My Proposed IndyCar Schedule

I’m in the mood to write a couple thousand words about one of my favorite sports, IndyCar racing. This past week, the IndyCar series announced their 2023 schedule, and it got me thinking about what I would like to see change with the schedule. I love the series, but I’ve never understood why their season ends so early every year. This year, for instance, the final race of the season is on September 11, a full two months or more before most American-based motorsports series end.

In addition, I’ve always felt that IndyCar should be more of an international series. One of the reasons for this is that every year, IndyCar features some of the best drivers from around the globe. Last year’s champion is from Spain. The leader in the points at the moment is from Australia. Several other countries are also represented. Years ago, IndyCar boasted races in the US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Australia, and Japan.

Does that mean IndyCar should go back to those venues? In a perfect world, maybe. But this isn’t a perfect world. Costs are through the roof, and it would be difficult to justify spending an inordinate amount of a team’s budget to go to one race far away from their US home base.

Having said that, IndyCar should have more of a presence in Canada. The pandemic kept the series out of Canada for the past few years, and just a  month or two ago made a return to the streets of Toronto. Even though IndyCar is back, I think an argument can be made that Canada deserves another race or two.

In addition, racing in Mexico is a no-brainer (providing IndyCar can find a willing promoter). Look at the turn out and hype over Formula 1’s annual visit to Mexico. Mexican fans would welcome IndyCar to their country.

Of course, adding races in Canada and Mexico means eliminating races in the United States. Or does it? What if, rather than continuing with a 17-race schedule, we were to expand the schedule to 20, 22, or 24 races?

In putting together my mock schedule, I was as open-minded as possible to the length of the schedule, the number of races, the history of IndyCar (without being overly sentimental), as well as the good and bad of each potential race and venue. My goal was to put together a portfolio of events that was balanced between ovals, street circuits, and permanent road courses.

Let’s start by cutting the fat out of the schedule. There are a few tracks the series races at that I would not return to. Tops on that list is Texas Motor Speedway.

Texas used to be one of my favorite tracks. When at least two lines were available for racing, TMS was one of the most exciting venues on the schedule. But when they added PJ1 sealant to the track surface to increase grip for NASCAR competition, the track was reduced to just one drivable lane for IndyCars. For the past few years, the races have been mostly “follow the leader” races, with an occasional pass thrown in for good measure.

In addition, the races at TMS have not been particularly well promoted. Motorsports journalist Jenna Fryer commented last year that she was in Dallas/Ft. Worth for another event on the IndyCar weekend at TMS, and she did not see any marketing hyping the race. It appears TMS has in effect given up on IndyCar. I think it’s time IndyCar give up on TMS. When the PJ1 disappears from the track, maybe then it will be time to reconsider racing there again.

Portland is another race that should probably go away. The racing is never particularly interesting there (unless you consider a huge pile up in turn 1 interesting), and the event itself is just kind of blah. There doesn’t seem to be much excitement over the race in Portland. Why insist on going back year after year?

One argument to keep Portland is that IndyCar should have a presence in the Pacific Northwest. I agree with that sentiment and will address it in just a bit.

In addition, I would do away with the second visit to the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The series is already missing out at racing at many deserving tracks. It doesn’t make sense to schedule two races each season at the Indy road course. If the series insisted on holding two races there, the least they could do is change up the configuration of the track for one of the races or run a different distance to complicate strategy. As it stands, the current schedule features two identical races, which really doesn’t make sense. For my purposes, I’m going to eliminate the August race at Indy traditionally known as the Harvest Grand Prix.

Of course, by eliminating this race, I’m also eliminating the triple-header with NASCAR. I actually like sharing a weekend with NASCAR, so I’ll try to add that back into my proposed schedule.

So, we’ve eliminated three races from the current schedule, which leaves the following events on the calendar:

  • St. Petersburg Street Circuit
  • Long Beach Street Circuit
  • Barber Motorsports Park
  • Indy Road Course
  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway
  • Detroit Street Circuit
  • Road America
  • Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
  • Toronto Street Circuit
  • Iowa Speedway (Double)
  • Nashville Street Circuit
  • Gateway International Speedway
  • Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca

A couple thoughts about these races: First, I’m not in love with the races at Barber Motor Sports Park or Mid-Ohio. I like them, but I don’t love them. It wouldn’t take a lot to convince me to replace both races on the calendar.

I know some people don’t like the doubleheader at Iowa Speedway. I do. Not only is the racing fast and furious, but having races on back-to-back days is a real challenge for both the driver and teams, which adds to the allure of the weekend. Considering the fantastic job Hy-Vee does to promote the race and stage concerts by big-name acts, I view the doubleheader at Iowa as a huge win for the IndyCar series.

Although I like the doubleheader, I don’t like double points. There’s no debating that the Indy 500 is the crown jewel of the series, but I don’t think winning it should pay double points. Having said that, because of the unique nature of the two weeks surrounding the Indy 500, I do think double points should be on offer. I just don’t think they should all be awarded for the race. I’d like to see qualifying become a points paying event, with as many points on the line as in a normal race. In other words, winning the pole will pay as many points as winning a race.

Let’s talk just a little more about this suggestion. Teams put so much effort into qualifying for the Indy 500. They practice for a week prior to qualifying, then spend an entire weekend competing for the pole. This effort should be rewarded more than it currently is. Because so much effort and expense goes into qualifying, I’d like to see points awarded based on qualifying position in the same way points are awarded for finishing position in the race.

I’d also like to see double points eliminated from the final race of the season. It’s too gimmicky for my taste. It’s nothing more than an attempt to inject some faux suspense into the driver’s championship. The final race should be no more important than any other race on the calendar. Pay the same points in the final race as you do for every other race and let the driver’s performance over the entire course of the season determine the championship.

Okay, we currently have fourteen races on our proposed IndyCar schedule. What tracks should we add?

STREET CIRCUITS

Let’s start by talking about street circuits we could add. I mentioned previously that IndyCar needs more races in Canada as well as in the Pacific Northwest. Let’s add street circuit races in Seattle, WA and in Vancouver, BC.

Seattle would be a terrific opportunity to add an event in a town loaded with high-tech companies. There could be some real synergy there for showcasing IndyCar in a target rich environment for sponsors and potential sponsors. In addition, Seattle is traditionally a town that supports sporting events, so I think they would welcome IndyCar with open arms.

Once upon a time, IndyCar (in its Champ Car iteration) ran on the streets of Vancouver in what was then known as Molson Indy Vancouver. The race took place near BC Place, and was a really popular event, attracting more than 100,000 people over most race weekends. In 1996, the race hosted the largest single-day crowd up to that point in the history of Canada. IndyCar hasn’t been back since 2004, but I think its time for a return.

By adding street circuits in Seattle and Vancouver, the IndyCar calendar will now boast seven street circuits.

ROAD COURSES

Let’s turn our attention to permanent road courses. I already eliminated the oval at Texas Motor Speedway from the schedule, but I don’t want to abandon Texas completely. That’s why I’m adding a race at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin. I’ll be honest, COTA isn’t my favorite track, but it is a beautiful facility in a town and state where IndyCar should be on display.

I’d also like to add a race at Watkins Glen. It’s a terrific track for IndyCar racing and it has been off the schedule for too long. Watkins Glen is one of the most historic road courses in the country and deserves a place on the calendar.

Adding Watkins Glen could also be an opportunity to move the IndyCar/NASCAR tripleheader. NASCAR already races at Watkins Glen. Maybe the event could be made even bigger by adding IndyCar to the weekend.

Next, let’s add Road Atlanta. This permanent road course is fast, challenging, and exciting. The track might have to make some safety changes, especially in the area around the esses, but they shouldn’t be too hard or expensive to do. If you’ve ever seen a race at Road Atlanta, you can only imagine how fun it would be to watch IndyCar on the track.

I mentioned previously that I didn’t love the race at Barber Motorsports Park. It’s possible that a race at Road Atlanta could replace a race at Barber. I have heard that the agreement with Barber is that IndyCar is prohibited from holding races in Georgia or Tennessee. If that is the case, I’d say “so long” to Barber and move the race to Road Atlanta, a more interesting track that would provide better racing, in a more desirable (for the series) location.

The final road course addition to the calendar isn’t a road course at all. It is a temporary circuit, but not a street circuit. So, what is it? It is Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland. IndyCar ran the Grand Prix of Cleveland at Burke Lakefront for twenty-five years. They were last there in 2007. The Cleveland race was popular with drivers and fans alike (although drivers did complain about the bumpiness).

Cleveland is a very hot market right now and IndyCar should take advantage of it. Some people might complain that Cleveland is too close to Mid-Ohio and keeping both races could water down attendance at both events. I’m not sure that is true. I think the schedule can be organized so neither event impacts the other. If it is true, maybe it’s time to give Mid-Ohio a rest and give Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland a try.

There is one track I didn’t add to the schedule that could potentially be a terrific track for an IndyCar/NASCAR tripleheader weekend. That track is the Charlotte Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway. I think the location would be awesome, introducing IndyCar to the diehard NASCAR fans in the Charlotte area. The thing I’m not sure about is how well IndyCars would race on the Roval. Josef Newgarden did a few demonstration laps in an IndyCar a few years ago on the Roval and says he thinks IndyCar would put on a great race there. A little more investigation is needed, but the Charlotte Roval could be a welcome addition to the IndyCar calendar.

OVALS

That brings us to ovals. One of the complaints I hear most is that IndyCar doesn’t have enough ovals on the calendar. When you think about what sets IndyCar apart from other open wheel series (particularly F1), it’s the challenge of racing on ovals, as well as street and road circuits.

There are three ovals I’d like to see added to the IndyCar calendar. First, is Richmond International Raceway. IndyCar ran there from 2001-2009. Since leaving, there has been a pretty steady drumbeat of oval fans pushing to get IndyCar back to Richmond. This would be a good chance to run on a short oval under the lights on a Saturday night. I like that idea.

The next oval addition is Homestead-Miami Speedway. IndyCar has a long history of racing in the Miami Grand Prix. Open wheel cars raced in Miami dating back to 1926. IndyCar came to Homestead in 1996 and continued racing there until 2010, including running a doubleheader with IMSA for a few years.

Miami is a terrific market for IndyCar and it would be good to see them get back there. Homestead used to be home to official IndyCar spring training. The 1.5 mile oval provides fast, close, exciting racing. What more could you want?

The final oval on my proposed schedule is the Milwaukee Mile. This one-day event was once one of the most popular on the IndyCar calendar. The races in Milwaukee were among the favorites of drivers and fans alike. The one-mile track is said to run a bit like a road course, with lots of speed and plenty of overtaking opportunities.

This is what the entire schedule would look like:

  • St. Petersburg Street Circuit
  • Long Beach Street Circuit
  • Barber Motorsports Park
  • Indy Road Course
  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway
  • Detroit Street Circuit
  • Road America
  • Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
  • Toronto Street Circuit
  • Iowa Speedway (Double)
  • Nashville Street Circuit
  • Gateway International Speedway
  • Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca
  • Seattle Street Circuit
  • Vancouver Street Circuit
  • Circuit of the Americas
  • Watkins Glen
  • Road Atlanta
  • Cleveland Burke Lakefront Airport
  • Richmond International Speedway
  • Homestead-Miami Speedway
  • Milwaukee Mile

*Dates to be determined

That’s a total of 24 points paying events (including Indy 500 qualifying and Iowa Speedway doubleheader). To accommodate all of these events, IndyCar will have to extend their season from late February/early March into October or November. I’d like to see an eight-month season and a four-month off season. I think this breakdown is good for both the series and the fans.

One final thought. I started off by saying IndyCar should run in Mexico, then I didn’t add a race in Mexico. Although I like the idea of taking IndyCar south of the border, it doesn’t seem realistic at the moment. I tried to be as realistic as possible when putting the schedule together. All of the tracks I listed could realistically host an IndyCar event next year. But at the moment, there doesn’t seem to be a realistic promoter and/or venue for an IndyCar race in Mexico. If that changes, I’m all for adding Mexico to the calendar.

There it is. IndyCar, if you’re reading this, feel free to reach out. I have a lot more ideas to improve the series. Just ask.

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