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Sports Business

IMS IndyCar road race seen as threat to Indy 500

June 19, 2012
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Minus a miraculous change of heart, the IndyCar Series is not going to be racing on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course this season.

It would seem that the road course would be an easy solution after the open-wheel series’ race in China was cancelled earlier this month. That cancellation leaves the series one race short of meeting some sponsor commitments—most notably with title sponsor Izod—to have 16 races on its calendar.

It would seem the series has a 2.6-mile road track in Indianapolis ready to go, a work force in place to host a race and a solid fan base to fill if not all the seats, then at least 75,000 or so. That’s a good-size paying crowd these days for an IndyCar race. And there would be a high curiosity factor for an IndyCar road race at Indy, which would likely generate highly sought national publicity for the series and Speedway. I’m quite certain officials at series broadcast partners ABC or NBC would salivate over the opportunity to televise the first IndyCar road race at the Brickyard.

Speedway officials told IBJ on Monday that there would be no logistical problem hosting an IndyCar road race at the Speedway later this summer or fall despite having NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 and the MotoGP slated this year.

So what’s the holdup?

For one, there’s simply not enough time for Speedway officials to market such an event the way they’d like. If IMS officials are going to risk hosting a second IndyCar race, they certainly don’t want to put it together hastily. Speedway CEO Jeff Belskus and his team would insist on a well-planned, professionally executed, and most importantly, well-marketed event.

Having 75,000 fans at an IndyCar race in most markets is reason for celebration. At the gargantuan Indianapolis Motor Speedway, that sort of crowd makes the race look poorly attended. And IMS and IndyCar officials would take a beating in the media for that. Sure, there’s a chance that as many as 150,000 fans would pour into Speedway for such an event. But the place would still be half empty. The curators of that facility are hyper sensitive about the Brickyard’s image.

It’s also important to remember that no decision is made at 16th and Georgetown without considering the impact on the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

There’s a fear at IMS headquarters that a second IndyCar race at the Speedway could dilute the fan base for the track’s crown jewel, the Indianapolis 500.

There’s good reason for that fear. The Indy 500 is the one event that has been a dependable cash cow for better than six decades.

It stands to reason—especially in this economy—that a good number of race fans might attend an IndyCar road race at IMS in lieu of the Indianapolis 500. It’s taken a fair bit of work on the part of the Speedway to get Indy 500 attendance headed back up, and they’re in no mood to rob Peter to pay Paul.

So it’s really no surprise that Speedway officials told IBJ on Monday that not only would there be no IndyCar Series race at the fabled brickyard this year, but likely not in 2013 or beyond either.

While one Speedway official said you "never say never" when it comes to something like an IndyCar road race at the Speedway, he added "there's absolutely no discussion about it at this time. And I'd be surprised if that discussion came up anytime soon."

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