Open Wheel Wednesday · Matt Stallknecht · Wednesday September 11, 2013
Ah, September. In the world of sports, you are much adored. That crisp mix of summer and autumn annually ushers in a wave of big-time happenings in the mainstream sports world. You have the return of both professional and collegiate football, the start of NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, as well as Major League Baseball’s much-ballyhooed “Hunt for October” games that are ripe with playoff implications.
But what if you are a fan of another sport, a sport that does not involve 300 pound linemen, wooden bats, or stock cars? What if you were a fan of, say…IndyCar? What would September mean to you?
The answer, judging by IndyCar’s current schedule, is “not much.”
It is here, my friends, that we arrive upon one of the most head-scratching problems in the sport of American open wheel racing today: the schedule is completely and utterly broken.
For those of you who follow my IndyCar contributions on this website on a semi-periodic basis, you probably understand by now that I have major problems with many aspects of the IndyCar schedule du jour. In our monthly roundtable discussions, I have at times gone on crusade-like rants about how the schedule is too heavy on street circuits and doesn’t contain enough ovals or natural-terrain road courses. Whenever the topic of scheduling comes up, the actual content of the schedule is my usual point of contention. This week however, my vitriol will be spewed in another direction.
The direction I will be spewing that vitriol towards, of course, is whichever direction contains the person who decided it would be a smart idea to have a full month long gap in the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule during the heat of the championship battle. No, that is not a typo. There is a month long gap in the schedule. And we are currently in the midst of it. The most recent IndyCar race took place nine days ago on September 1st in Baltimore, a topsy-turvy affair that should’ve offered positive momentum for the sport heading into the last two event weekends of the year. Instead, what follows is a month long hiatus that robs the sport of whatever momentum was built up during a crazy month of August that offered up a variety of compelling storylines.
My question to the folks who built this year’s schedule is this: what is the purpose of such a gap? What was the thought process in creating a schedule that contains only 16 event weekends spread out over the course of eight months? It’s absolutely ludicrous! And the worst part is that there more than one of these massive gaps on the schedule! Indeed, there is a nearly four week gap in the schedule between July and August. That means from the middle of July through the 1st of October, only three, count ‘em, three IZOD IndyCar Series races will be contested. That is the very definition of underexposure, which just so happens to be one of the very ills which plague this sport on a more global basis.
Once the series finally gets back into action again in early October, it then is forced to compete with the NFL, College Football, the end of the NASCAR playoffs, and the start of the MLB playoffs. There is no way in hell that IndyCar can win that battle, especially considering it will be coming off a month-long period of zero mainstream exposure.
So what’s the solution to this? INDYCAR is not exactly in a position to add loads of race dates. The sanctioning body already struggles to maintain the relationships it has right now. Adding more race weekends, while nice, is more of a pipedream than a solution at this point.
The best solution, quite simply, is just to compress the schedule. And frankly, I am incredibly perplexed as to why the sanctioning body has not done this yet. It makes perfect sense. Just take the same number of weekends the sport has now and compress them into a time window in which the season starts in March and ends in August. No breaks longer than two weeks would be needed. The sport would continuously remain in the news, the teams would get a longer off-season, and the sport would not have to compete for air-time with the NFL or NASCAR.
Yes, I realize that variables such as weather, venue availability, and a variety of other factors are at play when these schedules are developed, but if INDYCAR really wants to fix a portion of its underexposure issues, at least attempting to compress the schedule would have to be considered a welcome step in the right direction. Even ending the season in September would be a step up over ending in late October. I like to think Mark Miles and his team is wise enough to share these sentiments with me. He’s made smart moves up to this point, and doing this would add to his tally.
All told, the 2014 IZOD IndyCar Schedule will be released very soon, and its composition of race dates ought to give us an idea of whether or not the current braintrust has any common sense in regards to scheduling. A compressed IndyCar schedule would be a massive step in positioning this sport for the future. Let’s see if Mr. Miles has the foresight to make it happen.
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