(Photo courtesy of ESPN)By: Tony Donohue
This article is solely the opinion of myself (Tony), and fellow Indy Car fan TJ Halsema. Many of you may think this is a crazy and bizarre proposal, but please take the time to read this, and give it some thought.
Everyone knows the Indianapolis 500 is the greatest race in the world, but since the split between Champ Car and the Indy Racing league, it just has not been what it was in the early 1990s. And for all of you realist who say there is nothing wrong with the Indy 500, put your guard down for a minute, nothing about the 500 and the “Greatest Spectacle In Racing” is going to change, it will still be the greatest event in the world, but let’s face it, it is not 1970 anymore. So why mess with tradition?
Here is why. Move the Indianapolis 500 to Saturday night, with about a 6:15 start. This would benefit many aspects of the event. First of all, the T.V. rating for the Indy 500 are nowhere near where they were at one point. Since ABC has started running the race live, the best rating was in 1987 with an 11.2. This year’s 500 came in at a 4.2. Running the 500 in a prime time slot on ABC would boost ratings as more people could tune in, sell more ad’s, and could give an added twist to the race, attracting more viewers to watch. Also, to viewers overseas, the race would run late at night, instead of it being aired very early in the morning.
Running the race at night would give drivers in Nascar that have the talent to run the 500, a chance to do so. Regardless of what series you love or hate, the 500 should be the best drivers in the world. This would allow Sam Hornish Jr. Juan Montoya and Tony Stewart (barring weight loss) a chance to return to the speedway in May. Other drivers could give the 500 a shot that have expressed interested, such as Kyle Busch or Jason Leffler. If the qualifying format would be adjusted a little bit, these drivers could also have the chance to qualify for the Pole.
With the concern on fuel and tire costs, and the cost to lease engines for the month of May being a burden on many teams, why not move Opening Day back to the 1st Sunday in May. The Rookie Orientation Program could be all day Saturday and early Sunday morning. Let all the drivers get on the track at noon and run to six for the first day of practice. This would allow all drivers the chance to get on course. For Qualifications, why not have a Pole weekend? Put the top 22 spot up for grabs on Saturday and Sunday. Therefore, to the drivers attempting the double, they could run the Nascar race Saturday night and fly to Indy Sunday, and still have a chance at grabbing the Pole for the Indianapolis 500. Eliminate the 3rd day of qualifications, and leave Bump Day that Sunday before the 500. Then, have the finally 11 spots up for grabs, and let the bumping begin. Leave Carb Day how it is, but have the parade in late after Friday, sometime in the evening, with the Public Drivers meeting being right after the pit stop competition on Friday. Move the Miller Lite Concert to race day at about 11 am, and have the pre race festivities start around 4:30.
Lights at the track would be a very expensive project, but rumor has it when the speedway was repaved, it would be fitting for lights to be installed. This would lead to the All State 400 possibly ran at night due to the warm temperatures in late July, and possibly bring in an ALMS race the weekend of the Moto GP.
A lot of changes do need to be made, and to all the traditionalists, which to an extent I am, we all are still going to have the Indy 500, we would bring in the greatest drivers in the world, have a prime time slot on ABC, and give a new twist to the world’s greatest race. It is the Centennial Era, and with a new era brings new things to the Speedway, why not the biggest change of all, a prime time, excited night even at the “World’s Greatest Race Course.”
First off, I love Tony's "Pole weekend" idea. With both Saturday and Sunday to run for the pole, you'd see everybody who had any kind of shot at the top spot making 3 attempts. If your a top notch team like Penske or Ganassi, who cares if the driver puts it into the wall with 2 minutes left until the gun. They'll just roll out the backup for Sunday.
I'll be honest, not a big fan of the night race idea but I could deal with it. But it does'nt really matter because unlike a track like Kentucky, IMS is in the middle of the city. There not going to allow 400,000 spectators to flow into the streets/neighborhoods of Speedway at 10p.m.
I wouldn't mind running the Greatest Spectacle in Racing on Memorial Day. It would allow some of the stock car drivers who have expressed great interest in the race to drive including guys like Earnhardt Jr., Kahne, and the Busch brothers. Personally I don't care if they drive, but it would attract a ton of viewers.
It'll be very interesting to see over the next few years how much the Month of May schedule changes. With the Centennial era upon us, and the recent mix up in IMS management I could see anything happening. No matter what happens, as long as there's a 500 mile, open-wheel race at the end of May on the corner of 16th and Georgetown, I'll be in attendance.