The Indy Car event at Kentucky Motor Speedway on Sunday was absolutely great for a variety of reasons. The racing was close, safe and side by side throughout much of the field for the majority of the day. With that excitement, of course, comes deriding from obsessed twisty snobs with their ignorant jeering about ‘stab n’ steer.’ It is a genuine shame television is unable to capture the excitement felt by the 40,000 or so folks who attended for viewers. Bruton Smith increased capacity to about 108,000, and 40,000 scattered into that many seats will always draw critical commentary borne of ignorance. Still, that track used to draw almost twice that number for Indy Car. Re-‘unification’ evidently did not have the desired effect enthusiasts of that philosophy claimed it would. As a matter of fact, it seems the opposite has occurred.
For every really great Indy Car occurrence comes at least equal parts bad news. That makes it inordinately difficult to build fan loyalty in all but the most masochistic die-hard supporters. That last group left standing is currently being alienated as well as the oval count hurtles rapidly toward one. Yesterday was a perfect example of good news/awful news at the same time:
-Ed Carpenter and Sarah Fisher Racing pulled off a David vs. Goliath feat. Ed raced the cream of the crop hard for the last 23 laps side by side the entire time, out smarted Dario on management of push-to-pass and came away with the first victory for him and that deserving team. BUT, Sarah says sponsor Dollar General has big plans for next season that do not include her team. My guess is either a NASCAR package or a poaching by a bigger Indy Car team.
-The twelfth event at that track was comprised of nearly thirty cars, was competitive from start to finish, and kept 40,000 on the edge of their seats. BUT, Bruton Smith says forget about returning unless a title sponsor is found. Same for Loudon. As a result, Indy Car fans are expected to get screwed out of ANOTHER GREAT oval venue AGAIN.
Randy Bernard has a reputation as a great promoter and deal maker but lately has appeared to be nothing more than the latest reincarnation of Chris Pook or Joe Heitzler, and just about as ineffective at moving the needle. Most of his recent actions and statements make it clear the ‘Nard Dog’ has become a ‘lap dog.’
Losing Kentucky would be just as unacceptable as losing Chicagoland or Michigan or any of the other great venues Indy Car has frittered away for generally stupid reasons. Having a 17 race schedule for 2012 with only six ovals is NOT ACCEPTABLE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE. Indy Car has a hard time with that loud and clear message, and the last group of core supporters is about to fall by the wayside.
If Randy Bernard leaves before the five years is up and the sisters reach out to Disciple, here is part of my plan of action:
-Find someone who has the promoting talent of a Randy Bernard or an Eddie Gossage, only with the fortitude and comfort to operate a benevolent dictatorship unafraid to tell self-interested owners the way things will be.
-Stop kissing NASCAR’s ass once and for all. We’re in a battle for bodies. We should not be taking any prisoners and we should never bend over for them. Ever. We’re usually 40 to 50 mph faster than they are, are more diverse and have compelling personalities and stories. Exploit it for all it’s worth.
-Fire anyone who espouses more non-ovals than ovals. Period.
-Every ticket sold automatically becomes a full-access garage pass on Saturdays (or the day before a race). Steal that page from drag racing. Access on race day costs a few more bucks.
-Target a diverse set of ovals and make them work. It is time to drop the current business model once and for all. The days of asking for a sanctioning fee to show up are over. Negotiate a track rental, then use the Vegas model for everything but Indy. Here is a list of a really good preferred 10:
1. Indy. The heart and soul of the sport.
2. Chicagoland. Any inability to create title sponsorship in the 3rd largest market in the country is inexcusable.
3. Fontana. See above only for the 2nd largest market. Make it a 500-miler.
4. Richmond. Hotbed of racing fans with plenty of sponsorship opportunity available and is also a desirable east coast area.
5. Phoenix. That track will work if you take ISC out of the equation. This assumes Indy Car will eventually figure out how to effectively promote itself.
6. Texas. 2nd home to Indy Racing since the IRL days. 2nd largest crowds and fast, exciting oval. Cannot ever leave it off.
7. Kentucky. Close to Indy, Cincinnati, Louisville and Lexington. There is no reason why 75,000 folks cannot be attracted.
8. Iowa. Great track in the heartland and a rabid regional base of support.
9. Pick one. Loudon fills a northeast geographic hole in a beautiful location. Pikes Peak does the same out west. How would a new Michigan 500 go over instead of a new attempt at a multiple failure on a rat-infested island temporary course? Mid-south anyone? Nashville or Memphis would make great additions.
10. Las Vegas. Bigger than life season closer should be an annual event.
Randy has the power to reinvent the oval presentation and he is showing how to do it in Vegas. Indy Car MUST restore the balance above ALL else. If any from the list about fails, there is an equally large pool of potential replacements.
-We need to elevate television coverage once and for all. It has become clear that NBC cares no more about Indy Car than ESPN does. The old format of 2 or 3 in the booth and roving pit reporters is boring and stale. It needs to be picked up. Good suggestions include fast track new technology. The Raytheon heads up display idea has merit. Even if does not make it to helmets yet, it can be brought to the screen. Do not filter or censor radio transmissions. Let fans hear everything. Quit showing just a few cars going around the track. Make the majority of shots in car and let that tell the story. No one really knew about the problems Ed Carpenter had yesterday on one stint while driving with one hand and holding his visor down with the other. Or how many drivers were complaining about the driving of J.R. Hildebrand. Put the viewers into the car and not at a table with announcers.
-Above all (most important): Achieve a reasonable balance of ovals to road courses. The imbalance being bantered about will quickly kill this evolutionary phase sport as inevitably as it did for cart. Twice. Start learning from history and stop being doomed to repeat it.