This was my first IndyCar race (technically, it was only the second full IndyCar race I'd ever seen, counting TV) and I was surprised at how many fans came from all all age groups, all of whom were having a great time, with tons of access and exciting racing to watch.
So now I have a few questions.
- Is IndyCar really struggling as a series? It always seemed to me that IndyCar is in jeopardy. I come to IndyCar from an F1 fan's perspective. F1 has huge global viewership, while IndyCar is restricted to pretty much just the US market. Talking to the fans, everyone seemed happy that not too many people showed up to the race, and you could easily bump into your favorite driver strolling through a crowd. Maybe IndyCar is small (since its market is so much smaller than F1's) but still healthy.
- Is IndyCar viewership on the rise or on the decline? When I think of the glory years of American open wheel racing, I think of the '20s, when Miller was building among the most advanced, powerful race cars anywhere in the world. I think of the '60s, when the Indy 500 brought in the world's best drivers and cars from around the world, and was open to some totally gonzo design experimentation. And I think of the late '80s, when Alfa Romeo, Porsche, and maybe almost Ferrari came to compete in the fastest racing series in the world, which threatened to take over F1's role as the dominant international open-wheel racing series. But I don't know if today's current series is on an upswing from the '90s and '00s, or if it is still in a continuing decline from its last glory days. I have no long-term viewership data to look at, and I haven't been watching the series for very long at all.
- Who the hell watches IndyCar? When I was at Baltimore, the crowd was reasonably mixed across ages, races, and incomes. Still, the dominant group was middle-aged families with very young kids. Is this healthy for a racing series? Does it offer as much potential as, say, drifting, which is cheap and almost totally populated by that ever-so-desirable teens-through-thirties age group?
- Are the race cars as bad as I think they are? I mean, their sidepods are hideous. They're very curvaceous, but they make the cars look fat, and in the racing world, a fat car is an uncompetitive car. Put an IndyCar next to an F1 car, and you'll immediately understand which is the first-rate machine and which is the secondary. That said, these Dallaras may be safe in a way that I don't quite understand (F1 cars aren't dealing with close packs at over 200mph), they seem to have a very good aero package in terms of not greatly hindering the car behind them (unlike F1), and their closed-rear-wheel design may have been decided upon after a number of crashes when cars locked their wheels together. Again, this is stuff I'm not familiar with.
The central issue, I suppose, is that I don't know how IndyCar has really been doing while I haven't been watching. The series seems to have so many strengths, with lots of passing, a strong field where many more drivers have a shot at winning (particularly when compared to F1, where three quarters of the field only bothers to show up to try and collect points), a very fan-friendly atmosphere at the races, a cheap price of entry for potential teams, decent tracks (even as an F1 fan I want to watch open wheel racing at Pocono and the Glen, thought that's been off the calendar for a while), and the Indy 500 itself (which I've never had any interest in sitting through, but brings a lot of history and momentum to the series).
Those are my big questions. If you have any opinion on these matters, shout 'em out, these aren't rhetorical. Also, if you think you can explain the legendary fallout in American open wheel history and how Nascar took over as America's motorsports, give it a shot. I've never heard a particularly clear explanation of the whole thing. Most importantly though, if you have any thoughts on what is or is not right with IndyCar, here's a place to let that all out.
Photo Credit: Me