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Archive for the month “November, 2013”

Ten Worthless Opinions: Thanksgiving Edition

One of the problems of being a “columnist”¹ is coming to grips with the fact that your opinions are all you have.  I have no Rolodex full of IndyCar movers and shakers, no behind-the-scenes intrigue and gossip, and no discernible credentials to support anything I say.  It is that lack of valuable information that makes writing during the off-season so difficult; I have to just make things up as I go.  Many of my regular readers would say that is no different than in-season.  So what does an opinionaire like me do?  One simply attaches a few hundred words to whatever event is handy.  So here it is, New Track Record’s “Ten Worthless Opinions: Thanksgiving Edition.”  These are ten things about IndyCar for which I’m thankful, or at least they don’t make me want to bang my head on the wall.  Thankfully.

1.  Everyone realizes that the entity known as Hulman Racing now controls both IMS and the IndyCar Series, right?  Mark Miles being in charge of all things IndyCar is something for which to be thankful.  He does not seem to have someone looking over his shoulder, and he has quietly consolidated his power by putting his people into key positions.  In the struggle among IMS, the IndyCar Series, and the Hulman family, previous bosses were never seen as totally in control.  No more.  For better or worse, Miles is calling the shots and all the parts report to him.  It may take time, but at least he has a long term plan.

2.  The inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis made the news and will most likely add some life to a moribund month of May in Indy.  The crowd will likely be local, but who cares?  The locals and the out-of-state visitors were not coming out early in the month anyway, so changes were in order.  Look at it this way.  I had a favorite pair of jeans that I wore so long that they fit me perfectly.  I loved them.  Unfortunately, they wore out.  At some point I needed to break in a new pair.  That’s the month of May in Indy.  It’s worn out.  And it’s going to take some time to break in a new schedule.  Just look at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis as a new pair of skinny jeans.  Sometimes fashions change, and it takes time to get used to the new styles…and the chafing.

3.  NBCSN (NBC Sports Network) has made IndyCar a priority.  The pre-race interviews and features were tightened up.  It looks like the interns were finally told they could no longer produce this segment of the broadcast, other than Robin Miller’s grid run, which still has the monkey/football aspect to it.  The booth of Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell, and Wally Dallenbach, Jr. works.  They are intelligent, excitable, witty, and fun.

4.  ABC Sports and its overlord ESPN finally decided to do something about the broadcast booth at IMS and in the IndyCar Series.  I’m not sure Marty Reid was the only problem, but at least it appears the network has turned its eye to improving the product.  I assume ABC knows that Dario Franchitti is available.

5.  Speaking of Dario Franchitti, every fan of open wheel racing needs to thank Dallara for building a solid car.  The car did its job at Houston.  It may be ugly, but it’s racy and saves lives.  If there is a problem with the racing, it is not the car’s fault.  It works.

6.  IndyCar fans should be thankful Juan Pablo Montoya is coming back to the series.  He is a real wheelman who has the ability to run up front, win races, and piss off owners, racers, and fans.  The series needs villains, and JPM can certainly fill the role.  Truth be told, he has done more globally than Franchitti and has more world-wide fans, as evidenced by his 777,000 Twitter followers as compared to Franchitti’s 115,000.  He is NOT over-the-hill.

7.  Quite frankly, I’m thankful for the nuts who follow IndyCar racing.  Disturbed?  Take a stroll through TrackForum sometime.  These people are opinionated, argumentative, angry, and necessary.  The series absolutely needs to find a new demographic to assure the future of open wheel racing,  but the hard-core traditionalists will need to be brought kicking and screaming to whatever new paradigm is developed.  And listening to those crazy bastards always makes me smile.  Rage on!

8.  Although it seems like a death wish for the series, I’m thankful for the right-sized schedule…for now.  The series has contracted the number of dates and shortened the calendar to avoid football.  Now the series can build the schedule slowly and methodically, adding races, venues, and dates that fit with the strategy that Mark Miles and Hulman Racing have developed.  Smart businesses have both long-term and short-term goals that fit with a strategic vision.  Right or wrong, Hulman Racing now has a plan.

9.  A special thanks to past, current, and future sponsors of teams, venues, and races.  I will buy your vodka, wear your underwear, and ride on your tires.  There is value in the series, but the businessmen at 16th and Georgetown need to sell it.  So go sell it.  I really hated to see IZOD leave, though, because I really liked their pocket t-shirts and socks.  They were my fashion statement.

10.  Finally, a thanks to the drivers and teams in the series for putting on the best show in racing.

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¹ I realize I’m not really a columnist.  I write a blog about a niche sport.  It’s fun to pretend, though.

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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.

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