Craig Murto: May means Indianapolis

While race fans debate the merits of the Talladega NASCAR crashfest, the racing world prepares for the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” the Indianapolis 500.

And this year is a special event, as it is the 100th running of the race. But just as NASCAR fans these days don’t seem to be happy with anything the sanction does, some fans of open-wheel racing also find no joy in the current state of their sport.

Some complain because the entire month of May is no longer dedicated to the 500. It doesn’t seem to matter that the race barely attracts enough cars to fill the 33-car field, or that it’s a needless expense to stay in Indianapolis all month for one event.

But there are still people who pine over the fact that rear-engine cars took over the sport decades ago. And many still feel the sting of the split that occurred when the Indy Racing League broke away from Championship Auto Racing Teams in order to concentrate on oval racing. IndyCar is now unified, but the complaints can still be heard.

“You can’t deny that the split had a detrimental effect on the 500, but in recent years the complaints have been but a whisper,” said Dave Reininger, a veteran IndyCar spotter with multiple Indy 500 victories under his belt. “This year I’ve heard very few complaints. In fact, this year the complaints have been about the lack of good seats available from the ticket office and the fact that all the (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) parking lots are sold out.”

Reininger not only is a veteran spotter, he’s a veteran motorsports journalist who can be heard on Wednesdays between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on inthepitsmedia.com.

“There will always be people who complain,” Reninger observed. “I’m old enough to remember the old codgers who complained when they allowed women in Gasoline Alley.”

Traditions are hard to abandon, but they do change. IndyCar will spend the month of May in Indianapolis, but not just for the 500; on May 14 the series competes in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the track’s infield road course. Veteran motorsports journalist Chris Romano has doubts about the Grand Prix.

“While the Indianapolis Motor Speedway does have an asset in the road course, and now with the exit of both Formula One and MotoGP it is underused, I’m not entirely convinced using it for IndyCars during the Month of May is a wise choice, just because I don’t think we’ll ever see some date equity built up, and I think it will remain poorly attended,” Romano stated. “But I understand the management wanting to build up to the 500. I’d be more interested in a one- or two-day event with a full complement of open-wheel supporting events, such as Indy Lights, Road to Mazda, Formula Ford 2000, etc., during a lull in the Indy Car calendar later in the summer.”

Romano cut his teeth on open-wheel racing, and once was the announcer for the Northeast Midget Association. He thinks IndyCar tries to milk too much from the month of May.

“As for the 500 itself, I think qualifying is ridiculous and always has been,” Romano stated. “Teams don’t have the money to engage in endless practice and qualifying, even with the current formula in place, let alone returning to multiple weekends. And frankly, fans of all motorsports have less money and time to spend at a racetrack. The glory days of qualifying at Indy are long done. This should be a four- or five-day show. Two days of practice, two days of heads up qualifying with the pole up for grabs until the very last second of day two. A day to run the Indy Lights race and one last practice, and then the 500. If the speedway condensed the show into making it a destination race for the run up to Memorial Day, I think attendance in general would increase over those four or five days, particularly if the short tracks surrounding Indianapolis continued to run various dirt and pavement open-wheel shows during the week.”

The month could be a long one for teams and fans, but both the Indy Grand Prix and the Indy 500 should be fantastic races. Tickets for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the May 29 Indy 500 are available at indianapolismotorspeedway.com. Reserved Grand Prix seats start at $41, general admission is $30. Reserved seats for the 100th Indy 500 start at $50, and general admission is $40. Children under 12 are admitted free to general admission sections when accompanied by an adult.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.