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IndyCar is “Almost Famous”

My mind runs to comparisons.  You name the topic and I can probably list how it is similar to something else.  In fact, this ability to compare unlike things is one of the marks of an agile brain.  We learn new things by seeing them through the lens of what we already know.  So I wasn’t surprised recently when the movie I was watching conjured up images of IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  What movie?  I was watching the fictional rock and roll period piece Almost Famous.  Besides being a soundtrack of my misspent youth, it was also telling the story of the current state of the IndyCar Series.

Just ponder the title for a moment.  With all the exciting racing and interesting personalities, it seems the series is on the cusp of a breakthrough.  IndyCar is Almost Famous. The big question is how to move past the “almost.”  Many seem to have the philosophy of the character of rock critic Lester Bangs as he describes Stillwater, the rock band being profiled by William Miller in the movie.  He describes the article being written as “…a think piece about a mid-level band struggling with its own limitations.”  That’s been the IndyCar Series for the past few years.  It has absolutely struggled with its economic limitations and its decreasing popularity.  What is there to do?

The lead singer of Stillwater, Jeff Bebe, asks the heavens this simple question, “Is it that hard to make us look cool?”  In the case of IndyCar and the Indy 500, it has been rather hard to look cool.  The series has not had a title sponsor in recent history that has activated its brand.  IZOD rolled out the same tired commercial for a couple of years and then just quit.  The drivers swimming and riding on watercraft looked pretty cool, but it not engage the public.  There was an idea, but no follow-through.  The Firestone commercials connected to a time long past, but did not really connect to what is cool now.  Maybe new title sponsor Verizon will finally make the series cool again by connecting a very real and current technology to both business partners and the public.

Maybe the series can take a lead from the new corporate Snake Pit at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  In Almost Famous, William Miller’s professor mother Elaine tells her college psychology class that, “Rock stars have kidnapped my son.”  It looks like the Snake Pit at IMS is making a concerted effort to kidnap a demographic that has been eluding IndyCar for years: the hipsters. Mark Miles has gone on record saying that IndyCar is not trying to capture the NASCAR demographic.  Maybe the demographic he is after wears fedoras and listens to dance music spun by DJ’s in clubs.  The Snake Pit has managed to grow that demographic by bringing in DJ’s like Benny Benassi, Krewella, Afrojack, Diplo, NERVO, and Hardwell.  Names don’t ring a bell?  Who cares as long as they ring a bell in the head of deep-pocketed hipsters willing to return year after year until they finally decide to watch the race.  What?  You thought all those drunks who came back to the organic Turn One Snake Pit of yore year after year were there to watch the race?  They came for the party.  The party’s just moved to the other end of the track.

Want more rock star vibe?  The Snake Pit is now selling “glamping” inside IMS.  If you are willing to shell out the dough, you can spend four nights luxury camping in the infield.  That’s only the coolest thing EVER.  If you have the money, that is.  And somebody does.  You can go to the Snake Pit and channel Almost Famous character Russell Hammond as he shouts from the top of a house, “I am a golden god!”  Well, you can as long as you can pay the freight, anyway.  And let’s face it, we all want to be a golden god.

The most famous line in the movie is probably said by the groupie/Band-Aid Penny Lane.  She cryptically tells William Miller that, “It’s all happening” in reference to the tour of Stillwater.  IndyCar is finally able to say the same thing.  New hires have been made.  A title sponsor has been announced.  Infrastructure construction has been planned.  Social media has been embraced.  New events like the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the vintage car races have been scheduled.  Big time performers have been slated for concerts.  The Snake Pit is grabbing a new demographic. Take a real good look at everything bubbling up in the series.  IndyCar is looking at us just like Penny Lane looked at William Miller and saying, “It’s all happening.”  All a fan can say is it’s about time.

Truth in advertising: how to market IndyCar

The (your name here) IndyCar Series, by whatever name you want to call it, has a checkered past when it comes to marketing acumen.  In recent years the Indy Racing League and its scion, the (your name here) IndyCar Series, have been second-rate at best in the selling of the series.  The folding of the series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway sales and marketing departments into a single entity called Hulman Racing will hopefully end years of internecine battles for sponsorship and sales.  Mark Miles smartly hired C.J. O’Donnell as chief marketing officer and Jay Frye as chief revenue officer to work not only for Hulman Racing but for him.  Their marching orders are simple: make us visible and make us money.

Of course the marketing bar for both the series and the Indianapolis 500 have never been set very high.  If not for marketing partners Firestone, Honda, and IZOD, the series would have had no advertising of note in the last few years.  And the Indianapolis 500 has always sold itself in odd ways.  The Gene Simmons “I am Indy” experiment should never have been let out of the laboratory, and last year’s #Indy500orBust Twitter campaign, while trendy, probably did not increase attendance to any great degree.  As a long-time sell out, the 500 never really had to market extensively.  When attendance waned after the split, the 500 found itself having to market a race that was once a guaranteed full house.  I just want to let C.J. O’Donnell knows that New Track Record is here to help.  Allow me to offer some new marketing slogans that highlight the truth about IndyCar racing.

IndyCar – No title sponsor needed.  Just embrace the reality.  This series can stand on its own.  Let people know that pride and history are all that are needed.

The IndyCar Series – Now condensed into a shorter season.  Don’t hide from the fact that the series is afraid to go head-to-head with NASCAR, college football, and the NFL.  Sell that decision as somehow benefiting the race fan by freeing them up to watch other programming.  IndyCar is the series that cares about all of your teams.

The IndyCar Series – You don’t have to worry about what to wear after Labor Day.  IndyCar can position itself as a cutting edge pop culture icon by appealing to the female fan’s interest in fashion.  No longer will someone have to decide if white is acceptable at a race after Labor Day.  The IndyCar Series will make that decision for you.

IndyCar – Quite possibly an international series.  Remember, you can sell not only what is, but the possibility of what may be.  IndyCar wants to be international.  We can just leave it at that.

The IndyCar Series – Family owned and operated.  Markets often use the “plain folks” sales technique.  This appeals to the small town person inside us all.  A family owned and operated business always means folksy advice and values.  We just won’t mention provincialism, shortsightedness, family squabbles, and soap opera stars masquerading as celebrities at the 500.

The IndyCar Series – It’s all about the month of May.  Don’t hide the fact that the series takes a back seat to the Indianapolis 500; embrace it.  I’m sure the glitter of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing will sprinkle the pixie dust of success on the series.

IndyCar – What we lack in innovation, we make up for in dysfunction.  If you can’t sell what you want to have, then sell what you do have.  The series has a car that allows little team innovation.  Every garage has the same car and looks the same.  If you can’t sell the tech, sell the screwed-up relationships among the owners, drivers, officials, and the series.  And go ahead and add the fans in the mix.  They’re crazy, too.

IndyCar – Where innovation and technology don’t exactly go hand-in-hand but kind of walk together, not like friends but more like acquaintances or people you know at work.  OK, this one needs a little work.  There’s a kernel of truth in that sentence somewhere, but it might need a little editing.

There you go.  I want C.J. O’Donnell to know he can use any of these.  Consider them my gift to the (your name here) IndyCar Series.  Of course, my marketing slogans may be a little too truthful.  The marketing team at Hulman Racing may have another direction in mind.  At least I hope they do.

Mark Miles cooks up a new tradition at IMS

In an interview on Inside Indiana Business with Gerry Dick, Hulman & Co. potentate Mark Miles threw the local media a bone by announcing possible changes to the qualifying procedures for the 2014 Indianapolis 500.  The few hard-core fans who actually remember the traditional 30 days in May practice, qualifying, and race formats had the expected paroxysms of angst at yet another attempt to make the events leading up the the 500 more compelling.  As a die-hard fan of the race, and by extension the series, I look forward to the possible changes.  It is time to shake things up.

Tony Hulman, the man that critics of change like to say spins in his grave when changes are made in the May format, moved the race to Sunday in 1974 for logical reasons.  Memorial Day had moved to Monday on the national calendar, and racing on the day before Memorial Day created a bigger crowd by allowing an extra day for travel and recuperation. Plus, it meant a larger television audience by being in a prime Sunday slot when almost all Americans were home.  In other words, it made financial sense.  At that time of course, the only thing that mattered was the 500.  The series was an afterthought.

Critics can decry the changes that brought the IndyCar Series under the umbrella of Hulman & Co. all they want.  It does not matter. The redheaded stepchild that is the currently unsponsored IndyCar Series is in the house and needs a seat at the table.  And presiding over the feast is the new head chef Mark Miles.  The cupboard may be relatively bare of sponsors, but dinner still has to be served.  Miles has to take the ingredients available and make them palatable to an unruly assortment of guests that include family, sponsors, teams, drivers, and fans.  He is currently whipping up a new recipe for the big dinner in May.

To begin with, Miles can now shop for better ingredients since he managed to get the local food bank, the State of Indiana, to pony up much needed cash for improvements.  The process of improving the facility for racing has already begun with changes to the road course.  I hope he doesn’t forget about some new dishes and silverware for the guests, though.  The old stuff is starting to lose its shine.

Next, Miles whipped up an appetizer never before seen at IMS.  He is using his main ingredient, the facility at 16th and Georgetown, to give the assembled guests a taste of racing on opening weekend.  The Grand Prix of Indianapolis adds racing to the menu at the beginning of the two week period of on-track activity.  I am still waiting on a compelling reason on how more racing is a bad thing.  And simply saying “tradition” will not persuade anyone.  More racing is better.  Do you want one drumstick or two?

But it seems Mark Miles possible menu change struck a nerve with some.  To add more excitement and value, he has proposed all cars on the track for high stakes qualifying action on both Saturday and Sunday of qualification weekend.  Saturday qualifies the top 33 cars.  You are in or you are out.  On Sunday, all the cars that qualified on Saturday are back on the track.  Positions 12-33 will be determined by requalifying on Sunday.  The Fast Nine will go late in the day on Sunday.  Holy cow, how you not like this new attempt to create value for fans?  This will be much tastier than any value meal at Steak and Shake or White Castle.  Hopefully, multiple attempts will be allowed for each car on both days.  These changes would certainly add a little spice to the IndyCar gumbo.

And it seems Miles has finally added the sous chefs he needs to round out his kitchen staff.  With the new entity called Hulman Racing on the marquee, Miles has added CJ O’Donnell as the chief marketing officer and Jay Frye as the chief revenue officer.  I don’t think it is a coincidence that these gentlemen report to Miles and are not under the purview of any other officers.  Suddenly, the racing business at Hulman and Co. is starting to look like a business, and it appears that Mark Miles is firmly in charge.  He knows that too many chefs spoil the broth.

Will the new changes for the month of May and the series be a sweet treat or will they spoil on the spit?  I don’t know the answer, but I look forward to a tasty new serving of racing at IMS in May.

California cruising at the MAVTV 500

The culture of cars and music in America started in Southern California, so it was fitting in a way that the IndyCar Series ended its season at this nexus of automobiles, sand, girls and song.  Just like the movie American Graffiti, one can follow the adventures of the cast of IndyCar through vignettes and a blaring soundtrack to try to recapture the time when open-wheel racing in America was king.  For this edition, just assume you are cruising down the road in your drop-top ’65 Impala listening to the dulcet tones of your favorite IndyCar DJ as he spins your favorite platters about the recent MAVTV 500.  So it’s time to buckle up, tune in, and head out to your favorite drive-in for a night of California cruising with your host with the most, New Track Record.  Here’s the playlist and patter for tonight’s show.

“California Dreamin’”  The Mamas and the Poppas  This song goes out to Helio Castroneves from Team Penske.  After two days of uncharacteristic Penske problems at Houston, Helio was looking for some magic at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.  Unfortunately, the Magic Kingdom is in Anaheim, not Fontana.  With the Captain Roger Penske at the helm to guide him, Helio fell short after leading the early part of the race.  It didn’t help that Penske pitted Helio into a closed pit, but the car went away in the latter stages of the race and Castroneves finished one lap down.  It looks like Helio’s California dream is on hold for another year.

“California Here I Come”  Al Jolsen  Do you know this is not the state song of California?  Something called “I Love You, California” is.  It’s awful.  In any case, you can listen to the scratchy original Al Jolsen version or the ultra cool Ray Charles one, but either way, the song is all about Scott Dixon from Target Chip Ganassi Racing.  After moving ahead of Helio Castoneves with a dominating performance at Houston, Dixon and the TCGR team were locked, loaded, and dialed in at Fontana.  On a night that saw Chevy dominate, Dixon wheeled his Honda to fifth place to seal his championship.  How dominant was the team?  On one pit stop, Dixon picked up SIX places.  How do you do that?  Dixon rolled.

Hotel California”  The Eagles  We’ll toss this one out to the NBC Sports Network crew for a stellar pre-race broadcast.  After the start of the race was moved back to keep the setting sun from blinding the drivers, the crew had some serious time to fill.  The segments have become much more professional with the boots-on-the-ground crew of Jon Beekhuis, Marty Snider, and Kevin Lee rotating to bring out the storylines for the race.  The length of the pre-race show did bring to mind the line “You can check out anytime you like / But you can never leave.”

“California Sun”  The Rivieras  This one is going out to the IndyCar Series for moving the start time back to keep the sun out of the drivers’ eyes.  To most people, this seems like a simple safety fix, but if the IndyCar Series has shown us anything over the years, it’s that nothing is simple.  Instead of consulting an almanac to see when the sun was going to set, the series waited until they could see it set with their own eyes before making a change.  The drivers certainly were not going to “…be out there a’havin’ fun / In that warm California sun.”  Many moving parts figure in a change like this.  The promoter and the broadcaster both need to agree to the change.  Being on NBC Sports Network really helped here.  The change would have been difficult on network TV where people were watching.  A rerun of Seinfeld after the race would have put the change in jeopardy.

Streets of Bakersfield”  Dwight Yoakum with Buck Owens  NBC Sports Network continues to let Robin Miller embarrass both the network and himself by doing the increasingly inept, unfunny, and uninformative grid run.  Unless they are looking for cringeworthy unintentional comedy.  In that case they have it nailed.  The viewers’ confusion results from not knowing which one it is.  Please tell us so we know how to react.  If you just change a few of the following lyrics, then you can imagine Robin Miller singing “The Pits of Fontana” to us.

I came here looking for something
I couldn’t find anywhere else
Hey, I’m not trying to be nobody
I just want a chance to be myself
I’ve spent a thousand miles a-thumbin’
Yes, I’ve worn blisters on my heels
Trying to find me something better
Here on the streets of Bakersfield

Hey, you don’t know me, but you don’t like me
You say you care less how I feel
But how many of you that sit and judge me
Ever walked the streets of Bakersfield?

A little help from the producers would go along way to improve this segment.  At least put an intern on it.  The viewer gets a better grid run and the intern gets resume fodder.

“California Sucks”  Screeching Weasel  Yes, there really is a band called Screeching Weasel, and no, they do not like California.  I bet the crews and drivers have a few reasons to think California sucks.  Sitting at the bottom of the Cajon Pass as the winds blow down sand from the high desert may not be an issue with the locals, but the drivers sure can’t like it.  Race winner Will Power had to have his tear-offs replaced.  The cars and helmets were pockmarked with 210 MPH sandblasting.  And the radiators were blocked by all the wind-blown detritus, resulting in overheating and engine failure.  While the lyrics “I can’t wait ’til your state erodes and you fall into the drink” might be a little severe, I’m sure the teams were glad to see Fontana in their rear-view mirrors.

“Going to California”  Led Zeppelin  In this song, Robert Plant sings of the risks of going to California and the wrath of the gods.  Once again the sturdiness of the DW12 chassis and the Dallara safety cell mitigated the risk of auto racing just a little, and like with Dario Franchitti in Houston, possibly saved the life of Justin Wilson.  Wilson had pulmonary bruising, which is a wicked, life-threatening injury common in auto accidents and explosions.  When you bruise your lungs due to blunt force trauma, you are in a world of hurt.  This one is dedicated to Dallara for making such a sturdy and safe machine.  Complain about the ugliness all you want, the car is beautiful on the inside.

Thanks for cruising with me tonight.  Let me sign off with the immortal words of racing philosopher Tom Carnegie:  Let every day of your life be “a new track record.”

 

IndyCar’s street cred

IndyCar’s credibility with sponsors, television, and the media is not, as most would agree, at an all time high.  Ovals are an endangered species; potential title sponsors for races are keeping their checkbooks in their pockets; television ratings are in need of resuscitation; and, if some people are to be believed, the mainstream sports media are cackling as they complete their nefarious conspiracy to relegate the IndyCar Series to the margins of sports entertainment.  What does IndyCar need to do right now?  It is obvious that the series needs some street cred.  It’s time for IndyCar to throw down.

After looking up words in the Urban Dictionary to give this post a “street” flavor, I’ve come to the conclusion that not only can I not use any of those words without sounding hopelessly like an aging hipster, I can’t even use them ironically without sounding like I’m trying too hard.  Sometimes it really stinks to be so Midwestern suburban, yo.  See what I mean.  That’s the last time I throw in any urban argot, I swear.  In any case, IndyCar is beset on all sides by critics and reality.  The only thing to do is fight back.

Mark Miles started the IndyCar response by announcing that IMS would be hosting a road course race, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.  He had on his Breaking Bad Heisenberg pork pie hat throwing up IMS and IndyCar gang signs to the audience saying, “If you ain’t down with a road course at Indy, then you ain’t down with IndyCar, yo.”  Sorry.  I said I wasn’t going to that again.  That’s wack.  Anyway, Miles is doing what he can with what he has. He HAS the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  To have an opportunity to use the facility, make a profit, and be on network television is money in the bank.  Hopefully that interest can be parlayed into more sponsorships and more races.  To many fans of the series, the down side to more races is that it may include more street courses.

While I’m still waiting to see how a hotter-than-the-hinges-of-hell Houston in June race plays out next year, the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston had two things going for it: the names of Shell and Pennzoil in the title.  Any race, no matter where it is run, will be on the schedule if it brings the Benjamins.  Was Benjamins too hipster?  Sometimes the line between hipster and doofus is a little blurry.  In any case, IndyCar can only race where it is wanted, and it is only wanted where there is a chance to make money.  Just like a great athlete trying to come back from an injury, IndyCar has to rehab and train if it wants to compete at the highest level again.  If racing in a parking lot around the Reliant Center in Houston gives the series the exposure it needs to garner interest from Road America and Watkins Glen, then do it.  For the series, money is the name of the game.  And IndyCar needs to get back in the game.  How about that?  Was a The Wire reference to the game street enough without sounding all I’m-trying-too-hard-to-be-hip?

IndyCar really is the most diverse series in the world with its ovals, street courses, and road courses.  This IS the point that IndyCar needs to hang its pork pie hat on.  The series will never again be an all oval or mostly oval series.  That ship has sailed, and the taste of the fans has changed.  IndyCar has a great product for which it needs to find an audience.  An engaged title sponsor for the series, relentless selling by the yet-to-be-hired commercial director for IndyCar, and creative marketing by the series and race promoters are first steps to show television and sponsors that the series is a viable platform for investment.  If more street cred means more street races, I say bring on Providence, Rhode Island in two years.  As Andy Dufresne says in The Shawshank Redemption, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice really.  Get busy living or get busy dying.”  It seems IndyCar has started to make its choice.  And I’m down with that.

The conservation of energy in IndyCar

It’s good to see IndyCar teams working so hard on being green.  After all, it’s important that all racing series commit to conservation, recycling, renewal, and whatever else puts a smiley face on the critics of auto racing who decry motorsports as models of conspicuous consumption¹.  At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the employees picking up litter and emptying trash cans wear green (!) bibs that proudly proclaim “Ecology” as their department.  I’m sure that title makes picking up the detritus of race fans so much more appealing.  IndyCar has even added laps to races in an effort to conserve energy.

In 2013, IndyCar added laps at St. Pete, Milwaukee, and Mid-Ohio to discourage the use of fuel conservation from the beginning of the race.  It seems fans actually prefer to watch cars pass each other for position on-track.  Since a race like the Honda Indy 200 at Mid Ohio normally calls for three pit stops to get to the finish, basic high school math proved to teams that if you slowed down and used less fuel, then you could finish the race on two stops.  That seems like a sure-fire way to win a race, so why don’t all the teams do it?  If going slower not only saves energy, thus making a series greener, but also enables a car to make fewer stops, it would seem to be the only choice for a politically correct and ecologically sustainable series.

Apparently, a high school math story problem, pit stop deltas, and yellow flags are the monkey wrenches that get tossed into the works here.  A team conserving energy (saving fuel) to limit the number of pit stops by going slower allows teams who are not conserving energy (saving fuel) to go like hell, thus increasing the lead for these energy wasting, planet hating drivers and teams.  Here is where the term “pit stop delta” gets thrown around by really smart guys like Jon Beekhuis.  The pit stop delta is simply the time it takes to enter the pits, stop, and re-enter the track.

It is the fervent hope of our green, planet loving drivers and teams saving fuel that they do not fall so far behind the energy wasting, planet hating teams and drivers that the time behind the leaders plus the delta for them to make two pit stops is more than the delta for the energy wasters to make three stops.  The problem is how far behind the energy savers fall while they are trying to save fuel.  That time behind the go-like-hell leaders is the all-important variable in our high school story problem.  If an energy saving car goes too slow, it falls so far behind the leaders that two pit stops cannot make up the difference.  That is what happened at Mid Ohio.

Both Penkse Racing’s Will Power and Ganassi Racing’s Dario Franchitti played the environmental card and went slow to save energy.  They hoped for one wild card to be played during the race: a yellow flag.  That is the other variable in the strategy to save the earth and win races.  When yellow flags happen, it not only bunches up the field, it allows the noble energy conservers to save even more energy.  The result is to let them drive like hell later because they saved even more fuel.  Unless, of course, a race is run with no yellow flags, which is what happened at Mid Ohio for the second year in a row.  The perfect scenario is for a yellow to fall after the savers have taken their second pit stop and before the users have taken their third pit stop.  The result of that is a fuel saver becoming the leader.  Power and Franchitti could not save enough fuel to race hard at the end.  And part of that is because the IZOD IndyCar Series added five extra laps to the race.  The result of those added laps was the fuel savers had to go even slower during the race to save fuel to use a two stop strategy while the three stoppers could continue to go like hell.  The earth hating Charlie Kimball decided to go like hell and waste our precious resources to win the Honda Indy 200 at Mid Ohio.  Shame on you, Charlie!

So hats off to the earth loving fuel savers!  Like tree hugging conservationists everywhere, you fought the good fight only to become the victims of the rampant and thoughtless exploitation of our precious fossil fuels.  We can only hope that in the future, IndyCar will lengthen the distances of all races while limiting the number of pit stops.  Then we will have a series that can proudly claim to be the best at using the least.

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1.  The term “conspicuous consumption” was coined by Thorstein Veblen in his 1899 book The Theory of the Leisure Class.  I footnoted it for two reasons.  One is to use the name Thorstein Veblen.  I considered it as a Twitter handle, but it was already taken.  The second is because his theories of leisure class, consumption, and technocrats are still viable today.  Don’t read the book.  Just check out this Wikipedia page.

The tale of the turbo in IndyCar: let’s all just get along

Derrick Walker, the IZOD IndyCar Series president of competition and operations, recently announced that both Chevrolet and Honda have agreed to move to a twin turbo engine for the 2014 IndyCar season. The press release says in part, “In an effort for parity throughout the turbocharger range, mandating only a twin turbo system simplifies our efforts to ensure even closer competition.” What a sound political statement. Allow me to translate: “Because Chip Ganassi won’t shut up about performance, Honda has decided to scrap their single turbo to make life easier.” Or something like that.

Look, I’m not a gearhead. I have a general understanding of how things work, and I’m a pretty good listener if you explain something to me. Concepts might have to be dumbed down a little (OK, a lot) to help me truly grasp the intricacies of an exotic racing motor, but even I get what a turbo does: it increases horsepower by using exhaust gases to spin a turbine injecting more air into the cylinders. More oxygen into the cylinders equals a bigger explosion when fuel and compression are introduced. The bigger explosion equals more horsepower. Simple enough. But why all the fuss?

Basically, the IZOD IndyCar Series is tired of refereeing the pissing contest between Honda and Chevrolet and the teams using the two engines. In 2012, when Honda was allowed to upgrade its single turbo, Chevrolet issued tersely worded press releases with veiled threats of doing something about it. In 2013, Chip Ganassi publicly questioned whether Honda was working hard enough to be competitive. All this is about regulating how much turbo boost (the amount of air) to allow the different turbos. It’s like two garden hoses with different nozzles and two neighbors complaining about which one creates more pressure to wash their cars. Both neighbors want the pressure to be equal as long as their nozzle works better. Anything else is unfair. And yes, I understand that does not make sense. But then again, we are dealing with the IndyCar rule book.

So there we have it. In a series that has identical cars and identical tires, the rules now stipulate that one of the differences in the two motors used in the series must be changed to make them more identical. Not only has team innovation been stifled in every area other than shocks and dampers, one of the areas of engine development that was significantly different has died a quiet death. Our sensitivity to political correctness and creating an even playing field for everyone has led to another decision to just keep everyone happy.

In the end, I’m torn. The competition with the DW12 has been superb. If you want exciting racing with passing for the lead, the IZOD IndyCar Series is the nonpareil. If you want a series that lacks innovation and legislates conformity, then this is the series for you. Somehow the slogan “IndyCar: the series that simplifies its efforts to ensure even closer competition” just doesn’t seem to send the right message.

Made-for-TV Drama: IndyCar and the NBC Sports Network

The recent announcement that the NBC Sports Network won the rights to the second half of the NASCAR season from ESPN starting in 2015 has set IndyCar fans all aquiver with either angst or ecstasy about what it means to the future of the IZOD IndyCar Series.  It certainly means something. The meaning of that something is open to debate/argument/conjecture/fabrication, and at least one of those is right in my wheelhouse.  Since my ability as a seer is somewhat limited, I’ll just offer the possible yin and the yang of the deal as it relates to IndyCar.

On the dark side, the fear exists that the NASCAR deal will marginalize a series that is already marginalized.  NBCSN is in the business of selling advertising to generate profit for its shareholders.  That’s it.  After committing BILLIONS of dollars to NASCAR, the network has effectively mortgaged its future with the France family holding the paper.  You had better believe the bean counters and programmers will show NASCAR drivers sleeping in their motorhomes if the ratings are high enough.

Any way you look at it, NASCAR is the king of the new television home of racing.  IndyCar, F1, and any other series will need to be quite flexible if they want a place at the broadcast table.  If not, they can fight over the scraps thrown by the masters of the house.  And the fact is F1, with its early broadcast times, is in the best position not to be threatened by NASCAR.  Keeping in mind that 13 of the 20 NASCAR races in the portfolio will broadcast on NBCSN, it’s easy to see why IndyCar and its race promoters will need to be flexible on both broadcast times and dates.

The idea of an earlier start and end to the IndyCar schedule is certainly going to be a topic of discussion.  If IndyCar can make NBCSN money, it will be promoted.  If it can’t, it will be tucked away with Aussie rules football and the other filler programming until a suitable replacement can be found.

In Taoist philosophy, the yin must have a yang, and there is certainly light to be seen in this new TV deal.  Since NBCSN has committed to auto racing, it would make sense that they develop all their racing properties.  They own rights to IndyCar through 2018, so cross-promoting IndyCar and F1 to NASCAR fans makes sense.  Race fans are race fans.

Getting viewers predisposed to like racing to tune in to another series is easier fruit to pick than creating new race fans.  Making IndyCar a viewer destination makes sense from a bean counting and programming perspective, too.  One of the problems with the all-your-eggs-in-one-basket NASCAR marketing strategy is that it limits your demographic.  No matter the ratings, NASCAR is a particular, though lucrative, demographic.  Fans of both IndyCar and F1 are likely a more diverse, educated, and wealthy slice of viewers.  It would pay for NBCSN to cultivate and grow the viewers of these series since it would diversify its demographic portfolio for potential advertisers.  If the fans of each of the series migrate to the other series, then everybody wins.  Ratings will go up and everyone pockets more cash.

The fact is, everything about how the new NASCAR deal with NBC/NBCSN will affect the IZOD IndyCar Series is wild conjecture.  And as always, wild conjecture is part and parcel of everything written here.  Make no mistake, the deal WILL affect the series in profound ways.  And in the true schizophrenic nature of the IndyCar fan, the sky will either be falling or raining baby Borg-Warner trophies.  As they say on television, stay tuned.

Luck at Pocono

Luck, as we all know, is “success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.”  Or some such.  There are corollaries, of course: Ben Franklin said, “Diligence is the mother of luck,” and Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.”   Deep thinkers, those guys.  I wonder what they would say about the recent IndyCar race at Pocono?

At the Pocono IndyCar 400 Fueled by Sunoco, luck certainly seemed to have favorites.  By whatever voodoo they performed, Andretti Autosport drivers Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and James Hinchcliffe had the other teams covered in qualifications.  The recent run of good luck by the perennial number three of the Big Three in IndyCar had me believing that Andretti Autosport might be on the cusp of dominating the rest of the IndyCar season.  After 5 wins in 11 races, fortune seemed to be on their side.

Speaking of bad luck (remember: a coin has two sides), it didn’t seem that luck could be any worse for Ganassi Racing this year.  Until Pocono, the Honda flagship team was down on power and wins.  Chip Ganassi’s comments about the motors had to sting Honda just a little bit.  Karma has a way of getting back at the smug and sanctimonious, and many people even enjoyed a moment or two of schadenfreude over Ganassi’s woes.  I’m not saying that I did, of course.  *coughs and looks the other way*

Andretti Autosport has been doing all the right things in all the right ways this year and reaping the benefits.  But when Dame Fortune turns angry, watch out.  After the great qualification runs, James Hinchcliffe is rewarded with an unassisted walling of his green Go Daddy car on the first lap.  Didn’t people in the Andretti pits knock on wood, throw salt over their left shoulders, or genuflect?  Could they not see the sea change in their kismet?

Bad luck was just beginning.  Ryan Hunter-Reay was moving into the lead when Takuma Sato forgot that you need to slow down when you enter the pits or, you know, you run into people who have slowed down.  Poor Hunter-Reay.  He probably forgot his talisman on Sunday.

And there’s the sad case of the luck of  hometown boy Marco Andretti.  He dominated the weekend and the portion of the race he was allowed to run before being told to slow down to conserve fuel.  Bad luck may be tantamount to bad strategy…or just bad fuel mileage.

The bad luck/good luck dynamic was not just connected to Andretti and Ganassi.  Tony Kanaan of KV Racing was working on the lead for the second leg of the Fuzzy’s Triple Crown for a million dollars when he bent his wing passing race winner Scott Dixon.  I think Kanaan cashed in on serendipity when the late yellow came out at Indy.

Call it karma, fate, luck, or whatever, but Ganassi Racing had more on Sunday at Pocono than anyone.  Luck?  They stripped the downforce off the cars for speed and mileage and kept them off the walls all day.  That is really two things: luck and guts.  And you might add the fuel sipping Honda engines to the mix.  Sometimes the stars line up and preparation meets opportunity.  It certainly looked that way at Pocono as Dixon, Charlie Kimball, and Dario Franchitti swept the podium in a Ganassi domination.

Maybe luck has turned for Ganassi.  I’m sure Chip would deny it, but I swear I could hear chanting and smell burning chicken feathers coming from his motorhome on Sunday morning.  Whatever it takes.

A Tale of Two Detroit Cities

With sincerest apologies to the memory of Charles Dickens,  “It was the best of races, it was the worst of races…” at Detroit this past weekend.  What, you don’t recognize the mangling of the opening line from Tale of Two Cities?  What were you doing in high school?  It was required reading!  You can always count on New Track Record to bring up arcane connections to help you understand the value of a liberal arts education.  Let’s look at the best and worst of the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit.

Best of Times

  • Roger Penske has created one of the best street courses in IndyCar racing.  He took a broken track in a broken city and made it racy.  From a track where passing was nonexistent and asphalt patches attacked the racers, Penkse revealed a new layout that not only held together but allowed actual passing.
  • Besides making a racy layout, Roger Penske is building one of the crown jewels of the IndyCar season on Belle Isle.  Yes, the racing is good, but so is the event.  Roger Penske is a businessman and promoter nonpareil.  At a time when most venues see no value in hosting the IZOD IndyCar Series, he saw an opportunity.  Instead of banking on ticket sales for his profit, Penske worked the business-to-business angle and made his money on corporate sales.  Having Chevy as a title sponsor helps, too.  According to Doug Guthrie of The Detroit News, grandstands across from pit row will become double-decker corporate chalets next year.  And we all know that a “chalet” is much tonier than a suite.  Great event, great people, great organization.
  • One of the best things about the year is the parity between the big and small teams.  Fill-in driver Mike Conway won the first race for Dale Coyne Racing and landed on the podium for the second while Simon Pagenaud won the second race for Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports.  You know that has to chafe Chip Ganassi, Roger Penske, and Michael Andretti like sand in the swimsuit.  Expect changes to the formula that allow the teams with the most money to buy success.  It’s the American way.
  • Mike Conway’s win was the best thing of the weekend.  A journeyman winner is always welcome, particularly one who suffered such serious injuries in a horrific crash at Indy.
  • Honda had a pretty good weekend in the heartland of Chevy.  After failing on the national stage of Indianapolis, the Japanese marque showed their twin-turbo street course savvy at Detroit by winning both races and sweeping seven of the top ten spots on Sunday.
  • Personalities once again shine.  In the first race, Sebastian Saavedra waved the double middle finger salute to Marco Andretti while Will Power, known for a similar obeisance to race control two years ago, hurled his gloves at Sebastien Bourdais after a safety worker restrained him from an actual physical attack in the second race.   Anything that makes me laugh out loud is the “best of times.”
  • Beaux Barfield, whose honeymoon is over with the drivers and teams, made a great call with a local yellow for Ryan Briscoe’s shunt into the tires at the end of the first race, allowing the race to end under green and silence the groundswell of moronic insistence for a green-white-checkered rule to prevent yellow flag finishes.  Kudos, Beaux.
  • Call it what you will, the doubleheader format worked.  The ratings were up, and the crowds were good.  The drivers, and especially the crews, suffered from lack of turn-around time, but tin-top drivers and dirt track racers have been doing it for years.  It was a good show.  Do it again.

Worst of Times

  • After the first race had only three yellow flags, there were high hopes for plenty of green flag racing for the second contest.  Not so fast.  Whether it was fatigue, as suggested by the television crew, or an abundance of optimism and idiocy, as suggested by me, the drivers could not seem to get out of each other’s way.  Ed Carpenter nerfed Alex Tagliani. Sebastien Bourdais biffed Will Power, starting a six car scrum.  Simona De Silvestro and Ryan Hunter-Reay both found the same wall.  Not quite the smooth event from the day before.  The big question about the two race format is simple: what if these wrecks happened during the first race?  Would safety be compromised because of crew fatigue and time constraints?  If the format is continued, we will find out.
  • The worst luck of the weekend happened to A.J. Allmendinger.  The Penske Racing driver did not complete a lap either race.  The cherry on his bad luck sundae was that both wrecks can be chalked up to driver error.  The pathos of his sincere sorrow and completely defeated demeanor touched me.  It truly was “the worst of times” for A.J.
  • Could the timing of IndyCar’s press conference regarding aero kits be any worse?  Since Mark Miles, the new chief plumber at Hulman & Co., has not yet been able to plug the press leaks that have plagued IndyCar, the series was forced to go public with their plan to increase speeds, provide more team development opportunities, and allow manufacturer designed body parts before they were ready.  Way to steal a promoter’s thunder, IndyCar.  We wouldn’t want the media talking about the race happening on the track, would we?  The politics and drama of the series continues to provide fodder for low-life bloggers like me to mock the dysfunction.  And I thank you.
  • Social media once again provided entertainment.  The Twitter dust-up between Randy Bernard (@RBINDYCAR) and Panther Racing (@PantherRacing) made me smile.  Gig ‘em, Randy!  I actually debated which category this fit.  For entertainment, it’s the best; for the IZOD IndyCar Series, it’s the worst.  Call it a coin flip.  If you are not on Twitter, you are missing people talking first and thinking later.
  • The gimmick of double-file restarts causes wrecks on narrow street courses.  No debate.  Proponents can justify them by arguing TV ratings and NASCAR, but they create pack racing and lead to FUBAR’s like the six car melee that ended Will Power’s day Sunday.  Unlike the 40+ cars in NASCAR, the IndyCar Series has a diminishing number of contestants and open cockpits.  Exciting?  You bet.  Dangerous?  Absolutely.  Necessary?  That’s the real question, isn’t it?
  • Listening to the radio feed of an IndyCar race is exciting.  The announcers scream about the action in front of them.  It sounds like something is happening.  Listening to the ABC broadcast is mind-numbing.  The vapid and insipid delivery of the boys in the booth truly harshes the buzz of the great racing we are seeing on the screen.  I wonder if Lunesta, a sleep aid advertising on the race broadcast, complained about ABC/ESPN competing with them with its choice of broadcasters?

If only this writing was “a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done…”  Get it?  That’s the last line from Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities.  You Philistines simply must read the classics.  It is always high art here at New Track Record.

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