IndyCar: A certain brand of racing is dying, if not already dead

IndyCar, Texas Motor Speedway (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
IndyCar, Texas Motor Speedway (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

The release of the 2023 IndyCar broadcast schedule all but solidified what has long seemed to be a trend. Night racing may very well be a thing of the past.

The 17-race 2023 IndyCar schedule was announced in September, and it was solidified back in January when the full broadcast schedule was announced.

Before finalizing the schedule, the series made clear that they were aiming for continuity, both short-term and long-term. While there have been a few changes in race dates, the only location change is the move from Belle Isle to downtown Detroit for the Detroit race. For the most part, they have achieved that goal this year.

But one thing that has changed for a number of races is start time, and it has left the series without any night races in 2023.

The latest broadcast start time throughout the entire IndyCar season is 3:30 p.m. ET.

This is something that has almost felt inevitable, given the slow demise of night racing in recent years. Just take a look at the last few schedules. On the 2020 season’s initial schedule, there were just three broadcast start times earlier than 3:25 p.m. ET, which is just five minutes earlier than this year’s latest.

In 2021, there were just four races with start times of 5:00 p.m. ET or later, and only one was a true night race. Only two had start times of 7:00 p.m. ET or later, and one of those was at Texas Motor Speedway, which means it started at 6:00 p.m. CT. The lone night race began at 8:00 p.m. ET (7:00 p.m. CT) at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.

In 2022, the race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway was the only race with a start time later than 4:00 p.m. ET. Its start time was 6:00 p.m. ET (5:00 p.m. CT), so it really wasn’t supposed to be much of a night race. It only became one because of a rain delay.

Now here we are in 2023, and night racing is no longer a part of the schedule. Is it gone from IndyCar for good?

Typically, night races have been contested on ovals, so the decrease in oval races over the last decade and a half has naturally resulted in a reduction in night races.

With that being said, you can’t completely blame the series’ decline in oval races. In fact, you can’t blame it on that at all, as there were plenty of daytime oval races even when oval races made up a far greater percentage of the schedule.

If you look at the 2020 schedule (before the COVID-19 overhaul), four of the five oval races were set for start times of 8:15 p.m. ET or later, with the only exception being the Indy 500. Even following the schedule overhaul, there were still three night races, all on ovals.

Additionally, it’s not like IndyCar is avoiding conflicts with NASCAR by scheduling daytime races exclusively. For more than one-third of this year’s IndyCar schedule (six of 17 races), the series is set to go head-to-head with the NASCAR Cup Series. In three of those races, both series are set to be shown live on NBC networks.

NASCAR, whose fans generally clamor for earlier start times, even has seven night races on its 2023 Cup Series schedule (and yes, that schedule includes quite a few Sunday night races).

What’s particularly interesting is that all of the oval races (aside from the Indy 500) on the IndyCar schedule have been night races in the past; the tracks all have lights. A daytime race at a track such as Pocono Raceway, for instance, would make more sense, but it was removed from the schedule after 2019.

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Is this really the direction in which IndyCar is heading? Is night racing a thing of the past?