Sooooo, what think ye of Iowa Speedway?
Of course you know I love it, and I’m a relentless shill for it, but I got just a few thoughts in the aftermath of the Iowa Corn 300 last night, both good and bad (successes and “opportunities”).
The Weather and Walk Up -- Iowa in the summer has some (Leigh Diffey voice) DYNAMIC weather. It gets hot and humid and then pretty soon we got thunderstorm warnings, tornado watches, etc. etc. That’s going to happen. So Iowa Speedway kind of has to dodge that.
Since races (of any kind) rarely sell out these days (yeah, even NASCAR), I think race attendance has turned into a walk-up situation (like going to the movies). As someone on Twitter very insightful pointed out (sorry I can’t recollect who it was), since it’s not a sell out and you can walk up and buy any level ticket you want, a lot of people make the go or no-go decision a day or a few hours before the race depending on many factors, including weather.
Honestly, I hadn’t really thought about that until it was pointed out to me, since I always buy tickets in advance. When I was at Iowa Speedway the walk up line for tickets wasn’t horrible when I saw it — maybe 10 deep. Now add in the fact that for most people going to Iowa Speedway isn’t like driving to IMS in Indianapolis. It’s a 45 minute drive for me. So you can’t just “head that way” and see what the weather is like and turn around and come home if it’s shitty when you get there. Well, you can, but that’s a 90-minute drive commitment for me just to see what the weather is like. So if I’m a walk-up customer, I’m going to need some assurance that the race is going to be run when I get there before I even get in the car and invest an hour just to get there.
The walk-up deal would play into your marketing, I would think, with less advertising WAY out in front of an event and more the week of.
Bottom line, the threatening weather forecast (and frothed about via Twitter and the news and everywhere) probably spooked some people. How many? I have no idea. Excuse for holes in the grandstands? Maybe “reason” is more apt than “excuse.” Then again, it could very well have been that if the weather was fantastic with no chance of rain the crowd would have been the same.
The Race. Iowa Speedway just seems very well adapted for IndyCars. I know that Rusty Wallace, who designed the track, said IndyCar racing influenced his decisions on variable banking, and you can credit Brian Barnhart for that as well.
Rusty said: “I was actually thinking banking of 12 and 14 degrees, but Brian Barnhart (competition director for IndyCar at the time) said ‘I’m concerned for IndyCar, which only runs half an inch off the ground, that transition (from 12 to 14 degree) might be too much for us. Would you be opposed to going 12, 13 and 14 degrees?’ I said ‘no I think that would be fine.’ That’s how the extra degree got in there.” (Full post with comments from Rusty on how Iowa Speedway evolved here.)
Iowa always puts on a great show with the IndyCars and gets mostly positive reviews. It’s even better in person, because the sights and sounds provide instant sensory overload. After about 50 laps you have cars all over the track and it’s a constant visual and audio bombardment with battles all over the track.
The last 10 laps at Iowa this year — after the final yellow of the night — were sick and twisted, even by Iowa Speedway standards. Cars with new tires CARVED the field and provided the edge for the eventual winner. In the stands, I thought that the winner Ryan Hunter-Reay and P2 finisher Josef Newgarden were insane to pit late with 10 to go, but their teams proved the smart ones since the new tires and short sprint gave them the win. Watching them and Ed Carpenter and Graham Rahal (who also stopped late) knife through the field was pretty epic.
Still, the racing isn’t for everyone. I talked to a guy who said the lack of contact and the eventual mix of cars all over the track kind of confused him and he wasn’t as big of a fan as the full-contact NASCAR races at Iowa. Which is fine. IndyCar’s oval product needs to be different than NASCAR’s and the two-wide, inches-apart nature of it makes that difference.
At the Track — In case you think I’m just a shill for Iowa Speedway, there’s this: poor communication of what’s happening at the track. Pretend I hadn’t been to a race at Iowa Speedway this year (which I hadn’t). So I wonder “when should I go out there?” and I look at the schedule. WTF? NOTHING on the official schedule for Saturday before driver introductions. Festival of ZERO. Well, again, am I going to drive 45 minutes out to Iowa Speedway just assuming something will be going on? Because I got a life, and I’m not going to go out there and walk around looking at new Chevrolets for four hours.
WELL, there was some stuff going on, but it was NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS, for some reason. Once I got to the track about two hours ahead of time, I saw all the stuff there was to do, and I kind of wished I had come out sooner.
So here’s my suggestion, and it’s a low-cost easy one: Iowa Speedway AND IndyCar should use their websites much better to communicate reasons why I should come early. Because like so many consumers today, if I wonder about something, I go to the website. And when I went to the websites of IndyCar and Iowa Speedway to see when I should head out there, all I saw was what was on track and some kid-focused stuff if I dug around on Iowa Speedway’s site.
This is what I would do: I would create a map of the track. Then I would point out the stuff. Fan Zone here, bar here, merch trailers here, etc. There’s a big tented bar with live music at the turn four end of the grandstands. If that had been communicated me in a quick, easy way maybe I come to the track earlier and drop some cash chilling in the bar tent and having beverage. Also, AFTER I got to the track I saw a list of all the stuff that was going on in the Fan Zone, including an appearance by Scott Dixon earlier in the day Saturday. Well thanks for the memo! Is it so tough to put that schedule on the track or series site in a findable place?
It would be one thing if we were talking $5,000 to communicate these things better, but I think this is a $750 fix, at the most, including all the labor to make the track map and compile the info and post it. Seems worth it to me. Get 200 more people out there and they all buy beer and a tenderloin and it pays for itself. I have no idea why the fan zone schedule isn’t posted on weekend schedule. Iowa Speedway’s site already has a “weekend schedule” button that is very findable, just beef up the info under there.
Maybe I missed the Fan Zone schedule on IndyCar.com, but I looked at the “Weekend schedule” and didn’t see squat, so I’m not sure how that’s my fault as a user. The “Weekend Schedule” should include all that info, in my opinion.
Help Tracks Find Sponsors — Disclaimer: IndyCar may be doing this already, so if they are, bravo. It seems obvious to me that having a race sponsor is critical for the success of an IndyCar race. With no massive TV cash to flow, events without presenting sponsors are endangered species. Iowa fans are lucky that the Iowa Corn Growers are willing to sponsor, so attendance fluctuations and fall offs aren’t as big of a deal.
IndyCar, Iowa Speedway and its fans should be sending candygrams to the Iowa Corn Growers, because if they get tired of sponsoring the race, or don’t see a benefit of their sponsorship, then buh-bye IndyCar at Iowa Speedway. Iowa Corn Growers use it as a thank-you event for their farmers. You see thousands of them around the track in their event T-shirts (blue this year), buying beer and food. The huge hospitality tents along the turn one side of the grandstands were a sea of blue shirts.
(Updated after I first posted this) Admission Prices --Too high. I paid $60 a piece for the best seats in the house (way up high), and they were good, but were they $35 better than the cheap seats? No. (If I recall correctly, the cheap seats were $20 or $25 each). I won't be paying $60 a pop again. For that $60 I can get admission to SIX Iowa Cubs Triple A baseball games or SIX Iowa Wild AHL hockey games or FOUR Knoxville Raceway regular season Saturday events. A great ticket to the Knoxville Nationals is $50. Two-day, general admission for the IndyCar race at Milwaukee is $35.
If I purchase in advance next year, it will be the cheap seats (to ensure I get them before they sell out). If I don't purchase in advance (and right now I have no plans to purchase in advance next year) I'll walk up and I'll buy the cheapest seat that's left. If that's just the $60 seats, then I'm not out anything. But, hey, if the market will bear the current pricing structure, then Iowa Speedway should by all means continue it. I'm just telling you how it plays out in my personal economy.
So, overall, great event. Great to see the fans turn out. Thanks to everyone who came and who cared and who watched on TV. Thanks to the Corn Growers for making it happen again this year and have signed up again for 2015. Hope to see y’all then and there.
If you are planning to go next year, check my Guide to Greater Des Moines for some hotel ideas.