2010 Indianapolis 500 full of winners ... and losers

May 30, 2010
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It’s a pity the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is so secretive about attendance.

I have a sense the attendance story is a (relatively) good one for the Speedway at this year’s Indianapolis 500. I'm sure there were a few more empty seats, especially between turns two and three, than IMS officials would care to see, and I'm not suggesting the Speedway has returned to pre-1996 attendance, but any uptick has to be cheered at this point.

It’s difficult to determine crowd size by eye when you’re talking about 300,000 people give or take, but by most accounts the crowd was up at this year’s race over last year.

From the looks of it, the crowd at Friday’s Carb Day also was up from a year ago. Sure, some of the credit goes to the economy, which is a bit better than a year ago.

But credit must also be given to IMS CEO Jeff Belskus, who took over for Tony George last July 1. And while he’s too new to take too much credit, certainly IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard has breathed a little new life into the open-wheel series. Bernard is already talking about opening up the rules at Indianapolis in future years.

Everyone I spoke with gave Carb Day activities an ‘A,’ and though I’m not a big star watcher, I have to give the IMS marketing staff kudos for bringing in a solid red carpet posse to jazz things up. You really can’t understate what Izod has done for the series in the last year. And I have a feeling with Bernard riding herd, it’s only going to get better.

The on-track action, which should never be overlooked but sometimes is, also was solid at Indy this year. Three or more teams were in the hunt late, and several teams were in serious jeopardy or running out of fuel. Wow, real suspense!

Yes, the big teams had lots of success, with Ganassi Racing’s Dario Franchitti winning. But Dreyer & Reinbold Racing showed the small and mid-sized teams can put their sponsors in the spotlight as well. That’s an important message when performing on the big stage that is the Indianapolis 500.

And how about Simona De Silvestra? For my money, she was the most impressive woman driver on the track.

The second best performance by a woman at the Speedway today might go to Franchitti's wife. How about Ms. Judd evoking memories of Jim Clark in the winner's circle as her hubby celebrated becoming the 17th racer to become a multiple Indy winner. I've thought her behavior has been a tad freakish at Indianapolis in year's past, but wow, she really knows her racing!

Sarah Fisher wasn’t bad either, considering she was driving a bucket of bolts. Watching her practice these last two weeks was painful for anyone who knows what an open-wheel engine is supposed to sound like.

Fisher moved up 14 spots before making contact with the turn four wall late, and finished 26th.

But let’s be honest. If lovable Sarah is going to keep Dollar General and her other sponsors happy long-term, she’s going to have to do better. After a while, being a fan favorite isn’t good enough. She has to enter a race with at least a possibility of putting the car up front. I’m not talking about winning, but she has to at least occasionally be in the conversation. That’s what keeps multi-million dollar sponsors happy.

Don’t let Danica Patrick’s finishing position fool you. As of this writing officials scorers are still trying to figure her final placing, but she’ll know doubt end up in the top 10. Maybe top 5.

But in three or four days, Michigan-based Joyce Julius will release its Indianapolis 500 report. Race fans may not be familiar with Joyce Julius, but trust me, sponsors are. JJ tabulates how much air time each sponsor gets during the national telecast and how many times each company is mentioned by broadcasters.

Danica was never a factor in this race and her JJ numbers will not be good. She’s not alone in that regard, but she’s supposed to be an Indianapolis 500 specialist and GoDaddy and her other sponsors will eventually demand better. And if they don’t get it, GoDaddy will just plain go and find a driver that can win.

Danica's teammate, Tony Kanaan showed there was nothing wrong with the Andretti cars, moving his from his 33rd start position to challenge for the lead.

IndyCar and IMS marketing chiefs should be hoping TK wins this race some day. The fans love him, and he could probably win some casual sports fans over to the sport  because of his engaging personality.

Dan Wheldon and Panther Racing continue to show race fans and sponsors that you don’t have to be a mega-team to be competitive. Graham Rahal made a solid showing and would have done better but for a controversial black flag. From what I saw, Rahal has a gripe. But that's racin', right?

Davey Hamilton, well his race only lasted one lap, but at least he got some air time when he called Tomas Scheckter a “knuckle-head.”

Alex Lloyd had one of the most interesting days. I’m sure he and his team are thrilled with their third place finish, but I’m not sure how much exposure he got his sponsors.

But at least he has sponsors. Which is more that I can say for Helio Castroneves, who minus Marlboro, doesn’t have a primary. And Penske Racing honcho Tim Cindric admitted to me this month that while he has prospects for a primary sponsor for Castroneves, he wouldn’t characterize those prospects as terribly warm.

So, all-in-all, it’s been a good May, (albeit shorter), for the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

But if one of the very best IndyCar drivers with a strong personality can’t find a primary sponsor, you have to wonder … is the series really accelerating as quickly as this May makes it seem?

Only time will tell.


  • Just Posted by Indianapolis Business Journal - Indy 500 Report
    People who were at the track are saying the attendance was up from last year - maybe close to 300,000. This is the same paper who doesn't hesitate to say that the Brickyard numbers are down and or that the TV contract is losing money, etc. So, for what it's worth...
  • attendance numbers
    I've talked to quite a few people who were in various locations at the Speedway today. My earlier estimate that attendance was up double-digit percentage might have been a bit high. But most accounts are calling the crowd at this year's race bigger than the 2009 race. There were some empty seats though, and that's something Jeff Belskus and Randy Bernard have to fix.
  • turn 2 and 3
    Tough to say about crowd, but there were some bare spots along the back stretch. Morning crowd seemed really big, but I got out of the track a lot faster than usual. Not sure if that's an indication of crowd size or better management of traffic flow. Oh ... and one other thing. I second the thought on TK!!! Indy needs him drinking milk!
  • Aluminum is new Skin
    What was cool to see was all the fans who turned out in those "seats" costumes. Thousands of them. Wearing all that aluminum, especially on a hot day!
  • Burl, I am sure you were there and you saw the crowd. My thanks to their service and sacrifice. I had a great view of from 2 down the back stretch through 3 and into 4. the only area of significant "bare spots" was the lower area of the north vista for about two or three sections, which are the worst seats in the house. the area on the back stretch which is really the ne vista had a large blank spot, but that was quickly filled in when the NG soldiers who were in the opening ceremonies changed and took their seats.

    for being the hottest race in history, and 97 is freakin hot, i think attendance was up. Infield was very packed, and the new third turn snake pit seemed well received.

    race was great. congrats to dario for winning with only a 10th of a gallon, per the London newspapers, in his tank. Speaking of, even thought it is 4 am in England, they have good articles on the three brit finish. it was intersting how many scott flags I saw flying in the infield, interesting counterpoint to the Confederate Flags at NASCAR tracks.

    Another telling fact is i saw much more IMS, izod and Driver apparel than i ever have. Izod has some really cool shirts out there.

    Very good race, hope they can keep the momentum up.
  • I'm Baffled
    I'm stunned to see any report that attendance was up in any way. From our normal seats in 4, it was evident that there were more vacancies in Turn 3 and the North Chute than ever before.

    More disturbing was the wash of empty seats along the Tower Terrace. That has never been visible from our seats before. The race replay last night made it look even worse.

    This is not the time for false hope. It is time to address the situation with realism, not flowery optimism.
  • Well...
    ... I was in attendance too, as I am every year and I have to disagree with you Scott. Like others, I would be inclined to believe, based on what I personally witnessed, that attendance was improved over last year.
    • What?
      I've been going to the race for over ten years, sitting in Tower Terrace every year, and I'd never seen so many empty seats in front of me as I did yesterday (well, except in rain delays - welcome to Indy in May, folks).
    • More empty seats, but grater attendance
      Fascinating. I've seen actual photos from racefans which show considerable gaps in crowd T3 through T4 and especially pit-side terrace was empty from pit entrance to almost start finish. There was an exact photo comparison from 2009 and 2010 and 2010 was far less attended. The TV showed sparse attendance all around the track...so, unless everybody licking the boot of Belskus and Bernard someone is lying. More photos to surface ASAP.

      Also....the overnight national TV rating is a 4.0, which is a complete and utter failure from 2009's 4.2 overnight. Looks like Indy will drop into the 3's when the finals are in.

    • Chief,

      Since you weren't there, maybe you need to pay attention to when the pictures you were looking at were taken. At the start of the race, most stands were full. By the midpoint, most of the shade under the stands and on the golf course was full. The 96 degree temps took their toll. But again, why let facts get in the way of your rant. The haters will say the place was a ghost town, the supporters will see an uptick in the crowd. Typical of this back and forth.
    • Weather drove them underground
      I was there and sat PIt Road Terrace near the entry . A total ghost town, don't know what that was all about but I was shocked.

      I will say this about attendance: Plennnnnty of people spent the day under the tunnels and in the shade. It was pretty unbearable out there, 95+ humidity for 3.5hrs isn't very fun.

      Every time I went to the concessions, people were EVERYWHERE under the stands. some were sitting at the same spot I saw them the last time I went down there.
    • corporate attendance
      Another thing to keep in mind when considering attendance are the folks in the corporate hospitality areas. Speedway officials told me corporate hospitality attendance was up 30 percent plus this year, a number confirmed to me by several suite holders. These aren't people you'd see in the stands, but would certainly count in terms of attendance. Thanks for reading.
    • Was There
      All I can tell you is that I grew up 1/4 mile from the old main gate and hadn't actually attended a race since 1982. But, I was there Sunday with my wife and two kids. So, that's 4 people who haven't been in attendance who were there this year. I will say that attendance seems down from the late 70s/early 80s when I started hauling beer coolers to the track in my Radio Flyer.
    • Much ado about nothing.
      There were more empty seats this year than in years past, but the areas under the stands and under shade trees were far more populated throughout the race than in years past. It was very hot and sunny on Sunday; The explanation is no more involved than that. You can keep your silly little political conspiracies to your simple-minded selves.

      The grand event known as the Indianapolis 500 endures and thrives in spite of any external calamity -- it always has and it always will.

      I still remember going in the late '90s and reading Robin Miller tell us how the 500 was dead and that nobody should bother going, and I thought 'oh no, we're going to be the only ones there'. Then we showed up and experienced the same enthusiasm, revelry, cheer, patriotism, tradition, pageantry and excitement that we'd experienced since the early '70s with nearly every seat filled with a rear-end.

      The old girl is just fine folks. We can bring the panic level down at least seven notches.
    • I would be curious for a report on how the "new" snake pit was. I could see some activities from my vantage point, but was not about to trek through it in the heat to observe first hand. I applauded the Speedway on making the infield more family friendly, and hope they can keep the snake pit separate from the infield viewing mounds.

      And Scott, the haters have been predicting the downfall of the 500 since the split and they have not been right yet. She still packs in more fans for that one day race than any sporting venue in the world.
    • Meh...
      Whatever...hey, remember when ABC used to have those hideous graphics superimposed on the track and grandstands in an effort to make the place LOOK full? Maybe they should do that again or have the director don't show helicopter or shots of the grandstands. Might help with impressions....
    • No evidence
      You will never find a picture of fewer fans in the stands when the balloons were released.

      Viewer-ship is down by double digit percentages locally and all evidence shows fewer people on hand for the start of the race yet somehow we are supposed to believe that attendance is up?

      I'm sorry but the only thing pointing to an increase in attendance or interest is ANECDOTAL. There is no measurable data that indicates anything otherwise.


    • and the only proof that attendance was not up is annecdotal. There is no measurable data that indicates anything otherwise.

      I know what I saw from my corner of the Speedway. empty spot in the lower couple of sections of the north vista and some empty seats in my section until the National Guard Soldiers took their seats.

      Anyway you look at it, it is still the largest single day sporting event in the world. Just one more thing the haters hate about indy.
    • You could have fooled me
      Really? Just one empty spot in the North Vista? How is it you can't see the Northeast Vista from your seats?

      I've just included links to two pictures taken at 1:04pm during the Invocation. This is what the crowd looked like at the highwater mark when the race started.


      You will simply not find pictures from any other year that show fewer people in the stands. You will not find worse ratings for the race. This is not anecdotal evidence.
    • seemed a bit fuller
      The crowd in turns 3 and 4 seemed a bit fuller to me, but there were some early exiters, which surprised me. Maybe the race wasn't that suspenseful to those folks.

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