NASCAR Vs. IndyCar – the Great Debate

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Josh Flagner:  Arguing has been our reputation at More Than a Fan since our very first day. In our first full month last year, we wrote that the Indians needed to get rid of Grady Sizemore and Fausto Carmona, that the Dallas Mavericks championship changed the all-time greatest player list, and that the Miami Heat invaded Cleveland again – this time for Norris Cole.

We’ve been through some changes at More Than a Fan since that first month, but one thing has been constant; we love to debate our opinions. A couple of weeks ago, I got an interesting message from a friend of mine, Damien. Damien is a big Indy Car fan, and coming off of the Indy 500, he wanted to get into a healthy conversation with MTAF Co-Founder Ryan Isley. We all know Ryan’s credentials as a sports fan and columnist, so here, in Damien’s own words, are his, “I have been to at least eight Indianapolis 500s, two Mid-Ohio Indy 200s, four Grand Prix of Cleveland, one NASCAR race at Talledaga, several at Michigan, and one at Pocono.  I’m not an expert at either series, just a fan of real racing (open wheel) vs taxi cab racing (NASCAR).”

Taxi cab racing, huh? I looks like Damien is going to fit right in here at More Than a Fan anytime he decides to come around. So, without further ado, I present you our combatants, our very own Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith, if you will. Ryan and Damien, NASCAR and IndyCar, let’s do this.

 

@DamienBowman A.K.A. Skip Bayless
@Isley23 A.K.A. Stephen A. Smith

Question 1: Now that both the NASCAR and Indy Car 2012 seasons are in full swing, and both series have raced their marquee events – Daytona 500 and Indy 500 – which of these two popular racing circuits treats its fans to a better tradition? And/or which of the circuits is living up to that tradition currently?

Damien: Unfortunately the only real tradition in IndyCar at the moment is the Indianapolis 500. The series is in a struggle to make a return to where it was before the series split back in the early 90’s.

That said, NASCAR needs to find its way back to tradition. The series is watered down with too many races and races that are too long in length. NASCAR is losing its traditional fans because of “quirks” like The Chase, green-white-checkered finishes and the perception that it wants and needs its most popular drivers to win when they can’t. The most obvious example is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. If his last name weren’t Earnhardt he’d probably just be a team owner like another also ran, Michael Waltrip.

IndyCar tradition is the Indianapolis 500, and if you’ve never been then you haven’t experienced what tradition is. It offers nearly the same, and greatest, pre-race festivities year in and year out. “Taps”, The Purdue “All-American” Marching Band, Florence Henderson (“God Bless America”/”America the Beautiful”), Jim Nabors (“Back Home Again in Indiana”) and “Gentleman, Start Your Engines” (believed to be coined at IMS). As Jeff Gluck of SBNation recently wrote…There’s a lot to be said for tradition.

Ryan: I tend to agree with Damien on the only tradition that IndyCar has going for it right now in the Indianapolis 500. It is the only race that most Americans will watch and is the one that IndyCar puts its greatest effort behind. They take up an entire month for it, after all.

I will also agree with Damien that the fan experience at the Indianapolis 500 is a one-of-a-kind tradition, even for someone who has never gone to the race. I have always watched the race on television and look forward to all of the things Damien mentioned.

The Daytona 500 is a fantastic experience – one I once called “Redneck Mardi Gras” – but there just isn’t the tradition of an Indianapolis 500. There is a different schedule of events each year, there is no song that makes you think Daytona 500 like “Back Home Again in Indiana” makes you think Indianapolis 500, and the celebrities who are performing during the festivities are different each year.

Unfortunately for IndyCar, the pomp and circumstance of the Indianapolis 500 is only a one-time deal and the series seems to be stuck on making old traditions stick and not change with the times.

And while Damien is absolutely right that NASCAR has lost some of their traditions because of things like The Chase and green-white-checkered finishes, the key is to make sure you create new traditions with the times. That is where NASCAR has raised the bar on IndyCar and the open-wheel series is getting beat on a week-to-week basis by the stock car series.

The Daytona 500 may be the most famous race in NASCAR, but the powers that be in the series understand that they need to offer a great fan experience for all 36 races on their schedule. The one thing that NASCAR has going for it is their continual effort to reach out to their fans and make themselves what I consider the most fan-friendly sports league at the moment.

To me, it seems that NASCAR and their drivers have embraced social media to a completely different level than IndyCar has, which makes them more fan accessible. It is just one of those things where NASCAR has evolved, something that most people would have never thought possible.

They have taken the social media initiative to an entirely new level as far as sports leagues are concerned as well. Any NASCAR race you go to now is accompanied on race day with a Tweet-up run by NASCAR’s PR department and are sometimes even attended by drivers if their schedule allows. The crowds that attend these events within the event are enormous and it tells NASCAR that they are doing things the right way.

While IndyCar is still stuck on the starting grid as far as changing and becoming more about fans, NASCAR is heading around the final turn with the checkered flag in sight. If IndyCar wants to keep their fans and gain new ones, they need to start looking at the model being built by NASCAR.

Damien: Just to respond to a few points here, which I am not even sure I am supposed to:

I think NASCAR has too many races and many are too long. I understand NASCAR needs to hit all the major markets, but at the same time I think it needs to remember where it came from. NASCAR having races into the NFL and college football season’s I think is all bad for them. Did they forget the south is more committed to their college football teams than auto racing? NASCAR has 36 races and they could easily cut that to 25 or 30. Reducing the number of races would not only leave fans wanting for more, but would eliminate the need to have a fake playoff. We criticize college football for their playoff when NASCAR’s playoff system is even worse. Talk about a regular season that means nothing at all then having a post-season no one likes.

Another glaring problem NASCAR needs to fix: start and park. I know why they do it, but the perception is bad. The Indy 500 almost didn’t have 33 cars this year and was forced to black flag two cars because they were too slow, but to me that’s better than showing up every week and only half-heartedly going through the motions to park a car one lap after the race started to collect $50k.

I know there aren’t as many drivers and none are as “good” as Brad Keselowski was during the Daytona 500 when he was live-tweeting during their infamous red-flag, but IndyCar and its drivers do a really good job with social media. While they don’t have tweetups at every race, many of the drivers who operate their own social media accounts interact directly with fans. The CEO of the IndyCar Randy Bernard also interacts directly along with Race Director Beaux Barfield. Anyone in the NASCAR’s c-suites interacting with fans?

Also, to suggest NASCAR drivers are more accessible than IndyCar drivers is preposterous.  Fans can purchase paddock pass for every race on the schedule, including a pass for the entire month of May for Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Fans also have numerous opportunities to attend open test sessions at many tracks and can often obtain autographs and pictures from drivers and owners at these test sessions. Do as many IndyCar drivers tweet as NASCAR drivers? Of course not, because there aren’t nearly the amount of IndyCar drivers as there are NASCAR drivers.

Ryan:We completely agree about the NASCAR season – it is way too long. Not only is The Chase forced and unnatural, it would not be needed if they cut the season back by 10 races. Cutting the season back would also help eliminate some of the start and park cars, because they would not have to try to find a way to finance a 36-race season. This is a bigger issue than NASCAR is willing to admit, in my opinion.

The other problem that NASCAR needs to address is the dwindling attendance. Races that used to sell out – or almost sell out – are now struggling to even look full. This past weekend at Dover was a great example – there were way too many empty seats every time the cameras panned through the crowd. I am even still receiving emails from Michigan International Speedway about purchasing tickets for this year’s race – one that is less than two weeks away. While I know this is an issue with a lot of sports right now, NASCAR needs to take a look at this and see if it would be in their best interest to eliminate a few races, especially at the tracks that get two races per season.

You may have a point as far as IndyCar drivers being accessible to their fans as well as NASCAR drivers are and it may just not be as public as the NASCAR drivers. This is another issue with IndyCar – even ESPN, who has the races, doesn’t give IndyCar the attention it needs. I think if IndyCar was getting the exposure that NASCAR does, we would all be aware of the opportunities to interact with their drivers the way we know about NASCAR drivers.

As far as high-ranking officials inside NASCAR being on Twitter and speaking with fans, Steve O’Donnell – the Senior VP of NASCAR – is on Twitter and was fantastic during the Daytona 500 when the jet dryer exploded and delayed the race. He has been interacting with fans all season, as has Josh Hamilton of the NASCAR PR department.

Question 2: Danica Patrick started her mainstream racing career in the Indy Car series and has since moved to NASCAR, where she is currently the only woman driver. In contrast, there are three females who are regulars in the Indy Car series; Simona De Silvestro, Ana Beatriz, and Katherine Legge. In which series will females have more long term success, and why?

Ryan: I am not really sure that it would be easier per say for a female to have long term success in either series, as it will come down to the individual driver. That being said, if I am forced to pick one series or the other – I would say it may be more conducive for a female driver to sustain success in IndyCar.

Part of the problem that I see for females in NASCAR is that NASCAR still has some of that “good old boy” network running through it. There are going to be male drivers who don’t want the females to have success and will treat them differently because of it. Hell, even NASCAR president Mike Helton said at the beginning of last season that they wanted a “boys have at it” mentality on the track. While that wasn’t a direct shot at female drivers, he did just say ‘boys’ and not ‘drivers’.

In IndyCar, there have been more females that have come through and with it being a more international series, females seem to fit in better than they do with the boys in NASCAR. As mentioned in the question, there are three female drivers who are regulars in the IndyCar Series this season. In addition to those three, we have seen drivers such as Danica Patrick and Sarah Fisher have reasonable success in recent years in IndyCar.

In NASCAR, there there are three regulars this season as well, but they are not regulars in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Danica has run a few races in Sprint Cup, but has been a regular in the Nationwide Series and Johanna Long has been a regular as well in Nationwide, while the Camping World Truck Series has Jennifer Jo Cobb. Unfortunately for the women of NASCAR, none of the three have seen success, just like Shawna Robinson in the recent past.

When you look at which series has produced more success for female driver recently, I guess it would be difficult to argue with IndyCar being the place for female drivers.

Either way, I feel that for a female to have success she needs to pick a series and stick to it. Jumping from series to series will only make it more difficult for female drivers going forward.

Damien: I agree with Ryan.

If I were going to pick a series in which female drivers would have more success I would also say IndyCar. I agree the problem with NASCAR is the perception of the ‘good old boy’ network, but that applies not only to females but to other minority drivers – The most successful being Juan Pablo Montoya. I believe he is the only full-time driver who is not American or Caucasian.

While I believe the cars in NASCAR are more difficult to drive because of their size, I feel the circuits in IndyCar are more difficult. People underestimate the difficulty of turning right along with elevation change and hairpin type turns.

IndyCar is an easier sport for the drivers to break into even though it doesn’t have the feeder system that NASCAR’s Sprint Cup has. The barrier to entry is normally lower and female drivers who are good are probably able to obtain sponsorship easier than stockcar. Sponsorship dollars are also lower in IndyCar vs. NASCAR although some would argue IndyCars are more expensive.

Generally sticking to one series would not only benefit the driver, but their sponsors and the series. It’s tough to say that when all the money in American autosports is in NASCAR right now. The sponsorship dollars are just too much to pass up on. If her goal is to become a better driver then stay in one series, but if the goal is to gain better exposure for her “brand” then going from IndyCar to NASCAR to whatever is a smart move.

 Question 3: There is a pretty common perception among casual fans that NASCAR racing is exciting and competitive while IndyCar racing is boring and spread out. Is this perception of racing true? What’s the racing really like? And, which series offers more for the fan who just wants to watch something fun?

Ryan: This is a false perception, especially over the last two seasons.

NASCAR has become a little bit boring over the past 18 months because of the way cars are built and there just isn’t any room for a team to have an advantage as far as setup is concerned for the most part. The only difference now for the teams is which one has the better drivers – those who can handle a great car and a car that might be tight or loose. This is why we constantly see guys like Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart in victory lane.

I think that the reason some fans feel like IndyCar is more boring than NASCAR is because of the road and street course that IndyCar runs on. Even most NASCAR fans are not thrilled when the NASCAR boys go to Watkins Glen or Sonoma for their road races each season because the racing doesn’t seem to be as much fun to watch as it is on the ovals.

There are a few reasons for this, including how much of the track you can actually see. On oval tracks, you can get a good view of most of the track with almost any camera angle while with road and street courses you can only see the corners or straightaways that TV wants to show.

Another issue with road and street courses is the perception that there is more passing on an oval and therefore it is better racing. While there are probably more chances for passes on an oval course, it does not necessarily mean that the racing is better.

Personally, I am not a huge fan of the street and road courses, as I do find it difficult to watch and keep up at times. I would much rather watch a race on the oval circuits, but NASCAR has made those races so mundane lately that once they get to about 10 laps to go, we all know who is going to win unless there is a wreck or a caution for debris.

For the fans who want to just see something fun, I would suggest either a NASCAR race at Daytona, Talladega, Texas or Bristol or the IndyCar races at the ovals course of Texas, Milwaukee, Iowa or Fontana. Of course, that’s just the suggestion of someone who really enjoys IndyCar on ovals.

Damien: I couldn’t agree more.

Right now NASCAR is boring to put it nicely. Highlights of the 2012 season include Juan Pablo Montoya crashing into a jet dryer on a Monday night at Daytona, Chad Knaus having a suspension overturned and early races without wrecks or many cautions.

I personally am not a fan of wrecks. I mean, yeah they’re nice to look at, but wrecking isn’t racing. On the other side, the open-wheel side, rubbing isn’t racing either.

I think IndyCar racing is more exciting because the drivers have to race and pass with minimal contact. Other than the wing, there isn’t a whole lot that can be replaced on an IndyCar. I don’t think you’ll ever see duct tape on an Indycar. IndyCar features fewer cautions for accidents and virtually no debris “cautions.”

I understand why NASCAR replaced the previous generation car with the current generation car, but it hasn’t helped their product at all. IndyCar on the other hand replaced their car and racing has improved ten-fold over the last year. Because IndyCar hasn’t opened aero kits to manufactures anyone other than Dallara IndyCar is in the same situation as NASCAR-same drivers/teams winning every race. In the first six races of this season four races have been won by Penske Racing and the other two were won by Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

That isn’t exactly thrilling to watch when fans have a good chance of predicting which team will win each race.

Speaking as an IndyCar fan first, I can say I hate road and street courses. Speaking secondly as an open-wheel racing fan (read: Formula 1) I love road and street courses. In general, Americans have an ultimate need for speed. Compared to ovals, circuit racing is slow and boring with turns in directions other than left.

IndyCar’s problem right now is that as much as the sanctioning body would love to be on ovals at least fifty-percent of the time owners of those tracks don’t want IndyCar because they either A. don’t want to ruin their NASCAR brand or B. can’t make enough money to justify hosting the event at their track.

I don’t believe there are more opportunities for passing on ovals. On most circuits there would be many opportunities to pass due to many types of turns. One or two long straight-aways allow for speed, but passing can happen in almost any corner on a circuit. This just isn’t possible on ovals. Even on the two road courses NASCAR runs on the passing is much better at those courses versus most of the other tracks.

For those who like pure speed (who doesn’t) then yes – Talladega, Daytona and Atlanta are the best tracks, but Bristol, Watkins Glen and Martinsville is better racing because it isn’t all throttle all the time. It takes skill to brake and pass at the same time versus knocking people out of the way. That’s my fundamental problem with NASCAR and the new car-it doesn’t promote much side-by-side racing except at a few tracks. The new car is so “tough” that drivers are stupid for not trying to knock each other out of the way. It creates excitement because of the controversy, but it isn’t necessarily better racing.

IndyCar races at a few great places currently (Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Long Beach, Milwaukee, etc), but there are many places it needs to get back to such as Michigan. I agree IndyCar needs more ovals, but unlike NASCAR, IndyCar is a global sport. It has races all over the world and its sponsors come from many more diverse countries than NASCAR could hope for.

Open-wheel racing and stock car racing couldn’t be more different. Different from the fans to cars to the places they compete. It’s tough to say that one form of auto racing is better than the other and both have problems they need to solve. IndyCar used to be what most Americans watched before “the split” in the 90s. Now people watch NASCAR, but many are starting to turn away because of the perception of fake drama, too many races and questionable officiating in the sport. Everything is the same and nothing is consistent.

For the fan that wants to watch something exciting, go to a race. Watching racing on television is boring. Racing is probably one of the cheapest sporting events to attend since the majority of tracks will let you take in your own food and beer. Take advantage of that by going to a NASCAR race, then go watch real racing – IndyCar.