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Archive for the month “February, 2013”

Ten Worthless Opinions: Daytona Edition

NASCAR certainly knows how to put on a show.  The monolithic racing series has grown to iconic status.   The problem with that is the warts become iconic, also.  This week, the WO’s (worthless opinions) look at NASCAR with HD.  And you know the problem with that.  As American writer Dorothy Parker said, “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes right to the bone.”

1.  First the serious: NASCAR did an absolutely tremendous job in the aftermath of the NNS last lap accident.  They had an emergency plan and followed it.  First responders swarmed the grandstands, ambulances were rolling, and the pits were cleared for helicopters.  Whatever discussions will come regarding spectators and fencing, NASCAR had plans to address this situation.  Kudos.

2. Some on social media were critical of the NASCAR officials’ demeanor in the press conference Saturday evening.  It was mentioned that they seemed cold and/or indifferent.  I thought they handled it very professionally.  In a litigious society that demands instant information that will be parsed for every nuance and hint, the truth is that your PR/communication people have to tread very lightly.  Any misstep can be worth millions in the courtroom.  Total honesty cannot be expected so soon after the fact.  Facts were given and questions were answered as well as can be expected.

3.  Tony Stewart’s muted response in after his NNS win Saturday was spot on.  It was neither contrived nor delivered for effect.  It makes a fellow proud to be a Hoosier.  Well done.

4.  But not all is shiny and pure in HD land.  Sometimes the blemishes cannot be ignored.  NASCAR had YouTube take down fan video shot on a smartphone of the accident on grounds of copyright infringement.  YouTube later reinstated the video saying that it did not violate copyright.  NASCAR backtracked and said they wanted it down in deference to the victims.  Sure. That’s why.  I’m sure it had nothing to do with possible lawsuits stemming from the accident.  Deadspin, bless their sarcastic little hearts, posted an assessment of the situation.  NASCAR claims to own the copyright on every picture or video taken at the track.  Good luck with that.  For all I know, some communications wonk overreacted.  Or maybe it’s just another big corporation assuming they own everything.  If only the American public didn’t believe in that pesky Constitution.

5.  I don’t have the answer for fencing.  It’s a dangerous sport for the participants as well as for the spectators.  Someday, when a lawsuit, or the threat of one, really scares a major racing series, a solution will be found.  Until then we will wring our hands and jerk our knees until the next race.  Then the blinders will come back on until the next step toward the government enacting more regulations to protect us from ourselves.  In other words, fixing the problem will become the cheaper alternative to settling lawsuits.  That time will come.  This issue affects NASCAR, IndyCar, NHRA, and every Friday and Saturday night track in America.  It will not go away.

6.  Lawsuits over the accident may be filed, but it is doubtful that any will go to court.  They will all be quietly settled.  Any racing series is in a no-win situation with spectator injuries.  Court is open.  The media would be a circus.  A lawyer would ask if a series had a contingency plan.  If the answer was yes, then it would be shown that the series expected an accident with spectator injuries.  Guilty.  If you had no plan, then the series would be negligent for not expecting the accident.  Guilty again.  It’s the situation Yossarian faced in Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22.  NASCAR can’t win.  It is almost always cheaper, and better business, to settle.

7.  Kyle Larson is a racer.  He’s young, aggressive, and talented.  So naturally he followed the money to NASCAR.  It will be fun to watch him move up to the big boys.  I just hope he’s a Tony Stewart clone who never gives up the dirt tracks.  He certainly went to Tony’s class on how to win friends and influence people on his last lap bump on C.E. Falk in the Whelen All-American Series race on that freaky backstretch track.  Milk it, NASCAR!

8.  Who says NASCAR doesn’t work on diversity?  They had 50 Cent (rapper Curtis James Jackson III) in the pits trying to kiss Fox reporter Erin Andrews as she searched for Danica Patrick on a grid run that made Robin Miller look like a star.  I just LOVE the random absurdity of large events.  I guess 50 Cent was going to Get Erin or Die Tryin’.  Truth is so much stranger than fiction.

9.   Of course I have a Danica Patrick comment.  She drove a smart race, and other than hitching her star to Greg Biffle on the last lap, did everything right.  It was a great run for a rookie on the big stage.  Women can drive race cars.  Period.  She puts on the helmet and takes her chances.   Gender has nothing to do with driving.  It has a lot to do with endorsements.  Sometimes it pays to be a pretty face, and I don’t grudge Danica cashing that check.  She’s just “Taking Care of Business,” baby.

10.  What else was great about the Daytona 500 weekend?  The Winter Indy Tweet-Up (@WinterIndyTwtup) made the weekend.  Big thanks to all involved in the effort.  The Dallara tour was fun, but I’m going to need some translation on the brew served at Lino’s Coffee in the factory.  The two lap 100 MPH ride around IMS may have been the highlight of the day.  Finally, it was fantastic to hang with so many other people who share my love for IndyCar racing during the Main Event party at Detour in Carmel.

That’s all I’ve got about Daytona.  The racing season is upon us, but we all know what the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” really is, don’t we?  If not, here’s a little reminder:

IMG_0249

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The Big Kahuna at IndyCar

I like sobriquets like the big kahuna or the kingpin.  They personalize and soften the people in power.  They humanize them.  After the purges and pogroms in IndyCar lately, some softening seems to be in order.

The big boss man Mark Miles has made his presence felt in the offices of IMS and IndyCar.  After the releases of Randy Bernard, Steve Shunck, and Liza Markle, it seemed that Hulman & Co. was consolidating power and cutting ties with anyone who seemed to be connected to the previous regime.  Or maybe the bean counter in charge was just saving money.  Twitter was aflame with angst.  Robin Miller was apoplectic. The general consensus of those who had dealt with any of these people was that they were friendly, helpful, and relentlessly geared to customer satisfaction.  After years of perceived mismanagement, the few hard-core fans left felt loved and appreciated.  Someone was finally listening to them.  And then the roof caved in.  Bernard was released in a clumsily organized power play, and then Jeff Belklus took over in a scene reminiscent of  Alexander Haig’s “I’m in control here” verbal gaffe, deep diving the IndyCar offices to put the house back in order.  And then Mark Miles arrived.

It is clear that the new big cheese was in charge.  As Hulman & Co. CEO, Miles rearranged the remaining management team, putting Doug Boles in as COO of IMS and Robby Greene in as COO of IndyCar.  Belklus is their immediate boss as CEO of IMS and interim CEO of IndyCar.  Mark Miles is still the potentate of all.  What Miles did is called consolidating power, and it is always the prerogative of a new boss to do so.  He needs people loyal to him, or afraid of him, in his key management positions.  He now has that.

The hard-core fans are wondering the same things.  They all have the same questions:

  • Does Miles understand racing?
  • Does he appreciate the Indianapolis 500 and the Speedway?
  • Is he a tool of the Hulman-George family?
  • Is he one more in a long line of compromised leaders?
  • Can he deal with the multiple constituencies of IndyCar?
  • Does he care about the fans?
  • Will he show the fans that he cares?
  • Will he communicate a vision for the series?
  • Will he be an ivory tower leader?

Are these all the questions?  Consider what the list looks like for other constituencies.  What questions do the owners have?  The drivers?  The sponsors?  The vendors?  You can assume a list of questions just as long or longer for each of them.  The basic question is who is this guy and can he do the job?

After listening to Miles on Trackside with Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee, I have high hopes for the reign of King Mark.  Listen to the podcast.  He was smooth, articulate, knowledgeable, and sharp.  He gave his views on the current state of IndyCar and where the series needed to go.  He did not shoot from the hip.  In many ways he was the antithesis of Randy Bernard.  He only committed to things that he was already committed too.  If he did not know the answer, he did not vamp, stutter, or make things up.  He said he didn’t know.  Refreshing.

It is clear that Miles is decisive.  He jumped on board with the IMS Tax District concept and explained it in cogent terms on the radio.  He put people in the positions he needed them.  He has released people from their employment.  He has clearly stated that IMS and IndyCar are on the same team and need to work more closely together.  Translation: you all report to me.  And don’t forget it.  The family may have found their guy: Mark Miles can make them money, bring them good PR, and finally herd all those damn cats into the corral.  And that is something Hulman & Co. desperately needs.  The family wants to have the goodwill of the community and millions of dollars in their pockets.  And they need a man like Miles to give it to them.  History has shown they have trouble doing it themselves.

We all know time will tell, but a Henry Ford quote I’ve used before seems most apropos: ““Asking ‘who ought to be the boss’ is like asking ‘who ought to be the tenor in the quartet?’ Obviously, the man who can sing tenor.”  Warm up those vocal chords, Mr. Miles, you’re on.

All bark and no bite: social media and IndyCar

Social media has allowed me to have a very small voice in the much bigger world of IndyCar racing.  A few incredibly supportive and intrepid souls regularly read my blog posts, which are almost all opinion pieces that I just make up.  I was even allowed to be a part of the inaugural Social Media Garage at the Indy 500 and the Super Weekend, for which I am forever grateful.  I do minimum research.  I simply watch the races and read what real reporters and insiders discover using real reporting techniques.  I’m just another fan with an opinion.

Social media has allowed me this access.  This blog and my Twitter account (@NewTrackRecord) allow me to pretend that my opinion matters, that what I think will somehow affect IndyCar in some vague but vital way.  It’s not true.  The truth is that what I write, either in the long form blog or the microblog that is Twitter, is read by very few and impacts nobody in IndyCar in any meaningful way.  My opinions mean nothing.  The time and effort it takes to write and comment have no discernible return on investment.  Yet the immediate gratification of publishing my opinions makes me feel like what I have to say has value, even though logic says it doesn’t.  That is the fact of social media.  It makes people believe someone cares about their opinions.

I liken the social media noise of IndyCar to a small yapping dog that just won’t shut up.  It will bark at anything that enters its line of sight.  This furry package of fury is an annoyance, not a threat.  That’s us.  That’s all of us who think our blogs and tweets influence anyone.  People hear us.  They notice us.  They just don’t really care.  Our power, for the most part, lies in simply making noise.  For all of its perceived shortcomings, Track Forum is still the most popular social media site related to IndyCar racing.  Posts often get over 1,000 views, and we are talking about multiple posts daily.  The site says that they have served over 3 million people.  I’m not sure what that means exactly, but it’s a big number.  Even so, the people who post and respond are relatively small, just like that damn little barking dog.

Another set of barks and growls comes from Twitter.  Every decision by IndyCar causes a blowing up of Twitter.  Fire Randy Bernard?  Boom!  Hire Mark Miles?  Boom!  Mention Tony George?  Boom!  Boom!  Boom!  How much actual power does Twitter have?  The few thousand IndyCar fans who are on Twitter are certainly vocal, but can a few thousand influence policy?  Randy Bernard responded to social media.  How did that work out for him?  He made the fatal mistake of thinking he worked for the fans.  I still don’t see a Twitter account for Mark Miles or Jeff Belklus.¹  I’m pretty sure we won’t see them.  They are too important to mingle with the great unwashed.  Our opinions have very little value to them.  Need proof?  Here are some IndyCar Twitter follower numbers compared to NASCAR numbers.

IndyCar

  • Curt Cavin-(@curtcavin)-10,672-Indianapolis Star
  • Marshall Pruett-(@marshallpruett)-7,946-Speed.com
  • John Oreovicz-(@indyoreo)-1,420-ESPN.com
  • Kevin Lee-(@KevinLee23)-5,376-NBC Sports, 1070thefan.com
  • Bill Zahren-(@pressdog)-5,500-pressdog.com
  • Tony Johns-(@TonyJWriter)-4,2016-RacingPress.com
  • George Phillips-(@oilpressureblog)-1,084-oilpressure.com
  • Zack Houghton-(@indycaradvocate)-1,871-indycaradvocate.com
  • Robin Miller-Not on Twitter-NBC Sports, Speed.com

NASCAR

  • Marty Smith-(@MartySmithESPN)-73,460-ESPN
  • Jeff Gluck-(@jeff_gluck)-44,205-USA Today
  • Bob Pockrass-(@bobpockrass)-42,294-Sporting News
  • nascarcasm-(@nascarcasm)-32,341-SB Nation
  • The Orange Come-(@TheOrangeCone)-25,8110
  • Terry Blount-(@TerryBlountESPN)-8,619-ESPN

Notice a difference?  The IndyCar media added together do not equal the attendance of even the most poorly attended IndyCar event.  Once again, for all the effort, only the hard-core fan is listening.  And IndyCar cannot build a future by listening to the hard-core fan.  The future lies in grabbing the interest of fans who are not currently interested in the series.  The numbers of followers for NASCAR media dwarfs IndyCar, including an inanimate object and someone with a name that people cannot pronounce.²  And please explain to me how Robin Miller, a leading media voice on IndyCar, is not on Twitter.  Promotion of the series and yourself is part of the currency of the media. Being a curmudgeon only goes so far.  IndyCar is clearly losing the promotional war.  Nobody is listening.

As far as blogs go, I don’t have access to the number of daily, weekly, or yearly hits at sites other than mine.  And since I have already stated that doing deep research to illuminate my opinions does not happen, I am not planning on asking for them.  Suffice it to say that the page views probably reflect a ratio similar to the numbers listed here for Twitter.  Only the hard-core are seeking information on IndyCar.

These same numbers apply to driver followers on Twitter.  With the exception of a certain Brazilian, NASCAR blows IndyCar away.

IndyCar

  • Tony Kanaan – 577,197
  • Helio Castroneves – 78,078
  • Dario Franchitti – 85,188
  • Scott Dixon – 49,613
  • Simon Pagenaud – 9,420
  • Marco Andretti – 52,534
  • Graham Rahal – 43,941
  • James Hinchcliff – 26,310
  • Pippa Mann – 12, 387
  • IndyCar – 79, 309

NASCAR

  • Danica Patrick – 696,431
  • Brad Keselowski – 358,456
  • Jimmie Johnson – 352,061
  • Jeff Gordon – 348,567
  • Mark Martin – 130,407
  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 67,442
  • NASCAR – 882,334

The numbers speak volumes.  IndyCar is not a mainstream sport in the way that NASCAR is.  Nobody is listening.  Nobody is watching.  And other than the few hard-cores left, nobody seems to care.  The followers for @IndyCar and @NASCAR tell the story.  We are outnumbered by over 10-1.

IndyCar continues to make efforts through social media, though.  The series has produced a series called The Offseason on YouTube, once again attempting to use social media to promote the brand.  The series, a take-off of The Office, stars Will Power, James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, and Charlie Kimball as they work in the IndyCar offices.  The writing, like my blog, lacks a coherent theme and plot, but at least IndyCar is trying to generate interest.  The numbers, however, are not encouraging.  According to YouTube, episode one garnered 28,784 views.  Not bad, but the numbers for the following episodes have decreased significantly.  Episode seven has 2,126 views.  Probably not quite the viral hit IndyCar had in mind.  Kudos for the effort.

What’s the point of all this?  Right now, IndyCar can ignore the barking dog that is social media.  We affect very little and IndyCar knows it.  But to ignore the future of social media is shortsighted.  Simply put, IndyCar needs to put all its effort into finding new young fans to grow a base that is currently shrinking.  Using social media in all of its forms, some not yet invented, to attract and engage these fans is an absolute necessity if IndyCar plans to connect to new followers who use these mediums as their primary sources of information, entertainment, and engagement.  Social media cannot be ignored or marginalized.  To do so is to risk the future of the series.  Even though social media at this time is just a chihuahua nipping at the heels of IndyCar, it is on its way to being a pit bull in the future.  IndyCar can afford to ignore the noise of the remaining hard-core fans on social media; we are small potatoes.  It cannot afford to ignore the future fans who will use this media as their primary source of information about everything.  IndyCar’s marketing efforts must be directed at these future fans, and social media must be a primary focus for delivering these marketing efforts.

Marshall McLuhan, a philosopher of communication theory, famously said, “The medium is the message.”  I hope IndyCar gets the message about social media loud and clear.  It’s a brave, new world out there.

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1.  In fairness, Doug Boles (@jdouglas4), the new COO of IMS, is active on Twitter.  As the former VP of communications at the Speedway, I think he understands the value of social media in the future.

2.  Just to be clear, I know @nascarcasm, an Indy native, and he is not only a great guy but is also a smart, snarky observer of all things NASCAR and IndyCar.  That doesn’t make his name any easier to pronounce, though.

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