Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog

July 23, 2013

Movie and Television Deals: Chicken Little is BACK!

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 9:55 pm

Box OfficeThe Internet is filled with people who not only type things but also fancy themselves experts on every type of sports business subject that arises. This behavior is most prominent when the subject involves IndyCar and any type of ratings or media. To those of us who actually make a living in the media business most of the opinions are not only without merit but are laughable in a ‘how-could-one-person-possibly-be-so-clueless’ way.

Here are some recent examples: The movie Turbo. By and large it has gotten great reviews but is not pacing as some thought it might at the box office. I am certain DreamWorks released it when they did envisioning a summer blockbuster. It has not been that, but the box office is steady, there is a comprehensive merchandising plan, and an offshoot television series is already committed. The media pundits also forget the overseas numbers are actually considered strong. Here are the automatic Internet conclusions based on headlines and carefully mined quotes: A) IndyCar is DOOMED. B) Anything associated with IndyCar is poison to whatever it comes into contact with, like a movie. Usually the critics are in the group that supported the series on which ‘Driven’ was based. If we applied their twisted, selective ‘logic’ on a similar scale we could say that based on the movie ‘Senna’  (a See Yawidely praised work but far from a money maker) Formula One is doomed and that the association was poison to the movie based on the box office.

The most recent example of internet panic is the announcement this week by NASCAR and NBC that beginning in 2015 NBC channels will be taking over the ESPN and Turner portions of the NASCAR schedule, featuring 20 Cup events (7 on NBC) and coverage of 19 Nationwide events and some practice and qualifying. Predictably the IndyCar-obsessed have been shrieking about how bad this is for IndyCar. Many have recommended fleeing to ABC/ESPN. Again my reaction to this hysterical bleating is, essentially, laughter. It is far easier to use my brain. Here are some things the Internet experts might want to ponder:

that was quick-ESPN and ESPN on ABC would not solve anything except making IndyCar even more obscure. The management there has little interest in or respect of IndyCar, and that has been obvious based on their actions for well over a decade. They may believe the marquee is great, but have done little to accentuate it. They have almost managed to kill off other sports as well, including horse racing, which NBC eventually saved and enhanced.

-Those who advocate moving the entire IndyCar kit and caboodle to ESPN forget that it already has a glut of primarily stick and ball fare and other diverse events such as hot dog eating, so when NASCAR leaves they will be rather distant from having any sort of programming void to fill.

-Remember what happened the last time NASCAR excluded ESPN? ESPN pursued NASCAR like an obsessed stalker. Even though for a while they were not even allowed inside race tracks they camped outside gates and used still photography and model cars for coverage. Even though IndyCar was its only motorsports ‘partner’ they treated it like an ugly girlfriend and kept it under wraps. Even their web site accentuated NASCAR and buried IndyCar. Given the management and editorial ignorance of those who produce the product why would anyone believe anything would change sans NASCAR?

-It is easy for the ignorant to chide NBC Sports Network about low ratings, especially 12+ overnights that are used as the basis for most of their ‘arguments.’  Most Internet television executives advocate IndyCar buying their way out of the contract. These iInternet Contributorndividuals should stop and think for a moment. NBC now has ‘the big three,’ NASCAR, F-1 and IndyCar, on the same channel. The opportunity for meaningful cross promotion exists, and NBC is not as editorially ignorant as ESPN. Granted NBC’s enthusiasm of IndyCar is less, but that is primarily due to ignorance and IndyCar’s long term inability to effectively disseminate effective product messaging or promote itself in a modern way. As for low ratings, everything on NBC Sports Network gets low (or no) ratings. This is well documented. If NASCAR can improve the overall impression folks have, why would that be bad?

The Internet is a very entertaining destination if you are interested in observing primitive behavior.

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July 15, 2013

The Increasing Euro-centricity of IndyCar

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 2:15 pm

The Winner ISToronto observations: The idea of weekend doubleheaders worked really well at that venue. I like the concept. NBC Sports Network did another fine job for those of us unlucky enough not to be in the great city of Toronto. Both races were compelling in their own ways, and the Ganassi team seems to be on their way back through skill, luck, perseverance and favorable rules calls.

The single most entertaining portion of the entire weekend was the group apoplexy IndyCar critics suffered when Brian Barnhart donned the headset in the control room. It was as if the world had ended. Much of the criticism made little sense (as usual) and the critics generally came off as basement keyboard pounders, but it all made for hearty chortling.

The somewhat intangible aspect that makes many North American legacy fans jittery is the continuing push of IndyCar toward a more Formula One-like approach. After all, IndyCar essentially invented all the American motor racing traditions including rolling starts, ‘gentlemen start your engines,’ etc. The urgency of the push those enamored of road racing seem to desire for IndyCar has never been fully understood by many. That type of class difference has been at the very heart of IndyCar’s dysfunction since the 1960s. Meantime NASCAR took the IndyCar model and built their own empire. IndyCar direction has always seemed more like a herd of cats let loose in an open field.

That is not to say Formula One is not great. It is, and most racing fans watch or attend religiously. The problem is it has always been a niche in America despite massive worldwide popularity. Like soccer. When comparing the popularity of NASCAR to F1 in the USA does it not make more sense to enhance the business model IndyCar invented for NASCAR? Why would there need to be two versions of F1 instead of one IndyCar?

This conflicted approach was on display all weekend. The angst over standing starts was a main topic of discussion. Personally it appears to be a novelty that might work as a gimmick on a doubleheader weekend. Considering it full time for non-ovals is not optimal. What specific evidence does Derrick Walker have that led him to state ‘the fans want it?’ He failed to ask me or fans I know.

Wave the FlagIf I were a casual racing fan tuning in to the IndyCar race over the weekend would I believe it was a sport invented in America connected to the 500? After all two of three folks in the booth were F1 announcers with accents. That is not bad in and of itself. Diversity is great, both in the booth and in the paddock. Most of the population here, however, relates a little more to folks who sound like Darrell Waltrip or Larry McReynolds as evidenced by television ratings (favorite mispronounced word of the weekend by Darrell: Peripheral. Pronounced ‘per-if-eee-ul’). IndyCar does not have ‘safety cars.’ They are ‘pace cars.’ The race number is not a ‘round.’ ‘Formation lap!?’ No. When did ‘victory lane’ get replaced by a podium? And how long will it be before they start playing the national anthem of the winner’s country? At least they have not replaced milk with champagne at Indy yet.

My advice to Derrick Walker and IndyCar: Embrace your roots. IndyCar essentially invented the formula in America. Enhance it. Stop trying to copy something that has never really worked in America. And while you are at it get serious about the balance regularly espoused. Ideal scenario is twenty races a season. Ten ovals and ten non-ovals, ideally six natural terrain road courses and four street circuits. Balance is NOT 1/3 oval, 1/3 street and 1/3 road course. That is 67% non-oval. Not balanced. This should be an area of concern because most of the ladder series are road racing series, and the same guy just bought Lights. As we prepare to enter the suicide portion of the schedule (a giant gap right in the heart of the season) be mindful that future schedules should not have holes big enough to allow folks to forget you exist.

Meanwhile, back at the races . . . the most inspired performance of the weekend (other than the Ganassis) was Dragon Racing. Bourdais and his crew did a fine job. I like the positioning of Ryan Hunter-Reay as an All-American Champ, but he seems to whine way too much when the breaks don’t go his way. Would it be oddly funny if at the end of the season if E.J. Viso beat his three teammates in the points? It is a pretty safe bet Carlos Munoz will be in the big cars next season, but where? Hopefully so will J.R. Hildebrand. Mid-Ohio here we come!

July 10, 2013

The Person With A Big (Maybe The Biggest) Challenge at Indy: Doug Boles

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 5:45 pm

Who MeOne of the most challenging jobs any one person could possibly take on might be President of IMS. If you are not related to someone of Hulman lineage it would no doubt be even more difficult. That is the challenge facing Doug Boles today. It is not as if he is not up for the challenge. He has been rising through those ranks for a few years and has been running a good portion of the show through these various transitional periods. He appears to ‘get’ IMS, its place in history and where it needs to go.

Perhaps the most important component of his new job from a track legacy point of view is the portion of the description that includes the word ‘facilities.’ That encompasses a lot and is loaded. IMS is 104 years old and is showing its age. Boles has to worry not only about ADA compliance but making the grounds a destination for more than motorsports, and always with a goal of selling the most tickets possible for the big motorsports activities held there.

After Tony Hulman rescued IMS from the brink of non-existence in 1946 each subsequent year was spent improving the facility in some small (and occasionally large) way year after year. That was the mantra. Make the place better during the next year than it was in the preceding year. That philosophy was engrained. Tony Hulman and most members of his family got it. Clarence Cagle got it. Joe Cloutier got it. Everyone who ever worked there got it. Hulman’s grandson Tony George got it. Perhaps too much. When you compare the condition of the place when Hulman took over with what we enjoyed into the decade of the late 2000’s the evolution is stunning. Tony George gets a lot of grief for his perceived extravagances but could a new state of the art control tower NOT be shaped like a giant pagoda? How could one place stage the biggest motor race known to man, a prestigious NASCAR event, a successful Formula One run and one of the biggest events on the two-wheeler schedule? But it has.

Anchor LOLPart of Doug’s current challenge is location. When IMS was built the track location was out in the middle of nowhere. It pretty much stayed that way until after WWII. With post-war prosperity came neighborhoods of quickly built factory homes for young families and their baby booming activities on most sides of the track. That worked out delightfully until the late 1980s and early 1990s when population demography shifted radically. In Indy the middle class migrated outside the 465 loop to places like Carmel, Fishers and Noblesville, west toward Avon and beyond or south down Greenwood way. The result has not done wonders for IMS. The city can put all the fancy medians they want down the middle of Westside thoroughfares such as Crawfordsville Road or 38th Street but it will not change pervasive decay eating away at either side of the main drags. 38th Street is essentially a blighted ghost town from 465 to 65. The once great Lafayette Square has become a crime-infested wasteland that is dangerous during even daylight hours. Honda West became the last major new car dealer to flee just this month. The entire length is littered with abandoned buildings that once housed national brands for shopping and commerce. Crawfordsville Road is a good place to get a payday loan, fast food, liquor or tobacco but is it something that complements the historic palace down the street? How can Boles and crew effectively enhance a facility that sits in the midst of areas that increasingly resemble urban Detroit?

Welcome to IMSThe town of Speedway and the state of Indiana have been embarking on meaningful gentrification of Speedway for ten years, and their efforts have begun to pay off. The Main Street redevelopment just outside the main gate is quite impressive, and that process is still relatively young. There is opposition in many cases; e.g., mere mention of closing Georgetown Road permanently draws cackles and howls of protest. Many residents are suspicious of IMS as adjoining property gets purchased, structures destroyed and unkept vacant lots increasingly dot the area.

Speedway redevelopment does not seem to address ghetto neighborhoods that now plague the vicinity. Most of the post-war houses are falling apart. The middle class who meticulously looked after their piece of the dream either died off or fled. There are a few diehards (like me) who still meticulously maintain properties in the immediate area of the track (outside turn 4 for me), but that seems like a losing battle much of the time.

Welcome to IMS 2What happens outside the track is almost as important as what happens inside it. Boles and crew can only directly control land and structures they own. What they must consider would keep most in a state of long term insomnia. They need to begin inside their own gates. Re-galvanizing sections of stands annually is necessary, but visitors don’t really notice anything except shiny iron next to rusty iron. Visitors DO notice weed-infested, un-mowed grounds. And broken, cracked, missing pavement in the museum parking lot. And litter. And giant cracks (complete with weeds) in sidewalks along pit road. And video monitors that outlived their usefulness around the time VHS became passé. And someone else’s urine (or worse) that drips from cracked pipes attached to troughs in cinder block restrooms.

Human nature being what it is you might actually believe your own house is clean and well-kept but visitors may believe they have entered a pigsty and are too polite to say anything. IMS is too personally important for politeness. There are so many small, basic things that need to be done immediately that any grand plans are not really important at the moment. How difficult is it to keep weeds out, grass mowed, stands and structures shiny and pavement unbroken? Meticulous attention to that kind of detail, Penske style, is necessary. Boles and crew must see the place as outsiders would.

Longer term? Here are a few suggestions. Race fans tend to reflect most of society. They are fatter and take up a lot more room these days. It is just as easy for most these days to plant their bulbous arses on an oversized sofa in air conditioning facing a 60-inch HDTV with all the junk food they can inhale. It takes actual work for most to travel to any entertainment offering much less an auto race. Every step of their journey must be made easy. Once they get inside they need to be kept comfy. Aluminum slabs with seat numbering far too close together (not to mention rows) will no longer get the job done. Take rows out of every stand and increase the leg room. Add a minimum of 6 inches to the width of seats. Start the stands in the turns higher up. Get rid of metal folding chairs wherever they currently exist. What Pocono did with many of their aluminum benches is ingenious. Plastic seats with backs were permanently attached and were spaced to accommodate normal sized people. Consider building condos in the area occupying now removed Northeast Vista seating at the end of the backstretch. Give fans something tangible for the increased prices they are now paying for tickets.

Another Boles challenge? Finding the funding to pull it off. Several now in charge of things but mostly Jeff Belskus have a reputation of bean counting. Fiscally tight to the point where Belskus could swallow coal and defacate diamonds. Sooner or later the purse strings must be loosened for facilities improvement, or there may not be a facility to improve. IMS has fallen woefully behind just about every other big time track in terms of amenities and appearance.  Boles needs to ensure the track regains its traditional pack leader position. It must start today.

Doug Boles is a good guy who gets the history and is not shy about asking questions of others. In the event he needs input from those who have always been passionate about the place and spend an inordinate amount of money there are a few of us willing to help. He has my best wishes and support.

July 9, 2013

A Memorable IndyCar Race Weekend in Pennsylvania

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 5:27 pm

Indy400This past weekend at the Pocono Raceway was one real racing fans waited a long time to see. It is difficult to put into words how refreshing it is to visit a fan friendly track that is happy to see fans, opens its gates with enthusiasm and is not owned by someone named either France or Smith. The renaissance of that legendary track is very impressive. The Mattioli family has made their track one of the best venues on the circuit. The guy who runs the show these days, Brandon Idalsky, has been quite enthusiastic about the return of Indy Cars for the first time in 24 years, and the crowd that showed up on the 4th of July weekend exceeded expectations.

As someone who visited the track for the first time ever I was impressed with its size, ease of parking, accessibility, friendliness, cleanliness and racing. It has some quirks not seen at other tracks. The Churchill Downs-style grandstand spires were unique…and restroom attendants in the bathrooms? At a race track? They do keep them clean though, except for perhaps the floor on which the liquid that gets stepped in is probably not just mere water. There are still visible parts of the facility that are vintage 1971, and that is cool to a history buff like me.

And the winner isThe return of this track after 24 years of idle is something many thought would never happen. When the mutinous dissidents of cart came into being in 1979 the next ten years were spent boycotting, filing lawsuits and alienating the Mattioli family completely until they basically got thrown out after the 1989 event. Given that sort of arrogance was typical throughout the existence of that group and the fact that many of them are still around in IndyCar of today it remains difficult to fathom any agreement was reached. Only after Doc died did some of the frost evaporate. For 24 years the disdain of the Mattiolis toward IndyCar was palpable and unfortunate. Then came the 4th of July weekend in 2013.

The weekend was spectacular. My party and I were there both Saturday and Sunday. The condition and layout of the track should have led to the quality of racing we saw at Indy, but IndyCar micromanagement of the package made it turn out more like Texas. There were moments, however. Marco proved his ‘Andretti-ness’ again. The Chevys blew away the Hondas in speed but not in gas mileage. As an Andretti Marco assumed his place at the front, and fast, for most of the race but used up all the fuel and HAD to slow down at the end. The tortoise and hare approach worked well for Honda. We were looking for great things from Takuma Sato in the race but his brain faded in the second round of pit stops.

It appears very tricky to get from speed in turn 3 into the pits at 60mph without luck, skill or prayer. The champion Hunter-Reay seemed to take a slower entrance on the left hand side. During the second round RHR was in that left lane entering a bit slowly, talking on his radio and generally bitching about the way his car was driving (while he was in second place). Meanwhile, Sato was dive bombing the pits kamikaze style and it became clear he would not be down to 60 by the time the cones appeared, which were well inside the pit. Hunter-Reay moved to the right and Sato was already leaving a trail of tire smoke and flattened rubber when the inevitable occurred. Neither did themselves any favors with regard to points.

In the end, Ganassi swept the podium for the first time ever and picked up the trophy. Other observations:

Great track-8 Lights cars is an utter and complete joke.

-24 IndyCars looked sparse. Let’s make this a 500 mile race (as it should have been anyway) and figure out a way to run at least 30 cars.

-The race track is a thing of beauty. Everything is nice and wide, and the improvements made over the past few years have enhanced the facility greatly.

–I like the corner configurations a lot better than I thought I would.

-Leaving the track is a large pain in the backside. Between youthful cops with bad attitudes, really counterintuitive stop lights away from the track and generally heavy Pocono area traffic returning to civilization after recreational weekends. But that is not the fault of the track.

My post-weekend thoughts? Nothing but heartfelt thanks to the folks at Pocono for welcoming back the dysfunctional IndyCar family and fans. We had a spectacular time and will be back next year and all future years IndyCars run there.

July 2, 2013

Hell Has Frozen Over in the Whacky World of IndyCar

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 2:47 pm

About timeThe naysayers said it would never happen. IndyCars would never return to the Pocono Speedway. Groups sprang up on the Internet lamenting that seemingly certain fate, much as they have for other tracks actually closed down such as Nazareth.

It seemed plausible for the longest time that there might never be a return even though the track had been constructed way back when specifically for IndyCars. After all, cart did what they were widely known for; i.e., alienating every other entity in motorsports primarily based on their collective arrogance. And so it was for twenty years or so. Cart self-immolated. Twice. The management of the track continued to hold a grudge. IMS-led IndyCar seemed content to simply demand a couple of million from tracks for the privilege of running IndyCars. Pocono fell into a state of minimal repair. After all, with two Cup dates a year why make much meaningful improvement?

Indy Cars At PoconoThen a curious thing happened. The owners of the track revitalized it. New pavement, SAFER barriers, improved fencing all the way around as well as improvements to infield retention systems. All of a sudden it became a viable IndyCar track again. Randy Bernard and crew managed to eliminate residual baggage from the cart era, craft a new deal and bring the IndyCars back after 24 years. Hell froze over.

Many fans could not be happier. As one of them it is my sincere hope a decent sized crowd appears to make it something other than another pointless one-off, and I’m taking at least four people with me as I put my money where my typing fingers are. The track itself is working very hard to promote it. IndyCar seems mostly content, as usual, to sit back and just see what happens. Miles and the new crew have crafted a fine long term plan for the series, but externally it appears the important aspect of venue promotion has been excluded. They even bent over for ESPN on ABC again after that ‘partner’ indicated they could only have a window big enough for a 400-mile race.

None of that matters headed into the holiday weekend. It’s the ‘tricky triangle’ with distinct corners modeled after Indy, Trenton and Milwaukee. This weekend cannot arrive fast enough for those of us lucky enough to attend. See you there!

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