Monday, July 6, 2009

Does Indy Need Change?

(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.”
James' Take:

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.


The qualifying is a fine idea, and it would certainly add intrigue to the weekend. I also vote they do $5 admission to both days to match the single-day admission for pole day currently. I think a nice touch for the 100th-anniversary race would be to move it to Memorial Day Monday, which will be May 30: exactly 100 years to the day that the first 500 was run. Pre-race starts at 11AM with a parade of as many 500 cars as humanly possible led under a red flag by a Stutz.

The race will only be run at night if ISC buys the track...at which point I will cease supporting the track.

Wow..didn't realise Memorial day '11 comes on the 30th.

That's gota happen

Thats the problem... how can you be a supporter of the 500 if changing it to a night race would make you give up the 500... its still the 500 u know.. i like the may 30 idea tho.. excellent!

There is no way the speedway would have a night race. Letting out all those people (most of which are intoxicated) at 10 pm is crazy for that neighborhood. Also, it would make the race start time in Europe much later, around midnight for the race. One of the main audiences of the Carb Day concert is for people who haven't been to the track yet in the month. If a race day ticket is necessary for this event, a small crowd would be almost assured for the concert itself. Monday seems like a much better option than Saturday night, but it may hinder the teams for a race the next weekend.

A night race does pose a LOT of issues for the town of Speedway; all of which are bad and addressed by "Anonymous" above.

One thing that keeps the 500 what it is, is tradition. I won't debate one way or the other the 500's alleged decline, but one thing I know for certain: If you go changing things that already work, you run the risk of turning it into a dog pile, for sure.

Tony, I think you've let people talk you into the notion that the perceived downturn in attendance and glory of the 500 is tied to the troubles in American open-wheel racing. Yes, there are troubles in American open-wheel racing, but they are on the mends. They will get better. Right now the IMS and Hulman and Company are going through some transitions. The Hulman-Georges knows their stewardship of the speedway is special. They "get it." The 500 has always ebbed and flowed, just like everything else.

Give it some time to flow again, but don't go drastically changing things. You'll regret it, and so will everyone else.

Be patient.

Can you imagine trying to find your car in a dark North 40 or Coke lot. It's not just the lighting of the track that would need to be addressed. Those lots would be pure mayhem.

I understand the tradtion, but what tradition would it break to have the race at night? I didnt know day time was a tradition? Also, i understand about the neighborhood, but.. More people would camp and sober up to drive wherever they needed to go Sunday and not drive intoxicated sunday afternoon after the race, a 6 oclock start would put the race over around 10, leaving time for fans to still get out of there and back to their hotels, most fans only drive no more the 5 hours after the race to where they need to go.. and its not "crazy" for that neighborhood, its a very run down neighborhood these days

If you break one tradition, you set the precedent for breaking more traditions.

The cops that have to work the race that day would HATE a night race... working traffic would be down right dangerous to the officers... seriously, that would be a real hazard to the officers.

First, Jason Leffler has already been in the 500. It would be great to have him back, but he doesn't belong on a list with Kyle Busch or any other cab drivers who "would like to try Indy one day".

Second, a night race will never happen for reasons of public safety.

Third, I don't like the idea of changing things just to allow some cabbies to come and try. If they really want to be here they'll find a way on their own to be here. I don't want a bunch of guys trying the 500 on a lark or just so they can have one start on their resumes.

Fourth, I LOVE the idea of moving the 2011 500 to Memorial Day (as long as it doesn't rain).

Say what you will about the Hulman/George family, but one thing they have been (regardless of what one or two people in Speedway say) is a good neighbor to the Speedway/Indianapolis area. As long as they own it, you're not going to see night racing there. It would be utter chaos.
The problem is not the start time...or the schedule...it is the cars/drivers participating. I don't know if I'm the oldest guy here (44) but my first time at IMS was in 1968 for Time Trials. I remember Sid Collins on the radio...I remember going in high school...college...and it was always the cars and drivers that made the place what it was. The Offys, Buick V6's, Cosworths...Wildcats, Penskes, Jim Hall's ground effects car, etc...People came to see what was different and new and faster than last year - not what paint job Danica's car is going to have. I say get rid of the spec cars/chassis and open up the rule book. Give people a reason to show up for practice and time trials. Give the people watching on TV such a show (genuine not contrived) that the cab race afterwards will be just an afterthought. Thanks for reading.

Another problem with the night race idea is that most, if not all of the practices would have to be in the dark as well. The quals wouldn't have to be, but some of the practices would.

ABSOLUTELY NO F'ing WAY to a night 500!!!!

Indianapolis symbolizes the launch of the summer season, a night race doesn't capture that. I do agree that getting other drivers from other series would be a good thing... put the race back onto its own stage. Run it on SATURDAY & don't compete with NAPCAR's 600 miler

Monday is a cool idea for the 2011 race... but IMS would have to pray for excellent weather & fans would not have a free "travel" day.

Keep writing these idea pieces, TD... Great ideas come out of these brainstorm sessions, even if people agree or not.

I hope you don't let the fact that people disagree with you on this issue or that issue hold you back.

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