on sponsor requests, but it, too, is endangered.
At this point, only the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (the series' namesake and cash cow) and (for the time being) Iowa Speedway might remain for next season. The loss of Texas, for whatever reason, would be a failure for INDYCAR.
The drivers seem to enjoy the new aerodynamics at Texas, relieved to be done with pack racing here. Tonight’s crowd, possibly 30,000, may or may not agree with the drivers. Some of the pack racing of the late-'90s and beyond produced some of the most exciting racing and finishes in the history of motorsports.
But that might not be enough to keep Indy car racing at Indy car’s best venue outside of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Has been a contributor to RIS since 1992. He was invited to join the staff as a full-time reporter/editor in 1995. Tom has reported on IndyCar, Formula 1, NASCAR and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In addition to his RIS work, Tom has been a contributor for General Motors, Nissan, Toyota and the ACO.