Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog

October 30, 2014

The 2015 IndyCar Schedule is Released…Verdict?

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 6:38 pm

New Foyt Full TimeThe 2015 IndyCar schedule was released today and for the most part it remains underwhelming. Most of us understand the difficulty of piecing together that puzzle and appreciate the hard work that goes into it. Still, it remains troubling and here is why:

-There are only 17 events, and that is a stretch because it includes two races in one weekend in downtown Detroit and the two events in Indianapolis.

-The schedule is 65% non-oval. Perhaps the people in charge still feel that shoving something that has repeatedly failed down the throats of potential fans they are mostly unsuccessfully trying to attract will somehow have a different outcome.

-It still ends before Labor Day. Hindsight screams about how ludicrous a notion that is.

-The primary TV partner is doing IndyCar no favors. Oh sure, IndyCar will blow smoke up everyones’ arses about how six events are on ABC, but the reality is they are only in three physical places: St. Pete during spring break, Indy in May (cherry-picked again), and Detroit the week after. Everything else is NBCSN and nothing elevated to NBC (as F1 has done). ESPN/ABC’s lack of commitment is obvious. Why IMS/IndyCar won’t push for a change to the terms that allows the brand on NBC is beyond me. That kind of exposure would be good for all parties.

NOPotentially good:

-Spacing seems about right.

-The sole foreign money grab event is in the fringe. What happened with Dubai?

-New Orleans in April works for us.

-Neither Pocono nor Fontana is scheduled on a holiday weekend.

How IndyCar can improve its fortunes, even with such a limited schedule:

-Get off your corporate, pompous arses and do something meaningful for a change with the presentation and promotion of events, especially the few remaining ovals. Give people a full weekend of reasons to show up. A small number of IndyCars and Michael Young screaming into a microphone no longer works, as evidenced by the increasingly paltry attendance.

-Run the entire ladder as well as outside series at EVERY event, even if you have to use another part of a facility (like a road course configuration at Pocono for some of the rungs).

-Invest in and promote the hell out of two triple crowns: One for the big ovals that includes Indy, Pocono and Fontana, and one that emphasizes diversity: Long Beach (street), Texas (oval) and Barber or MO (road). Offer 3 million to any triple crown winner. Chances are you’ll hang on to the money.

Looking toward the future:

-There are so many great unused ovals it is ridiculous. No one expects much as long as IndyCar sticks to the dated notion that having the series just show up is worth a couple of million. That has not been a good approach for many years. Should IndyCar suddenly develop creativity and alternative approaches to revenue generation that is not ‘traditional’ perhaps we will see forward progress. Two striking examples of unused ovals are Kentucky and Chicagoland. I do not buy the Mark Miles notion that such tracks are too geographically close. That is, bluntly, a load of horse shIt. What I believe he is really saying is that IndyCar does not have the means or ability to self-promote in a manner sufficient to generate revenue. Therefore it is easier simply not to pursue such opportunities. Trying to be an IndyCar fan remains frustrating at almost masochistic levels.

Kentucky is ideally located geographically between the population centers of Louisville and Cincinnati. Add to that the contingent that would drive south from Indiana and surrounding states and you have a winner. Of course re-building a winner requires promotion in the key target markets and reasons for people to attend.

Dollars funnel.Chicagoland is within the third largest media market in the country. A no-brainer.

-I would still pick up Rockingham at the asset sale then incentivize potential involvement in IndyCar by existing nearby NASCAR teams, and I wouldn’t care what the France or Smith families thought.

-Open a well-attended Barber-like experience at the Memphis Motorsports Park. No worries about Frances or Smiths there. Ditto for Gateway, both geographically underserved by everyone.

Those are all great starts for getting the schedule up over 20 events, particularly not when bending over for everyone before Labor Day.

The Disciple party has now booked New Orleans, Indy, Fontana, Pocono and one of the Midwest ovals…plus a few more tentatives. I am really hoping the presentation, particularly at oval venues, improves from the embarrassing lack of effort us die-hards were forced to endure in 2014.

Hey….they beat November for release. That’s progress.

October 28, 2014

Meanwhile, While Awaiting Release of the IndyCar Schedule for 2015….

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 10:54 pm

While viewing a few YouTube racing clips for nostalgic purposes one of the suggested related clips was the ‘Outside the Lines’ episode entitled ‘500 Miles Apart’ from ESPN released and aired shortly after the Indianapolis 500 in late May, 1996. This goofy pundit had not seen it in a few years so why not? Based solely upon on-camera performances the interviewees and participants can easily be classified into two groups, which is even easier now given the added benefit of hindsight:

  1. Most Stupid, Clueless, Bitter, Hypocritical, Hostile and/or Arrogant People on Earth at That Time.
  2. Most Sensible, Rational Thinking People on Earth at That Time.

Group 1 features (in roughly order of appearance on the program):

IRLDan Gurney. When asked whether the winner of the Indianapolis 500 in 1996 could take away the same satisfaction as any champion, Dan answered ‘…no, absolutely not, and he will know that.’ Somehow, Dan, as much as we love you I doubt that Buddy Lazier, actual winner of an Indianapolis 500, knows a little more about that feeling than someone who did not win and chose not even to compete when your idea was disrupted. Dan continued: ‘…it isn’t about trying to help out the little guy; it’s for control of what has the potential of being an enormous business, and the rest of it is so much hooey.’ Or…’I’ve known A.J. a long time…one of his modus operandi is to put words in other peoples’ mouths first and then tell them why it’s wrong, and that’s a no-win situation.’ ‘…(Tony George) and his palace guard and schemers decided that they would pull it off this way.’ Personally I really do love Dan Gurney and respect what he has done over the years in terms of innovation. But with regard to the ‘split’ he comes off like a petulant little dick.

Scott Pruett. ‘…It’s not the same level of competition you’d have otherwise.’

Bobby Unser. ‘…Tony George’s thing, he’s gonna make stars overnight. OK? I say he won’t.’

U.E. Patrick. ‘…to do what he did down there…which is part of America, to me it’s like apple pie and motherhood…it’s something you just don’t mess with and I think he’s gonna screw it up.’ Even ‘ol U.E. eventually formed an IndyCar team.

Andrew Craig: ‘…they said he wanted the world to stand still or perhaps I’d put it another way, they want the world to revolve around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.’ ‘It would be really difficult to bring the two sides back together.’

Roger Penske: ‘…Tony George, he’s the one who’s going to have to make a move. At this particular point our people want to go to Indy but at the end of the day we wanna go on a level playing field.’

Paul Newman: ‘…We’re being shut out of Indianapolis. We have 26 or 27 drivers here and 8 of them would have been allowed to run Indianapolis. Well, what do we do with the other 20 guys? Send ‘em home?’ ‘I promise you if Mario thought what was best for racing would be the IRL he’d be sitting down there right now.’

Rick Mears: ‘…When they started to regulate who can and who can’t run in the Super Bowl that’d be like going to the Dallas Cowboys and say hey you guys can’t play this year.’

Al Unser, Junior. Evidently ‘…you just don’t know what Indy means’ was a lie, as evidenced by his presence in Michigan. He regrets it, as almost everyone there that year. That regret hit some harder than others. Had Al Junior done the right thing it is not difficult to wonder whether his domestic and substance abuse problems might have been minimized by a clearer Indy Racing conscience. ‘…the gist of it is, uh, the best drivers in the world and the best crews in the world are, a , racing in Michigan this year.’

Emerson Fittipaldi: ‘We are doing right to be here. I’m very happy and, um, I’m going to stick to this group.’

Bobby Rahal: ‘….all 19 owners are unified.’

Bryan Herta: ‘…it hurts not to be there but you know I think that uh we really didn’t have any choice and so since we can’t be there I’m glad that we’re here at the US500.’

David Letterman: ‘…it would be great to be in Indianapolis if you had the Greatest Spectacle in Racing you deserve to have the best race and this year that’s not what they have. The best race is here in Michigan.’

Paul Tracy: ‘…I’m not a traditionalist. I’ve been to the Super Bowl, I’ve been to the Stanley Cup playoffs, I’ve been to the World Series. I don’t go to look at the stadium. I want to compete against the best drivers.’

Mario Andretti. ‘Indianapolis represents the theatre but the players are someplace else.’ ‘…to have a totally oval series you almost have to go back to the 50’s. Why do we want to go back to the 50s? Times have changed guys.’

Steve Potter, then Mercedes-Benz Marketing Manager, distinguished himself as one of the bigger douchebags on the program. ‘…tradition is important and it’s worth something but they have to be valid traditions. They have to be traditions that have continuity. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway made a decision about the qualifying rules and they cut the tradition. They cut its head off. They cut the head off it and it’s dead. That tradition no longer has a business value to Mercedes-Benz and that’s why we’re here.’ ‘….Wake-up calls for the Speedway? I think they’re sleeping pretty soundly.’

Robin Miller: ‘…the month has been a disaster. People have not showed up. And…they’re gonna blame the weather but I’ve been out here when there’s been a hundred thousand people waiting in the rain for ten hours hoping for qualifying to open.’

Phillip Morris and Valvoline, who decided to place all their sponsorship into the US500 and cart.

Robby Gordon: ‘…Best sponsors, best drivers, best cars, best teams. Right here. I guarantee our race will be better.’

Bob Tossel, a veteran of 51 straight 500s in that year, who compared the Indy field to the Toledo Mud Hens and the US500 field to the New York Yankees.

Paulla Weinberg, a chunky gal who started a group ‘Fans United To Save Indy’ and got 1300 signatures on a petition well before social media was the norm. ‘…We don’t recognize it as the Indianapolis 500. It’s the IRL 500. The Indianapolis 500 doesn’t exist this year as we’ve known it.’

Dan Kidwell, who made anti-IRL T-shirts and went to Michigan for the US500 instead of being with his brother and his new wife, who got married at the track the day before the race.

Brian Brown, a decades-long fan who dumped his family to attend the race in Michigan instead.

¾ of the field of ‘stars n’ cars,’ who failed to make it to the green flag due to crashing each other into an extended red flag. Idiots. Compare that to a field half filled with rookies who put on a great race.

So-called fans adorned in T-shirts with anti-Indy messaging, often expressed in crude fashion usually referencing human excretory functions.

Whiny ticket scalpers who bemoaned a drop in value of tickets they were trying to scalp. Poor bastards.

Group 2 features (in order of appearance on the program):

Johnny Rutherford, whose words ‘…you don’t buy tradition; you build it…’ were brilliant. ‘I can assure you all those guys wish they were here.’

Tony George: ‘…I want to have some input into the direction of where the sport goes. That’s paramount. I think this institution has to have some input.’ After being informed of many of the nonsense epithets being hurled his way Tony replied: ‘…I didn’t just fall off a turnip truck…I’ve been around a little while and I’ve had a lot of interaction with a lot of the drivers and car owners. I’ve gotten to know their personalities pretty well. A lot of it is not surprising to me.’ ‘I don’t think there will ever be an accord whereby cart as a unit comes to compete at the Indianapolis 500. They as individuals are going to continue to be welcomed here.’

A.J. Foyt: ‘…the big Roger Penske. Where in the hell was Roger Penske made? Right here at this goddamned race track. He damned sure did not make this place like A.J. Foyt didn’t or Wilber Shaw or whoever. I’m sick and tired of hearing their crap and I’ll tell you why. Because…like Mario…like they made Indianapolis…they made shit.’

Johnny Unser. ‘…I never thought I’d be the only Unser at Indianapolis, especially in my first year.’

Derrick Walker, who was smart enough to run cars at both races.

The Disney family o’ channels: The Indy 500 on the big OTA network; US500 on cable. Editorial bias, however, remained clear as long as cart clung to existence.

Jack Long: ‘…we’re talking about two different philosophical approaches to business and to the sport.’

The Keith Brown family with the exception of son Brian. The family did the right thing on Memorial Day weekend in 1996. Brian did not.

Jim Nabors, Dan Quayle, Florence Henderson and other regulars who put politics aside and never wavered in their respect for IMS.

Creative T-shirt wearers at Indianapolis with slogans such as ‘Crybaby Auto Racing Teams’ and such.

Stubbs BBQNow that nearly twenty years have passed and knowing all that has followed, it is really easy to observe the differences between arrogant and rational. It is too bad Group 1 wasted our time for a few years before the inevitable occurred. The best part about their whiny boycott was quality racing when the IRL schedule was painfully thin. Unfortunately they managed to keep the then-best young talent away from actual IndyCar fans who never got the chance to see folks like Alex Zanardi or Greg Moore in the 500. What a waste. Imagine the potential sponsorship opportunities. It is really telling to evaluate Group 1 in terms of who returned without adherence to their original terms.

Is anyone else craving release of the 2015 schedule? We could use it.

October 21, 2014

Should IndyCar Ever Decide To Do Something Way Off The Wall…

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 5:46 pm

Rock1Rockingham Speedway, ‘The Rock,’ in North Carolina is a wasted treasure. Andy Hillenburg, the racer (and former IndyCar driver) picked it up from Bruton Smith in 2007 (after SMI scattered its two Cup and other NASCAR series to other tracks). Since then it has been a struggle, mostly the result of dealing with NASCAR, who at the height of their popularity severed themselves from their roots. Hillenburg and his group have fallen behind in their debts and must sell or auction before 1Q 2015.

If I ran IndyCar I would think way outside the box. For roughly the amount of money paid to the Boston Consulting Group I could own that entire facility, something that would cost $75 million to build new. After all it is in great shape, has SAFR, also includes a separate half mile oval and an infield road course, 35,000 permanent seats, suites, a fast surface and is non-cookie cutter. The oval is just over a mile and is widely known as a very fast track.

Rock2If nothing else it could serve as a really nice testing ground for IndyCars and feeder series. NASCAR also still likes to use both tracks for testing. IndyCar could easily present an oval/road course double header weekend, especially armed with the knowledge that IndyCar has done well in the past in the heart of NASCAR country; e.g., Richmond, Charlotte, Birmingham, etc. Also potentially entertaining might be the reaction of NASCAR and its fans at having an IndyCar-owned legendary track in that part of the country. Revenue opportunities are there; it is a track that can run a variety of series, driving schools, testing rentals, etc., and could be further exploited. Partnership alignments with many movers and shakers might be possible.

The primary obstacle is geography. On the other hand its proximity to Charlotte makes it reasonably attractive. A race fan can dream.

In reality, unfortunately, none of this will ever happen. IndyCar remains incapable of recognizing, much less understanding or accepting any bigger picture that does not involve their own home base. The family is probably not keen on track ownership following experiments at Walt Disney World and Chicagoland. Given the current proclivity of leadership to ignore, abandon, dismiss and otherwise forget about oval racing altogether it could never be in the cards.

There are so many interesting tracks just sitting there. Last week I flew into St. Louis directly over Gateway, which looks well-kept and race ready….just like Memphis Motorsports Park. There are so many easy ways potential scheduling conflicts could be erased.

Wish I had a couple of million of free cash to play with.

October 20, 2014

Mind Changed: We Should Be Indy Racing in October

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 7:22 pm

Mark MilesTime for ‘ol Disciple to weigh in on the shortened season. When Mark Miles announced it last year it made perfect sense. After all it attempted to address one of the primary concerns of fans about events being spread too far apart on the calendar. They even screwed that up by taking June off except the first and last weekends.

Another of the concerns that made sense at the time was not competing with the NFL. These suggestions and others are said to have originated with the Boston Consulting Group. My experience with them is that they offer what they feel are good strategies (for a very high price) and kick start the direction. Usually they are successful and promote those successes. In sectors where their experience is marginal (like auto racing) they often fail. Those failures are not promoted. On one hand it is always practical to get a broad outside evaluation of your business and its potential future from a group with their expertise. Conversely the risk of failure wrought by too radical a group of changes for fans that usually do not embrace rapid change gets higher.

Fast forward to today. Racing fans are simply not ready to give up auto racing before October, and being forced to do so is painful when IndyCar is a primary preference. That is why all other widely recognized series continue to run. Ending IndyCar’s season before NASCAR’s ‘Chase’ even begins now seems foolish given hindsight as 20/20.

Drink It UpThe real problem is not the NFL. That was proven when a tape delayed second tier sports car series drew respectable numbers on an NFL weekend.  There are actually two critical problems:

  1. Television network ‘partners’ that are completely ambivalent about the IndyCar product, ignorant about what it is, and who readily drink Kool-Aid expertly provided by NASCAR, F-1, etc. Worse, IndyCar is incapable of providing such Kool-Aid for them to consume.
  2. That leads to this point, which is that despite employing folks with marketing credentials no actual marketing ever seems to occur on a large scale. At least not the kind of marketing that fills seats up with rear ends and glues eyeballs to screens. The reason is difficult to ascertain, but the speculation of Internet Experts On Everything (EOEs) runs the gamut from internal politics to lack of money to ignorance equal to or greater than the television partners in terms of knowledge of the sport.

With a little creativity races could be scheduled most weekends in October with television slots that would not be head-to-head with football. Therefore IndyCar should, in fact, have a season that does not end toward the end of October.

It also requires more than creative scheduling:

  1. Education of television partners so that they step beyond the ignorance that makes them ambivalent.
  2. Meaningful and impactful marketing.
  3. Something that resembles a professional effort at tracks. The efforts expended at both Pocono and Fontana were utterly disgraceful. Uninspired, unpromoted and insulting. IndyCar MUST do better.

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