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Richmond drops Indy-car racing

Richmond IRL: Scott Dixon wins...but racing could have been better, and crowd could have been better (Photo: IRL)

   By Mike Mulhern

   POCONO, Pa.
   Maybe it's the first bit of fallout from the family decision to dump Tony George as boss of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but the France family's International Speedway Corp. announced Thursday night it would not be renewing its contract with IMS' Indy Racing League for the June Indy-car race at Richmond International Raceway.
  The Richmond IRL race was noteable for lack of passing, and even an apology by drivers to that fact.
  Richmond track president Doug Fritz made the announcement:
   "Given the unprecedented challenging economic conditions facing all businesses, we at Richmond International Raceway, in partnership with our parent company International Speedway Corporation, have been closely reviewing our portfolio of events. Key factors of the review include prioritization of promotional spends, track resources and efforts, along with fan and industry feedback.
  "After reviewing those key factors and due to increases in cost, including Indy-car series fees to host an event, we have made the decision, in conjunction with ISC, to not host the Indy-car event in 2010.
   "This was a very difficult decision. But given all the factors considered, one that we're confident will help us to continue providing the best entertainment for our guests, while at the same time meet immediate needs to position Richmond for long-term success.
   "The Indy-car series is a high-quality racing series, and we have enjoyed hosting them. The series puts on good shows all over the world, but here at Richmond we just didn't have the racing that our fans have come to expect."

   The IRL also runs Indy-car events at the ISC's Kansas, Watkins Glen, Chicago and Homestead-Miami tracks.

One wishes NASCAR would do

One wishes NASCAR would do the same with Richmond, Bristol, Martinsville, and the road courses. Of all the tracks NASCAR and IRL race on, the short tracks and road courses are the worst in terms of ability to pass. I'm amazed the IRL lasted at Richmond as long as it did. The date should be used for a second Chicagoland IRL 300-miler.

As the relationship between

As the relationship between Richmond International Raceway and Indy Racing League draws to a close I still haven't figured out whether it died, ultimately,because Richmond is a poor sports town or the ISC just didn't promote it effectively.

Granted the show sucked this year, really sucked. I was impressed the drivers acknowledged and apologized for the lack of entertainment value in the race.

But despite Robin Miller's assertions about why the crowd leaving because of it, he was slightly off base. In the almost 20 years I've lived near/around Richmond the crowds have always arrived late and left early. It didn't matter whether it was a race at RIR, a minor league baseball or hockey game or a concert, the crowd leaves early. Richmonders seem to compelled to leave anything early. Maybe babysitters are very expensive in Richmond. I remember years ago when Bruce Hornsby was playing with the Richmond Symphony he asked what was on TV that night as the crowd was shuffling for the doors several songs before he finished the set, not the encore but the main set.

The late arriving crowd has contributed to the demise of the minor league hockey franchises in Richmond as people didn't buy enough beer and food at the downtown Coliseum. It frustrated the first team's GM, as we talked when he was unbolting the safe from the floor to close down the operations. The food and merch can make the difference to a franchise in a market that size. Having said that Richmond's failure to raise 13 million dollars, locally, to buy Double-A Eastern League baseball team raising questions about how much the community supports sports as entertainment. Given the size of the metro Richmond area 13 mil shouldn't be hard to find among a partnership. And one has wonder why successful team ownership groups led by Nolan Ryan and Cal Ripken took a pass on Richmond.

Having said that RIR was probably too fat and happy over the successes of their constant Cup date sell outs to be effective promoters in adverse market conditions. Granted they don't have to be Bill Veeck but a little creativity and community outreach goes a long way. I could never distinguish whether it was the IRL or RIR doing the advance promo work and paid media, but it seemed to feel like the sanctioning body, the teams and the sponsors were doing the bulk of the work.

This year's race crowd was down and it felt like everybody was doing less pre-event build up for it.

Watching the race from various vantage points in the stands since there really isn't bad seat at RIR, it was very apparent who was there and not there. There was a prominent sea of red swag and merch throughout the stands. That made things easy to figure out that Phillip Morris, which has a huge corporate and manufacturing presence in and around Richmond, had done its usually buy for employees and such -- hence all the Team Penske swag and merch. I have no idea whether the PM buy was up or down this year, it was just more visible. I'd guess that the visibility was due to fewer non-Phillip Morris guests in the stands. And RIR didn't even open as much of the seating bowl as they had in years' past.

Looking at the red bedecked fans, it looked more like a Phillip Morris corporate event, similar to company picnic, or a day at Busch Gardens or Kings Dominion, than your traditional race crowd. Watching many of them, most of were fascinated quickly by the noise and sights, but soon grew bored and were hitting the door by lap 100. Like many people who attend the off-hours corporate events, one waits to see who leaves first, not wanting to stand out. Once the first person leaves, it's cool and there is a stampede for the door.

Once a significant portion of the Phillip Morris patronage left the stands looked rather depleted. Keep in mind the PM folks are local Richmonders so they have it in their DNA to leave early anyway.

I left early once I decided there was going to be no racing that night and sat in a traffic on Laburnum Avenue. That's the first time I've had that happen leaving a race early.

As I joked with several people it was a Phillip Morris corporate event that just happened to have auto race as entertainment rather than karaoke or a magician.

i've never been to an

i've never been to an Indy-car race at Richmond, but it should be a good venue for that, if they'd slow the darned cars down (is anybody from NASCAR listening too here?). and it was a nice gesture for the drivers to concede the racing was bad. i wish nascar drivers would do the same, instead of trying to feed us the company line.
However, I am a little suspicious about this whole IRL thing, from a lot of angles. first, what in the world are they doing firing tony george. he's the only guy in the family that seems to understand racing. and where's their Plan B? who's going to run all this. Bruton Smith puts promoters in charge of his tracks; the ISC tends to put businessmen in charge of theirs, and the difference shows. You want a full house at Indy -- put Jerry Gappens in charge. Or Eddie Gossage. Or Jeff Byrd. Or Chris Powell.
There's something going on behind the scenes here that i'm trying to ferret out: without the ISC tracks and the SMI tracks, the IRL is in trouble. Look at the new 2010 schedule: it opens in Brazil, at a track TBD? What the heck kind of schedule is that?
I sense that -- now don't laugh, but think - IMS, and the IRL too, may be on the table. Somebody has to run things. Who?

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