Monday, November 11, 2013

Qualifying Changes at Indy? Let's Try Them

I'll preface today's article by wishing all who served a happy Veterans Day. Your sacrifices and service remain an inspiration. From the bottom of my heart and the hearts of my family, thank you.

Late last week, we heard about some of the changes Mark Miles and company have planned for Qualifications at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We all know you can't say "changes" and "Indy 500" without inciting a full riot--I personally once went ballistic because someone said Jim Nabors needed to be replaced--but I do think we need to take a look at what might be planned.

For the past two years, Bump Day has been a pretty flat experience. Outside of Michael Jourdain's ill-handling car (which did not even get to make an attempt), no one who has actually taken to the track has ended up on the outside looking in. So while Pole Day has been a great day of fun, Bump Day has generally been an extended practice session.

What Miles is proposing as a change follows the possible lines of having the field filled and bumping on Saturday (formerly Pole Day), with positions 1-9 also determined to go for the pole Sunday. On Sunday itself, the order of the field would be determined, and the pole shootout would take place. The idea is that this balances the action and drama across two days, instead of mostly one.

Right now, it's tough to see the 500 getting more than 1-2 additional entries above 33. Another engine manufacturer would help, as would lowered costs. Obviously, those are challenges outside the scope of this focus, which is changing the current format into something that appears to try to work within present realities to make both days more satisfying.

That's why I'm cautiously optimistic that this is a good change for the present situation. You're giving better fan value to two days instead of one. Saturday remains important for filling the field, any sort of bumping, and determining who gets to go for the pole. Sunday will see who will be in the catbird seat for the race itself, and see who is stuck towards the back. It gives both days value.

I remain an Indy 500 traditionalist. I view any changes to the 500 with a healthy dose of skepticism. But there are times when change needs to be tried. If there was never any change, we would still have pole position determined by entry date, up to 40+ starters starting the race instead of the now-traditional 33, and (gulp) 25/8 qualifications. Would I prefer a Bump Day with 8-9 drivers vying for the last spot in the field? Sure, but I also know that's probably not in the cards for 2014. Within our present reality, I'm ok with this time of change--with the hope that in time, by other changes and successes, the car count goes back up, and we're able to revisit the format.

No, this won't bring weekend qualification crowds at Indy back to their 70s/early 80s levels. That was a unique phenomenon, set in a world that had fewer distractions and forms of entertainment. But that's not to say we can't see a nice rise in attendance for Sunday.

Of course, this is not a fix-all for any challenges or improvements facing IndyCar. It will be good to see speed records again challenged, which should do its part. Another engine manufacturer would help with car count, and someone much smarter than me could probably write a Bible on reducing the costs of competition. But I do think when we look at these potential changes to qualifications through the correct lens, and not as some panacea it was never intended to be, it's worth seeing how it goes.

As a side note, writing anything about the Month of May never fails to elicit some strong commentary and emails, be it the addition of the road race or changes to qualifying. I recognize there are heated passions at work here, and that makes any change difficult for commentary. I welcome your comments within that same spirit, and realize even if we might disagree, we all want an enjoyable Indy 500 experience.

1 comment:

  1. It's probably not about the attendance, it's probably that ABC/ESPN do not want to have the last thing they show leading up to the 500 to be a single car that cannot get up to speed...or a setup day for the 500 if there are not more than 33 entries.

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