Indianapolis Motor Speedway and NASCAR officials are looking at a number of changes to the Brickyard 400. Some of them could be dramatic.
Mark Miles, CEO of IMS parent Hulman & Co., told IBJ following Sunday’s race that the Speedway “has work to do” and that any and all changes including shifting the starting time and calendar date are on the table.
“We’re just starting to look at next year,” Miles said. “We’ll look at everything.”
A schedule change, if one is deemed necessary, might have to wait until 2018. In May, NASCAR released its 2017 schedule ahead of its normal fall release, with the Brickyard set for July 23. One source close to NASCAR said the stock car series could consider altering its 2017 schedule, although that scenario seems unlikely.
Some racing insiders have even suggested a format change to the race. Although it's not clear what that would mean, one source close to NASCAR said that idea hasn't been completely ruled out.
The one thing Miles—and NASCAR officials—won’t be looking at: discontinuing the race, as some motorsports fans have recently suggested.
“This event should be here,” Miles said. “NASCAR thinks the racing can be better, and we think this can be a great event for years to come.”
The relatively flat track combined with NASCAR’s chassis set-up has led to little to no passing in recent years.
Starting the race in the middle of the afternoon in July—leading to a hot day for spectators and an early Sunday evening finish—also has been a bone of contention for fans.
Some fans have called for the installation of lights and a Saturday night start. That would give fans relief from the heat and also give them more time to get home and ready for work on Monday. Speedway officials, however, said lights would be too expensive to install at the massive track and on it's 2-1/2-mile oval.
Still, Miles seemed more resolved than ever Monday to make this event work.
“We have a contract, and we’re committed to this event,” Miles told IBJ. “And so is NASCAR.”
NASCAR and the IMS have a multi-year deal in place to keep the race here, Miles said, although he declined to say how long that deal extends.
The race is likely still profitable for NASCAR and the Speedway due to the 10-year, $8.2 billion TV package NASCAR has with Fox and NBC. But the ticket revenue has plummeted from $20 million in the race’s glory days to about $5 million this year, sports business experts estimated. Ancillary spending on things like parking, concessions and souvenirs has fallen from $15 million to less than $5 million, according to experts.
Race fans aren’t the only ones grumbling about the Brickyard 400. Sponsors too are becoming impatient—and that is likely to get the attention quickly of track and NASCAR officials.
Zak Brown, whose firm, Zionsville-based Just Marketing International, represents some of the biggest sponsors in NASCAR including Crown Royal, the title sponsor of Sunday’s race, characterized attendance at this year’s race as “very poor.”
“Clearly something needs to be addressed to revive interest in the race, whether that's time of year, time of day or format or promotion or some combination of all,” Brown said.
Miles admitted that attendance was down this year from last year. And last year’s attendance was not good. Most estimates peg this year’s attendance at 50,000, an all-time low in the race's 23-year history. Yes, the temperatures for the race on Sunday were scorching, but that can’t possibly explain an overall attendance decline of about 200,000 over the last decade.
Miles vowed changes would be made to get the attendance headed back in the right direction. That, he said, starts with him and his staff.
“We have to find a way to create more focus here [on the Brickyard 400] internally,” Miles said. “We’re going to double down on this event.”
The key, said Miles, is ratcheting up the focus on the Brickyard 400 in July while not losing steam on promoting the Indianapolis 500 in May.
“I don’t think there are silver bullets in life,” Miles said. “We’re going to look at all aspects of this event and make changes to move it forward in a positive direction.”