2011 IndyCar Pre-Season Report: What’s Hot And What’s Not

HAMMOND, IN: With the opening race of the 2011 IndyCar season at St. Pete just around the corner, this might be a good time to review the events and rule changes that have transpired since the end of the 2010 season. Some are good; some not so much. You decide

The 100th Anniversary of our signature event, the Indy 500, has sparked a renewed interest in IndyCar and, hopefully, some of the changes being discussed by officials will enhance this interest. I guess the question boils down to this: what’s hot, and what’s not

HOT: We have tires! After Firestone at first declined to renew it’s contract with IndyCar beyond 2011, the owners banded together and did the only thing they could to lure Firestone to re-consider: they offered to cough up more money! It’s amazing what can be accomplished with the injection of cubic $$$…

NOT HOT: There reportedly will no longer be streaming video of practice and qualifying sessions available at the IndyCar website on race weekends. This is a extremely valuable tool which has helped veteran and new fans alike stay hooked-up to our sport. Apparently the Versus/NBC contract prohibits this coverage. With summer gas prices expected to crest $5 per gallon, the loss of this streaming internet video coverage is a major step backward for the series

HOT: Randy Bernard. Here’s a guy who understands the value of proper promotion, and isn’t afraid to think outside the box. Some might call his ideas publicity stunts but, at a time in our history when we badly need an influx of enthusiasm from the paying customer, many feel this kind of thinking is what we need. Recent examples include:

1. The Five Million Dollar Challenge at Las Vegas: Anyone of five drivers from outside of IndyCar racing will be eligible to collect a five million dollar bonus if they can win. No matter who steps up to the plate on this one, it’s a very long shot. No matter: it’s a win-win for everyone. Free race tickets makes it even better.

2. Double-file restarts: This could be asking for trouble (E.J. Viso; please note!), but the potential for closer and more exciting racing is obvious. If it creates more passing and fun, it’s HOT. If wads-up the field in turn one, it’s NOT. The jury is out on this one

3. “And It’s a NEW TRACK RECORD!” The idea that someone in a position of power is actually thinking about finding a way to challenge Arie Luyendyk’s track record at Indy is, to this reporter, refreshing and sorely needed. As we’ve said before: the best way to renew interest in pre-race activities at the Speedway during May is to go “back to the future”, and make potential lap record-breaking a possibility again. If a way can be found to make this happen in time for this year’s 100th Race: great. But, if not, it’s something that should be worked on for the future. The idea of a new track record used to pull folks through the gates during practice and qualifying and, properly promoted, it would work again.

HOT: All living Indy 500 vets invited back for 2011: The Speedway has issued an open invitation for all veterans of at least one past Indy 500 to attend the Centennial in 2011. This kind of connection to the past is just what the doctor ordered to help the fans of today to understand the place the Indy 500 holds in the history of America. This should be a lot of fun for everyone (especially if they let Randy Lanier out of the slammer to attend!)

HOT: A commemorative postage stamp featuring the Marmon Wasp to be issued in time for the Race. ‘Nuff said

NOT HOT: The Lucky Dog. Even given the fact that IndyCar racing needs to generate more interest to stay healthy, THIS is not the way. Forget it

And finally: EXTREMELY NOT HOT: gas prices. If gas hits $5 per gallon as experts say this summer, it’s not going to matter much what kind of promotion we do. More and more fans will be forced to stay home. This is a fact, and should not be ignored. TV coverage (and streaming internet video) may become the lifeline the sport needs to survive.

2011 has the potential to be a great year for the IndyCar series. And, if my loan gets approved to purchase gasoline, I’ll see you at the races!

Share Button