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INDYCAR Boss: Ooops On Fontana Downforce Call

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 1 2015
NASCAR boss Mark Miles said last weekend's race at Auto Club Speedway was

INDYCAR boss Mark Miles responded to driver complaints about Auto Club Speedway’s style of racing last weekend.

INDYCAR boss Mark Miles said Wednesday the “compelling” and “at times hard to watch” record-setting pack racing that unfolded during Saturday’s MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway largely was the result of aerodynamic bugindycarhappenstance.

“Clearly different tracks present different styles and getting the best setup is not an exact science,” Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., the parent of INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said during a national teleconference. “Our folks believe that there are two primary reasons that the racing was so tight.  One was that we probably did go a step too far with the downforce that we allowed or provided for in the aero spec; the other was that it ended up being a much cooler race than expected and obviously temperature has something to do with it.”

Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing scored his second career
Verizon IndyCar Series victory on the 2-mile, D-shaped ACS oval in Fontana, Calif., in an event that produced a record 80 lead changes among 14 drivers. Pack racing three-and four-wide was typical during an event that prompted several prominent drivers to compare it to the circumstances that led to the multiple-car crash that killed two-time Indianapolis 500 champion and 2005 series champion Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16, 2011.

The race featured a total of 3,173 on-track passes _ 2,537 for position _ which accounts for 51 percent of the total on-track passes (6,248) in the series this season.

“So I guess I would say it’s a two-sided coin,” Miles said. “This is an inherently dangerous sport.  You’ve seen Ed Carpenter and others talk about it recently.  We’ve got to be the kind of sanctioning body that the drivers feel comfortable coming to and believe that smart people listen and make the best judgments possible.  Not all the drivers have the same point of view about anything.  I think we have demonstrated that we do care about safety, and fundamentally also about growing this sport and attracting more fans.  All those things are in the mix.  I think we were probably closer than we had in mind in Fontana.

“Happily, it was safe, and it certainly provided a very compelling race.”

The broadcast on NBC Sports Network generated a more than 100 percent increase in overnight ratings from the previous year. Played out before an embarrasingly sparse crowd estimated between 3,000 and 5,000 fans, the event drew a 0.37 overnight rating as reported by Nielsen _ up from a 0.18 rating in 2014.

Among other topics discussed by Miles were introduction of aero kits by Chevrolet and Honda, criticism levied against the sanctioning body by series “stakeholders” after the Fontana race and shape of the 2016 schedule.  An edited teleconference transcript follows:

Q:  Mark, we are just past the midway point of the season with only five races remaining in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series calendar.  How would you assess the year so far?

MARK MILES:  Well, I think of it first from a fan’s perspective, and I think we’re hitting more than we’re missing.  I think the racing has been even more competitive and compelling, perhaps, than the high standard set last year and in previous years.

Everybody probably knows eight winners in 11 events; I think we had historic events in Indianapolis, and even last weekend in Fontana.  Attendance is the tale of two situations, where it’s been flat or up a little or up a lot in about half of the events.  I think St. Pete and Long Beach were near their recent or historic highs, and even the Indianapolis 500 race was up a bit. And then there is the other half, which I think have been affected in no small part by weather.  Most of the weather was rain, which we have had more than our fair share of it at NOLA and the Angie’s List Grand Prix in Detroit and Toronto. And then temperature, the heat, I think, affected the attendance in Fontana, so kind of a mixed bag there.

From a television perspective, we’re coming off of last year, which had meaningful growth, about 25 percent in average rating and average viewership, and it looks like we’re going to be about flat this year.  We didn’t have programming changes like we did last year, and if we can end the year up a tick or not having given back any of the growth from last year, I think that’s probably where we end up.

Our digital metrics are all expanding and growing.  So we’ve got a lot of season yet to go, but I think so far from a fan’s perspective, most of the metrics have been reasonably positive.

Q:  The 2015 season has marked the debut of aero kit body work from Honda and Chevrolet.  What role have the new aero kits played in the momentum IndyCar has experienced this season?

MARK MILES:  Again, I think it’s a mixed bag.  There are positive changes that have come along with them and then some challenges.  I think it’s useful to remember why we wanted to go down the path of the introduction of aero kits, something that had been envisioned for a long time.  Fundamentally in broad terms, I think the reason to do it was to begin to open up technical innovation, and I think a lot of our fans and stakeholders wanted to see that. Chevy, in particular, not to single anybody out, has been very clear on how important the introduction of aero kits competition (is to its branding).

It was to distinguish the look between Honda and Chevy, and I think it’s done that.  I think they look, in laymen’s terms, cooler, perhaps, than the car last year and it was to increase performance. We’ve set a number of track records so far this year, and performance in my mind means different things _ one, you know, you can measure is track records. But the other is contribution to the quality of racing.  To illustrate that point, I go back to my personal experience at the 500 in Indianapolis, when (Juan Pablo) Montoya won and he still had the wreath around his shoulders and the milk in his hand.  I was lucky enough to go down and congratulate him, and the very first thing he said to me was, ‘Mark, these cars with these aero kits are unbelievable.  I could do anything I wanted to do in the car.’

Some might think that means it was too easy.  What it meant to him was he could put on a heck of a race, and I think for everybody who watched it, particularly more casual fans, it was exactly that kind of compelling racing. I think the aero kits have had a role to play in that regard.

On the other hand, as I said, I think there have been issues.  Disappointing that we start the year in St. Pete, which is great event, and we had set a speed record there before the race and yet the kits were clearly brittle to use a word. There was more debris on the track, more yellow than we had in mind, and that was not the narrative that we expected or wanted.

There have been issues for the teams related to supply and cost, and obviously there was, I think, a significant issue with respect to the setup for the time trials in Indianapolis.  A lot of people tell me that these _ some of those issues are indicative of development, that lots of things that have ended up being positive start out with hiccups or challenges.

So I think that’s, from my perspective, a fair view of what we’ve seen so far. I expect the role of the kits to be improved and more clearly positive as we go forward.

Q:  Off the track you’re focused on completion of the 2016 schedule.  What should we expect for 2016?

MARK MILES: One is tempted to remind folks what’s involved in a schedule, and I think this is true for IndyCar and probably any other league.

We’ve got to deal with a number of issues and find the best way to balance them and they include the length of the schedule, the season, if you will, overall, which months and year you use to create the length of the season that you want, how many events you’re going to have within it, what kind of downtime and travel time are you going to have between events, which markets are you going to be in and how many events in which regions, date equity for existing events, in the sense of versus accommodating the local needs of existing events.

I think about Toronto this year and certainly how a traditional and important event on the series, we moved it at their request in order to help them deal with complications related to Pan American Games, which created some other issues.  Operating costs for teams are part of scheduling, for teams and for sponsors and for the series itself.  We think about the mix between street and ovals and, in fact, different types of ovals.  We think about traditional venues and we hear often about tracks like Road America and Laguna Seca, as examples, and in a way you think about traditional venues verses potentially new urban markets.

We think about quality of the racing, we think about safety of the racing, attendance and the vitality of the events themselves, sanction fees and revenues will matter to us, it affects our ability to increase Leader Circle competition to the teams.

We do think about our and our teams’ sponsor needs and what they look for in executing their marketing programs.  We care about increasing the television audience for the series.  When I started in the first meetings I had with our drivers, and our owners, the single highest priority they expressed was work to go get the television audience up so that it would help them attract new fans and be more successful in the sponsorship market.  And we care about growing our new events.  So you got all these new factors and alchemy is how you deal with them.

With respect to next year year’s schedule, with that long preamble, I think the length of the schedule is a fundamental issue.  I think we’ve been saying that for some time.  We do not expect to have a five-month schedule, nor was that ever the goal.  The idea was not shorter and less, it was to see if we couldn’t slide the schedule while actually growing it earlier in the year to be in a more ideal or beneficial television period.

The model we have been pursuing has been seven months, 16, 18, 20 events and the number of events more is not necessarily better, it has to work on the calendar against many of these factors that I’ve probably bored you with at the beginning.

From a television audience perspective, I think I can invite any number of television executives to a call like this and without exception we would hear them say that from a television perspective, the post-Labor Day period for us will be a challenge.  Clearly, though, and I think we have been saying this for some time, certainly I thought clearly back before May, when we end the season next year will be directly related to when we can start it.

We are not going to have a five-month season next year.  All those other factors that I’ve mentioned will play into the exact length, when it starts, when it ends, but we’re working very hard on it.  I think we’re going to have some good options at the beginning of the year.  We’ve got some races that are on the schedule we’ve got to know for sure are going to be with us next year, from their perspective.

We’ve got an anchor, new anchor race in Boston on Labor Day weekend.  When we announced it, we made it clear that we had not decided if it would be the finale and for emphasis, at this point I would guess it isn’t, it won’t be. But that would ultimately come down to what the full shape of the schedule will look like when we know what our options are.

Q:  Thanks, Mark, and finally this past Saturday at Auto Club Speedway, we saw an unbelievably exciting race, but afterwards there has been discussion about the racing and if it was “too close!” What has been your reaction to the race?

MARK MILES:  It’s a serious subject, so I hope this attempt at humor is not misguided, but I have a very good, very colorful friend that’s pretty well-known in Indiana who wrote a book that is entitled, “It Takes a Mighty Thin Pancake that Ain’t Got Two Sides”!  The way I think about it, the Fontana race definitely had two sides.  It was compelling, it was adrenaline-filled, it was hard to look away, at times it was hard to watch.  It was so exciting.

We noted during the race it got up from fifth to trending third on Twitter, and NASCAR drivers were making their comments, including things like, ‘If you’re not watching Indy cars race on NBC Sports Network, you’re missing it.’  I think it was said the TV rating, the audience nearly doubled, it was up 83 percent, and it was the most watched NBC Sports Network race since 2011.

Some of that, without a doubt in my mind, was about the excitement generated by the racing, some of it was probably that it wasn’t at night.  Those are some observations.  Obviously there were drivers that were very concerned about it.  That is something we listened to.  It’s something that Derrick (Walker, INDYCAR president, competition & operations) and his team listened to.  When they heard about it on Friday, I think, in Fontana, they did talk to other drivers and their judgment at the time was that we ought to go on with it.  And different drivers had different perspectives on it, but making a change in the aero setup at that point was not the best course of action.

Q:  Mark, how disheartening was it from your end that after that race _ a spectacular, compelling race as you’ve already said _ drivers slammed it, some of the media slammed it, and even some of the fans slammed it when there were a lot of people that thought it was extremely compelling and rather than being the traditional ‘pack race’ like we saw at Vegas in 2011. The winner, Graham Rahal, said you had five racing lanes to work with. And from another point, some of the drivers who complained the most about how dangerous it was were the drivers making the most erratic moves in the race.

MARK MILES:  Maybe this isn’t a pancake, maybe there is more than two sides; there are certainly a lot of perspectives.  The one thing I think everybody who was watching it is unanimous about, maybe I’m wrong, is that it was absolutely compelling and riveting racing.  So I think there is one common denominator and I think that was pretty clear.  Certainly that’s how I personally reacted to it.  I’m not sure what else I can say to elaborate.  Our people believe that it was a little tighter than they had in mind.

I’ve heard different people debate whether it was ‘pack racing’ or not; frankly, I’m sure that term means different things to different people.  To some people the fact that there were distinct lanes means that it wasn’t pack racing; to some the fact that it was really close means it was.  I’m not sure I care about the debate about a word or a phrase.  The question is, you know, was it too dangerous?  Our sport is dangerous; that’s part of it.  I have said, and I mean what I said, that I think it was a little closer than anybody had in mind. And I think that was part our setup of the aero spec is in part, and I think it was real, and part that it was 10 degrees cooler than anybody expected pretty much throughout the race, certainly as the race proceeded.

What I didn’t love about it was _ it’s one thing for our fans and audience and all that and people that care about us to weigh-in and have opinions and that’s great.  If they don’t, then we really are in trouble as a sport.  What I didn’t love was our members, I think of them as members, some of our stakeholders, by whom I mean representatives of teams and certain drivers, I thought, really going too far with their public statements.

One way to look at it is that at a moment when people were exhausted from the stimulation of watching that race, even during it, comments started to be made that weren’t so much just opinions about the setup, but were really very, I thought, potentially damaging to the sport, to the series.

I don’t view the series as Hulman & Company, Inc.  I view this series as the drivers, the teams, and us, and our investors and stakeholders, by which I mean broadcasters and sponsors. And comments can be damaging to the interest of the whole, and I personally think our sport has been probably too lax in that regard.

So I expect to see a change in our attitude about that going forward.  I don’t think it makes sense to go from off to on _ from one day to the next without any warnings. But I do think we need to be more forceful in ensuring that no one individual or individuals are really damaging the value for the group.

On the other hand, it’s incumbent on us to be a place where stakeholders can feel like they can express their views and they are heard and they are absolutely taken into consideration.  Again, most of them understand that their view doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a universal view and sometimes timing of a discussion affects outcomes.

That was one take-away for the weekend from me that I think as a sanctioning body we got to step-up a little bit where it makes sense, and I think you can look for us to take that approach going forward.

Q:  Also, as far as the discussions that you may have had with David Allen (ACS president) over the weekend _ obviously he doesn’t want that date for next year and pretty much said if they’re going to be back, it needs to be in a post-Labor Day date.  How are those discussions going and do you expect to be back at Fontana next year?

MARK MILES:  Well, the discussion isn’t really sort of ongoing in terms of back and forth and back and forth.  I think you accurately conveyed their view, that for them to be successful it really can’t be in the heat of the summer and we get that.  So we gotta take that into account and look at the whole of those tradeoffs that we just talked about.  No one individual perspective is going to trump all the others.  On the other hand, I don’t expect to be more specific about the calendar until we are closer to there and ready to put it out. But I think I’ve made it clear that when we end the season is still something that is under consideration.

Q:  Mark, you talked about maybe going to Phoenix.  What kind of options have they offered?  I believe Tony George wants a Thursday night race during the NASCAR weekend and they were concerned about the attendance.  Has Phoenix given you options that look appealing or have you got that far?

MARK MILES:  Well, I don’t know that there are a lot of options.  They’re not much different than Fontana for weather, so it ain’t gonna work in the summer and they’ve got to work around, from their perspective, understandably, their other especially NASCAR events.

So I think the focus has to be about them being so far away from their first Cup race as possible, which puts you in early February.  So some of the considerations for them are, you know, what kind of space do they feel like they need to have between an IndyCar race and a Cup race to make them both successful.

We would have been there before now if there were a bunch of options to choose from.  I don’t think there are.  By being willing to start earlier in the year, we talked about right after the Super Bowl, it does open up at least that option from our perspective. But there aren’t _ it’s not like there is two months between that and their first Cup race, so I think the judgments have to be made primarily by them about whether they can find a way to make ’em both work if that’s the setup.

Q:  What about if you would lose Fontana and Milwaukee doesn’t come back, we don’t know about Pocono, obviously, would IndyCar be in a position to be a co-promoter to keep the ovals on the schedule?

MARK MILES:  Keeping the ovals on the schedule is really important to us.  There are various ways we can consider helping, supporting them. To some extent we have showed a lot of what I will call ‘flexibility’ in sanction fee pricing in part because of that objective.  Whether we can bring some sponsorship _ you know, there are a lot of points on the spectrum.  I don’t believe that actually co-promoting when we are in their market selling tickets for them is our strength, so that seems like a bridge too far. But we care a lot about the ovals being part of the series, along with the streets and the roads, and we’re going to do whatever we can to ensure that balance.

Q:  The next track to discuss is Road America.  What are the pros and cons about making a decision there?

MARK MILES:  You can go back to some of those factors.  It’s a traditional track that’s had great history for us.  We know that a lot of our fans and stakeholders, teams, would like to be there, we would like to be there.  We think it’s important to talk with Milwaukee about that and we have and we do, and I think they understand that proximity can be a good thing, especially when there is cooperation between promoters and there can be a collaborative effort, in effect, to build a fan base.

From a Road America point of view, they don’t have a lot of flexibility on date.  I think it’s pretty clear they would like, if we can do it, that they would like us to allow them to combine with their World Challenge event, which they just had, so they’re sort of a target on the board. And the question is, can we hit it?  But it’s a focal point of our discussions and we’re hopeful we can figure that out for next year.

Q:  At what point do you set a deadline for these international races you have been talking about on the front end of the schedule?  I don’t sense a lot of positive movement for 2016, maybe there is?  At what point do you need to make a decision on those events?

MARK MILES:  You know, there isn’t a drop-dead date until we’ve done the schedule, but that’s obviously not really the deadline.  There are a lot of things you have to do once you lock-in where you want to be.  There are still on-going conversations where we have been approached.  It’s not like we were just out there knocking on doors and waking people up at night, by other markets around the world. And particularly to a great extent those that have the warmer climates in the early, first quarter of the calendar year, but it’s just talk until we get ’em done.  So I think they’re almost separate issues.  They’re both important.  One is how early we can start and the other is whether or not we go international to start as championship point races.

We’re working on both. A question implied Phoenix early and there are probably other ovals that might be candidates, so if we can’t find ’em internationally at the beginning, maybe we do look at those opportunities.  There is certainly, without a doubt, meaningful different economics and that is an advantage to a couple of international races, if we can find ’em.

And having a little more ability to be noticed around the globe would offer some advantage as well.  We are fundamentally a North American, a U.S., really, series, so we’re not talking about chasing our tail all year long around the globe. But there are those advantages.  So we’re looking to do what we’ve got to do to start early.  We might take one approach to starting earlier in ’16 and without foreclosing the opportunity to move in an international race or two in a subsequent year, so I don’t think it’s a one-time decision.

Q:  Mark, you mentioned flexibility in your sanctioning fees to help in future negotiations with tracks.  I know that has been an issue for George Bruggenthies up at Road America.  Are there other circuits that you’re considering over the coming years besides Road America?  I know Road America is very high on the list right now.  Are there other circuits that you are considering?

MARK MILES:  Yes.  I don’t want to, you know, start either a guessing game or kind of implicate other track owners, but, yes, there are one or more, one of which I think I referred to on this call that are possibilities.  If that’s your question, that’s the answer, yes, we’re trying to cast a very wide net and look at the widest range of possibilities and put them into that big analysis that I tried to articulate at the beginning.  There are other road courses that are players, potentially.

Q:  Getting back to something you said earlier about drivers’ comments being damaging to the series _ have you sat down with any of the drivers post-Fontana in-person and generally talked it out to hear what they had to say. Or is this just still, you know, comments were said and your reaction to them?

MARK MILES:  First, just as a…maybe it’s a meaningful distinction I didn’t say just ‘drivers.’ I think really stakeholders, but the short answer to your question is I’ve talked to a couple, but many I haven’t.  We’re not going to be levying sanctions based on comments that were made last weekend. But I do think they provide an important reason that I do need to have a number conversations and will have them, and I think we will have them with some individuals and we’ll have them with team owners and drivers generally.  Saying that, I will say this:  Any sport, when it doles out penalties, especially not competitive penalties but this sort of thing, has to think about their style.

When I got involved in tennis, I went to see then Commissioner of the PGA Tour, Dean Beaman, to talk about this and get some advice. His advice was, ‘They’re yours and you may need to show tough love,’ but the point isn’t to show it publicly.  The point is to build the culture that you want.  And I think _ you all are racing guys but also sports fans. You don’t read a lot from golf about when they may have occasion to sanction, punish, penalize golfers.  You better believe it happens.  In tennis we were somewhere in-between.  We ended up publishing that a lot because if a tennis player took a racquet and broke it over the head of a chair umpire, it was hard to be private about it.

Anyway, all I’m trying to do is make it clear I’m not pleased with some of that. I’m not naming any names, and I’ve said it’s incumbent upon us to be a responsible, responsive, intelligent sanctioning body.  But we will _ I will change this culture to some extent going forward by being more activist and whether we’re pounding our chests about that or not, you can be sure it’s going to happen if it needs to.

Q:  Mark, if I can ask a quick follow-up on the Road America question.  Can you give us a feel for how likely is it?  Is it a good possibility?  Or is it one of the many maybes?

MARK MILES:  It’s something we are looking hard at in our level of detailed discussions.

Q:  And given that the Milwaukee race hasn’t performed up to hopes probably the last few years, are fans on-notice that really this is the last chance?  Are we looking at Milwaukee next weekend already being a lame duck event?

MARK MILES:  We’re not drawing that line in the sand.  I spoke to one of the senior officers of the company that promotes it today, even, and we’re both going to do what we can to see if we can continue to have Milwaukee on the schedule.  Again, that’s going to take some, I think, sponsorship and it’s going to take…we’re going to have to work on the date.

This year the date is different and their time is different, and the date is different. As I understand it, when Labor Day, by virtue of the way the calendar works, not our calendar, but ‘the calendar’ moved Labor Day about a week later, the fair sort of moved with it and our promoters believed that they needed to be after the fair. And there are lots of other goings on civically in the summer in Milwaukee as well.  So we didn’t have a lot of choice as to where to put it, and their trying to combine VintageCar racing with IndyCar to make a terrific weekend, and that had something to do with the date.  It also has something to do with the time.

We know that the IndyCar race is a couple hours later than it has been, and we know that if you are traveling from Chicago or Indianapolis and you’re trying to get home Sunday night, a couple of hours matters.  On the other hand, the promoter definitely wanted to have the Vintage racing Saturday.  That means we could practice Saturday, and we got to put a lot into Sunday, including qualifying and practice, and that’s how it ended up being later.  So as always, lots of moving parts.  They’re not secrets, they’re not nefarious, and we hope that we can find ways to find a date where it works better for our promoter and primarily our fans.

Q:  Mark, if you could clarify a comment that you made earlier about the race in Boston next year.  Obviously the date has been set for Labor Day weekend, but it’s still no commitment on IndyCar’s part, if I’m not mistaken by what you said, about making that the season-finale.

MARK MILES:  As we were finalizing our agreements with Boston, we knew we weren’t prepared _ they absolutely wanted Labor Day, and we weren’t prepared at that point to commit that would be the finale, the last weekend of the year, so we asked them what was their preference, to be last or to be Labor Day and they chose Labor Day.

So that is what it is.  It will be what it ends up based on all our considerations in finalizing the calendar.  We think it’s going to be a great race either way, and I think the city wouldn’t have stepped up if they didn’t think so.  We are very excited about being there a year from this Labor Day.

Q:  So right now you aren’t committed to making it the season finale because you granted their wish of being on that date, Labor Day weekend?

MARK MILES:  Well, we granted their wish and we have not yet decided when the season is going to end.  It may well go later than Labor Day.  That’s not our goal because we know among all these variables, additional races after Labor Day will not help our average viewership and average ratings, but there are other considerations.  We’ve got to have great events and they can’t all be scheduled whenever we might want to schedule them.  So we’re not going to know how long the season will go until we have worked through the rest of that, knowing what our options are.

Q:  When do you expect to finalize the schedule?

MARK MILES:  I’m embarrassed to say what probably has been said for God knows how many years _ we want to get it out by the end of this season and we know it would be better if it was earlier.  We know for a lot of our stakeholders including broadcasters and promoters, earlier is better so we’re working hard at it.

Q:  And the reason for coming to Boston, it’s a market that is relatively untapped for IndyCar, but it’s the first time it’s ever happened in the history of the city in Boston proper.

MARK MILES:  There are lots of compelling reasons.  IndyCar wants to be in the Eastern seaboard, we want to be in more major cities.  Boston is a compelling city in so many respects _ its vibrance as a place, its population, it’s important in various economic sectors, number of Fortune 500 headquartered companies and we loved the layout in the Seaport District.  When fans see it, it will light them up.  It’s going to be beautiful and yet artful in minimizing disruptions for residents of the area.  So it’s got a lot to offer, and the people we are working with from the city through the promoter have been diligent, engaged and done their damndest to dot their I’s and cross their T’s, and I think we have a potential to be there for the long haul.

Q:  What was your stakeholders reactions when you announced you were going to be in Boston?

MARK MILES:  This may be one of those, like fans’ reactions to the race in Fontana, it was just riveting.  All I heard were very positive comments, period.  It’s hard to elaborate on that.  Our drivers, teams, sponsors, broadcasters.  Everybody looks forward to introducing IndyCar in Boston.

Q:  Mark, you mentioned both TV numbers and social media trending numbers earlier for Fontana but the fact was the stands themselves looked pretty sparse.  How do you and how does IndyCar react to having a race in front of that many people on-site, and how many can you really afford to have from an optics standpoint?

MARK MILES:  It’s not what we had in mind, it’s not what we have in mind.  This is the third time I’ve been there for an IndyCar race and I wasn’t wild about the crowd three races ago. But it was reduced, and I’m sure that the schedule and the weather contributed to that.  So it is something that has to be taken into account and has to be worked through.  It’s certainly not just about the weather, although I’m trying to be quite clear, we know the schedule had a lot to do with it.

I think I mentioned that our events need to reflect well on the series.  They need to be vibrant, have impact in their markets and all those other things, right?  They got to be great racing. This was certainly great racing, even if maybe over the top.  So we’ve got to pick those places where we can get _ we can check most of the boxes, and Fontana provided a fabulous, competitive event, but we have not gotten where we want to be in terms of the crowd there and we made it more difficult this year.

Q:  In terms of any comments that are made, shots fired, whether it’s, as you say, drivers, teams, other stakeholders, particularly if there are any that are personal, do you react to those?  Do you see those?  Is that something that you take into account?  How much do you take that all into account?

MARK MILES:  Well, look, as far as I can tell from the accents on the phone, we’re All-Americans, and we grew up not liking censors, and expecting to be able to express ourselves.  So at least for me, that’s the way you think about things.  But then you take on the responsibility of looking after the good of the whole.  We will certainly not be exceptional among sports leagues if we _ when we step-up and assert ourselves more to do what we can do to minimize the times when an individual participant’s comments are damaging to the whole.  That does not mean that we can’t tolerate criticism and that there won’t be lots of opinions on lots of different topics. But there are lines that have to be drawn and they’re hard to make black and white.

In tennis we had one. If you went up to an official and said ‘F-you’ _ not ‘F-this’ but ‘F-you’ _ you were suspended and defaulted and there was no room for negotiation.  I don’t know exactly what there will be. I think in this sport it’s probably more subjective but I think we have to move in that direction for the benefit of the series.

Q:  How much does moving the schedule and time hurt each venue?

MARK MILES:  It’s definitely something we want to do and I didn’t elaborate but it’s a principle.  It’s not axiomatic I give you (Toronto), for example. I think they were getting date-equity and people around racing don’t say the date in terms of a month and a day, they say the date in terms of the race.  That’s the goal.

But it will happen that a place like (Toronto) that has date-equity, and says, we can’t be there next year, we’ve got the Pan Am Games, we’ve got the facilities but there are no alternatives, so please help us and in that case.  By the way at an owner’s meeting before we finalized the issue, we raised the issue with the owners and the answer was if your choice is to give them a sabbatical and take a year off or move, and moving involves prolonging the back-to-back weekends past Indianapolis in May, past Detroit, past Texas, then do it.  We will suck it up.  So on the one hand, date-equity is a goal, it’s a value, but it isn’t ever going to be perfect.

Q:  So you said in discussions with Fontana, they have been back and forth.  So what does that mean with regards to returning next year?

MARK MILES:  I don’t remember saying they have been back and forth.  Maybe what I said was they have made it clear that they need to have a date that works, and everybody understands that’s not going to be in the summer. So the question is can we find a date that works against all those other considerations and is acceptable to them, but it’s not a back and forth, ping-pong match.

Q:  Do you want to have it (ACS) back in the series next year?

MARK MILES:  Yeah, I think we do want to have it back.  It’s a traditional race that’s produced _ traditional event that’s produced great racing.  We want to see the crowd grow, we want to see impact in LA in the market and we know we gotta…if that’s going to happen, there are things they will have to do and we’re going to have to find a date that will work.

Q:  Mark, I know a lot of the focus today has been on IndyCar, but right here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway we’re going to have the Rolling Stones in concert Saturday night.  What do you see as the opportunities and the challenges for the Speedway, especially following next year’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500?

MARK MILES:  Well, I wouldn’t have brought up the Stones but I’m glad you did.  We have people working their tails off, there are enormous cranes out there setting up a mind-boggling stage and production facilities.  We are tracking the weather like we would if it was the 500 and keeping our fingers crossed. Maybe you’re not superstitious, but when it comes to rain I am.  We’re hopeful about that.

We know it’s going to be an unbelievable show.  Look, we’ve got a bunch of stuff to do at the IMS.  One of those things is to be great stewards of the investment money, about $90-million that will be put into the Speedway.  Some of it has been invested, but most of it is coming, the bonds are being priced and sold right now.  So we have a ton of work to be done here after this racing season and before the next one.  That’s very high on our list of things to be paying a lot of attention to, obviously.  A lot of time has gone into planning what we will do with the investments.

We set a goal for ourselves to increase the total attendance for a year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, from around 400,000 to 600,000 by 2018. That’s going to entail a lot of things, growing the total attendance in May, and I hope for each of the three weekends, and Carb Day and each of the big opportunities in May, it’s going to mean reversing the trend with the Brickyard.

And I can tell you, year over year we’re doing relatively better, which means less decline this year than last year.  We’re working hard on that.  I want to get all these events to grow.  We think we will probably do more in the music arena, away from _ even away from our racing.  Last, but absolutely sort of first, along with the investment is taking advantage of the 100th running of the 500 next May. That it is what this place deserves and what the history deserves. As much as that, it’s a springboard for future growth and that we do it in a way as much as we can to leverage the popularity of IndyCar at the same time.  So we got a full plate and lots to do.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 1 2015
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