That’s what I’ll be doing this weekend, on Saturday in particular. It’s the yearly trip for the Mrs and I down to Kentucky Speedway. Fourth year we’ve made the trip and this is one that I will be pretty interested in making, and not just for the racing. The first two times we made the trip, it was an enjoyable experience, decent racing and a decent sized crowd. Then came last year, the race of the year … with no one around to see it. Even though I had witnessed David nearly topple Goliath, I was pissed. Pissed that no one else was there to see it. Pissed that My Wife, Her father and I had nearly 4 rows to ourselves. Pissed that the new owners of the place, supposedly reported to be “Master Promoters Extraordinaire” had achieved a colossal FAIL.
Some background may be necessary. Kentucky Speedway opened in 2000 and as with other new independent (i.e. not ISC or SMI owned) venues such as Iowa, Invited IndyCar to race and christen the new facility while efforts began to attract nascar dates to the facility as well. As the speedway had no cup date to sell, management put a lot of effort into selling and promoting the IndyCar date it had. While not completely full, the crowds were healthy for a sport that was in free fall from a decade of civil war. Then it was announced that Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motor Sport would be buying the facility. Last year was the first year the IndyCar race occurred under SMI’s watch…and apparently Bruton forgot to sell tickets, or invite anyone for that matter. If it weren’t for the army of Dollar General employees in attendance as a corporate perk to see Sarah Fisher race in the corporate colors, the whole lot of fans could have fit in the New Castle High School gym.
Randy Bernard has said he wants COMMITTED PARTNERS who are interested in helping to grow and promote the sport. There’s no doubt that is how it ought to be. But it comes with a cost. Many in the IndyCar community are mourning the likely loss of Chicagoland this week as the definition of “Partnership” appears to be beyond ISC’s interest level. But ISC these days is all about Vertical integration and keeping the money in house. There’s no point for ISC tracks to be outsourcing for talent when the in house talent (in the form of the Nationwide and Craftsman series) works on the cheap. Likewise, an aggressive bit of scheduling to draw fans away from the Brickyard next year appears to have the goal of returning that precious cup date back to an in house ISC track.
One entity that is not burdened with the conflicting interests associated with owning both tracks and a major racing series is SMI. SMI is all about the tracks and hence all about Dates, races and events. As Randy Bernard has become comfortable as the new president of the IICS, he has been spotted out on the town numerous times with his new suitor, Bruton Smith and SMI. They are quite the Item. SMI appears smitten with IICS and IICS with SMI. But for this romance to continue, SMI has to show that it is in fact a COMITTED PARTNER.
So far, things have gone well with SMI since the IICS called out its business partners. New Hampshire is on the schedule and Smith saw to it that fans at the spring cup date were exposed to the speed gap between a cup car and an IndyCar over the objections of the nascar president Mike Helton. A new format has been announced with the goal of revitalizing the Texas IndyCar event. Even reviled Sonoma Is showing signs of life. The IndyCar race there was reported to be the only race at the facility where ticket sales were up from past years. As I watched the race, I saw people in stands and on the grounds where I am not used to seeing people at that venue. All good signs going forward.
Which brings me back to Kentucky 2009. What I saw that night was not the product of a committed partner, it was work that an apathetic ISC track president would have been proud of. There have been quite a few personal appearances by drivers to support the race this year and I have heard many radio spots on local sports stations promoting the race and ticket sales for it. Whether or not these efforts will get butts into seats is yet to be seen.
This Saturday night will be a litmus test, to see just what COMMITMENT PARTNER means from SMI. My posse for this Saturday’s race is up to six from the traditional three. Bruton, I’ve stepped up my game, have you stepped up yours??