Did you see the IndyCar race at the Milwaukee Mile? Did it not pique your interest? Did the peculiar start time, 4 PM on a Saturday, interfere with other stuff — or make you forget about it? Did something about the flat track leave you unenthused? Judging by the under capacity crowd, you weren’t alone. It’s likely the numbers were low for viewership — or remained as they have been, which is not all that great. It’s kind of deflating.
The NBCSN crew did well to show some historical aspects of the track and the racing there. They buttressed up the coverage with two members of their F1 crew announcing the race, David Hobbs and Will Buxton.
But I have a feeling that no one watched. And furthermore, for a track that seats roughly 45,000 people, the stands looked about two-thirds full.
The big question is: what is going wrong here? Promotion? Ticket prices?
The IndyCar Series is trying all kinds of methods to get interest back in the sport. At Detroit, they had the first of three weekends that feature two races. For this week’s race at Iowa, the field will be set by heat races. The series is heading to Pocono soon, which likely will be one of the most interesting events of the year.
INDYCAR also made the smart move of hiring Derrick Walker to its Competition Director position, a move discussed here a few weeks ago. While Walker has yet to have a serious impact, his influence should be notable as the year plays out.
So what, again, is wrong?
There’s no set answer here and it’s something that has to be driving IndyCar nuts.
This notion is one that has plagued me for some time now. We at the Frontstretch have lamented IndyCar’s asinine scheduling issues, the schedule can’t be the only problem. The race at Milwaukee this past weekend gave part of the snapshot of what may be wrong. Nothing about the track itself brought this conclusion, but rather just an overall feeling.
That conclusion is: something about the IZOD IndyCar Series doesn’t look special. It’s not that the cars don’t look fast, or that the signage on them hasn’t made them more interesting. It’s that there’s a certain panache missing –- and what that is, I have no idea.
While it is easy to ridicule the spec car as one of the problems, it seems that it goes beyond that. There’s that missing IT factor, the reason to tune in. That the cars don’t seem to be at the forefront of technological wonder doesn’t help (though not surprising with the lack of money in the series). Perhaps Milwaukee didn’t help because the cars never looked all that fast, and speed is something that certainly sells – look at the continued interest in the Indy 500.
And then notice how interest in the series dies afterward. Does IndyCar need stars in the paddock? Eh, it’d be good to see, but that’s not going to change things much.
Is it just possible that IndyCar is what it is at this point? Pundits, fans, journalists, and historians all point to The Split as the downfall of the series, and with good reason, as it fractured the product and the healing process has been slow. The problem of interest goes beyond that. For surely, as many NASCAR fans have lost interest in that form of racing, there are fans to attract.
People love sports. But something about the IndyCar Series is not connecting with much of the public. Has time passed it by? That could be the compelling question. As IndyCars don’t reflect anything on the road, or something that anyone will encounter driving, there is a disconnect with people – though that doesn’t seem to hurt F-1.
But maybe time has passed it by in a different way and that’s the reason it doesn’t look special. It’s sad, really. It’s not like the drivers are talentless hacks who are unable to put on a show. It’s not like the team personnel are all idiots and don’t know the front from the rear wing. There’s good, smart people involved, and the product has been getting better. The numbers still aren’t there, though.
This rambling column is one that’s looking for answers as much as the series itself is. There’s no definitive anything to any of it. Both NASCAR and IndyCar have been losing viewers and attracting fewer fans to the track. NASCAR continues to tinker and has a built-in advantage of more capital to play with. But IndyCar has to be shrewd and deliberate to affect change and these moves will take time.
The meta-question behind these words is: Where is IndyCar trying to go? Are they trying to compete with NASCAR (as they will this Sunday when both races will be on at the same time, insert scheduling comment here)? Are they trying to go global? Is the series looking to get huge? That kind of direction has never emanated from the leaders, as they have instead had to focus on at the very least maintaining its fans.
There’s hope. The aforementioned changes are coming. Hope isn’t such a bad thing to have. And now that there’s Walker’s ten-year plan, a combination of hope and planning is even better. But something has to happen to draw in the attention. Something must encourage a network like ESPN to run a highlight or two of a race, for Fox Sports 1 to give the series a mention or two. Because right now, silence is an indication of the IndyCar Series’ social capital, and it’s an empty purse.
Did this column answer any questions? Nope, not even close. But I’ve got my own sense of hope that things will get figured out. They’ve got to, right?
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