Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Notes and Lessons from the Kansas IndyCar Weekend

A lot of people are coming out this weekend’s Kansas IndyCar race with a lot of instant problems, solutions, opinions and conclusions as human nature dictates: Kansas stunk, boring race, drop Kansas, it’s impossible to pass in the series, lapped cars should get out of the way, Kansas can’t put fans in the stands, “push to pass” stinks and many others. Generally most as per usual.

Initially it’s easy to understand how these conclusions are come to; but I think many might be missing that some of these conclusions might be misguided, not because they are overtly wrong, but simply because they are only symptoms of different problems; one of them slight, and another that is bigger, and luckily for the Indy Racing League, both are ones that Randy Bernard does have some say-so in:

Let’s start with Kansas Speedway and its general lacklusterness in crowd/support. Is Kansas dying, should it be put out to pasture, did the crowd generally suck? At a glance yes… to all of those… but simply ask this; how would any other race on the schedule do if it were moved to 1pm Saturday afternoon for the first time? Now I’m not going to defend Kansas here, because while we truly don’t know who came up with the idea to move it to that day/time, the track agreed to it.

We can’t just stick that Kansas has a bad time of day and day of the week; I’d stretch it to say Kansas is simply on the wrong month. Take a look at 2001:

That’s a packed house; it was July, and granted that was their first race, it stayed that way for quite some time, almost up until 2007 when they decided to leave July for April. Crowd aside, the weather had been a nightmare at Kansas since moving it to April/May; so much that the IRL pulled Indy Lights off the docket for 2010 due to the high amount of crashes in the past years, an issue they didn’t have when starting the season at Homestead?

Should Kansas be removed? I don’t know the answer to that, but I’d like it to stay, but simply be moved to sometime after May and given a shot to thrive on a time better suited to the area. The track produced a LOT of great racing this past weekend, a statement which might have many of you readying your keyboards to tell me I’m nuts and that the race was ultra-boring. But this brings me to the bigger problem the series faces right now: ABC/ESPN coverage of races.

No one will argue that Versus doesn't do an incredible job on race coverage, and to compare what Versus does for race coverage with the same amount of staff and camera against what ABC stumbles through should be embarrassing for ABC/ESPN; but for some reason they’ve continued to do this for 5 years now without any shame, and it is hurting the sport from capturing fans.

Marty Reid can’t even pronounce names correctly: “Silv…es…tra….de…Simona”, (and that’s when he hasn’t miss-identified a car/driver altogether for the 20th time), the cameras do nothing but follow the leaders, and they cut to commercial almost every 7-8 green flag laps (I counted); and the worst part; the entire on-air crew teaches the viewer NOTHING. I’m not saying that announcers need to be intellects, but they need to be interested in what they are coving, and we’ve all watched Marty long enough to know he’s not interested. Al f’n Roker was on the Kentucky Derby coverage this past weekend, and I assume he knows little to nothing about horse racing, but you know what he was when he was on camera; genuinely excited.

My favorite ABC moment in each race broadcast is the pit stops: “(Insert driver here)’s team has him in, and they filling it up changing tires, making a turn on the wing, and he’s away.”

Wow, that’s amazing… glad you were in the pit for that… Here’s an idea, get a 2nd camera on the person he’s closest to on track and see who comes out ahead of whom when they re-meet on the track. How about getting a little more in-depth on the timing or mileage, or best yet, only do a PIP for that leaving the main video back on the race…

With that said, I will do one thing many people don’t; I’m going to defend Scott Goodyear. What many don’t realize is that right now Scott is the only thing holding that broadcast together; just like Frank Mir is holding WEC broadcasts together and how Mice Tirico holds Monday Night Football together. Many people complain on about how Goodyear uses the same generic lines constantly and doesn’t go too in-depth; but I guarantee any of you in the world that if you put Goodyear in the booth with the Versus crew he’d be a totally different man. With Marty asking stupid questions and getting things wrong constantly, Goodyear has no choice but to stay at that level, constantly explaining and re-explaining basic things… just like he was forced to do with Todd Harris, and as Frank Mir is forced to do now with Harris on WEC broadcasts.

As for the on-track product, I had the luxury of having both TV and computer this past weekend and I saw over 30-40 passes online with Race Control. I saw maybe 10 total on ABC. So what’s the solution to ABC? It’s tough because it depends on contracts and marketability, if there’s even a chance to get NBC interested; otherwise Randy will sending demands to deaf ears at ESPN as evidenced from the past 5-6 years of shitty broadcasts.

And with that here are the short notes from the weekend:

So should lapped cars be moved around before a restart? Hell no; if we wanted "Lucky Dogs" we'd go to NASCAR; we all love IndyCar because its a pure form of competition, not a pre-packaged guaranteed close finish. Should lapped cars maybe be more courteous? Probably... but if anyone is fighting someone else for position with point differentials and you're behind them, too bad, find your way around. Besides, no one was catching Dixon last weekend anyway.

"'Push to Pass' stinks and they should get rid of it cause it does nothing." I'd actually just submit you stop calling it 'Push to Pass' and just call it power assist, or better yet just don't talk about it. I'd also suggest ABC do the same because its only meant to be a slight assist, which is why the amount is so small. Covering in any other many is just misleading.

In a new interview with Holly Cain, Tony George says he wanted Terry Angstadt to be his successor as IRL CEO; which explains some of the friction and “hurt feelings” going around earlier this year with Randy Bernard’s selection.

While I don’t know much about what Angstadt does behind the scenes, I know just about everything he did publically, and the same for Bernard’s short tenure, and think many fans would agree they’d much rather have Bernard.  Angstadt probably does great work behind the scenes, why else would he have a job there; but a guy who has NEVER hit a single significant date or promise made to the press (and the one who seemed to be the focal point behind turning down SMI for Vegas and New Hampshire) would not have been good for the league as official front-spokesman.

Mark my words: Takuma Sato and E.J. Viso will both get podium finishes this year.

So there are rumors now about many tracks coming and going in 2011…

Kansas Going? As I said above, I’d like to give it a chance back in summer or fall; it’s a good track and area.

Homestead going? Too many people don’t realize how good of a track this is for racing, but season finale it is not; it NEEDS to move back to the opening oval spot at night between Sao Paulo and St. Pete; that’s the only time it makes sense, and it’s perfect for off season testing. Unless Phoenix magically comes back, the league NEEDS Homestead/Miami, because having Indy as the first Oval is NOT a good idea.

Chicago going? I’ll believe this one when I see it, the race does too well on the track and in the stands, but it MUST go back to being a night race; that was half the mystique of this race.

Watkins Glen going? Again believe this one when I see it, it does too well and makes too much sense.

New Hampshire adding?
My gosh, we all certainly hope so. If Jerry Gappens can forget how Terry Angstadt and some former IRL’ers slapped him in the face saying they didn’t trust him to sell tickets; this would do great. Good area, another oval, and one that is technically different meaning even more track diversity. Yes please.

Vegas oval adding? This will require testing as the banking is much different than the last time IRL was here; otherwise it’s a no-brainer that they should have the season finale here, at night with IZOD and all these celebs suddenly jumping on the promotional stuff. It’ll also give the series another big oval again; and if it were the season finale, it should also be at least 400 miles. If this one happens, I’m buying tickets the moment they are available... and I live in D.C. The season needs to close in style, and no one has higher potential for style and theatrics than Vegas.

Nashville returning?
I attended this track’s finale, and I’ll say this, aside from the on-track action everything else was A++. Great crowd full of IndyCar apparel wearing people, packed stands, easy track to access and leave, and good tailgating. But if they do re-add it, it MUST come with pre-season testing to figure out that whole passing thing.

Baltimore adding? From sources I’ve talked to, this is basically a done deal… and it should be; the layout that I’ve seen looks good, and better yet, it’s an easy to recognize area on TV and runs through the actual downtown, not 40 miles from downtown; and in a significant city.

Lastly: If I’m Bryan Herta, Sam Schmidt, Vision, Sarah Fisher or anyone considering team expansion in the IndyCar Series, I’m wasting no time calling John Andretti to drive or at least mentor my young driver. The guy put brand new Roth Racing cars in the Top consistently, and just took half the league to town with a whole year out of the cockpit. He’s good with fans/sponsors and most importantly, with the cars.

On to Indy!!

All pictures by indycar.com


The American Mutt said...

"With Marty asking stupid questions and getting things wrong constantly, Goodyear has no choice but to stay at that level, constantly explaining and re-explaining basic things"

A month ago I would have scoffed at this statement. After hearing him during the interview on Cavin and Kevin, I'm totally on board with you. The mans insightful, knows his shit, but is stuck with a subpar cohost, who clearly longs to be in Nascar.

Regardless of the crowd, I too went to the last race in Nashville, and am not sad to see it go. All the testing in the world won't fix the lack of passing on a track with only one and a half lines that can be safely run. Still feeling burnt by the fact that they told us to leave (neither I nor my friend Mike left) only to have to the race restarted.

Allen Wedge said...

Yeah, being told to leave the track while the race was still going on was bad; however I understand how it happened. The race stewards had no lightning just yet so they could keep racing but the track didn't want a million dollar lawsuit on their hands if someone got struck so they called for evacuating.

I'm still not 100% convinced passing can't happen at Nashville; remember that Indy is technically a "one groove track" plus people have made passing work at Nashville before. Back around 2006-07 the league just let everything mosey along and never considered the on-track product their problem, just blamed the tracks. But like you I'm not begging for it to come back, but however am willing to let them try and make it work.

The American Mutt said...

Unlikely, but any chance you got stuck sitting behind a long haired redhead. I only ask because I distinctly remember thinking the guys behind me were clearly fans of the blogger community.

Allen Wedge said...

Did it include 2 young kids and 2 wives too? Got a few people (Ron Furious included) to their first ever race that day; one heck of an experience; the crazy storm just before FIL when the track staff wouldn't let us stand under cover because we might be too close to the VIP people's buffet was my favorite part. We were up higher to start then walked down when it started raining and stopped at one of the exits when it stopped raining to finish out the race.

The American Mutt said...

No wives or kids, we spent that first storm in the stairwell, but i remember the vip area you're talking about. The best memory I'll take away from that experience is watching Anna Beatriz win.

The SpeedGeek said...

Several thoughts:

1) The Kansas race was indeed better than many people are giving it credit for. There were a few lulls in the action that prompted me to get on Twitter on the cell phone, and I guess I wasn't entirely surprised to find the feed jammed with people complaining about how bad the action was. After seeing the race on the DVR, I know why they were saying that, but there was plenty of action in person.

2) I hadn't really thought about the Scott Goodyear thing, but I think you're entirely right about his ability not being able to come through given his boothmate. I'd love for Scott to get a tryout with the Versus guys, even if it maybe meant kicking Robbie Buhl out of the booth. OK, let me retract that last thing, that's probably going too far.

3) I like your thoughts on most of the track there. I'm not going to be clamoring for Nashville to return, but if the ISC tracks start falling away, then I'm OK with it coming back as a stop-gap until they can find some more compelling tracks (Road America, Cleveland, maybe some of the other SMI ovals like Charlotte).

4) If they bring Vegas back, I will be right behind you in booking my tickets that afternoon. Now that I'm not too broke to only attend events that were in easy driving distance (and/or had friends nearby whose couches I could crash on), I'm all in for a Vegas race weekend.