Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog

July 30, 2015

Alex Zanardi in the 100th Running of the Indy 500…Is It REALLY a Good Idea?

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 9:00 pm

WheeeeeMany racing fans have worked themselves up into wet dream level anticipation over the whiff of a rumor based on an Alex Zanardi comment that he would like to try racing in the Indianapolis 500. Now all of a sudden the racing-centric Internet typists assume the 100th running would be the perfect debut with no doubts about either quality teams and equipment or sponsorship. It is over the top.

This author has been accused in the past (mostly by people without a high degree of reading comprehension or the ability to pick up on subtle nuance, much less lighthearted humor) of certain insensitivity with regard to Mr. Zanardi. The hypersensitivity of critics often clouds their judgement. In reality as a racing fan I enjoyed watching him race in his prime as immensely as anyone else. The accomplishments he has mastered since his accident is the stuff of inspirational legend. What is not to like or admire?

Wishful thinking regarding a 500 run, especially the 100th running, must be tempered by pragmatism. Zanardi never raced at Indianapolis. He was part of teams that actively boycotted the 500. He walked away from IndyCar twice for marginal attempts in Formula 1. His best known on-track move (other than that ill-fated right turn in Germany the weekend after 9/11) was a pass that would be considered illegal today. Most racing fans of any prejudice can get past the politics and overlook bad times. After all, it is 2015. Before he is anointed to IndyCar sainthood without having ever turned a hot lap at Indy I encourage more objective viewpoint.

In May of 2016 he will be pushing 50. His physical conditioning, especially in the upper body, is remarkable. But his body will be almost 50. And he has no legs. Or Indy 500 starts. Or much IndyCar driving since 2001. And no butt time in a DW12 with the fancy schmancy aerokits.  Odds are stacked against him. Perhaps that level of challenge is what has his fans creaming their dungarees over the mere possibility of conquering it. It would really be difficult to see what is essentially a stunt going awry. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is often thought of as a living, breathing spirit that can just as easily chew up and spit out a driver as bestow good fortune regardless of pedigree. No one wishes the former on anyone but such an attempt would become a media freak show regardless of outcome.

Stubbs BBQSome have suggested a perfect pairing might be with Sam Schmidt. Perhaps, but that version begins to veer into ‘step right up’ sideshow territory even more. I am certain sponsorship would not be an issue. I look forward to the 100th running for its intrinsic historical value and not whimsical novelty. Sam Schmidt did run in the 500 multiple times and has become a successful IndyCar owner. Oh, and he works just as hard trying to wipe out paralysis. Like Zanardi his post-racing accomplishments are even more impressive than what he did on track. Schmidt inspires me. I love the fact he has used his passion for the sport to both participate and attempt to make it better.

I know Zanardi has long been crowned as one of the best ever (despite no laps at Indy). My biggest disappointments are: A) That he allowed his career to be guided by the idiotic arrogance of boycotters who mistakenly believed they were bigger than Indy and forced him and many of his contemporaries to miss the one event that gave them all legitimacy in the prime of his career, and B) That he did not attempt this stunt while ten years younger when he would have been about the same age as today’s consistent winners.

BuhByeThere are no losers in this fantasy and I encourage continuing enthusiasm. It is nice to see that in IndyCar for a change. Given the ‘resignation’ of Derrick Walker (I thought he was supposed to be an owners guy) it is easy to see the clown act that has passed for management of the sport has remained unchanged essentially since the late 1970s plane crash no matter which warm bodies occupy the big desks. The fact that Mark Miles is so well insulated will stick in the craw of critics for a long time. Never is there a dull moment.

July 18, 2015

The Dark Side of Motor Racing

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 2:21 pm

BianchiSome will give me grief for going here (too soon and all of that) but I am sufficiently bothered so here goes. Tributes to Bianchi are deserved, respectful and somber, as they should be. Almost conspicuous by its absence, however, are fellow participants crapping all over a series and a sport that allows them to ply their trades. There is no mass hysteria or rush to judgement about speculative causes. No urgency to solve perceived problems.

When contrasted against the equally tragic death of Dan Wheldon the silence is deafening. Both died as the result of freak accidents in racing. One striking difference about respective aftermaths is absence of the cacophony of mostly meritless criticism that spewed forth before Wheldon’s body even got cold.

Now that Jules Bianchi sadly passed why are there not panicked, shrill yelps to ban this or change that to sanitize the sport? Is Formula One immune from criticism? In many ways it seems some have convinced themselves Formula One is not dangerous. Turns out it can be. Bianchi’s ultimate death could definitely have been prevented. But where is the outcry?Danny Boy Suggested hysteria as justification to ban things using the same twisted, rationalized logic that eliminated IndyCar at Vegas:  1) No more racing at Suzuka. 2) No more racing on natural terrain courses because they are not immune from death. 3) Racing while it’s raining? Are you crazy!? 4) We need to slow down F1 cars by about 50 mph. 5) While we’re at it how about no more street courses since there are fences and trees and people are near those fences. 6) Racing while there are tractors near the circuit must be banned. 7) Hell, why not just stop racing altogether? It is just too dangerous.

Sound ridiculous? It is. So is the double standard. How many tracks has IndyCar been forced away from due to either accidents or fear something MIGHT happen? Why does that not happen in any other series in which death or other mayhem are possibilities?

Pack racing in NASCAR is not considered dangerous until one driver kills another or a car penetrates the fence and either kills fans or comes close. Even IMS is touting aero changes to Cup cars to enable closer racing during the Brickyard 400. Yet ‘pack racing’ only seems bad when it involves IndyCars, and has had its definition (which is subjective to begin with) twisted to include essentially all oval racing that is not single file.

Sorry. It just pisses me off.

RIP Jules Bianchi.

June 30, 2015

The Third Mistress: IndyCar’s Peacock Television Deal

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 12:26 pm

Bend Over IndyCarOne common recurring complaint from IndyCar fans and many participants as a group over the past twenty years or so involves a perception of increasing lack of respect accorded the series by its broadcast partners. IndyCar was long ago relegated to bastard stepchild status on ESPN as NASCAR and other stick and ball sports squeezed it out. ESPN was largely responsible originally for the rise of NASCAR following the network launch in 1979 because they made it featured programming during formative years. That was largely due to ESPN badly needing content.  In subsequent years the folks in Bristol (Connecticut) milked it for all it was worth up until they were over capacity with stick and ball sports.

What began as mutual fawning when IndyCar signed a ten year deal with Versus/NBCSN in 2009 has devolved into confused suspicion as both Formula 1 and NASCAR have been given obvious programming priority. The ratings for IndyCar on NBCSN are not bad in comparison to most things aired on that cable channel, but assuming they will rise because NASCAR is coming is questionable speculation at best.

Instead of complaining a determination is warranted of whether perception is reality in the way IndyCar is promoted and aired not only on the NBCSN linear platform but also on the web and in social media, specifically Facebook and Twitter. The quasi-scientific method used to gather data involved paying a recent underemployed college graduate to DVR the channel for one week before an IndyCar race on NBCSN (Fontana) then count the number of promos devoted to any sport or channel cross promotion. The directive was to isolate a standard run-of-schedule time frame for each of seven consecutive days; 6:00am to 12midnight, with each day broken into six-hour pieces that do not necessarily conform to standard sellable dayparts but are chunked into easily digestible pieces for analysis.  The monitoring began Friday, June 19 at 6:00am and concluded Thursday, June 25 at 12 midnight.

On the surface using raw numbers promotion for IndyCar on NBC Sports Network does not look bad. IndyCar is the fifth most promoted entity on the linear channel. Over the course of the research week IndyCar was promoted 53 times; slightly less than once every three hours. NASCAR is the most promoted entity on the channel with 198 distinct airings of promos in the test period; approaching two per hour. Formula 1 promos aired 65 times making it the third most promoted entity. By the way the second most promoted entity was Tour de France. Neither NASCAR, Formula 1 nor Tour de France events air until the weekend after the IndyCar event at Fontana.

Raw numbers are misleading because they do not include branding promos for NBCSN, which aired 57 times. Approximately 25 of those contained NASCAR and Formula 1 messaging, and about fifteen more contained Formula 1 messaging without NASCAR. In reality NASCAR content bumps their total to 223, and Formula 1 to 105, which begins to dwarf IndyCar (and everything else). Plus you are more likely to find an IndyCar promo in a fishing show than anything else.

In terms of promotion and programming a better acronym for NBCSN might be ‘NASCAR Broadcasting Continuously Sports Network.’ It appears the entire NBCSN farm is being bet on their share of NASCAR. In television lingo three forms of secondary events; i.e., things visible on viewer screens at the beginning of or during program segments, are prevalent. Many refer to the first type as ‘snipes.’ Those are usually animated elements that air at the beginning of segments; e.g., a stock car zooming onto the screen in a cloud of dust promoting NASCAR on July 4th, usually followed by promotion for the Minions movie. These snipes were not counted (not primary events) but aired frequently. A second type is referred to as a ‘crawl.’ This is the element that at the bottom that scrolls sports scores and other promotional information. NASCAR on the 4th of July was heavily promoted in this way. In fairness IndyCar and Formula 1 also got such play, as did many other sports on the platform.

The third and most prevalent is what is typically called a ‘bug.’ Most networks have their logo superimposed in a corner of the screen, kind of like a watermark on a photograph. The NBCSN bug is placed in the lower right portion of the screen. During the test week, however, the bug also included a large NASCAR countdown day clock in most hours of the day; exceptions being paid programming like exercise shows and live events except programming such as Dan Patrick. Think about this for a moment. A NASCAR logo and countdown on screen during every minute of every program segment in most of the network programming. Combine promo volume with secondary events and the fact that in the majority of monitored six hour blocks NASCAR programming was aired for one to two hours each then repeated over and over. A valid conclusion is that NASCAR is promoted, either blatantly or subliminally, literally almost continuously on the channel.

Some people enjoy saying ‘a rising tide lifts all ships’ when referencing the preponderance of NASCAR content being force fed as the dominant programming on the network. That might be true if IndyCar was not essentially placed in a wake and urged to try and not drown. It is disconcerting when, as was the case with the last Formula 1/IndyCar weekend, Formula 1 programming (practice and qualifying included) was repeated twice, first in prime time, while the lone IndyCar re-air hit at 1:00am (both Eastern Time). Or this weekend when IndyCar qualifications aired on delay after midnight.

Why does this happen? That is a topic for ongoing debate. No iteration of IndyCar series management has ever truly mastered the art of effective self-promotion, marketing or meaningful content dissemination. That seems odd considering the title sponsor is as blue chip as they get. Yet the combination of IndyCar and Verizon cannot even move the needle with a cable television partner.

Part of the problem may be out of their direct control but appears to be another adverse self-created handicap by IndyCar. When the NASCAR-to-NBC press announcements were being made two years ago concern was expressed that Formula 1 and IndyCar would experience considerable de-emphasis. NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus disagreed, telling press members how the IndyCar deal with NBCSN is structured. It appears that IndyCar remains essentially tethered (like a dog on a leash) to ESPN on ABC. NBCSN appears to be a glorified babysitter. Lazarus claimed that NBC does not own the rights for IndyCar broadcasts, which are held by ESPN on ABC. As a result, Lazarus claimed, they are unable to do with IndyCar what they are with other sports. The deal is structured so that a limited number of over-the-air broadcasts, most notably the Indy 500, air on ABC, while NBCSN is the exclusive cable partner.

Those critical of current leadership for things like a compressed schedule and whacko event date changes; e.g., Fontana from Fall at night to late June on a Saturday afternoon, may have even more to worry about when actual NASCAR events begin flooding and re-flooding NBCSN air. If we believed IndyCar schedule making was difficult after least season we probably have not seen anything yet. How much of the IndyCar schedule will be determined by what NBCSN can squeeze in?

If lack of promotion on the network might seem troubling you may be thankful for what you have when checking non-linear NBCSN promotion. The paid monitoring project also included tracking of the NBCSN Twitter feed and NBC Sports Facebook site, which were tracked in the same manner as the linear feed. The NBC Sports web site front page was also spot checked in the middle of each six hour monitoring period for linked events.

First, Twitter: Fourteen sports were topics over the course of the week, including multiple tweets for NASCAR (22 times) and Formula 1 (3 times). For most of the week NASCAR promotion included the cover page. Number of IndyCar-related tweets: Zero.

Second, Facebook: Ten sports comprised post topics. NASCAR was second (behind the NBA) with 18. F1 received a couple. For most of the week NASCAR promotion included the cover page. Number of IndyCar-related Facebook posts: Zero.

Third, NBC Sports website front page: In terms of numbers for ALL other sports except motorsports, 1,015 clickable links existed. Four forms of motorsports featured clickable links: NASCAR, Formula 1, LeMans and IndyCar. NASCAR had a total of 241 clickable links. Formula 1 had 44. IndyCar brought up the rear with 2, that’s right, TWO over the course of the entire week prior to an IndyCar event and no NASCAR or Formula 1 events.

Draw your own conclusions, but the editorial stance regarding IndyCar seems obvious and profound. What will IndyCar brass do about it? History tells us nothing of substance will occur.

June 29, 2015

IndyCar Stars – Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 12:37 pm

Indy 500 WhinersMy patience has all but ended and I have heard enough. ‘Leading IndyCar drivers’ (as described by Racer Magazine) really ought to try and clamp a lid on disingenuous hyperbole. If they ever wonder why there are so few fans in stands or watching in general perhaps this holdout fan can shed a little light. Those guys put on the absolute best show anywhere in years at Fontana on Saturday but did not even wait until the end of it to start ripping it to shreds.

The definition of the words ‘pack racing’ seem to have expanded to mean ‘racing on any oval except Indianapolis or Milwaukee.’ Also, any invoking of the Dan Wheldon accident in Las Vegas to decry the racing at Fontana race is sleazy, gratuitous and misleading. As a 50+ year fan that sentiment seems offensive. Dan Wheldon died after his car hit another car, went airborne and impacted a post with his head. A freak accident. Just like the one that killed Jeff Krosnoff on a street course. Similar to the one that ended Dario Franchitti’s career. In racing freak accidents happen. There were so many other tangible differences between Vegas in 2011 and Fontana in 2015 that attempting to link the two events is, at best, desperate.

IndyCar T ShirtCan you imagine the degree of underwear staining had these guys tried to race in the 50s or 60s or earlier? Based on their current level of bitching any comparison of them to legacy champions for whom the concept of accomplishment included being able to survive year to year with their lives seems utterly laughable. This situation is not Jackie Stewart-style safety advocacy. It is chicken-little agenda mongering mixed with a healthy dose of mutiny. Say what you will about Hulman-George tutelage of the sport but one thing that has never ceased under their watch is an unending quest for safer racing. Today the sport is safer than at any time in history.

Positioning subjectively judged ‘pack racing’ as the cause of most any accident is intellectually dishonest. The cause of accidents, whether in a pack or not, is usually equipment failure (very rare these days) or bad driving. It does not even take two cars to end badly. How do these ‘leading IndyCar drivers’ expect to attract new fans with such self-destructive, arrogant rhetoric, and in many cases implying fans are the problem!? I keep wondering whether my upcoming trip to Pocono will be my last oval opportunity outside Indy ever again. Oh well. That track is big enough for 23 cars to stretch out on. That track at 2.5 miles makes it possible to keep 574 feet between each car. Is that enough not to cause another Dan Wheldon, Tony?

June 28, 2015

IndyCar Remains Its Own Worst Enemy

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 7:23 pm

Graham CrackerSaturday in Fontana, California the micromanaging blind squirrels of IndyCar management found a nut and the drivers of the Verizon IndyCar Series unleashed the most edge-of-the-seat exciting race since the early 2000s. 80 lead changes among more than half the field. The start featured a long initial green period with more slicing and dicing than a culinary arts school. It was simply amazing; almost awe inspiring. Even the television staff in the booth lost all pretense of being objective announcers who just call the race and simply became high heart rate, oohing and aaahhhing, cheering fans like everyone else toward the end. Fans were absolutely mesmerized.

The bitching began before the race even concluded. Tim Cindric. Will Power. Juan Montoya. Tony Kanaan. Their common message? Decrying ‘pack racing.’ Using words like ‘crazy.’ Comparing the race to Las Vegas in 2011. Invoking the name of the late Dan Wheldon. Trying to position themselves as knowing more than IndyCar, any fan, or anyone else.

It is easy to understand a lot of their common frustration. As Dario Franchitti opined in a tweet the series won’t listen to anything any of them say so why not take complaints public. Conflict often breeds press and IndyCar can use all of that they can get. Public venting is always good for soap operas and Robin Miller columns but that may still remain unlikely to draw Captain Eyebrows off the golf course long enough to reinforce the notion that a race that great played out in front of so few people in the country’s second largest media market might be better served with a consistent fall date and actual presentation effort, something we have not seen on big ovals outside Indy for years.

What becomes offensive to 50+ year fans like myself is the tone mic spewers take. When they inevitably play the ‘were you in the cockpit/do you think you could do it’ card eyes begin to roll. My first inclination is to tell them to cram the obfuscation. If I was as talented and young as many of them are I would jump in in a millisecond and fully embrace the challenge. But I am old and have never been that talented, so essentially all they seem to be doing is waving their genitals around and positioning everyone else as ignorant. That is offensive. It gets even more disingenuous when they start tossing Dan Wheldon’s name around as a reason the kind of racing we saw yesterday is ‘bad.’

OMG PACK RACINGMy cynical side suspects the last remnants of the series that killed itself twice makes the mistake of lumping ANY oval race into a ‘pack racing’ bucket simply because no right turns are involved. Realistically any comparison of Fontana on Saturday to Las Vegas in 2011 seem gratuitously dishonest and are spouted primarily to support a flawed agenda. That agenda that in turn leads to all sorts of chicken little hyperbole from selected participants and assorted imbeciles on the Internet about all sorts of dire possibilities such as a car into the stands, driver death or injury, waiting for the ‘big one,’ Russian roulette, etc. Fontana is an ultra-wide track with multiple grooves and more space for squawkers to dive bomb between grooves with no regard for anyone else on the track, something the chronic complainers seemed to do all day. They usually create the danger and subsequent mayhem they decry.

It is difficult to understand how a complete crap show at, say, Detroit can be viewed more favorably than Fontana on Saturday. How can you call something a race when cars are kept away from one another, especially on ovals? I am an American fan who is a big fan of American oval racing. I am sick and tired of formula trained road racers trying to steal or co-opt that legacy to pretend they are Formula 1, which has never been mainstream popular in the United States.

The Fontana race was EXACTLY the kind of show I crave. Most never want to see any accidents or injury. Technology that allows me into various cockpits complete with telemetry on large screens only enhances the total experience. We will rarely see a better oval race than this and I have high hopes for Pocono. I pray the mutineers do not screw that up in advance.

June 17, 2015

When IndyCar Rumors Spiral Out Of Control…

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 9:02 pm

Eat ItSomeone leaked/concocted a rumor yesterday about Road America being a 2016 possibility on the IndyCar schedule. From the moment the first whiff of that rumor hit John Q. Public the fan faction that has attempted to actively transform heritage IndyCar into a U.S.-based Formula 1, Junior spent the rest of their day fantasizing about twisty parades and bratwurst and such. Use of presumptuous terms such as ‘proper track’ are being bantered. The creaming of dungarees has barely subsided since.

Others are positioning the legendary Milwaukee Mile (an older track than Indy) as a lost cause. Another lost oval. Because, as many have foolishly deluded themselves into believing, ‘…ovals are just not as popular as they used to be.’ Just ignore the fact that NASCAR still nearly sells out about all of their ovals and IMS still bulges at the seams in May.

I do not understand the worry about Milwaukee. Why can’t both venues be part of the schedule and achieve success? Basic ideas to enhance Milwaukee AND add Road America include:

  1. The MileGive Milwaukee back its legacy position on the calendar: The weekend after Indy. Keep it there year after year and stop jacking around with scheduling.
  2. Promote the event. Get serious about it for once. This goes for the presenting organization, IndyCar, the venue and all participants.
  3. Bring the IMS in May experience to all other ovals. Outright neglect foisted over the past few years is outrageous.
  4. Attention Andretti folks: Price the venue so families with normal income can afford to attend. Presently that group is priced out of the market.
  5. Get serious about corporate sponsorship outside IMS. Given not only the corporate smoke that has been blown up our skirts by IMS since Mark Miles assumed control about increasing IndyCar popularity but also the fact that Miles has reconfigured the entire Indy Marketing wing with highly experienced people, why is there still, after all these years, no meaningful corporate sponsorship for venues like Milwaukee?
  6. Run all available support series every single time.

Bend Over IndyCarThese steps are absolutely crucial because as has been the case for nearly twenty years the primary broadcasting partners have reverted to treatment of IndyCar like disease-riddled bastard stepchildren chained by the ankles in the basement of a barn. Why? NBCSN overpaid for NASCAR (which does not start until next month on their platforms) and has been promoting NASCAR ten to fifteen times more often than IndyCar even on weeks IndyCar has races. NBC also overpaid for Formula 1, and that has been promoted usually five times as much. NBCSN offers no consistency in the booth. When F-1 is off they throw Steve Matchett in there. That makes the aforementioned twisty dungaree creamers gleeful. My group simply wishes he would stop grunting forced excitement as if on the verge of a coronary. Among words that should never be used to describe anything in IndyCar: A ‘shunt.’ A ‘safety cah.’ I digress. It is amazing IndyCar simply allows that type of treatment to be inflicted by an entity that claims to be a ‘partner.’ Trying to find any meaningful IndyCar content on their web pages is a mining expedition in a dry gulch. It is easier to find stories about literally anything else in sports.

Road America and the Milwaukee Mile are presented by different management entities. The most fan friendly thing both groups could possibly do is figure out a joint promotion strategy and offer some sort of package deal for both venues. There is no reason that could not work. On the other hand there is no reason why ovals at Chicagoland (3rd largest media DMA), Kentucky, Gateway, Memphis, Michigan, etc., can’t work. Imagine if IndyCar expended a level of effort higher than the zero level it has been for a decade or more.

We are also subjected to tales of cities interested in hosting a street festival o’ speed. After four decades of mostly failure with those a smart person might believe leadership would recognize a hint when it whacks them repeatedly. Norfolk? LOL. There is already an actual track nearby at which IndyCar has had success. Go there.

As a racing fan I would welcome the legacy natural terrain Road America. Just not at the expense of Milwaukee, which from a legacy and history standpoint, seems far more important.

June 16, 2015

Converting Open Wheel Fans Back Into Indy Only Fans, One Failure At A Time

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 1:42 pm

Indy Car MechanicNow that IndyCar teams have a much needed week off the pundits have taken to second guessing the leadership again. One example is a really good column in Racer by Robin Miller that describes rampant frustration with Mark Miles’ newly compressed schedule. Evidently the situation in the paddock is a lot of worn out, walking zombies sending out resumes for other forms of work when they are not on the road and missing sleep.

That sentiment is easily understood, particularly from someone who travels a lot for business and still manages to squeeze in a few races every year. The most frustrating part of this particular predicament is the lack of caring, empathy or long term solutions from the top. Mark Miles has been lauded a lot for his accomplishments in sports in the past. One look at professional tennis justifies such praise. He also deserves criticism.

Anyone appointed to the job he has will face difficult decisions. The only realistic option for attaining black ink instead of red ink is simple. Cut expenses and raise prices. Over and over. That mission has been accomplished but what will it do to the sport long term? Those who tie history back to USAC no longer have a case. That ship has already hit the iceberg and the only thing its leadership can do is salvage floating pieces of wreckage to try and humpty-dumpty that organization back together. Davey Hamilton was recently hired to try to do just that as well as set a future course. He lasted seven weeks before being made to walk the plank. USAC is just the latest of a 100-year string of failed sanctioning entities to flounder and wither or simply die.

Counting beansIMS is charge of everything once again, and things at IMS are looking mighty rosy. This is especially true given the upcoming 100th running in 2016. Now that Miles has been given credit for something resembling profitability it is time to look critically at a few items for which he is nearly universally panned.

First, a shortened schedule. It may seem to be a swell idea for Miles and external consulting entities, but neither attends every race nor turns any wrenches, rebuilds cars or jack-of-all-trades for days on end, then faces the very real prospect of six or seven months of unemployment. All indications are that Miles simply does not care and is intractable on his/BCG position.

Second, an Indy-like experience outside Indy. Miles has surrounded himself with executives who also supposedly have the business chops to make a series like IndyCar mainstream. The problem is we have now seen years pass with no discernible difference from regime to regime. Relatively speaking selling sponsorship for the 100th running of the 500 is probably something any motivated high school student could do for a lot less than some fat six figure salary. Constructing a schedule of high value supporting events along with any coherent way to promote them around the country and world has proven elusive.

IMG_2846Take Pocono, for example. It is an oval that was designed by IndyCar drivers and built for IndyCars back in the early 70s. Open wheel dysfunction and conflict ensured its profitable future as a NASCAR track. IndyCar fans waited twenty-four long years for that track to return and when it did many more than actually attended wished they could. Thankfully the schedule was changed this year from a holiday weekend to a normal summer weekend. Problem is when IndyCar is the only on-track activity and there are only 22 or 23 cars normal fans are going to wonder why they should spend hundreds of dollars to make such an effort, and our fear is that this legendary track will become another three and done for IndyCar. I received my IMG_2845tickets for that race in the mail, and the ticket times do not agree with the published schedule times. No discernable promotion is occurring for the event anywhere in the Northeast. Worse, if people get a good look at the published schedule and see essentially a shell game of IndyCars on the track only sporadically, the prospect of sitting in exposed summer heat will cause many to just set DVRs and watch the race at home, which will probably be another parade with so few entrants on that huge track. Another year is going by with zero attention to events outside Indy.

Third, Miles’ assertion that scheduling of tracks, primarily ovals, within driving distance of Indianapolis will detract from Indy is ludicrous. The fact many tracks are within driving distance is the very reason many Midwestern fans would attend more races, assuming they got priced coherently (the Andretti people have not yet figured that out) and actually promoted. IndyCar should definitely be at Chicagoland, Kentucky, Gateway, Michigan and even Memphis. Elimination of such venues combined with the most awful lack of presentation everywhere else, particularly ovals, has turned many fans back into Indy-only.

Perhaps Mark Miles will one day figure out the visceral soul shaking allure of the sport is what ultimately makes the dollars flow. His laughable attempt to micromanage that elusive concept (events leading up to qualifying weekend at Indy are exhibit A) that evolves much better organically is his biggest failure, particularly anywhere outside Indy. His style will either work or he will end up on the sidewalk like the litany of his predecessors.

June 7, 2015

Why Ovals Do Not Seem Popular In IndyCar

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 12:21 pm

ArroganceCommonly mistaken assumptions some folks harbor, then subsequently spout on the Internet, is that ovals are dying. Many then assume that as a result non-oval racing is becoming more popular. That is a laughable assumption. Look no further than NBC Sports’ high dollar ‘investment’ in Formula 1. Ratings are no better than those for IndyCar, and NBC Sports gets IndyCar for a fraction of the cost. And if ovals are not popular why would NBC Sports also invest hundreds of millions for a piece of the NASCAR schedule?

The primary reason why IndyCar ovals are perceived as a dying breed is because the entire genre is once again being co-opted by squatting road racers whose aspirations are either Formula 1 or creation of a facsimile with the word ‘Indy’ as an identity. Most either could not make it and/or washed out in Formula 1 or its ladders. ‘Ovals are just not popular any more’ is a prophecy most participants would like to make self-fulfilling because it fits their subjective view of what the sport should be. That is the mold into which the sport is once again being bent,

IndyCar Participants Visit Texas

IndyCar Participants Visit Texas

‘supported’ by panicked shrieks about ‘pack racing,’ derision of oval enthusiasts as ‘gomers,’ and worse.

We are down to six ovals, and several current participants never waste an opportunity to insult oval hosts in some way. The annual excursion to Texas is proof of such aberrant behavior.

Squatters are able to operate in this manner because management of the sport, while not explicitly complicit, is unwilling to see or expend any energy beyond the Indianapolis Motor Speedway unless Mark Miles can plug in a pro Tennis model of blue chip brand names facilitating millions of dollars into IMS coffers by sponsoring events in far-flung locales outside North America. If/when that happens there is a 100% chance such venues will be non-ovals; probably temporary circuits. Even if IMS management was inclined to try and make events outside IMS work they have rarely demonstrated any ability or willingness to effectively market itself.

SimpleOne of my frequent head slaps is the level of presentation effort IndyCar expends at big ovals such as Pocono or Fontana. By and large that effort is zero. There are no meaningful support events, large gaps in the on-track schedule, no must see entertainment companions and other than minimal promotion track management does no promotional activity by IndyCar. Rolling up merchandise trailers and a relatively hokey ‘fan zone’ is not effective. Nor is handing a mic to Michael Young so that he can shout ‘are you ready’ at a few thousand masochists.

Because IndyCar takes an active hands off stance outside IMS and cannot effectively promote itself outside Indy television partners are not aware of IndyCar either. IndyCar was the first motorsports signing of the NBC Sports Network. When IndyCar signed with Versus, and again when Versus was re-branded NBC Sports Network, the excitement by that brass in press conferences bordered on orgasmic. That enthusiasm disappeared almost immediately. Despite decent ratings and little expense IndyCar is barely promoted by NBC Sports, while Formula 1 is promoted roughly 4 times as much. Soccer? About 50 times as much, which is also true of any stick and ball entity. NASCAR doesn’t resume its NBC run until July but for nearly a year has been promoted over IndyCar by a nearly 10 to 1 ratio.

The story is no different for ESPN on ABC, whose editorial stance regarding IndyCar is even more egregious.  It is not really fair to blame the broadcast partners. They are simply ignorant or unaware IndyCar is an entity, much less one that

IndyCAr Marketing

IndyCar Marketing

occupies a small portion of their schedule. That again points back to a continuing, ongoing massive lack of effort in and/or failure of marketing on a broader scale than IMS by current management. There must be more to these types of arrangements than simply funneling portions of series sponsorship dollars into spot avails in the network broadcasts.

There exist as many oval racing enthusiasts as ever. None of them is ever given incentive to buy tickets. They are far too expensive, and once purchased no real ‘experience’ other than IndyCars on the track is generally offered. Partner entities such as Andretti Sports Marketing sell only expensive multi-day packages, and purchasers are nearly continuously pitched for ‘upgrades’ from the time they purchase to the time they leave tracks. At most of their promoted tracks budget conscious GA purchasers are relegated to small patches of leper-colony-like exile with non-optimal vantage points. New Orleans, in particular, was more of a joke than most. They seem as out of touch with a potential audience as IndyCar. Both assume their clientele is only high income and white collar. That is because those are the only people who can afford the price and show up, and there are not enough of them to effectively butter the bread.

As usual, the fantasies of management and the reality of what they manage remain distantly spaced. Until that cluelessness changes the niche in which IndyCar sits is the niche in which it will remain.

June 4, 2015

Why Not A Friendly Split for IndyCar?

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 9:56 pm

Marky MarkAfter what turned out to be a spectacular 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 the window dressing that comprises the remainder of Mark Miles ultra-condensed season is back to a full blown limp, complete with about 1/3 fewer participants.

Some claim the Duel in Detroit was exciting. But some people enjoy having their nipples pierced then adding rings. It should not have been as dull as it seemed but awful weather more than anything else put the kibosh on that one. The island park improves every year thanks mostly to Chamber of Commerce-like Roger Penske, who is hell bent on making Detroit a real city again. Given the short number of entries in the Duel can you imagine the potential carnage had an Indy 500 sized field showed up?

There is a logical solution but we should first discuss the merits of aspirations Mark Miles has. Count me in the camp that mostly supports him. He has relevant business chops and has grown niche sports before. Tennis these days is mostly a niche complete with the kind of television ratings most Internet Television Executives consider horrible. Yet pro Tennis still gets mentions and highlights on sports broadcasts, and the number of blue chip high value sponsors is very high. Miles has a lot to do with that.

When he speaks his intent seems clear. Prestigious events around the globe funded by blue chip sponsors closely aligned IndyCar Paddockwith the brand. That is a path certainly worth going down but he must realize given the tawdry recent history of the modern era he is attempting with this brand to take the most rambunctious members of the Hatfield and McCoy families to the Ritz Carlton for a white tablecloth dinner together. The downside of the international focus is that it almost completely forsakes its American (and North American) base.

There is no shortage of arrogance at the top of IndyCar, and that is hardly new. It is worthwhile to consider a few statistics over the past ten years since IndyCar began its non-oval slippery slope. Years prior to 2005 were not considered because the IRL was 100% oval and remnants of the pre-IRL series had a 100% failure rate. Twice. Non-ovals have a 46% failure rate for IndyCar. If just temporary circuits are isolated the failure rate rises to 60%. You might believe ovals would fare better. Not so. Of the six remaining of twenty attempted the failure rate is about 70%. Once tracks that closed permanently are considered it is about a 50/50 proposition.

Assuming Miles and crew can figure out a way to lower the costs of participation and not micromanage every aspect of the package into ridiculousness I have a great suggestion: A new split, only this time without acrimony, bent egos and scorched earth. The IndyCar brand is potentially golden and highly exploitable.

NazWhen Davey Hamilton was put in charge of USAC it got the minds of some folks working. He is one of those homegrown talents whose IndyCar career was made possible by the early IRL. Since then he has been an owner, an official and has held a variety of roles. That seems like a smart hire. Could he help? Could he pull it off?

In a perfect world a domestic IndyCar branch would contain 25 participants and would feature a non-Indy schedule of 12 oval venues, three non-ovals (presumably St. Pete, Long Beach and either Barber or Mid-Ohio) plus Indy. The international IndyCar branch would feature a 16-race schedule that spans the globe on primarily non-ovals then joins the domestic branch for Indy and possibly two other legs of what could be a multi-million dollar ‘triple crown.’

Indy’s domestic ovals outside Indy would include the five already in the fold, plus Phoenix, Michigan, Richmond, Kentucky, Gateway, Memphis and Chicagoland. Many NASCAR insiders are predicting a schedule reduction and elimination of double dates at most of their venues. That would open some doors assuming IndyCar might back off its current ‘hand us a pile of money and we will appear’ stance into something more creative and equally lucrative.

Assuming both branches had 24 or 25 participants each 50 entries shooting for 33 spots at Indy would bring back a lot of drama. How likely might it be? Dream on…

May 25, 2015

99th Running of Indianapolis 500 a Huge Success

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 3:30 pm

Winner winner chicken dinnerThe party of D had an unusually great time at the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500. With regard to the race itself the start was a little shaky on a lot of fronts but once the boys and girls finally understood the race would not be won in the first few laps but could definitely be lost the show became great. Montoya’s march from 30th after being rear ended by a lady driver, necessitating a change of the entire ‘wide load’ portion of the car, as well as a pit overshoot makes one appreciate what was required to get it done. Takuma Sato screwed himself (and Sage Karam) on lap 1 with a banzai move that ended Karam’s day and put Taku 3 laps down after replacing suspension and wing parts. Despite that hurdle Taku was the third highest finishing Honda. Can you imagine what might have happened had he backed out of three wide in the south chute understanding there were 199 ¾ more laps to go?

idiots onlinePredictions of doom and gloom leading up to the race proved naysayers continue being the most stupid, irrational people on earth, and they were wrong again. I think we all know the first time a car flies into a crowd the sport is over. Given the level of panty wearing in society today the end might come the next time a driver dies. If the IndyCar Series is foolish enough to introduce aero kits then meaningfully test the oval package for the first time at Indy they deserve all the grief they got leading up to the race. There were a variety of accidents during the race, but nothing that resulting in flight, floating or other airborne adventure.

Cynical anti-oval sentiment usually expressed with passive aggressive smarminess was noticeable in many interviews, and often by American drivers onto which IndyCar would like to bestow hero status. The sickening part to this legacy fan is the way IndyCar remains complicit in actively attempting to kill the oval genre. One in depth look at the lack of meaningful presentation at utterly great venues such as Pocono and Fontana is proof. Bottom line: IndyCar should always schedule at least one oval event prior to May. I admired the efforts of Brian Clauson and the Byrd team but why does it have to be that way in the first place?

Watch the teeth honeyThe oval race at Indianapolis remained spectacular once talent engaged. Predictably most of the race was a Penske/Ganassi shootout and Penske had more bullets. Honda is obviously out to lunch on something, be it horsepower or getting their machines through air. That makes performances by Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti all the more impressive. Graham is having a dream season and his biggest worry may well be Courtney’s teeth. They look as if they could do damage if misplaced.

Racing itself through the field was thoroughly exciting. This is important because ESPN on ABC misses it consistently. Several drivers such as Jack Hawksworth made things interesting in terms of passing. He was aggressive once too often toward the end. Triston Vautier created a Donald Davidson trivia question when he qualified one car but raced another. The Coyne effort ended up being led by Pippa Mann, who spent the Dale Coyne Racingmajority of her day in the back and staying out of the way of faster cars. Positive thoughts are going out to injured members of that organization’s pit crews, many of whom have been treated like bowling pins so far this season.

Weather and crowds were great for the 99th running and the more seasoned, mature Juan Montoya has gained an adult respect for the place to go along with his considerable talent. As we move toward the beginning of the second hundred Indianapolis 500s I have a few suggestions:

-Kowtowing to ESPN on ABC for the timing of pre-race events has ruined the on-site experience for attendees. In years past there was a rhythmic flow leading up to the command. That has disappeared in recent years in order to operate according to their timetable. Now there are long periods of complete silence while commercials air on ABC. That is stupid. IMS needs to operate its own pre-race pageantry then make ABC work around that. It is a lot easier that way and far better for paying customers.

MHG-Never allow Mari Hulman-George near a mic again. The command yesterday was worse than that for the Grand Prix. I am assuming the ‘helper’ was a daughter. It came off like a thud. People who know that family love them and their contributions and enthusiasm can never be overlooked. To the hundreds of thousands in attendance and the millions watching or listening she came off as either a drunken or dementia-addled sideshow. For the 100th I might suggest three possibilities: A) a selected fan who has attended for decades. B) a video of Tony Hulman in his prime. C) A decorated member of the military. After the 100th perhaps they could whore it out to some corporate entity since a lot of other NASCAR tricks are now being copied. In any event, retire Mari permanently.

-Straight No Chaser did a remarkable job replacing Jim Nabors. Their rendition was traditional, respectful and nostalgic. They should be invited back. If they are they should be allowed to slow down a bit and sing both verses. The rushed snippet version was not optimal. If the boo birds win and they go another direction for #100 SNC should STILL be included, and another ideal slot would be in place of Florence Henderson for God Bless America. She is well beyond her expiration date as well. The rendition this year was even more nails-on-a-chalkboard grating. She and Mari should remain in their suite all day long from now on.

-Audio glitches continued plaguing the day. One might think that after several years this would get figured out.

-I am unable to comment intelligently on the television coverage because as I tried to view the same day playback in Indy I fell asleep soon after the race began. I will try again in a day or so and offer commentary then. The radio guys were their usual eloquent selves and my new RE 3000 kept me up to date on the teams and drivers.

-Newbie fans were enthusiastic. After the race they wondered how they had missed such great racing for as long as they had. Now we’re off to Detroit to kill off that type of momentum. I keep wondering what the series will do to piss Eddie Gossage off enough when Texas rolls around to get thrown out so their COTA wet dreams can be realized. That is Crapper liaradmittedly cynical but highly realistic.

The party of my brother was seated in the midst of a gaggle of hypocrites in the Southwest Vista. These adult children were seated in a group wearing dated, irrelevant 1990s cart-themed synthetic shirts and even some defunct hate site attire. He indicated there was some guy named Kevin who would not shut up the entire day. He told me he got a chuckle out of their presence. For youths who spend an inordinate amount of time falsely claiming not to pay attention to anything even remotely related to IndyCar and hating any/everything related to IMS he thought it odd they would actually be there, preserving their liar/hypocrite status. He also indicated their drinking and loud talking was disruptive. Usually those who cackle the loudest are the most fervent followers. Next YearLOL.

Now it is off to watch the replay to see what I missed in person and renew tickets. The saddest part about today is the fact that we have to wait another year.

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