Will IndyCar Return to Texas In 2018 With a “Pack Race” Why I Hope So

INDIANAPOLIS – Now that we’re two days after the thrilling but dangerous Rainguard 600 at the Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night, my thoughts on this race remain unchanged, this is the type of racing that we need every time the Verizon IndyCar Series visits the 1.5-mile track. The only issue is, will it remain that way?

Yes, I get that the 66 cautions laps were way too many. Yes, I also get that the box score says there were just six cars on the lead lap and only nine of the 22 starters took the checkered flag at the end. But, what the box score also says is that there were 23 lead changes among six different leaders. Heck, one driver, race winner Will Power, led 180 of the 248 laps. Despite that, there still were 23 lead changes, most of them occurring on the track, not pit road.

See, from 2012-2015, most of the passing for the lead at Texas occurred during pit sequences. Those races were BORING. No one wants to see a race with tire degradation where there’s virtually no passing. 

Don’t believe me?

Why did the attendance and TV ratings drop drastically when this type of racing started happening there. I said for years, that the Texas race needs to move from ESPN or ESPN 2 to ABC. Well, the network decided to finally do that in 2012. Unfortunately, it was too late. The race was a snoozer with minimal lead changes, and if not for Graham Rahal getting into the wall in the end, would have been a ho-hum finish.

This race went from everyone basically on the lead lap fighting for the win, to just five cars on the lead lap, spread out by SECONDS, as in plural, not tenths of a second.

The race quickly went from ABC back to alternate channels. It wasn’t a race anyone really cared to tune in for. I wasn’t even excited for it.

After the tragic loss of Dan Wheldon in 2011, there was this “gentlemens agreement” that there’d be no more “pack racing.” Unfortunately, that ruined IndyCar on 1.5-mile tracks. People like danger. As sick and twisted as it sounds, danger/speed sells. Why do you think so many people came to watch Texas in attendance, or tuned in on TV during its heyday? Why do you think those stats declined from 2012-2015?

Need I say more. I will anyways.

Last year’s race was thrilling at the start and at the end. Why do you think attendance looked better this year compared to last?

The wheel-to-wheel passing is why.

So, now that we get back to that on Saturday night, a race that was vintage Texas, do you really want to see that go away?

Look, I’m the first to admit that I was on edge on Saturday night. I have crossed the line where I personally know most of the drivers. I don’t want to see any of them, and I mean no one, get injured or worse. I can’t fathom the thought of that. But, that type of danger, where they’re on the line of that, that’s what fans want to see.

Where I’m pleased is with safety. We saw some viscous hits, but everyone walked away. But, it doesn’t matter if it’s a “pack race” or single-file race, any race car could find a wall at any given time. Heck, look at Sebastien Bourdais’ crash at Indy. He was by himself on a qualifying run and was severely injured. It can happen any time, any place, any where. Pack race or not, it can occur.

Where I’m also pleased is that the art of pack racing shows that these IndyCar drivers are the best in the world. This type of racing shows that these drivers can sustain speeds over 215 mph for an entire race, go wheel-to-wheel in an open wheel car and not screw up. I get that there was a big crash, but hopefully one day we get to a car count up to 25-28 cars, and a crash like that still leaves enough running in the end where it doesn’t matter.

Nevertheless, Saturday night saw anybody running in the race, virtually run on the lead lap with a shot at winning.

The drivers, well they weren’t too happy with one another for their race craft. They felt their fellow peers made some head scratching moves. Well, they’re talented enough and students of the game to learn from it and not do that again next year.

But, will this type of racing be back next year?

I know most of the drivers wouldn’t want it to, and all of their spouses wouldn’t, but this is for the fans. Do you think the drivers, teams and spouses like it when NASCAR races at Daytona or Talladega? Heck no! But, they know for the best of the sport, they do it four times a year.

IndyCar can do it once a season and grow this fan base. The drivers can discipline themselves on how and how not to race in that pack and the cars and safety continue to evolve.

At the very least, this new car for 2018 could maybe spread them out a big but allow for slingshot passing. That would work too. The only thing they absolutely can’t afford to do, is move back to a tire wear race and see 3-5 cars on the lead lap with the winner taking the checkered flag 5+ seconds ahead of everyone else. If they do that, then just move this race to COTA.

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