The Frontstretch: No Bull: Is the ISC / IndyCar Divorce a Warning Shot to NASCAR? by Nick Bromberg -- Tuesday September 14, 2010

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No Bull: Is the ISC / IndyCar Divorce a Warning Shot to NASCAR?

Nick Bromberg · Tuesday September 14, 2010


Odds are you weren’t paying attention to the Izod IndyCar Series schedule announcement on Friday. Don’t feel bad about it; after all, what they announced was equivalent of a “rough draft” of sorts that wasn’t even complete, one date short of the 17 that will comprise a revamped 2011 version of their racing lineup.

The only people that were paying attention at the time were series die-hards, and at this point, that seems to be all that make up the tiny open-wheel racing fan base these days. The television contract with Versus — which has several years left — has knocked the series out of the public consciousness for all but a few weeks in May, and if everyone’s favorite driver leaves for the big, bad waters of NASCAR, who knows where the IndyCar Series could end up in the short-term? Racing on the Comcast-owned channel has averaged a rating of less than 1.0 with her in the lineup; compare that to NASCAR, where the “AAA” Nationwide Series routinely gets more viewership each week.

While IndyCar won’t be making an appearance at an ISC track in 2011, will it really have any impact on NASCAR?

That leaves the series looking to make radical changes to increase their presence on the national stage. As a result, we wound up with a weird quirk for next season; four IndyCar staples, Chicago, Homestead, Kansas and Watkins Glen are all off the 2011 schedule. The first two especially have routinely provided some of the best racing on the circuit, raising eyebrows on whether the sport’s reducing the quality of competition across the board.

So what’s the common denominator here? Simple: they’re ISC tracks.

The split from ISC wasn’t shocking. Increased sanction fees and a lack of a fan base made hosting IndyCar races unfeasible, they said. But were those increased sanction fees a calculated move on IndyCar and CEO Randy Bernard’s part?

The removal of ISC tracks now aligns the series with Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports, Inc. instead. As NASCAR fans know, Bruton, ISC, and NASCAR haven’t always seen eye-to-eye. The IndyCar Series added a race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway — an SMI track — and is negotiating to move the season finale to SMI’s Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Currently, Smith’s Kentucky Motor Speedway is the final date on the schedule, but Bernard said that he hoped to have the date at LVMS finalized shortly.)

The IndyCar Series is in no position to take direct aim at NASCAR, and the separation from ISC was the closest thing to a warning shot that the Series could make. At present, it’s more like a squad of Somali pirates firing their machine guns at a US destroyer. ISC tracks weren’t making a fortune on IndyCar races, and for some, it could be a load off the track promoters’ backs.

In the future though, who knows? Bruton Smith and SMI could become a positive alliance for the Series. There’s a chance that the first ever “doubleheader” event at Texas Motor Speedway with two races in one day — yes, it too is an SMI track — could become a great race for the IndyCar Series and a much-needed second marquee event. But there’s also a chance, like the four-wide Nationals at Smith’s Charlotte drag strip, that it could be a much better idea on paper than in execution.

It’s a risk that the series has to take, though. At this point, it has nothing to lose and everything to gain with investors and teams eagerly awaiting a boost of momentum from new chassis rules. Open-wheel racing was once king of the landscape, and while it’s hard to see it returning to the throne at this point, something — anything — needed to be done.

However, the Series needs to work around NASCAR for the short-term. Schedule as many races as possible outside of NASCAR windows; heck, it doesn’t have to be public, but acknowledge that stock car racing is Goliath, IndyCar is David, and work around that to maximize attention – because we all know who would win.

In five years, the IndyCar Series may once again have a fighting shot. If they do, look back to small moments like Friday’s announcement as part of the reason why.

Tuesday on the Frontstretch:
5 Points to Ponder: No Chase Drama? No Problem, Four Too Many for Hendrick, and Conway’s S&P
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not In NASCAR: Richmond-New Hampshire Edition
It’s Not All About the Top 12: Ten Wild Card Storylines To Watch In NASCAR’s Chase
Talking NASCAR TV: Why Chase Coverage Is Already Turning Into A Problem

Contact Nick Bromberg

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
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Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
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Jeff Thompson
09/14/2010 11:10 AM

Interesting statistical view, if you plot the TV audience of NASCAR races for the last five years and project that trend three years into the future then 21 of the first 26 races this year will have lower TV ratings than the current Indy Racing on Versus. I suspect the move is that NASCAR doesn’t want to do anything to help Indy,… they’re becoming a potential threat.

09/14/2010 11:42 AM

It’s a very good business move . The world of auto racing doesn’t come down to with / or without NASCAR . Never did . NASCAR’s swelled head aside , there are many great racing series that do just fine without the France family input . NHRA , IRL , F1 , ALMS , SCCA , to name a few .
But i believe the decision to drop ISC tracks was a combination of no support or promotion from ISC , and the deep pockets , over the top promotion skills , and the willingness to inovate , all traits that Bruton Smith is famous for . And who knows , maybe the IRL simply decided not to let itself be dragged down by the rapidly sinking NASCAR ship .

Michael in SoCal
09/14/2010 12:03 PM

Now I realize why Trucks Series races were the warm up races for some Indy Car events – they were at ISC tracks. But wait – aren’t NASCAR and the ISC separate corporations???

09/14/2010 04:17 PM

I realise you were trying to make the point that the IRL is so much smaller than NASCAR in tv viewership . Yes , it is . But the quality of the show they put on is far superior to anything the NASCAR Cup races have given us in recent years . The NASCAR fan is being short changed in every way . The IRL puts on a much closer , much more exciting race than NASCAR . Since Randy Bernard took over the reins in the IRL , he’s made some very good decisions . And if the IRL had the same level of race promotion ,and the same level of non stop tv coverage that NASCAR has it would surpass NASCAR in popularity pretty quickly .

Brians Mom
09/14/2010 05:31 PM

Having the races on Versus is the main hinderance to the growth and popularity of Indy Car Racing, but they are laying the foundation for the future.

Getting away from the spec chasis and single supplier engine package is a great start. All they have to do is look at how they lost it back in the day, and how Brian France has screwed the pooch for Nascar and not repeat those mistakes.

09/14/2010 08:03 PM

Quit talking about IRL. If too many people find out how good the racing and the Versus coverage is, it will start getting more popular and ruin it for us race fans.

09/15/2010 07:12 PM

So where should the IRL have its races televised? ESPN? No thank you. They had their shot and they could care less about Indy Car Racing. They are pretty much doing the same thing to Nascar slowly judging from their current coverage.

I agree that Bernard is making some good decisions. It will be interesting to see when the new chassis rules come out if the racing gets better and they attract more fans to the sport.