New Track Record

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Archive for the month “March, 2012”

New Track Record’s Ten Worthless Opinions – St. Pete

Opinions I have.  The value of those opinions is up for debate.  As this new racing season starts, I have mulled over what recurring race response I should write.  I have taken the lazy man’s way out.  Or the hack writer’s way out.  Either way says something about me.  With that said, allow me to introduce my new feature: New Track Record’s Ten Worthless Opinions.”  I will try to live up to the title’s expectations.  After each round, I will post 10 opinions.  This allows me to not create a cohesive narrative.  I won’t need transitions.  A theme doesn’t need to exist.  In other words, it fits my writing style.  How’s that for self-awareness?  Here’s this week’s blather.

1.  ABC deserves an “A” for their prerace handling of Dan Wheldon’s death and its aftermath.  They got it as right as you can get it.  They had to show images of the wreck.  It’s still news, and it affects the series, the drivers, and the fans.  The had to show Dario Franchitti crying in his car.  That’s an iconic image that will be shown for years.  They had to interview Tony Kanaan.  He’s the de facto spokesman for the drivers.  They had to show Dan at the yard of bricks and talking about the new car.  The Dan Wheldon story is still being told.  His death and the human responses to it still move me.  Kudos to the nameless producer who put that segment together.

2.  ABC deserves a “C” for the music used in its production.  Can they find any less edgy or less current tunes?  It was sappy and sentimental.  Jeez, just pay the royalties for something new.  Old people are not turned off by popular music.  Young people (you know, the demographic you are looking to engage) do respond to something they recognize.  You could even use that stupid Neon Trees song “Everybody Talks” from the Buick Verano commercial.  Anything is better than what you have!  NBC Sports, take a hint.

3.  I’m not done with ABC just yet.  They open the broadcast with a lullaby, and follow it with the dulcet Mr. Rogers tones of Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear.  Come on guys, at least act like you’re excited.  I think Marty is just pissed he’s not at a NASCAR race and has to look at those small numbers and new liveries on the IndyCars.  Isn’t there an ex-racer hanging out in the paddock that can use some exposure?  NBC Sports, take another hint and make it a party.  Go after that new demographic…please.  It should be noted that pit reporters Jamie Little, Vince Welch, and Rick DeBruhl are knowledgeable, articulate, and enthusiastic.  I wish that would rub off on the guys upstairs.

4.  Everyone is so complimentary about how well the drivers took care of their cars.  Robin Miller said it was a new-found respect for each other.  Others suggested that Beaux Barfield put the fear of Race Control in the drivers during the closed-door drivers’ meeting.  These both may be true.  How’s this WO (worthless opinion): there are not very many spare parts around for the cars yet.  Everyone wants to race next week.  Let’s see if this “after you” good manners mentality continues when the parts inventory increases.

5.  Speaking of Race Control, my WO is that Beaux Barfield passed his first test.  An investigation ensued after contact between Helio Castroneves and Ed Carpenter.  It was immediately publicized (transparency!).  A ruling was made and announced.  It was the right ruling, too.  Two cars nose-to-tail and the leading car slows in the racing line.  It was unavoidable and was not an aggressive move.  Batting a 1.000 for the season, Beaux.

6.  Helio Castroneves’ salute to Dan Wheldon was touching.  On Wind Tunnel, he told Dave Despain that it was not planned.  He stopped to climb the fence in front of the bleachers and turned and saw the sign across the track.  We have come to expect emotional and impulsive responses from Helio.  This one is a keeper.  It moved me.

7.  Back to ABC.  Hey, guys in the production truck.  Yeah, you with the headphones.  Just a WO from a viewer.  SHOW US SOME PASSES!  If you were keeping track on IndyCar.com’s scoring page, you could see passes were taking place.  I know ABC, you want to tell stories (everyone wants to create the next Mad Men).  Here’s a story line for you:  THERE’S A FREAKING RACE GOING ON AND THE FANS ARE TUNING IN TO WATCH IT!  Feel free to use that.  Once more, in case NBC Sports sees this, tell us the story of the race.  Give us the basic situation, show us the rising action, throw in the conflict and complications, introduce the protagonists and antagonists, use exposition so we know what’s going on, lead us to the theme.  THAT’S storytelling.  The race IS the story.  Thank you for listening.

8.  In my WO, engines are going to blow.  It’s the calm before the storm.  I know the engine builders are good, but they are not that good.  Don’t put the oil dry away just yet.  You just cannot build that many high performance engines that quickly without adequate testing and not have gremlins.  Expect it to bite every team at some point.  Back to storytelling: this creates suspense.  I remember hoping something wouldn’t happen to Lloyd Ruby.  It always did, and that got me emotionally involved.

9.  Simon Pagenaud, James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden…’nuff said.

10.  The cars looked OK.  They were sleek and racy.  At least they were until you saw them from the back.  Woof.  What a dog from that view.  Tony Johns at PopOffValve.com convinced me in a recent post that the DeltaWing could not have been picked as the car for the series because of safety, testing, and money.  I should point out that I was reluctantly convinced.  I still don’t think the needle moved very much.  As my mother used to say about my high school girlfriends, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

That’s it, folks.  You have borne witness to the birth of “New Track Record’s Ten Worthless Opinions” about the IndyCar race at St. Pete.  I look forward to delivering some more the next time.*

*New Track Record will be traveling next weekend, so the “Ten Worthless Opinions” may be running a little late.  Actually, I’ll be in a cabin in the mountains of West Virginia on Sunday with NO CABLE.  I guess we’ll find out how well the Verizon IndyCar app works.

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Connecting to a new audience, one snail at a time

I watched a great show in Indy the other night.  It was a motor sport series with rabid fans, multiple manufacturers, a support/ladder series, activated sponsors, articulate racers, and a young, edgy vibe.  I only wish it was IndyCar.  The show I saw had edge-of-your-seat passing, a mad dash to turn 1 at the start, and all the danger and excitement you can handle.  That’s right, folks.  I saw the Supercross race at Lucas Oil Stadium.  And you can quote me here: WOW!  How does this series do it?  I’ve got a few thoughts.

I have to give IndyCar and Randy Bernard credit: the animated movie Turbo is a HUGE step in the right direction to engage and activate a demographic that up until now was given the option of a die-cast IndyCar or nothing.  It’s time to trend young.  And Supercross has already cut a pretty big piece of that pie.

The leg up with Supercross (or any motorcycle series) is that you can go buy the product and run it on the street.  Advantage to the two wheelers.  They sell the product they race.  At the MotoGP race in Indy, every manufacturer and vendor was activated.  From the grid girls for every product to the three and four year old kids in racing suits tooling around a small track, there was something for everyone.  That dynamic is absolutely missing in IndyCar.  The MotoGP vendors are not just trying to make a sale today, they are trying to create a consumer for life.  IndyCar and its sponsors need to take a lesson.

We tend to gravitate to those who resemble us.  IndyCar is getting that, moving to young drivers like James Hinchcliffe , Josef Newgarden, and Marco Andretti.  We need the youth.  Supercross racers are all young, or at least they look and act like it.  Let’s face it, IndyCar drivers are more like a college fraternity: cool and stylish.  The Supercross riders are the hell-raisers that flunked out after the first semester of college.  They were having too much fun to worry about class.  Honestly, kids dig that vibe.  The term is “edgy.”

Supercross owns Saturday night on Speed TV.  All the races are televised.  You know where to find them. While IndyCar struggles to find a time where they are not competing with NASCAR and football, Supercross carved out a niche.  And like IndyCar, Supercross is a niche series.  They just do it better than IndyCar.  Their 17 week season runs from January in the warm weather outdoor stadiums, through the indoor football stadiums, to the main stretch at Daytona, and to the last race at Las Vegas in May.  I am not suggesting that IndyCar follow this same schedule.  It’s impossible to do so.  But IndyCar does need to start its season earlier in the year and find times and dates when they are the only show in town.

Supercross is not without its controversy.  There is conflict between the stadium circus and the summer circuit, particularly when it comes to sponsorship dollars.  It’s worth noting that Monster Energy is the title sponsor for Supercross and Lucas Oil products, along with Red Bull, are the primary sponsors of the summer series.  It would be nice to have those big boys doing some of the heavy lifting in IndyCar, wouldn’t it?  And the demographics of the series are why we don’t.  Old guys like me don’t drink enough Monster or Red Bull.  I do wear IZOD sport shirts, shorts, khakis, and socks, though.  That just screams PARTY!

Supercross has figured out its people.  They are young and Supercross markets to them.  They connect.  I have a strong belief that the marketing department at IndyCar is figuring out a way to connect with that young audience.  I guess a speedy snail is a good start.

A Bowl of Indy Stew – The Night Before Day 3, 1986

We all have our favorite dishes.  For some it’s a hot and juicy steak fresh from the grill.  Others prefer a healthy salad with arugula and other trendy greens.  In Indiana, a great breaded tenderloin is always a popular selection.  But at New Track Record, you can always count on a hot, steaming bowl of Indy Stew to hit the spot.  Here comes the fourth bowl of Indy Stew from the 1986 pot.

– – – – – – – – – –

The year 1986 was a marathon for fans.  In the case of our heroes, we snuck in the night before the first day, encountering yellow shirts and feeling like the petty criminals we were.  Days one and two also brought rain and an entertaining vomit story as well as an introduction to our new friend Nick the biker.   Good times.  The race was postponed until May 21, the following Saturday.  We followed our regular modus operandi: we arrived the night before and found a parking spot at a machine shop on Olin Avenue.

Now, if you are an Indy regular, you are familiar with the elusive “back way” into the track on race day.  Everyone thinks they know the best one.  People have the “best” way to get to the track and the “best” race day parking.  They will not be swayed.   We all want to be “in the know.”  One back way into the track is the 10th Street-Holt Road-Olin Avenue route. [1]  The only problem is you need a parking pass to gain access to Holt Road.  Normally.  On the third day of a race, you only needed to show up.  But against the possibility of being blocked by the local constabulary, we had managed to come into possession of a parking pass for the Goodyear lot, which was directly across from where Olin Avenue entered onto 16th St.  Full disclosure: we came into possession of a “facsimile” of a parking pass for the Goodyear lot.  We really did not want to park there.  We just wanted access to 16th Street, so we could get into the track and park in Turn 2.  That was our goal every year.  And this year it worked.

Sometime Friday evening, my friends Marv, Gil, and I rolled down Holt Road to Olin Avenue and parked in the small parking lot of a machine shop directly across from the Goodyear lot.  We hoped the police would see our parking pass and stop traffic to let us in when the gates opened.  Now was the time to stroll down 16th Street and Georgetown to take in the sights, sounds, and stench of the night before the 500.

It was a rather laid back evening.  The crowd was much smaller than the previous weekend, so we did not anticipate anything unusual happening.  We were wrong.  We struck up a conversation with some guys who had parked behind us.  They were from Illinois and wanted to have a good time.  They were loud, funny, friendly, and drunk.  In other words, it was a typical bunch of guys you see at the race.  As the night wore on, an argument between two of the guys began.  We had front row seats and watched the situation escalate.  It got loud, and there was some pushing, shoving, and swearing.  Again, typical of a bunch of drunk guys.  What wasn’t typical was what happened next.  One guy went to the back of the car, opened the trunk, grabbed a hammer, and came back and drilled his adversary in the side of the head.  NOW all hell broke loose.  Hammer guy and a buddy took off running while hole-in-the-head guy hit the ground.  We just watched.  First aid was delivered while another buddy ran to get law enforcement.  Within minutes one of Indianapolis’s finest was on the scene. He interrogated the remaining guys and cast a suspicious eye at us.  After close questioning, he seemed satisfied that we were not involved.  Another officer arrived and began a search for hammer guy.  The original officer walked up to 16th street to meet the EMT’s.  When he walked away, hole-in-the-head guy woke up, looked around, and TOOK OFF RUNNING with his remaining friends in hot pursuit.  We just watched.  Within moments, the constable came back to find everyone but us gone.  Now it WAS our fault.  After delineating our various deficiencies as human beings, he just stood there and glared at us.  If you have ever seen the movie M.A.S.H, you may remember the Bobby Troup [2] line.  Bobby’s character is assigned to drive Hawkeye and Trapper John around Tokyo to help them find a golf course.  In anger and exasperation, he says: “Goddamn army,” and “Goddamn army jeep.”  The IPD officer must have been channeling Bobby Troup.  After glaring at us, he shook his head and spit out, “I hate this goddamn race.”  He pointed his finger at us and said to have the crew behind us come find him on 16th Street if they came back.

After a while hole-in-the-head guy and hammer guy CAME BACK TOGETHER!  They and their buddies loaded up their car and headed back to Illinois.  It was an odd turn of events.  Those who have attended the race regularly, particularly if you have spent the night before the race around the track, know the violence that bubbles up on occasion.  It still does.  Indy has been cleaned up, but it will never be sanitized.

Dawn approached.  As we prepared to pull out on 16th Street, more trouble boiled over.  Another group had pulled in along Olin Avenue earlier in the evening.  We discussed the hammer episode with them and watched as one of their crew drove an RC car along the street. [3]  We even took pictures with them.  As they prepared to mount up, one guy knocked another to the ground and began stomping him.  You often hear about someone being “stomped,” but until you see it in person, you just don’t understand the violence of the act.  We just watched.

While things were being sorted out after the police arrived, the bomb to open the gates exploded overhead.  We pulled out on 16th Street with our ersatz parking pass.  The same officer who investigated the hammer episode was directing traffic.  With a glare, he stopped traffic and let us in line.  We told him to have a great day.  We drove through the gates, and after three tries we were FINALLY going to see the 1986 Indianapolis 500.

– – – – – – – – – –

One more helping of 1986 Indy Stew is still at the bottom of the pot.  The next serving will be the last of the 1986 vintage.  We’ll hear about golf clubs, suntan lotion, and the song “Black Leather Jacket and Motorcycle Boots.”

1.  Click on this link to see the “back way” the elite often use to get to parking close to the track.  You will need to zoom in to see the roads. Follow 10th Street west from downtown to Holt Road.  Follow Holt to Olin Avenue.  We were parked on Olin between 16th Street and where Olin bends around.  Sweet, huh? http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.,cf.osb&biw=1392&bih=649&q=map+of+speedway,+indiana&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=0x886b57d0bc256bb1:0x70cfba96bf84d40,Speedway,+IN&gl=us&ei=3BldT4OaGcnvggfOioGiCw&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&ct=image&resnum=1&ved=0CCUQ8gEwAA

2.  It is unbelievable to me that some military guy has not put Bobby Troup on YouTube with his “Goddamn army” speech.  So in lieu of that, I’ve linked you to the song that made Bobby Troup famous: “Route 66.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLUYf6cekMA

3.   We took a picture of the RC car guy.  In the Indianapolis Star the next day, what do we see?  That’s right.  A picture of RC car guy driving his car in the infield.  Small world.

Ratings versus Racing

Adios, Danica.  It seems as if you were wearing out your welcome in open wheel land even before you went to NASCAR.  Michael Andretti, quoted in an Associated Press article in USA Today, said the following:

“Yeah, we lost Danica, but I’m not sure that’s going to be negative. I think she brought a lot of good stuff, but she brought a lot of other things that really took away from the rest of our series. And I don’t think that’s healthy. And I think NASCAR’s going to find that.

It became all about her.  Even our racing was secondary. I mean, to talk about her finishing 12th in the field, it was taking away from our real stars that we have that really were not getting the billing they should get.”

Gee whiz, Michael, come out and say it.  “Bye-bye, b- – – -.”  Don’t sugar coat it.

I get it.  Her sun shone a little too brightly for the planets in her orbit.  And make no mistake about it.  Every other driver and owner was one of those planets.  I suspect their egos had a little trouble choking down the steady diet of a green Go Daddy car on every broadcast and a wind-swept Danica hawking anti-freeze, motor oil, and web sites on seemingly every commercial.  But you see the connection, don’t you?  The advertisers are paying money to the network and expect to see their cash cow in a prominent position.  IndyCar, like every other major sporting league, is bought and paid for by advertising dollars.  The sponsors are the true owners of the teams.  Michael Andretti wasn’t making these proclamations when he was the beneficiary of the media spotlight, was he?  Apparently, Andretti Autosport only became disenchanted enough to make a comment after Danica left.  Hmm.

To move forward in sports, or life for that matter, people have to possess a willingness to forget the past.  But you have to learn from the past, too.  Before we say “good riddance” to Danica, we should remember a few things.

Other than the drivers, advertising/sponsorship dollars are the most vital resource for the continued success of the sport.  These dollars will go away if eyeballs do not follow the sport.  Clearly, Danica Patrick brought eyeballs to the sport.  Do we really want to spin her leaving by saying the rest of the league is better off without her?  That’s not a credible statement.  And what do advertisers crave the most?  What gets their greedy little hearts pumping?  Is it Danica in a bikini?  Is it a Will Power kangaroo hop?  No, they crave ratings points like a fat boy craves a Twinkie.  In case you didn’t notice, IndyCar’s ratings were abysmal, even with Danica’s presence in the league.  Momentum?  Hardly.

Lest we forget, there are a few issues with the series.  We have an untested car, a rotten television contract, poor ratings, a recent tragedy, a shaky schedule, and a game of musical engines going on.  Are we getting a little ahead of ourselves?  I don’t think we can say IndyCar has turned the corner before it actually starts to drive down the street.  The season does not start until St. Petersburg, so IndyCar and its fans might want to stop all the self-congratulation until something actually happens.  Before your knees jerk, I know we have some good things going for us.  IndyCar has a surprisingly high car count, great young drivers, some solid sponsorship, and a new international driver to help drive interest outside of America.  But we cannot pretend that we don’t need all the help we can get.  We cannot pretend that Danica Patrick leaving the series won’t hurt viewership.  It will.  And that viewership is a demographic important to advertisers.  That’s why they pay Danica millions to be their shill.

What the fans want is simple: great racing.  What the sponsors want is simple: great ratings.  If Danica only adds to the ratings, that’s not a problem.  If Rubens Barrichello adds primarily to the racing, that’s great, too.  We need television, and television needs ratings.  The formula is not that complex.  One thing Michael Andretti said was true: Danica’s publicity did take the spotlight away from the series racing stars.  Let’s face it.  Danica is a media star.  Doesn’t IndyCar need both?  To Michael Andretti I say this: isn’t the media talking about Danica finishing 12th better than the media not talking about IndyCar at all?  IndyCar may just be following the advice of the great Satchel Paige: “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”  Keep your eyes on the road, IndyCar.  We really need to turn that corner.

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