Indy 500 qualifying changes continue IMS’ push to ramp up business side

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Nearly every change the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR have made this offseason has been with the goal of improving the entire Hulman Racing business, and Friday’s confirmation of a revised qualifying format for the Indianapolis 500, first hinted at in November, is no different.

Various commercial and PR hires, the addition of both the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in May and a vintage race in June, plus the confirmation of two major new concerts (Jason Aldean and a three-headed DJ monster at the Snake Pit race day Sunday, led by Hardwell) are all elements needed to grow the bottom line.

And now, the qualifying overhaul has been announced and will likely ramp up the drama for both Saturday and Sunday anyway.

How, you ask? The pressure will now shift to making the field on Saturday, as opposed to the recent “well, we hope we make it on Saturday, but if not we can still get in first thing Sunday” dynamic that has existed under the previous format.

That will make every driver and team sweat it out for four laps, hit their marks and lock themselves in the first day.

On the chance there’s a 34th car – which, at the moment, would be hard to project – the bumping element will occur, and the drama would intensify.

It will give fans at the track one chance to see who will make the Fast 9 on Sunday. And provided there’s a 34th, the drama of bumping.

Previous to that, the only drama would be same day; wondering who would make it into the Fast 9 later in the day on Saturday, with Sunday then relatively devoid of drama for six hours.

On Sunday, the field’s starting positions will be set, and the Fast 9 then take their Shootout to determine the pole.

In past years, Sunday has been stale, with both Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles and driver Graham Rahal noting during an INDYCAR teleconference held Friday how these changes should build interest.

“What this is about for us is that we have a desire to give fans more opportunities to see IndyCar drivers on the track when there’s a lot at stake, not just with practice, but where they are out there with putting it on the line in a way that matters,” Miles said.

“There’s going to be a lot of tension, there’s no doubt about that,” Rahal added.  “That’s what the fans want to see.

“Last year when we got to the top nine, Ed (Carpenter) put up the top lap, the fans go crazy. They like those moments that are go big or go home sort of moments.  That’s exactly what everybody is going to see this time around.

“I think it’s been pretty stale in recent times so this will add a whole other element. For the teams, it’s going to be a nerve-wracking element. As Derrick (Walker) said, when weather comes to Indy, it changes things completely.”

With an added ticket incentive to buy the two-day package for $30 as opposed to either/or of Saturday or Sunday at $20 apiece, there is cost savings potential for fans who want to come out both days.

Additionally, with both days nationally televised in part on ABC, there is the opportunity for the series to gather additional ratings and potentially catch more of the elusive, ubiquitous “casual fan.”

At track, the entire month of May is aimed at getting a greater percentage of local traffic through the gates at IMS, between this announcement and the others that have come out over the last several months.

For as many hardcore fans as there are, there are some in Indianapolis who will tell you there’s not as much local interest in the race as there used to be.

But now, all these events and announcements provide options. And collectively, they all should increase the bottom line.

The more money that flows into the coffers at 16th and Georgetown can be utilized in part to grow and promote the sport, which is really, ultimately, what this is all about.

NHRA Gatornationals: John Force has another spectacular motor explosion

Photo courtesy NHRA
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Legendary NHRA Funny Car driver John Force endured yet another spectacular motor explosion – his third in the NHRA’s first three national event races – during Friday’s qualifying at the Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.

It’s the kind of consistency the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ could do without.

The 68-year-old Force came to Gainesville hoping to break the jinx that saw him endure explosions in both the season-opening Winternationals and the second race of the season in Phoenix.

Both motor explosions sent Force to the hospital for examination before he returned to the race track.

Friday, even though the motor in his Chevrolet Camaro blew up again (in the second round of qualifying), at least this time, Force didn’t wind up in the hospital.

He did have his right hand bandaged from a cut suffered in the explosion, but did not have to go to the hospital this time.

He even joked about not having to add yet another ambulance bill to the nearest Gainesville hospital.

But the explosion still proved costly.

“That was another body and that hurts the financial (bottomline),” Force said. “I was out $500,000 to $600,000, and now we are probably out $800,000, going on a million. In drag racing, you have to be tough.”

He ended the day qualifying 14th, not a very comfortable position with two more rounds of qualifying set for Saturday.

Force continues to be mystified why the motors keep exploding.

“I really thought we had it, I thought we were there,” Force said. “In the first round we drove it 500 feet and shut it off. It looked great. We ran it again that run and I was only going to drive it 800 feet even if we didn’t make The Show.”

Force will attempt to improve his qualifying spot during Saturday’s final two rounds to make Sunday’s eliminations.

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