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.