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Tuesday, August 20, 2002
Are you ready for some racing?

By Jack Arute
ESPN.com

Jack Arute While the Indy Racing League heads to the end of its successful 2002 campaign, it is not too early to look to 2004 and beyond. That's right, 2004, not 2003.

All of the pieces are in place for next year. The rules package looks good, crowds are building and more marketing partners are jumping on the IRL ship.

Still, TV ratings lag well behind those produced by NASCAR.

There are assorted reasons for the gap. More events, longer races, NASCAR's excellent marketing and promotional campaigns, as well as the identification factor that stock cars present to fans.

But, the IRL has a trump card. It is the Indianapolis 500.

The Indy 500 was the key to the IRL's survival -- and now its success. It remains the world's largest single-day sporting event and, lately, includes a stellar field of open wheel experts. Ask the man on the street to name a racing series and he will likely say NASCAR. Ask him to name a race and he will probably still say the Indy 500.

With that in mind, it is time to take the Indianapolis 500 into the 21st century. It is time to take it primetime.

Here's the plan:

Instead of holding the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, move it to Monday night. The benefits of the switch will more than pay for the lighting needed for such a move.

Daytona has proven the effectiveness of night racing with its recent running of the Pepsi 400 under the lights each Fourth of July weekend. The IRL already runs under the lights at Texas, Richmond and Nashville. The IRL cars look even faster at night.

By switching to Monday night, the Indy 500 avoids a same-day issue with NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. NASCAR drivers no longer have to miss their driver's meeting and start last in the 600 if they want to run at Indy, too. Rain no longer is an issue for guys who want to do the double.

It may seem to be a minor point, but as NASCAR trends towards younger drivers, more of them express an interest in trying open-wheel cars in a 'one-off" scenario. There's no doubt a guy like Kevin Harvick or Kurt Busch would love a chance to try the Indy 500. A Monday time slot would offer them a better opportunity.

Monday night would also increase the pool of potential television viewers. TV experts will tell you that summer viewing is low. It is low at night, but even lower on weekends. Memorial Day weekend revolves around outdoor activities like picnics, family get-togethers and vacations. For much of the country, it's the first holiday with nice weather.

By Monday night, most folks are back home readying for a return to work Tuesday. They are housebound and prime for TV entertainment outside of the 're-runs' genre.

What would be more exciting? An old episode of a sit-com or 33 cars screaming around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at over 220mph?

Monday Night Football has made Monday evening a unique sports timeslot. It is reserved for marquee events. It's where Tiger Woods shows up on a summer Monday to "Battle at Bighorn." It says big time.

A Monday Night Indy 500 would attract new fans. And, if they liked what they saw, they may consider trekking to an upcoming event, or at least tuning into the next race.

The current Indy 500 ticket holders would face missing a day of work Tuesday, but few if any would stop going to the Brickyard. That's why I'm talking about 2004. It gives them time to adjust their vacation schedules and the Speedway time to erect the lights.

All that would then be needed is John Madden to drive the pace car.