Fort Worth Texas,
As I sit in a local bar in Fort Worth Texas the day after one of the most exciting races in recent IZOD IndyCar Series memory, the only thing that comes to mind about the past 48 hours is the news of Texas Motor Speedway not being on the 2013 INDYCAR Schedule. I have read the AP reports, IndyStar reports, and everyone else in between and below are my four conclusions on why INDYCAR should always be at Texas Motor Speedway in June.
1. The safety issue is now an none issue after the aero changes.
The biggest concern for everyone involved in the IZOD IndyCar Series in returning to a 1.5 mile high banked oval was the concern of safety. Everyone within the racing community knows that IndyCars go very fast on the high banked ovals that were built for NASCAR. Everyone also knows that pack racing on those type of tracks finally caught up to INDYCAR with the tragedy of Dan Wheldon at Vegas in 2011. Those concerns should have been eased if not erased with the spread out type racing that we saw at Texas Motor Speedway. Drivers were forced to lift off the throttle and the race literally turned into survival of the best drivers and cars. Three different wrecks took place , and all were single car incidents that came from handling issues. The pack racing situations of previous 1.5 mile ovals were non existent last night. The race we witnessed last night was not only safe, but eased concerns of pack racing still being alive in IndyCar style racing. With pack racing being eliminated, there is no reason IndyCars can't race at tracks like TMS.
2. Attendance on Ovals
Texas Motor Speedway holds over 140,000 seats and if you count the suites and Texas Motor Speedway Club, the number swells to over 175,000. Per reports from ESPN, attendance last night was right around 70,000. Attendance in 2011 was 73,000. TMS used to draw between 90k - 100k, based off weather and other factors. So my question would be and maybe this is to obvious, why would you throw away an oval that hosted 24 straight INDYCAR races and is the second best attended oval and sometimes best race of the entire season. If you look at recent INDYCAR ovals, the break down of most recent attendance can be seen by the following comparison. The ovals that remain on the 2012 schedule have drawn the following numbers based off 2011, Iowa (35K), Milwaukee ,(15K) Indy (250K) , and California is unknown. Lets look back at recently dropped ovals from the INDYCAR schedule and their attendance. Kansas in 2010 was just north of 25K, Kentucky in 2011 was close to 20K, Chicagoland in 2010 was right around 25k, Loudon in a one year deal in 2011 was just under 30k. If you go back further to the days of Nashville, Michigan, and Homestead your not going to find an oval that draws even close to 50K. The answer is very easy, Indy is the best attended oval and Texas is second and continues to be. Texas looks thin on TV because of the massive grandstands, but considering the other ovals on the INDYCAR schedule, it's a well attended event.
3. Three different markets can work in the BIG state of TEXAS
In theory you take away Texas Motor Speedway and add what? INDYCAR needs oval races, and the last time they had only five ovals, the year was 1996 and they only had three. INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard already announced a street course race in Houston for 2013, ok great, but not a game changer. Bernard also claims there is tremendous interest from the new F1 track in Austin, once again, that's great but I would love to know how many people from Houston and Austin travel to the Dallas/Fort Worth metro plex for IndyCar racing. My point is that INDYCAR draws fans to IndyCar racing at TMS by attracting die-hard fans that are loyal to TMS and racing in general. I guarantee you that half if not 2/3s of the crowd at TMS are NASCAR fans at heart but come to the IndyCar race because its just another reason to get out to the Great American Speedway and enjoy some racing. So INDYCAR, keep a huge market of NASCAR cross-over fans on your schedule in Dallas/Fort Worth. Then add the Houston and Austin races because your not going to see fans travel down to Houston or Austin for twisty style racing when the markets are totally different. Back to the point of dropping TMS and adding what? Two more twisty races? Let's look at the comparison of twisty races to oval races in 2012, 11 twisty and 5 ovals. So of Bernard's 5 ovals he has, he wants to throw his 2nd best attended oval out the door over what? Not safety, but point number four below is probably the main reason Texas Motor Speedway is on the chopping block.
4. The sanctioning fee
From information I have gathered and read in various reports, INDYCAR typically charges around 1.5 million for a sanctioning fee at venues it hold races at. Throughout the past years, sanctioning fees have changed based off demand of the event. The Brazil race probably is higher than 1.5 and China was rumored at around 8 million until reports of it being canceled have came to light. Baltimore was reported around 2.25 million in 2011, and I've heard that Michael Andretti and his marketing team didn't have to pay a sanctioning fee this year for Milwaukee. Regardless, the base line sanctioning fee is a ball park of 1.5 million to host an INDYCAR race. Just for comparison sake, NASCAR Nationwide racing charges around 750K per race. There is allot of reasons behind sanctioning fees, and NASCAR gets allot of help from their TV partners (FOX, ESPN, TNT) while INDYCAR is lucky to have a TV deal that pays. NASCAR can afford to charge less for sanctioning fees because the TV partners are a bigger help to the series. Back to the sticking point of INDYCAR and TMS, most likely Eddie Gossage and his team don't want to pay 1.5 million to host a INDYCAR race. Eddie probably believes that a number of 750K to 1 million is more reasonable. Because lets not forget that the Nationwide Series was off this past weekend and could easily fill the bill as the Saturday Night headliner instead of INDYCAR. I know that Nationwide races twice at TMS (Spring & Fall) but NASCAR could easily adjust that to Nationwide being a headliner on Saturday Night of this past weekend and turning their spring event into a Trucks on Friday Night and Sprint Cup on Saturday Night.
To conclude, INDYCAR needs Texas Motor Speedway to stay on the schedule long term. Eliminating Texas from the schedule would be a big mistake by Bernard. Hopefully a quick solution can be found and the doubts of IndyCars not returning to TMS are put to rest.