Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for any of RACER’s writers can be sent to email@example.com. Due to the high volume of questions received, we can’t guarantee that every letter will be published, but we’ll answer as many as we can. Published questions may be edited for length and clarity. Questions received after 3pm ET each Monday will appear the following week.
Q: Jay Frye said recently that 20 races would be the ideal length for an IndyCar season and date equity is important. We also know the series only wants to go to venues/cities where they are wanted. My question is, why can’t Mexico and Argentina help fill in dates in February (dare I even suggest these dates as doubleheaders?). Maybe a prime time Saturday night race before the Super Bowl? The fans have been complaining for many years that the off-season is far too long and the series doesn’t like to race overseas – or admit it sucks at marketing. Ironically, if IndyCar did this, nobody would know about it.
Rob, Rochester, NY
MARSHALL PRUETT: There’s no reason a trip or two to Latin America can’t happen. Considering how one of IndyCar’s two most popular drivers (Pato O’Ward) is Mexican, one of its two most recent champions is both Spanish and shares the same mother tongue as O’Ward, and one of its team owners in Ricardo Juncos is from Argentina and spends most of his days trying to get IndyCar to return to his homeland and race, we have more than enough reasons to hold at least one race in front of an enthusiastic Spanish-speaking crowd.
Q: With the COVID and Robin Miller’s passing, I never did hear if there was a memorial service, toasting to or anything else to remember Bill Simpson. Did I miss it, or was it done privately?
MP: Yes, I seem to recall there was a private gathering.
Q: So I didn’t win the $2 billion Powerball drawing, but if I had, I was wondering what it would cost to set up my own IndyCar team.
Let’s assume a two-car team running full a full season. What would my capital outlay be to buy all of the equipment (cars, transporters, shop equipment, etc.), and what would be the operating costs for everything else (engine leases, tires, salaries for crew and drivers, travel, etc.)
Fred, St. Louis, MO
MP: Having recently spoken to someone who is interested in doing exactly what you’re describing, set aside $20 million as a solid starting point to cover everything, but it could be less, if you wanted to do things on the cheap, or vastly more if you wanted to win a championship. Are you leasing an outfitted shop, buying one, building from scratch… lots of variables. The going operating budget for a season ranges from about $6-11 million per car.
Q: Seeing the autographed start sheet in the November 16 edition of the Mailbag jogged my memory about a question I have had for some time. Please forgive the rambling introduction…
In the late 1970s my brother and I were getting into motor racing, but still being in our mid-teens it required the help (indulgence) from our parents to get to most events.
We had been to a couple of Grands Prix when it was announced that “The Indy Cars are Coming” to Britain. Mum and Dad agreed to go to Silverstone for the first of the two races. My brother and I were keen to see just how much more open the paddock was compared to F1 and get as many autographs in our programs as possible. One driver had us stumped, though: George Snider. There was a gentleman often behind the Foyt garage who looked just like the photo in the program, but the name embroidered on his jacket did not say George and every time he was asked he said he was not George Snider.
Eventually we did get George’s signature but my question is, does George Snider have a twin brother, or was the man himself playing a joke on us?
Mark Jones, Chester, England
MP: I’m not aware of George having a twin, but since you were able to get George’s autograph, and I assume that took place in person, was he the same guy who said he wasn’t George? That’s the part of the story that confuses me, but I want to know.
Q: I believe Roger Penske said that IndyCar doesn’t compete with F1 for audiences, but I believe he may have lost touch with us common fan folk. I’ve been an IndyCar fan for 45 years and am the only such fan in my neighborhood here in NC. When I mention upcoming IndyCar races on TV to my neighbors, they think I’m talking about F1, even amongst the sports fans. So from what I’ve seen over the past 10 years, IndyCar does compete with F1, if nothing more than in name recognition and exposure (and to the untrained eye of my non-interested neighbors, the cars look the same). I’ve even had people ask me “aren’t they the same?”
IndyCar needs more viewers and F1 has them (and we should try to take them away), when the cars look similar and the racing is better in IndyCar. Oh, and don’t forget, Mark Miles runs Penske Entertainment, so do you really think he’s going to have a change of heart on marketing when it also sucked under his direction as the IndyCar “boss”?
Randy Mizelle, NC
MP: It ain’t Miles. Prior to the sale, yes, Mark was the top executive, but not since. There’s a handful of people who run Penske Entertainment and their names are either Penske or they’ve been long-term employees of people named Penske who’ve been tasked with making all the major decisions. Prior to the sale, the Hulman George family mostly left the running of IndyCar to folks like Miles and Frye, etc. Since the purchase, a new Penske-based layer of leadership and decision making has been positioned above those folks.
Think of it like a corporate takeover where everyone from the CEO on down reports to the new owners. There are quite a few people who were retained when PE bought the track and series, and some of those folks wield a decent amount of power and influence, but not in the areas where IndyCar needs the most amount of help.
I’m not familiar with the R.P. quote you’ve cited, but I do know what I read from NBC in a press release that went out two days after the IndyCar season was over: “The 2022 NTT IndyCar Series season… averaged a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 1.30 million viewers across NBC, USA Network, Peacock and NBC Sports digital platforms, marking the most-watched season for the IndyCar Series since 2016.”
NBC said IndyCar had a year-to-year audience increase of five percent. And if it wasn’t obvious, the average of 1.3m viewers across 17 races is heavily skewed by one race, the Indy 500, which had 4.62m viewers. On an annual basis, the 500 pulls the average to something north of 1m per race, but it paints a false portrait of true average race viewership.
And here’s the press release ESPN fired off right after the F1 season ended, which said: “The 2022 Formula 1 World Championship season has ended as the most-viewed ever on U.S. television, smashing a record that was set just one year ago. The season averaged 1.21 million viewers per race across ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC, a 28 percent increase over the previous U.S. television record of 949,000 average viewers that was set in 2021. The 2022 season also became the first in U.S. television history to average 1 million or more viewers per race. In addition, more female and younger viewers watched F1 races on U.S. television than ever before.”
So, I’m sharing these numbers for a reason, and that’s to illustrate two things. Thanks to the Indy 500’s big audience, IndyCar’s 1.3m average is bigger than F1’s 1.2m average. But if you look at F1’s most-watched race, it was 1.4m. Simply put, F1’s average of 1.2m isn’t the result of one big outlier like the Indy 500 to give a skewed impression of how many people are watching the average IndyCar event.
F1’s average is the one that should cause concern for IndyCar because comes from more people in America turning in for every round.
From F1’s 22 races, 12 averaged between 995,000 to 1.445m viewers, the majority of which aired on cable with ESPN. Most of IndyCar’s races are on network with NBC, and yet, its audiences are smaller than what F1 tends to get on cable…
On average — real average — a lot more F1 is being watched in the U.S. than IndyCar, and if you keep in mind that most F1 races start while most of us are asleep, there’s clearly something big happening here with F1 viewership right now.
Given the choice to wake up at the crack of dawn and watch Red Bull win almost every anti-climactic race or to get plenty of rest and watch some of the best racing on the planet with IndyCar, our favorite series is losing the fight. Pretending we aren’t losing the fight is a fine way to get knocked out.