INDYCAR officials have announced the 2021 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is being rescheduled for Sunday, April 25 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The move creates a condensed, action-packed early-season schedule for 2021. I have some main takeaways from this below that makes me thing not only is this a good thing, but will other tracks follow suit?
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES returns to the Streets of St. Petersburg still after Josef Newgarden’s thrilling win last October, which culminated with Scott Dixon’s sixth series title. NBC will remain as the television home of this year’s race on the tight, demanding street layout.
“It’s not surprising that an event of this magnitude, scheduled for the first week of March, is still subject to the implications of the pandemic,” Penske Entertainment Corp. President and CEO Mark Miles said. “We’re delighted we were able to work with Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration and Green Savoree Racing Promotions to find a more suitable date, which helps consolidate the beginning of our schedule and allows us to stay on NBC network television.”
Due to the move, Barber Motorsports Park becomes the host of the season opener as the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama will raise the curtain on the 2021 season.
The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will mark the 18th NTT INDYCAR SERIES event in the Sunshine City. The traditional season opener since 2011 and a fan favorite on the INDYCAR schedule, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg received a three-year title sponsorship extension from Bridgestone Americas, Inc. last October.
“We appreciate the officials at INDYCAR for their support in setting a new date for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and also to Mayor Kriseman and his team at the City of St. Petersburg for identifying a time when it will be conducive for more fans to attend,” said Kim Green, co-owner, chairman and CEO of GSSP, organizers of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. “We are grateful to keep the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in the springtime window and also maintain the live national broadcast coverage of the race on NBC.”
I applaud INDYCAR and St. Pete for making this decision. This move is all about the possibility of hosting more fans. They were able to hold 20k back in October but by waiting almost two months from early March to late April can maybe allow the ability to host more fans by doing so. With a vaccine getting to more and more people by the day, moving back 49 days could be the big difference here.
The question now is, how many other races could be affected by this? Does Barber eventually move back? Does St. Pete again? Does Texas?
See, Barber didn’t run at all last year. Texas held no fans. INDYCAR races don’t have the luxury of hosting no fans or minimal fans for years upon years. Their TV contract isn’t like NASCAR’s to where the tracks make millions by them showing up. The tracks have to pay INDYCAR, a term called a sanctioning fee, for INDYCAR to host a race on their grounds. But, without any fans or with minimal fans, how can they pay INDYCAR that fee?
So, INDYCAR has to decide to take less from that track or to not show up at all. If they don’t show up, then that’s a full loss of revenue by not having a race. They in turn have to look elsewhere – hence the fluid schedule.
But, with the light appearing at the end of the tunnel for this pandemic and it seems like the vaccine is going to be the big play here for fans to be welcomed back, tracks are adapting. A NASCAR track hosting a NASCAR event can keep going on schedule knowing fans or no fans, they’re fine. An INDYCAR event for their tracks may make more decisions like St. Pete and Long Beach have made. Just move back on the schedule in hopes of hosting fans or in St. Pete’s case, more fans than initially expected.
With 20k in October at St. Pete, I don’t see the number in March being much more. But, with more vaccines out, that number creeps higher. But, as we get closer to time, do they think why not wait until the Fall again where I can host more?
Does that thought come in Barber’s mind? They can say, ‘hell we had no fans and no revenue last year, why not move back to the Fall too and host more fans than we could host in April?’
What does Texas say? What about Indy?
We have to be honest here in say that there’s no way any race until this summer can be anywhere close to full capacity. If you can’t see that writing on the wall, I don’t know what to tell you. While there’s no way of knowing now what the status of the Indy 500 and fans being allowed in is, the writing on the wall that while I can see fans being allowed in, I don’t see a capacity crowd being allowed to come through those gates in May. Does the race move back again or do they just take what they can get and eye 2022 as a back to normal plan?
That’s why the 2021 schedule for INDYCAR is going to still be fluid. Do tracks just take what fans they can get and stay on the schedule on their normal dates now or do some of these first races up elect to move back to later in the year in hopes a vaccine is even more available and that they can host more fans?
If the schedule does stay put now, this St. Pete move helps it dramatically. We don’t have the season opening race on March 7, then the next not until April 11. We now go from April 11 to April 25 which is much more viable. But, the only drawback to this is, it’s a very condensed schedule from there for the drivers and teams.
They’ll now be in action all but one weekend from April 23-25 through the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day weekend. Factor in Barber and go through Toronto in July and you get 10 weekend’s of action, two of which being doubleheaders, in 14 weeks.
They’ll get a month off for the Olympics after but then really ramp back up again with six races in an eight week span to close out the season.
This is great so long as it stays this way. But, it’s a pandemic and things can obviously change again too.