Edmonton is gone — now what?

IndyCar commentary — By on November 3, 2010 9:33 pm
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Following a harried blitz of breaking news stories that tore across racing’s corner of the internet yesterday evening, the announcement became official today that the Honda Indy Edmonton will not be returning to the 2011 schedule after all. This event went from proceeding optimistically to being shut down in less than 24 hours (from a bystander’s point of view, anyway), and the door now appears most certainly to be closed.

This is such a sad situation for so very many reasons.

  • The issue that reportedly divided the City of Edmonton and the event’s newly hired promoter, Octane Motorsports Events Inc., seems so ridiculous as to appear fabricated.  (In short: Edmonton City Council closed one of the City Centre Airport’s runways shortly after the conclusion of last year’s event; claiming that they wanted to keep the airport open during the race weekend, they insisted that the circuit be relocated to the other end of the airport but weren’t willing to foot the multi-million dollar bill involved. Octane, quite correctly, also refused to fund this and walked away.) It’s worth noting that Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland used to shut down completely for a full week every year to prepare for and host a race weekend — amazingly, the City of Cleveland found a way to function despite this.  Also, the City of Edmonton is placing an awful lot of importance on keeping the airport open for three days considering that they’ve been threatening to shut it down for years.  One can’t help but feel that there must be more to the story than meets the eye, and the truth may never fully come to light.
  • This is definitely not one of those situations where all press is good press.  I couldn’t help but notice earlier today while walking through the Toronto Eaton Centre — one of Canada’s most prominent malls — that the headline for this story made it into the sports ticker of the news service that’s broadcasted throughout the facility.  This caused two thoughts to go through my head: for one thing, I’d wager that at least 95% of the people who noticed that headline weren’t aware that Edmonton hosted an IndyCar event in the first place, and that’s not exactly the ideal way for them to find out; for another, when a headline like this is spreading like wildfire, it’s difficult to convince people that the news isn’t directly reflective of the current state of open-wheel racing in America.  (It isn’t, by the way.  If anything, it’s reflective of what the state of open-wheel racing in America has been over the past few years coupled with the fact that Edmonton City Council has no capacity to look forward.)
  • Continuing on the previous point, it’s painfully clear from Edmonton City Council’s unwillingness to budge on this matter that they have no idea what’s good for them.  Edmonton’s not exactly a happening town, even in the height of the summer months.  Downtown hotels and restaurants are going to have a hard time coming up with other excuses to drastically inflate their prices.  The city’s tourism industry (such as it is) will take a pretty hard hit, and it’s difficult to imagine an event of similar scope cropping up in place of this one.  They’re cutting off their noses to spite their faces, as the saying goes — and the worst part is that they’ve been working at it for a while now.  (The counterargument to this point, of course, is that the City has been covering this event’s losses for past couple of years.  However, a conversation with anyone involved makes it clear that this event should never have been in the red in the first place and that the problem stemmed from a combination of poor management by the previous promoter and poor negotiation on City Council’s part.)
  • Another point that’s been made through several venues already is that there are people in the IndyCar community who will view the loss of this event as a positive.  Edmonton is on a very isolated part of the continent and is quite expensive to get to for everyone involved in the IICS.  (For what it’s worth, trying to get to Edmonton domestically isn’t exactly a cheap proposition, either.)  There will be exceptions, but many teams and Series officials are unlikely to voice strong concerns about not making the trip in 2011 and some may even be vocal in their relief.  This, unfortunately, is likely to be the death knell for any local groups who may try to lobby to reestablish the event.
  • Speaking of local groups, Edmonton IndyCar fans are a proud and loyal bunch, and it’s extremely painful to have to watch them mourn the loss of their home race.  Support for this event was remarkably strong from the very first day of the first weekend that Champ Car held there, and it waned very little when the IICS took it over. Now, again due to the fact that Edmonton is so isolated, this group of fans is very unlikely to end up with an event that they can call home (with the possible exception of the Calgary rumor panning out — see below).  It’s entirely possible that many of these fans will feel abandoned and will be lost, which is a crying shame as they’ve been passionate contributors to the community.
  • Lastly, the loss of Edmonton means that, barring a very quick and monumentous effort, the 2011 schedule will only feature one visit to Canada.  This is terrible news for the Canadian drivers in particular.  Alex Tagliani, Paul Tracy, and James Hinchcliffe have all been banging down doors north of the border looking for sponsorship to carry them through the 2011 season, and their visibility in Canada for next year just got cut in half.  It’s not completely impossible that another event might materialize — Vancouver has been presented as a possibility for a return, Calgary is almost certain to be interested, Mont-Tremblant was a popular event for the one year that Champ Car ran there (though the circuit may not produce the greatest race with the current car), and there have been rumors for a little while now of Tag working on taking a street race to Quebec City.  However, whether any of these events could be put together in time for next year is anyone’s guess, and the promise of a 2012 event won’t put money into anyone’s pockets for 2011.

In short, this entire situation carries a grade-school argument kind of feel but has deep implications that reach much further.  It’s a shame to have it come to this with so many positive developments under way for the IZOD IndyCar Series at the moment — cleaning up a mess of this magnitude is the last place to which Randy Bernard and his team needed to be turning their attention.  Here’s hoping they’re up to the challenge.

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