The Frontstretch: Potts' Shots: A Missing Piece, How Empty Seats Are Hidden, Indy, And Aero by John Potts -- Thursday May 31, 2012

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Potts' Shots: A Missing Piece, How Empty Seats Are Hidden, Indy, And Aero

NASCAR Fan Q & A · John Potts · Thursday May 31, 2012


This week, reader J.E. Dugan writes,

“I’m not sure this is the appropriate forum, but I’m wondering what the reason is behind Carl Edwards not racing in the Nationwide Series this year. Was it Carl’s choice, Jack Roush’s choice, sponsorship, NASCAR rules, or what? Frankly, I don’t really care if I miss the Nationwide race anymore since it has lost a lot of appeal for me without him. Don’t get me wrong, I still watch if I’m home and I like watching it but I sure miss him being in it and I’m very curious about the decision-making process there.”

I can’t speak with any authority on this one, and maybe someone else will chime in, but I believe after last year’s closest-ever Sprint Cup points finish, Carl decided he should focus entirely on the top series. The results haven’t proven to be beneficial, but I think that’s the primary reason. There could be a sponsor issue, but remember, Trevor Bayne is in the No. 60 with Ford EcoBoost sponsorship. Ford has also backed Edwards for several races on the Cup side, which would lead one to believe they’d do it if he wanted to run some Nationwide races. Managing Editor Tom Bowles also notes Edwards now has two wonderful young kids, a growing family he didn’t have during the height of his Nationwide/Cup killer schedule.

Personally, I like the idea of the Nationwide “regulars” having a better chance at the trophies and money.

Carl Edwards’ absence has been a bit glaring this year in the Nationwide Series. Joey Logano is now the designated Cup driver to rob the regulars, winning three of twelve events so far this year.

Dave Martin asks the question, “Years ago on the NASCAR telecasts, there was a young kid who was always in the front row of seats close to the flagman who was also flagging with the aspiration to become a flagman as he grew up. I’m just curious as to what became of him. Any idea?”

None whatsoever, Dave, although I remember the kid. There was even a photo of him in one of the stock car magazines, but I can’t remember his name. I’m willing to bet he’s flagging somewhere, and maybe this discussion will bring something out of the woodwork. When I gave talks about flagging at the RPM workshops, somebody always seemed to ask where they could find a good flagman. I always said the first step was to find somebody who wanted to do it. That’s how I got my chance.

Steve comments, _“While I hate that TV focuses on one car instead of using a wider shot, couldn’t this also be blamed on NASCAR since they don’t want any wide shots because they tend to show the stands with all of those empty seats?”

That is certainly a possibility, Steve. During the Indy 500 telecast, when a blimp shot showed a huge gap in one of the Turn 3 grandstands, a commentator said, “Those seats are sold, folks. Those people are getting out of the heat.” ALL of them in two or three adjacent sections? Puh-leeze! At Charlotte on Sunday night, it didn’t bother them to show that entire section made up of an American flag, service flags, a POW-MIA flag, etc. Those seats were obviously not sold, and I have to applaud Bruton and Marcus Smith for making good use of them.

Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti proudly displays massive commemorative wreath seat cushions that fans seated in Turn Three were purchasing at time of ABC camera sweep, exposing vacant grandstands.

Maybe I’ve told this story before, but when we got the Thursday Night Thunder ESPN series at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 1988, we worried about showing empty grandstands since they were a weeknight event. We had all kinds of weird ideas. One of our event employees owned a surplus store, and he said he had about 3,000 mannequins we were welcome to use. My best suggesting involved camo netting.

What we finally decided to do was close off the South Terrace Hill, a favorite viewing spot, to channel the fans back into the main stands. Turned out it didn’t matter. The races drew very well, and we had to open up the hill anyway. That was probably because Bob Daniels know how to promote. He sold the series to Hardee’s, and they gave $5 ticket coupons to each customer. I thought the sponsorship funds we got were pretty good, but Bob, in his characteristic way, called it “hamburger money.” Well, I guess he was right.

Glen H. asks, “Isn’t IndyCar going to let various manufacturers put different aero packages on the cars next year? I thought the 2012 season was a one-time deal for all the cars being the same.”

Glen, it’s my understanding that they are, and they are getting ready to release the kits. I don’t think that’ll make too much difference after a while. Everybody will use whatever kit works best. And, as always, the better-financed teams will get the answers first. By the way, it turns out our speculation that the racing would be fantastic was right. We did notice most of the passing for the lead was done going into Turn One and not Turn Two. I’m no aerodynamic expert, but I suspect the draft could have been stronger on the frontstretch, with filled grandstands on each side funneling the air down through there.

Other than the fact its sidecar could sheer off, sending it hurtling through the air and into the grandstands, and offer zero protection the case of a left-side wall impact, Smokey Yunick’s sidecar was born of an era at Indy when innovation and creativity ruled the day.

As an old drag racing pal of mine says, “Aerodynamics are for people who can’t build engines.”

Finally, a fan named Andy says, “I like the supermodified idea, but that side-mounted engine would be a weapon in a 200-mph crash. Maybe if they built a cage around it.”

I’m sure that’s what would be done if this idea ever bore fruit. I think today’s safety technology could be adapted to any configuration, for sure. I would love to see the time come back when all sorts of different designs showed up. Remember Smokey Yunick’s sidecar. When somebody asked if it wasn’t dangerous, Smokey said, “It’s a dangerous game. You want to be safe, stay in the garage. But you could drop a hammer on your foot back there.”

As I recall, Duane Carter (Pancho’s dad) tried it out once and didn’t like it. On what I think was a qualifying warmup lap, Bobby Johns stuck it in the wall between Turns One and Two, and was slightly injured.

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05/31/2012 08:58 AM

If you had really watched the “500” including the prerace, you would have found those seats were full. That was the section behind the pits on the inside. There were sold and normally many service men and women are in there. At the beginning of the race it was full and at the end of the race it was full. Brent was correct. The main sections which had the fewest spectators were the very low seats on the main strait outside (btw thats whats called the Frontstretch) and the turn 3 entry which are the worst seats normally and the last to sell. The indy 500 has the capability to sell 300k+ seats. A few shots also showed the inside hills on the back stretch full of people. The place was likely at 85% capacity which is a monster crowd. Now if you want to compare an Indy event use Milwaukee in two weeks, it will be mostly empty. Indy car never hides the stadiums thats a nascrap thing, I think their embarrassed or something.

05/31/2012 09:39 AM

Fntasm, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has a capacity of over 400,000 people, yet the estimated attendance was just 220,000, so they only filled barely more than half the place for the Indianapolis 500. I believe the 220,000 for the Indianapolis 500 is the smallest crowd for that race since double-decker seating was added in 1949, except for years when the race affected by rain. To me, that’s more appalling than the half-empty grandstands for the Grickyard 400, but the full houses for that race were de to end sometime. But for the Indianapolis 500 to draw just barely more than half the crowd it can accomodate may say more than anything else can about the dwindling crowds at racing events.

Rob Bolling
05/31/2012 11:03 AM

Too much money for tickets, travel and lodging. That is why attendance is down.

End of discussion.

05/31/2012 12:01 PM

Actually its been determined that there is approx. 250K permanent seats plus who ever squeezes into the infield, which is a much smaller crowd than from the old snakepit days. So 220K people sounds about right.

Bill H
05/31/2012 12:23 PM

Sounds like California Speedway, where the empty stands are due to the people who are “under the stands shopping.” Heh.

Kevin in SoCal
05/31/2012 12:41 PM

I’m happy that Carl Edwards decided to get out of the Nationwide series and concentrate on the Sprint Cup series. He already won a Nationwide championship so he had nothing left to prove. But he continued to run the full schedule anyway for reasons I dont understand. I agree with John, its better racing now that the Cup drivers are not stinking up the show every week.