IndyCar Series President Randy Bernard told everyone that would listen Sunday morning that this was an extremely important weekend for the series.
He was right too. The series was coming off an exciting running of its signature event, had a popular champion, and was running a Sunday afternoon race with major corporate support on a broadcast network where more people would accidentally find it than would ever go searching for it on the NBC Sports Network.
Desperately needing to maintain some momentum through a stretch that features five consecutive weekends of IndyCar racing, everything that could go wrong – did go wrong.
The hits came from a number of directions, some of them self-inflicted, some a product of poor planning and some came from parts unknown, but they all conspired to drop IndyCar off the map at the one time during 2012 when it was poised to make any kind of a move.
Bernard’s ill-timed Twitter message moved the spotlight off of the racing and put it squarely on the executive offices as the week started. Therefore, the large number of racing journalists at the track (this is legitimate, there were a surprisingly large number of racing writers there) spent all day Friday and Saturday digging through the paddock for news of the impending coup, and none on highlighting the series the track or the race.
Therefore, the pre-race buzz coming from Detroit was not about the renewed IndyCar commitment by Chevrolet, not about revitalizing the Belle Isle track and showing growth in an area where there had been nothing but decay, it was about instability at the top of the series.
For any possible sponsors, partners or fans that may have been attracted by Indy, instability at the top is a crushing blow to their interest.
Again, the series allowed the drivers to sabotage the potential race excitement for Sunday by telling everyone involved with the media that the track was going to be impossible to pass on. The drivers are the one voice that the series has that might interest a potential viewer. When the drivers are saying that we are going to see a race that will be more parade than street fight, viewers find something else to do.
Problem is that the drivers speak their mind and generally tell the truth on such matters, so passing was tough to find on Sunday. It is the nature of the beast on street circuits. If Indy Car had put on a flawless show, with everything else handled correctly and there was little to no passing, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
Of course, then we have the backbreaker during the race, which as it always seems to do, comes right in the middle of a Tiger Woods charge to the top of a PGA tourney leaderboard.
The track broke up, as old, little-used roadways will do when subjected to massive aerodynamic forces placed upon them. It caused a crash, pieces of the track hit drivers in the head, bounced over barriers (one of the pieces of the asphalt was actually brought into the media center by a trackside photographer) and the series wisely stopped the race to fix the track.
The track fix went almost as well as one could hope – with the possible exception of a 10-minute delay while track maintenance had to go off site to get more concrete patch material – but a two-hour delay with Tiger Woods putting up a birdie streak to win the Memorial Tournament, gave fans something else to do than to watch road work. (The overnight Nielsen numbers were a dismal 0.7)
By then, the race was a foregone conclusion. The fans had left, the viewers had gone, the race was shipped off ABC to ESPN News and what drivers that cared, were all divided over what should have been done with the length of the race. Some slammed the IndyCar officials for the methods which determined how many laps would be run, which of course puts Indy Car right back where it started, with accusations of instability at the top.
Somewhere, Eddie Gossage is smiling, as had the series gone to Texas after Indy as Gossage has tried to land for years, perhaps those sponsors, partners and fans that were hooked by Indy, may have gotten something other than what they got.
Perhaps not, and the support that Detroit had warranted lost its chance at the spotlight. But on a weekend when Indy Car badly needed solidarity, excitement and fun – it got precious little of any of it.