Monday, August 3, 2009

Please don't sugarcoat this schedule

(by George Phillips oilpreasure.wordpress.com 8-3-09)

I hate to interrupt all of the feel-good, warm and fuzziness coming off of the great race in Kentucky — but there actually was a downer that came out of the weekend, and I don’t mean the weepers. Amidst all of Friday’s non-track time, the IRL announced the new 2010 schedule, with everyone trying to put their best spin on it. I must say it was a disappointment on several fronts.

First of all, the omission of Milwaukee is a mistake. There were too many last minute developments in Milwaukee to completely remove them from consideration. There had been problems with the previous race promoter in Milwaukee. NASCAR and the IRL are still owed money from races that took place at the Milwaukee Mile this season. But the Wisconsin State Fair Park Board finalized a deal with a new race promoter late Thursday night. Terry Angstadt, President, Commercial Division of the IndyCar Series claims that they worked up until Friday morning to get a deal done before crossing Milwaukee off of the list.

To me, this is unacceptable. Who set the deadline that the final schedule had to be announced by this weekend? I believe it was Terry Angstadt. There was no reason that this was a hard and fast deadline. With the last-minute developments with the Fair Board in Milwaukee, why could they not push the announcement back or call this a partial schedule? After all, it’s a partial schedule anyway since a solid date had not been decided for Kentucky in 2010 (it’s now Saturday, Sep 4), and the season-opening race in Brazil doesn’t even have a venue yet.

Milwaukee is almost as much a part of open-wheel heritage as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The rhetoric from Terry Angstadt is that the matter is closed, but they may return sometime in the future. My thinking is that the league should keep its options (and collective minds) open to work something out with The Milwaukee Mile for 2010. History has shown that once the IRL leaves a track, it doesn’t return.

Another great disappointment is the loss of Richmond, although I understand why that was dropped. ISC had no interest in renewing the deal since title sponsor SunTrust had pulled out, even though the race was well attended. Although this year’s race at Richmond was a boring parade, the IRL had a history of putting a good product on the track there. That didn’t stop ISC from landing a cheap shot citing “…here at Richmond we just didn’t have the racing that our fans have come to expect." Yet another shining example why the IRL needs to get out of bed with ISC and NASCAR.

Another example of bad dealings with ISC is the fact that Kansas will be run on May 1, which is a Saturday night. I have no problem with running a non-Indy race in May. It’s been done before. The ill-fated Charlotte race in 1999 was also run on a May 1 Saturday night. My problem is that the IRL essentially will run as a support race for the Sunday afternoon Camping World Truck Series. What???

But the biggest slap in the face to the fans; is the fact that of the seventeen races listed, nine of them are on non-ovals. Do the simple math and that means for the first time, street/road courses outnumber ovals. This was the final domain for the “vision” that was launched in 1996 as an oval-based series. Now that the majoirty of the races are now non-ovals, the transformation into CART-light is complete. Now every single reason for starting the destructive split, is now gone.

I am not a CART/Champ Car fan, nor an IRL loyalist. I am an open-wheel racing fan. But to see the IRL morph exactly into what was called the path of destruction of open-wheel racing, defies all logic. What was it all for? Now no one is happy. The IRL faithful are mad that the IRL has abandoned all of its originals intentions, while the Champ Car fanatics continue to whine that their brand of racing has been watered down. What we are left with is a family-run organization that seemingly cannot help tripping over themselves.

Earlier this summer, we were told that the IRL was starting with a clean sheet of paper and they would do their best to incorporate more Champ Car venues into the schedule. In the process, they dropped two traditional ovals and added two new road courses that neither series has ever raced on. In the meantime, we are left to wonder what happened to Cleveland, Houston or Road America, as well as New Hampshire and Las Vegas. There is no way to successfully spin this.

This schedule has the potential to alienate all fans of the sport. The season starts thousands of miles from the US. Six weeks will elapse before visiting the first oval. The IRL apparently refuses to work with one of the most traditional venues on the schedule and moves further away from its core values by making oval racing the minority. I am depressed.

Terry Angstadt didn’t help matters with his interviews on Versus by essentially telling us all to pay no attention to that man behind the curtain, and that this is an exciting and well balanced schedule that we can all embrace. Right. This continued arrogance and condescending attitude on the part of the leadership of the IRL is what continues to drive fans away, instead of bringing in new ones. I just wish they could see it.

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