IndyCar 2015 vs. USAC 1965: A History Lesson

The start of the 1965 Indianapolis 500. [Russ Lake Photo]

The on-going discussion of problems related to the Verizon IndyCar Series and specifically its brief, five-month long schedule, have been well documented and overly dissected by both fans and media.

Sixteen races on fifteen tracks seems to be the tipping point as many fans long for the so-called “Good Old Days” when they perceive that more events were held at more tracks, over a longer schedule. But is our rear-view mirror clouded with fog as we look to the past?

1965 seems to be a good season to compare the two eras, as it was fifty years ago, the rear-engine revolution was just beginning to take hold and the Indianapolis 500 was still the Crown Jewel of motorsports.

USAC was the sanctioning body then, running Champ Cars, Sprints, Midgets and a Stock Car class that rivaled NASCAR for prestige. But it’s their Champ Car schedule that we want to look at and use for comparison.

The ’65 racing season began on March 28 at Phoenix while Trenton on April 24 was the only other race prior to the true “Month of May” leading to the Indianapolis 500. 2015 has four races scheduled beginning at St. Petersburg on March 29 followed by New Orleans, Long Beach and Barber prior to the Indy Grand Prix and the 500.

The June and July 1965 schedule included five events: Milwaukee, Langhorne, the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, Trenton and Indianapolis Raceway Park (road course), while the upcoming summer calendar shows seven races listed on six tracks: Belle Isle (doubleheader), Texas, Toronto, Fontana, Milwaukee and Iowa.

August quickly wraps up the current season’s program with the Verizon championship to be decided at Mid-Ohio, Pocono and Sonoma.

The 1965 schedule, however, was just kicking into high gear beginning in August with five races at Atlanta, Langhorne, Milwaukee (2 during the State Fair!) and Springfield.

The autumn portion wrapped up the USAC Championship run with six dates in September, October and November at DuQuoin, Indianapolis (fairgrounds dirt), Trenton, Sacramento and Phoenix versus no races run in 2015 since August 30.

The final tally?

1965: Records show 18 events at just 12 venues with Milwaukee (3), Trenton (3), Phoenix (2) and Langhorne (2) conducting over half of the scheduled events. And though they were held on three different tracks, the Indianapolis area featured three races within ten miles of each other. That accounts for a total of 13 races run in just five metro areas.

The 1965 schedule was contested on 12 paved ovals, four dirt miles, one road course and one hill climb.

2015: The calendar features a balance, with six oval/speedway venues, five true road courses and four temporary street courses in eleven states and one Canadian province.

Dirt tracks and the hill climb are no longer part of the 2015 campaign and the current schedule is just five months long instead of nine, but I’m sure that USAC, with few televised events, felt that it wouldn’t hurt to compete against the NFL and continue racing into November.

Currently, IndyCar is reluctant to go up against televised NFL games which are much more of a TV/media juggernaut than they were in the pre-Super Bowl days of the mid-sixties.

But with its current schedule encompassing a much more national scope than it did 50 years ago, IndyCar has talked of beginning to race in February as soon as next year, but would continue to finish up by Labor Day, thus avoiding the high TV ratings of the NFL.

NASCAR is willing to schedule its prestigious Chase for the Sprint Cup finale well into November, often throwing the NFL’s ratings for a loss. Will IndyCar ever muster up enough confidence in its product to do the same?



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