As it concerns attendance issues and poor racing from NASCAR at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, perhaps ‘It is what it is.’
There’s been a myriad of reasons why attendance is nearly one-third of what it used to be for stock cars at IMS. One of those that we can scratch off the list is weather. There simply will not be better weather for race day than we had on Sunday. And the attendance was no better this year than it was with temperatures in the 90s a year ago.
Another area where drivers, fans, etc. all had their fingers crossed hoping for the best was the new ‘Gen 6′ car employed by NASCAR this season. The hope was that the new car would lead to more side-by-side racing and more passes.
There was one on-track pass for the lead, and that was amongst teammates. So much for that.
And if you expand the parameters of crowd issues to the weekend in general, Saturday’s gathering at the speedway may have totaled 25-30k, slightly larger than a Pole Day crowd during the month of May. There were even fewer spectators for Friday’s day of primarily road racing with Continental Tire and Grand-Am series.
This problem certainly isn’t only the domain of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when it comes to NASCAR. There are empty seats across the board, but there are two examples that I think are most pertinent here.
The first would be Daytona, the mecca for stock cars, will reduce seating capacity to just over 100,000 seats from nearly 175,000 as it stands now. Most estimates of the crowd for Sunday were from 75-100k spectators. Looks empty with over 200k seats, still not terrible in comparison.
The other crowd visual that was truly stunning to me this season in NASCAR was the first race at Bristol. Admittedly, the night race in August is the much bigger deal. And I expect that race to be packed. But to see a half empty crowd, reportedly 90,000, at the ‘Coliseum of Motorsport’ in March was still jaw-dropping.
The answer at most facilities, like Daytona, is simply to reduce seats. That’s something that has already been done to a smaller degree at Indy, with nearly 20k seats going by the wayside before the 500. Perhaps you could take down a few thousand more seats, but with Indy pulling in over 200,000 fans this past year, you’re not taking down many more bleachers.
A few tarps might be the way to go. It would have saved the folks promoting the match between Chelsea and Inter Milan some frequent flier miles around the track if they could have simply covered over the stands between turns three and four.
As far as the on-track product itself, it’s unlikely to improve. For those that call for changes to the track itself to more NASCAR-friendly, that’s not going to happen. There’s the tradition at IMS, and the fact that the last two 500s may have been the raciest events in the history of the track. And if that race is outdrawing the July event in two-to-one fashion, why change things for the “lesser” event?
And if you’re asking NASCAR to change things up, why would they? This is one stop of 36 during the year. Drivers can say all the right things about the importance of being here, but this isn’t Daytona, or Talladega, or Bristol. Pocono might be similar to Indy, but those two tracks are nearly on an island compared to more high-banked facilities. There’s not going to be a new formula of car just for Indy. It simply costs too much money.
Then there’s the conversation about a night race. That talk was toned down this weekend simply because of the beautiful weather. If next year, typical July weather returns for the Brickyard, that conversation will get fired up again. I am a proponent for lights at the Speedway. I’d like to see it be a Saturday night race. I think that would open up IMS for other events, like could you imagine a 24-hour race at Indy?
But, I’ll also be the first to tell you that I think moving to a night race would be a temporary fix at best. That would wear off after a few years.
And for those that want the Nationwide race to return to Raceway Park, it simply isn’t going to happen. The sponsors of that series want to be part of the show at the Brickyard. The TV networks only want to have to set up one track, not two. When NBC takes over the contract in 2015, they’ll televise four out of 19 races on the main network and not NBCSN. I’ll guarantee you one of those Saturday shows will be from IMS. The racing was better in Clermont, without question. But the dollars dictate 16th and Georgetown as the address of the support race.
So folks, it is what it is. I hate saying it (or typing it in this case), but it’s the truth.