Sunday, July 19, 2009

Dream Sporting Event: New & Improved IROC

By Rick Morris

We're introducing a new feature in The FDH Lounge, and it comes at a great time since we're at the deadest point on the sports calendar: Dream Sporting Events. Quite simply, each feature will discuss an idea whose time has come -- a big-time sporting event that could happen if only the Powers That Be in sports, television and marketing could appreciate the fact that big money could be rolling in with proper execution.

We lead off this series with a true world motorsports championship: call it New & Improved IROC.

In theory, the IROC series was a dream come true, with top open-wheel and stock car drivers squaring off in the same vehicles, leaving only a battle of skills to determine the winners. The reality fell far short of the promise, however, as the heads of different motorsports federations didn't want to do anything to diminish the importance of their own big races. Instead of promoting the events with the equivalent of a warm hug, a limp-fish handshake was substituted. Also, with the races being held in the summertime, the great Formula 1 drivers were on the outside looking in because there was no way logistically for them to participate.

Currently, there is an event held after all of the major racing circuits are done for the year. It is called the Race of Champions. However, drivers are competing for their respective countries rather than purely head-to-head and the event does not register at all in America. If a tree falls in the forest, DOT DOT DOT.

We propose a return for IROC, but in grand fashion: a two-race series after the seasons are completed for the main circuits. A treaty would have be finalized between NASCAR, Formula 1 and the IRL for participation among drivers and teams, as well as the division of spoils with the economic pie at stake. Additionally, the Race of Champions would have to be bumped back a bit, but there would still be time to run it during the "offseason."

Think about this: with the NFL Network moving the traditional Saturday December NFL games to prime time, Saturday afternoons in that month are now wide open. An event such as this one, properly marketed, could pull huge numbers for ESPN or any of the over-the-air networks.

The series would rotate between eight oval tracks and four road courses, with an eight-year cycle seeing one oval race on each track and two road races on each course. Here is what the first eight years would resemble under the proposal:

December 11: Daytona oval race
December 18: Mexico City road race

December 10: Las Vegas oval race
December 17: Las Vegas road race [NOTE: A course could be assembled at any location in town that makes sense. Formula 1 used to race on a course specially constructed for those purposes at Caesars Palace.]

December 8: Charlotte oval race
December 15: Phoenix road race

December 14: Fontana, CA oval race
December 21: Long Beach, CA road race

December 13: Atlanta oval race
December 20: Mexico City road race

December 12: Talladega oval race
December 19: Las Vegas road race

December 10: Texas/Ft. Worth oval race
December 17: Phoenix road race

December 9: Miami/Homestead oval race
December 16: Long Beach, CA road race

These races would have extreme importance to the host cities and in many cases would receive even more local acclaim than the regular-season races being hosted. Regrettably, under this calendar, it would be impossible to race at Indianapolis, but being able to bring over the F1 racers after their season must take precedence.

The driver pool would participate of the following: the top 20 drivers from the season's NASCAR standings, the top 15 drivers from the IRL standings and the top 10 drivers from the F1 standings. Additionally, Internet voting would determine the last six spots, with two per circuit being allocated.

Driver points would be allocated according to the NASCAR points system, with an additional 15 points awarded to the pole-sitter of the two races. In the extremely unlikely event that two drivers would tie for first place at the end of the two races, the winner would be the one with the best cumulative finishes between the races.

FDH Lounge Dignitary Nate Noy raised an excellent question about driver participation. The respective circuits could make it mandatory, but would be able to throw in plenty of sweeteners (sponsor caysh, families being put up at posh resorts, glamorous parties).

Ultimately, there is a tremendous amount of money waiting to be realized with a concept such as this one. The different associations involved would have to put aside their own petty, sectarian interests and realize that in the end, giving true motorsports fans what they want would be quite lucrative -- and thus, it would not have to be its own reward. Everybody wins!

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