Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog

October 3, 2011

Why Does All Great Indy Car News Have To Be Accompanied By Equal Parts Bad News?

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 7:08 pm

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.

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15 Comments »

  1. Absolutely enjoyed yesterday’s race. It kept me on the edge of my chair throughout the most of the race, and last 22 laps were epic. Even though I had a pair of wagers on Dario and Dixon, I found myself cheering unabashedly for Ed and Sarah Fisher, perhaps the nicest one person in racing. When she dropped the “bomb” about Dollar General in victory lane I found myself almost as emotional as she was. Honestly, when do the NICE people in this sport get a BREAK!?!! Usually, my DVR gets to handle the INDYCAR races during football season, but yesterday I just could not flip back to football for fear of missing something.

    Comment by SkipinSC — October 3, 2011 @ 7:28 pm | Reply

  2. Said it before, and I’ll say it again – IndyCar needs more ovals. I like your ideas for tracks, but please add Pocono to that list. Aside from Indy, that’s the most unique oval in North America.
    It was a damn shame there were so few fans in the stands yesterday. Me and my friend were really disappointed. However, the atmosphere was great and the racing was spectacular.
    The best races this year in my opinion have been Indy, Iowa and Kentucky … mmm, all ovals. Oh and take a look, two of those who won were from small teams – Wheldon at Indy and Carpenter at Kentucky. I don’t remember a small team wining on the twistys this year.
    Admittedly I’m an oval fan, but the best races, the more competitive races have been on ovals.

    Comment by IcyFog — October 3, 2011 @ 7:39 pm | Reply

  3. I hear what you’re saying and I agree with you. But I’m afraid it is a losing battle. I fear that within the next two years either Texas or Iowa will be gone.

    The thing that dis-hearted me the most yesterday, and it went by seemly unnoticed during the pre-race, is the fact that the new cars are equipped with launch control.

    Comment by Chris Lukens — October 3, 2011 @ 7:53 pm | Reply

    • Texas one wil never go away.

      Comment by rosco — October 4, 2011 @ 3:33 am | Reply

  4. I was at the race. the word was 15,000 to 18,000 max. Dont know where you came up with 40,000?? looked like less than 15,000.

    Comment by Bobby G — October 3, 2011 @ 8:02 pm | Reply

  5. I think you expect too much too soon from RBernard. Unlike and because of TGeorge, he was under family orders to make a profit of this racing series. Popular ovals wouldn’t pay the sanctioning fee that Indycar needed to be profitable, so they couldn’t race there. And regardless of the actual attendance and/or what it looks like, apparently the twisties are making some money while many ovals are not. And logically, anyone in charge of Indycar right now has to take the wants and needs of the owners (especially Penske and Ganassi) because money is so short everywhere. It’s even hurting Nascar, with all of their sponsors and support networks. Considering all that, I believe Bernard understands the importance of ovals to the future of Indycar, is trying to make ovals work, and still might do it. I think a lot is riding on Bernard’s plan for Las Vegas.

    Comment by redcar — October 3, 2011 @ 8:05 pm | Reply

    • IMO very soon we will see Indy Car Racing on ovals running for purse money, no guarantee on purse, if the fans show up then they will be paid nice, if it’s like yesterday the winner would not make over 13,00 dollars.

      Comment by rosco — October 4, 2011 @ 3:38 am | Reply

  6. Here’s hoping a sponsor steps in. The Kentucky race was great racing. Anyone who wants to say the product is the issue needs to be put in the rubber room if they saw yesterday’s race.

    I am hearing the track did little to promote the event. It seems typical that when a venue becomes NASCAR heavy, they give IndyCar the shaft.

    Hope they get a sponsor for this event. I am going to give Randy more time. He has a hard job, the impossible job of making everyone happy. If not for him, we would be stuck with the same car, no Vegas, no Fontana and New Hampshire would not have come back. He also brought the mile back from the dead, too bad it was not promoted well.

    Comment by Mike Miller — October 3, 2011 @ 8:37 pm | Reply

  7. Why not have 2 divisions, oval and road with different cars so Ed Carpenter can run a full season? Perhaps something like a Formula 5000 car for road courses. It is unfortunate that the ovals do not draw fans as the races are much more exciting than most of the road (to say nothing of the crash prone street) races. Then again Indy Car races other than Indy were always after thoughts even though they counted for points. In an ideal world, 15 oval races and 15 road/ street races counting for a National Championship. Perhaps, if a gimmick is needed, at the end of the season the top 12 finishers plus ties in each division could compete in one road and one oval (Las Vegas?) in a run off for the National Championship.

    A schedule could look like this:

    Oval Division: (14 races with Indy counting for double points)
    Fontana
    Phoenix
    Indianapolis
    Milwaukee
    Iowa
    Texas
    NH
    Michigan
    Pocono
    Kentucky
    Motegi
    Richmond
    Nashville
    Chicagoland

    Road Division:
    St. Petersburg
    Brazil
    Alabama
    Long Beach
    Mid Ohio
    Watkins Glen
    Toronto
    Edmondton
    Montreal
    Baltimore
    Sonoma
    Leguna Seca
    Austin TX
    Indianapolis
    Sebring
    Then if a “playoff” was held, set up a road course in Las Vegas for the 1st race and use the oval for the second. It would be a showcase event much like the Breeders’ Cup is for horse racing.

    The car for 2012 looks pretty close to the single seat Can Am cars that grew out of the Formula 5000 series. …Just needs a little more body work. The rules for the cars should be based on dimensions ( no bodywork in front or behind the wheels), weight, engine displacement, and safety equipment. The organization should not be micromanaging what the cars look like. The road cars should be narrower than the oval cars especially because of the the street circuits. The present (and 2012) cars are just two wide and clunky for street circuits.

    Economics and business decisions most likely would weigh against such a set up for Indy Cars….but with cost control measures, good marketing and other changes (enhanced competition amongst car builders?) the series would be more interesting and diversified. In the end the best over all drivers would be competing for the title…and probably the same teams as are currently…..but others ..like Ed Carpenter.. would have a chance to shine more often.

    Comment by JAMES STEIN — October 4, 2011 @ 2:06 am | Reply

    • glad to see you included NH in the line up! Would love to see Watkins Glen also! Except they need to update their facilities compared with NH. If only the powers that be would listen to you!!

      Comment by "Danicka" — October 5, 2011 @ 4:25 pm | Reply

  8. Dear Defender:

    Arguing and complaining about the failure to keep ovals on the schedule is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic…this series is doomed no matter what we say about the need to keep a balance between road/street courses and short ovals/super-speedways…here’s my take…blow up the series and start all over again since this business model is an abject failure and remains unsustainable, especially on the day when the Captain retires/steps down and Target discontinues funding Chip’s Indy Car operations…the difficult question has always been whether the series existed to promote the Indy 500 throughout the year and to show off its cars and stars to the rest of the nation or whether the Indy 500 was just another race among a full slate of events across the country….CART answered in the latter and, as the Defender always likes to say, CART died twice (the first time when Penske’s and Ganassi’s sponsors demanded presence at the 500 and the second time when Kalkoven had enough of spending his own $$$ to keep Champ Car afloat)…but what about TG and his failed vision…he had the crown jewel in the 500 and still managed to squander his family’s fortune propping up the IRL for a decade….if I had the George family ear, I would recommend the cancellation of the series to stop the bleeding and instead focus all energy and money into making the 500 once again the premier event designed to draw all disciplines of motor sports into the mix….instead of wasting millions subsidizing losers like Dryer and Reinbold and Dale Coyne to run a boring series played to thousands of empty seats at places like Kentucky, Loudon and what will be another ghost town in Vegas, allocate all of the TEAM money into the purse for the 500 and offer the winner 10 or 15 million, loosen the rules back to ‘run what you brung’ so all types of open wheelers can complete (yes, I am talking about the DP 01, the current Dallara, even old Lolas and anything else with sufficient down-force) and move the race to Saturday or Monday so the NASCAR boys and perhaps even the F1 drivers can take a flyer and show up to win the enhanced prize….if the back to the future program takes off, then perhaps a core of regular 500 teams and drivers can again consider running a season’s worth of events at places like Pocono, Texas and other oval venues and even Long Beach and Road America to show off the ability to turn right and left at speed.

    Comment by Neil Rubin — October 4, 2011 @ 6:46 pm | Reply

  9. Typical Defender blog. Point out that CART failed twice, check. Lust for a benevolent dictatorship, check.

    You wrote:
    “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.”

    Poaching? Let me guess, that will be a term you use if this involves Dollar General going to a team that once participated in CART or Champcar? Perhaps part of your coveted benevolent dictatorship can ban this practice even though sponsors have switched teams for year.

    You wrote:
    “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.”

    The IMS board is tired of losing money. They would rather go to a street course where they can make money instead of money losing track rentals. That was tried before by your hero Tony George and failed.

    You wrote:
    “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.”

    Right up until the owners decide it just isn’t worth it to participate anymore. Then what? Uncle Tony isn’t in charge anymore to co-sign for a bunch of field filler hacks to make up a series. A successful series has co-operation between car owners and the series. An attitude like this is what lead to the Gurney white paper and the formation of CART.

    Editor’s Note: Let me get this straight…you are giving me grief for split rehashing? LOL.

    Comment by TroyM — October 5, 2011 @ 12:21 am | Reply

    • Why don’t you answer my questions?

      Editor’s Note: I would in the event you asked relevant, sensible questions.

      Comment by TroyM — October 6, 2011 @ 9:37 pm | Reply

      • typical response from you. Your act has been the same for years, spew garbage and when called out on it, just slither away quietly or change the subject, then try and bring up the same crap again later.

        Let’s try again:

        Why do you consider it “poaching” which by definition is something illegal, when describing the loss of a sponsor to one of your favorite teams.

        Editor’s Note: Thanks for asking actual questions. Here are my answers. YMMV. ‘Poaching’ does not necessarily describe a practice that is illegal, but it does describe a practice that is sleazy and in many cases dishonest. If another Indy Car team poaches Dollar General it is definitely sleazy, but not unusual for many of the rats that own teams in the series. If NASCAR poaches more of the sponsorship it’s less sleazy, but no less unpleasant.

        Who do you expect to take the monetary loss if everything goes to a track rental? IMS? Car owners(but only the ones who participated in CART or Champcar)?

        Editor’s Note: Why would there have to be a monetary loss? Indy Car is not losing any money at Vegas. As a matter of fact they do not have to sell one ticket to make it profitable. The series sponsorship model incorporates great concepts from other series and sports. The practice of demanding a sanctioning fee no longer flies in this economy. Assuming there will be a monetary loss seems foolish. Under current leadership venues will be bypassed if a profit can’t be made.

        With your coveted “benevolent dictatorship” what kinds of things do you expect this czar to tell the car owners?

        Editor’s Note: To be team players and act in the best interest of the series, not their own self interests. As a strong leader he should be able to compel them to change the way they do business.

        Comment by TroyM — October 9, 2011 @ 8:09 pm

      • Would you consider it “sleazy” if Sarah Fisher Racing or perhaps Panther picked up a sponsor that had been sponsoring, oh say Newman Haas, Coyne, or Andretti Autosport?

        Editor’s Note: Yes.

        Or would we be hearing from you and your ilk how these sponsors went looking elsewhere where they could get better results or ROI?

        Editor’s Note: Nope.

        How do you know Dollar General didn’t go shopping around.

        Editor’s Note: I don’t. But I am told they were ‘guided.’

        Are other Indycar teams suppossed to turn them down?

        Editor’s Note: That would be the classy thing to do.

        How would Dollar General going to a Nascar team be in any way “sleazy.”

        Editor’s Note: They are already an associate with a NASCAR team.

        How do the owners not act in the best interest of the series?

        Editor’s Note: They have nearly succeeded in transforming Anton’s IRL into cart circa 1995. That approach typifies the self interested orientation they have always had. The overall good of the sport simply does not matter to most of them.

        What changes in the way they do business are you looking for?

        Let the series make the choices about equipment, tires, venues, etc. Owners need to get serious about developing talent through the ladder series (Michael Andretti puts his money where his mouth is in that regard).

        Comment by TroyM — October 10, 2011 @ 2:48 pm


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