Q: I think there is a huge flaw with having a night race and hoping for cooler temperatures. I raced at night for years and it is miserable! The actual race is great. Cooler weather, hooray. The bad part is that 80 percent of the on-track activity is then run in the heat of the day, from 12-5. This is brutal for all of the support series drivers and crews and extra brutal for the fans sitting out there all day. The math doesn't work for a promoter. Fewer people will be there during the majority of the day (because of the heat) so fewer food/beer sales. In order to make up for that you need higher attendance. You aren't going to get more people to show up though if they pay the same price as this year but can really only enjoy the main event. Why pay the same ticket price if I am only going to show up for the race at night and not for activities during the day? The result is lower ticket sales. I think moving the race to night is a bad idea. Night racing is exciting once the race actually happens but everything leading up to it will suffer.
RM: At a place like Fontana last year (103 degrees at race time) and, to a lesser degree at Houston this year (94 degrees with 97 percent humidity on the Saturday), it's almost a necessity to race at night. The crowd at Houston (both days) was a hell of a lot more than I expected (although Sunday was perfect weather) and the fact there were more than 15,000 people at Fontana a year ago was a miracle considering the conditions. Nobody comes to qualifying at ovals so the promoter isn't losing anything and, until the last couple years, a place like Texas flourished with a night race. I think most tracks count on the race making their nut – not practice and qualifying.
Q: How are race locations determined? Why no more races at Kentucky, Watkins Glen? Champ Car had races at Vancouver, Mexico, and Australia. How about Road America, Road Atlanta, Laguna Seca or Lime Rock? Does it concern track ownership or some sort of politics?
Michael C, IndyCar fan in NASCAR country
RM: Simple economics – supply and demand. If the races don't draw, the promoter isn't going to book them. The Glen really tried to make it work by moving the date around trying to find one that worked while Kentucky started out pretty good and then attendance kept getting worse and worse. Ditto for Mexico City (you must have a star Mexican driver) and Laguna and Elkhart Lake. Vancouver's track was eaten up the Winter Olympics while Australia always had great crowds but got dropped during the unification for some insane reason. Bottom line? IndyCar needs a sanction fee and, unless the promoter scores a nice title sponsor, it's damn near impossible to break even.
Q: When might street circuits be reduced to only Long Beach, Detroit, and St. Pete? I don't even want the St. Pete race but I understand the Dan Wheldon connection. It is not OK to race at a track that only opens a day or so before the actual event. I am grateful that Dario is alive and recovering. Please return to the speedways of Michigan, Kentucky and Dover and the road courses of Road America, VIR and Portland International Raceway.
RM: A nice blend would be 7-7-7 (ovals, road courses and street circuits, like in CART's heyday) but, as I stated in the letter above, that's not reality anymore. Fontana and Pocono are trying to reconnect with the fans but it's tough sledding for any oval right now and places like Portland need a lot of work to even be considered. Street circuits give IndyCar its best chance at drawing decent crowds and, while they're not the roots of open-wheel, they've staged some damn entertaining races the past two years.
Q: Is there really any reason that the IndyCar season ends so much sooner than NASCAR's does?
RM: Lack of fans, sponsors and TV ratings (compared to NASCAR) make 20 races a challenge and IndyCar's new leaders don't want to compete with football. Next year, the schedule will be compacted and over by Labor Day.
Q: I have been trying to find this out on my own and I can't seem to find the information anywhere. Do you know what type of sanctioning fee tracks were paying Champ Car during the mid-2000s? I've read where Road America does not want to pay IndyCar's sanction fee for a race but they were always on the CART and Champ Car schedules. Champ Car also raced at several other tracks that no longer have IndyCar races and I'm just wondering if they might still be asking the same sort of fees it commanded in the '90s. And that is the reason street courses seem to be the only new circuits able to turn a profit with IndyCar these days. Nothing against street courses – I love Long Beach and loved Baltimore while it lasted – but I also loved Road America, Laguna, Watkins Glen, Portland, etc.... Any info you can provide would be greatly appreciated.
RM: There were some huge sanction fees ($7-8-9 million) for CART during the '90s but they were backed down in Champ Car's run from 2003-'07 and I know for a fact that Road America had a GREAT deal. But I think Mark Miles is willing to work with Elkhart Lake and make it fair so IndyCar can return in 2015 (with sports cars on the same weekend, if track president George Bruggenthies can pull it off). Long Beach has also had a sweetheart deal since 2008 but I imagine that will be renegotiated for 2015.