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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.

Are IMS and IndyCar living in the past?

When Mark Miles accepted the job as the new visionary-in-residence at Hulman & Co., he was quick to say that he would evaluate and act in regards to IMS and IndyCar, two of the properties owned by the mothership from Terre Haute.  After a review of the series by an outside consulting firm, Miles will pull the trigger on a new CEO for the IndyCar Series.  At least that’s what he said when interviewed by the IBJ in a December 12 article called “Miles eyes lights for Speedway, postseason for IndyCar.”   If you have not done so already, it is a very revealing portrait of how a big-timer thinks.  And how he thinks is going to determine the course for IndyCar for the next few years.

It is pretty clear that Miles is not really into the whole sacred cow thing.  He is quoted in the article as saying, “The trick is to have a fresh set of eyes come to this and not let the past—in fact, not [being] interested in continually digging up the past—but looking forward and yet doing that in a way that appreciates the culture.”  Now I’m not quite sure what all that actually means, but I think he is not too worried about whose ox  is going to be gored.  If changes need to be made to improve the series or the Speedway, then changes will be made, even if it causes apoplexy among the loyal old fans who have been following the 500 and the series for years.  And let’s face it, as much as some people want Hulman & Co., IMS, and the series to divorce, it is not going to happen.  Just like in some real marriages, IMS and the IndyCar Series will stay together for the kids, particularly those kids that can claim a lineage to Tony Hulman.  And as the kids reach into the fourth and fifth generation, that’s a whole lot of sinecures to be provided.  Miles also notes the family issues in the interview when he says, “In the end, if a venerable firm is going to succeed over time from generation to generation, it has to be a meritocracy.”  In other words, if the relatives needing a job cannot actually, you know, do the job, then you have to find someone who can.  That scenario may have been played out in the third generation of the Hulman family.  It will be fun to watch how this incipient power struggle will play out.  Just think of Jabot Cosmetics and Newman Enterprises from the soap opera The Young and the Restless.  Characters come and go, but the power always comes back to the family.  The power play that will surely happen in the halls of IMS and IndyCar will be revealed to us in bits and pieces as the actors in the drama tell their side of the story to their favorite media members.

A more immediate cause for teeth-gnashing and knee-jerking is the quote about not being interested in digging up the past.  That’s the past that long time fans such as myself revere so much, the past that fans see and feel when they drive along 16th and Georgetown, the past that makes the Indy 500 so iconic.  The truth of the matter is that IMS may be able to sell its past to fans, but the IndyCar Series cannot.  The Speedway actually has a history to sell; the IndyCar Series is just another name for the races that come before and after the 500.  And that’s the problem that must be solved, and I’m pretty sure Mark Miles know that.  The question is how do you build the fan base for the series?  So far, the people in charge have been “all hat, no cattle.”  And that is not a knock on Randy Bernard, even if it sounds like it.  He was trying to move the series in a new direction.  Too many important toes got in his way.

To build the series, Miles, along with his new as-yet-to-be-named IndyCar CEO, has to build a new fan base.  Capturing the old base back is an exercise in futility.  Those old fans have one big problem: they are old.  Unless your business is AARP, you can’t make a new fortune on old fans.  The fan base is shrinking because new open-wheel fans are not being minted.  The love of IndyCar racing is still passed down from parent to child, but that does not create enough new fans.  New fans need to be created outside of the old circle of friends and family.  IndyCar has to attract a next generation of fans who watch movies like Turbo and play video games like Mario KartThe future of the IndyCar Series depends on attracting young fans, not in keeping the old fans happy.  That’s a cold, hard truth.  If the series does not build its fan base, then it will continue to be a niche sport, struggling to remain relevant in a world that will only acknowledge its existence on Memorial Day weekend.  The old-timers have to accept this new reality.  They have no choice.

For many years, Indianapolis was called Naptown, a sobriquet that referenced the languid lifestyle of a town that did not have much going for it except the Indianapolis 500.  Native son Kurt Vonnegut once said of his hometown, “It was the 500-mile Speedway Race, and then 364 days of miniature golf, and then the 500-mile Speedway Race again.”  IndyCar fans should take note of this.  If Mark Miles cannot revive the IndyCar Series and build a new and loyal fan base focusing on a younger demographic, then the series’ remaining fans should start practicing using a putter to roll a small, colored ball into a clown’s mouth.  They won’t have much else to do between Indy 500’s.

IndyCar Fan Dilemma: Fever Pitch Edition

I’m a sap.  There, I’ve admitted it.  Everyone thinks I only care about sports, action movies, and sophomoric comedy for entertainment, and to some degree, they are right.  I like all those things.  But in the deep, dark corners of my heart lurks that bane of manliness, that enemy of all things male: the hopeless romantic.  Please don’t judge me harshly.  It is my belief that some form of romanticism plays hide-and-seek in the souls of all men.  It is what keeps us from really being the miserable bastards that most people assume we are.  My guilty romantic pleasure is the genre of movies called romantic comedy.  Show me someone making a life-altering decision or suffering from the injustices of the world around them, and a salty tear will roll down my cheek to the amusement of my family.  Of course, I fake coughs, yawns, and eyeglass adjustments to cover the tears, but I fool no one.  If the movie includes an animal, then audible sobs ensue.  This is my deep secret and my shame.  The question is how this baloney relates to IndyCar.  The answer can be found in the romantic comedy Fever Pitch.

In the movie, Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore star as Ben and Lindsey, two mismatched lovers with entirely different perspectives about life.  Ben is a Boston Red Sox fan who has given his complete devotion to a franchise that continues to break his heart with epic collapses and mismanagement.¹  The movie examines the humor, absurdity, and pathos of giving your heart and soul to something that cannot love you back.  All hard-core IndyCar fans can see the connection of this to the IZOD IndyCar Series.  One of my go-to conceits in this blog is to connect movie lines to the doings in IndyCar.  Let me show you how IndyCar and Fever Pitch dovetail.

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Ben: We scout the players.  We say which players they should keep.

Lindsey:  Which players they should get rid of?  And the Red Sox ask your opinion?

Ben: Well, not yet.  But if they ever do…

Ben attends Spring Training in Florida every year and tries to explain to Lindsey why this is a completely rational obsession.  Ben is channeling the hard-core IndyCar fans and bloggers.  These individuals (and I am a card-carrying member) are heavily invested in IndyCar, quite likely in a way that seems unhealthy to the uninitiated but in a way that seems normal to us.  Like Ben, the hard-core fans on Twitter, Track Forum, and on the various blogs just know what the answer is if only someone would listen to us.  IndyCar fans are like the long-suffering Red Sox or Cubs fans.  We show up every year only to have management, owners, promoters, and/or drivers break our hearts, but unlike the devoted fans of those star-crossed baseball franchises, many of us are coming out of our self-induced hypnosis.  We realize that our love is not being reciprocated by that entity to which we give ourselves.  Bill Zahren (@pressdog) asks for level-headedness about this topic here, and Tony Johns (@TonyJWriter) questions the value of the emotional investment required to be an IndyCar fan here.  Both writers opine often about the emotional and financial investment needed to be a hard-core fan and reference, in one way or another, the business concept of return on investment (ROI).  The basic question is this:  is the time and money put into following IndyCar worth what IndyCar gives us?  And that’s really the question facing IndyCar fans right now.  Of course, there are always the Kool-Aid drinkers who may see problems, but never lose their hope and emotional connection.  For better or worse, that’s me.

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Ryan: You love the Red Sox, but have they ever loved you back?

Ben: Who do you think you are, Dr. Phil? Go on, get outta here!

A character in the movie asks Ben this existential question: how can you love something that is incapable of loving you back.  Most of us deal with this issue by simply ignoring it.  Like Ben in the movie, we put our hands over our ears and pretend that the question was never asked.  The reason IndyCar fans are coming out of their “Yes, sir.  May I have another?” dysfunctional relationship with IndyCar is because they honestly felt that someone in charge, Randy Bernard, was actually loving them back.  This novel approach to marketing, paying attention to and acknowledging the concerns of your customers, made the fans feel like shareholders.  And the fans liked it.  But unlike the baseball fans in Boston shelling out their money to pack the stands, this reaching out to fans in IndyCar did not immediately pay the dividends of packed houses at racing venues around the country.  So like dysfunctional sports franchises across the country, the owners of IndyCar sacked their leader because he did not change the culture that they created.  What he did do was show the fans a little love back, which goes a long way with any fan.  It is nice to know you are appreciated.  Do you feel me?  But the owners and the drivers wanted to feel a little love, too.  When they didn’t, they were no longer fans.

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Troy: Why do we inflict this on ourselves?

Ben: Why? I’ll tell you why, ’cause the Red Sox never let you down.

Troy: Huh?

Ben: That’s right. I mean – why? Because they haven’t won a World Series in a century or so? So what? They’re here. Every April, they’re here. At 1:05 or at 7:05, there is a game. And if it gets rained out, guess what? They make it up to you. Does anyone else in your life do that? The Red Sox don’t get divorced. This is a real family. This is the family that’s here for you.

Ben and his friend are talking about why they put themselves through the rigors and heartbreak of being Sox fans.  Even though the Sox never won (until the movie was made in 2004), they still showed up and that act gave you hope.  A common thread of current INDYCAR fans seems to be exactly that.  Why do we do it?  Is it worth it?  The payoff is simply the renewal of the thing you love without reservation.  Every year it’s still there.  The fans of IndyCar mark the calendar by the month of May.  Regardless of the sanctioning body, the car, the drivers, or the owners, the Indianapolis 500 lets us all know that one thing will never let us down.  We truly know what it’s like to be a fan, to love something that is bigger than us, to know that the total really can be more than the sum of its parts.  But as much as this seems to complete many of us, it is not enough.

With all the justifiable jerking of knees and gnashing of teeth by American open-wheel fans about the series, the owners, the drivers, and the management, the big picture is still simple.  INDYCAR needs to grow new fans at the risk of alienating the hard-core fans who do not exist in enough numbers to drive the series forwards.  It’s a dilemma.  And the true hard-core lovers of open-wheel, with all of our opinions and solutions, really do not have the answers.  The answers that Mark Miles of Hulman & Co., Jeff Belklus of IMS and INDYCAR, and whoever is eventually hired to run the series have to focus on how to create new fans who will eventually become the hard-core fans of the future.  Those new fans may not reflect the car/driver/track ethos that current long-time fans have.  The series may need concerts, carnivals, support series, feature-length animated movies, and other draws to get and keep fans.  IndyCar fans are starting to ask why they “inflict this on ourselves.”  American open-wheel racing need new fans.  But just like baking bread or brewing beer, it needs the yeast of the hard-core fan to get them started.  How will INDYCAR chose to keep the old and grow the new?  That’s the real question.

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Uncle Carl: [after seeing little Ben is liking the Red Sox after his first game] Careful, kid. They’ll break your heart.

Ben’s Uncle Carl is the man who initiated Ben into the nuances of worshiping at the Church of the Red Sox.  His admonition to his nephew is a powerful warning to all fans of IndyCar, new or old.  I guess the possibility of having our hearts broken is the risk we all take in loving open-wheel racing.  The problem is IndyCar is running out of hearts to break.

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1.  The movie was filmed in 2004 and was expected to end with the Red Sox once again disappointing their fans and with Ben and Lindsey coming together to show that love is more important and enduring than sports, but the Red Sox won the World Series and forced a new ending to be written.  Fact and fiction once again freaks us out.

Fast Times in Noblesville

(Editor’s note:  This article was written for The Polk Street Review, Noblesville’s only literary review, after interviewing Noblesville, Indiana racer Bryan Clauson at Kokomo Speedway this summer.  The editor is stoked since someone actually printed a piece of his writing in a real publication.  This piece was part of a series on influential/interesting citizens, both past and present and was written assuming the readers were not necessarily racing fans.  If you are interested in supporting The Polk Street Review, click here to check out the website and to order your copy.  Whether it’s grassroots racing or grassroots writing, your support is invaluable.)

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Bryan Clauson could be the guy that Hoosier musician John Mellencamp was singing about in his hit song “Small Town.”  Clauson, the 23 year-old championship auto racer from Noblesville, is fully grounded with his sense of place. “Noblesville has grown into a big town, but it still has that small town feel.  That sense of community is part of what keeps me planted in Noblesville.  It would be hard to ever uproot me.”

Bryan has been a USAC (United States Auto Club) champion in both the midget and sprint car series, driven in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, and piloted an Indy car in the 2012 Indianapolis 500.  The nomadic life of a racer parallels life in a tight-knit community. “(Racing is) something I grew up with, something I love.  It’s definitely one of the places I’m at home.  Everybody’s here to beat each other, but it’s one big family.”  Competing over 100 times a year in the high stress environment of auto racing creates a bond.  Bryan understands that the racing community is like any other family.  “We’re like siblings.  We can pick on each other, but if someone else does it, it’s not OK.”  That’s just the kind of relationship you might see in any home in Noblesville.

It’s that sense of community, in both Noblesville and racing, that helps Bryan handle the traveling that is inherent in big time auto racing. “There’s times you go a month, two months, without seeing your bed.”  While Bryan and his racing team often stay in motels, they also stay with friends and family throughout the country, using both their homes and garages.  He knows how lucky he is.  “I travel the country doing what I love.  It’s hard to beat that.”  In many ways, Bryan is doing what so many people long to do: he is following his dream.

Bryan began racing quarter midgets in California before moving to Noblesville.  His new central Indiana home landed him in the middle of one of the hotbeds of auto racing.  As he progressed through the ranks of USAC sprint and midget racing, he caught the eye of Chip Ganassi Racing in NASCAR.  His short career in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series, which most would consider successful, was cut short by the money woes that plague auto racing at all levels.  He returned to his roots on the short dirt ovals of the Midwest and California and returned to his championship ways.  In 2010, Bryan won the USAC National Driver Championship, earning a scholarship from IndyCar’s CEO Randy Bernard to compete in the 2011 Indy Lights Series with Sam Schmidt Motorsports.  He parlayed that opportunity into a ride with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing for the 2012 Indianapolis 500.  Even though Bryan was fast in practice for the 500, a hard crash in qualifying ended his chance of a good starting position.  A spin early in the race left him with handling problems that led to his early exit and a 30th place finish.  Bryan takes away good memories, though.  “It’s the Mecca of motorsports.  The experience is something I’ll hang onto forever.”

What is it like to do what Bryan does?  He struggled to describe it.  “You take a 1000 pound, 900 horsepower car, and you’re slinging it sideways on a turn at a little over 120 miles-per-hour around a quarter-mile dirt track in a little over 13 seconds.  I don’t think there’s a feeling like it.  You drive it by the seat of your pants.  It’s basically a rocket ship you’re trying to sling around a quarter-mile dirt track.”  It doesn’t quite sound like a trip to town in the family sedan.

When asked about his favorite track while waiting to race at Kokomo Speedway, Bryan smiled and looked around him.  “My favorite Indiana track?  We’re standing in it. Kokomo Speedway.  It’s as good as it gets right here.  It’s the baddest bullring in the country.”  Whether it is the summer racing throughout the United States or his winter racing tour of New Zealand, Bryan’s roots always seem to bring him back to his home tracks in central Indiana and his hometown of Noblesville.  And that is quite all right with him.

Even with all his time away, Bryan always knows where home is.  “Noblesville is home, the place that I love, the place that I’ll probably always call home.”  No matter how fast or how far Bryan Clauson drives, he will always know the road back home to Noblesville.

INDYCAR: a big time series with small town issues

For years, my ring tone was John Mellencamp’s song “Small Town.”  I always felt it painted a picture of something with which I was familiar.  When I was growing up in Shirley, Indiana, neighbors knew each other, doors remained unlocked, and everybody looked out for the kids in town.  The distorted lens of the past allows us to focus on what is remembered as an idyllic childhood; it’s always summer in my memory.  The past is a lie, though.  We only remember the good things that passed by our young eyes.  The problem with the memory of youth is that it’s only youth we remember.  Life was grand.  As kids we were not aware of gossip, poverty, alcoholism, spousal abuse, politics, and other small town problems of adults.  The current issues in INDYCAR are a microcosm of the realities of small town life.

INDYCAR and its parent company Hulman & Co. are like the mom-and-pop store down the street in any small town across America.  The people you deal with are down-to-earth and friendly with a definite small town Midwestern dialect.  I am not being critical.  They sound just like me.  Due to the demolition of some grandstands this year at IMS, a portion of my Indy 500 tickets had to be moved.  I was assigned a ticket representative to call.  She was patient, informative, and friendly – just the kind of clerk you expect to find in any small town business.  When I met her in person to iron out some wrinkles, she was exactly who I imagined her to be.  I can guarantee you she has worked there for most of her adult life.  She knew everything about my situation.  I felt like she was on my side and understood my concerns.  As a patron, I appreciated being a person, not just an account.  IMS truly cared about me.  At the level of dealing with guests, IMS has it covered.  With recent events, that’s not the message being sent regarding the INDYCAR series by the Hulman & Co. board of directors.

Even the much maligned Safety Patrol in their yellow shirts are similar to the folks in a small town.  When a carnival came around in my small town, you could expect to see the local Lions Club members in their yellow vests volunteering to do the grunt work to make the event a success.  Even though I called some of the Safety Patrol “petty tyrants and martinets” in a previous post, they work the month of May for low wages to help stage one of the premier sporting events in the world.  IMS has never hired an outside vendor to provide the service that the local men and women of Indiana provide.  Just like small town law enforcement, you accept that authority sometimes goes to people’s heads.  There’s always a give and take.  A small town takes care of its own.  Again, this is a good thing.

Something as simple as the concessions at the Speedway reflect the ethos of the Midwest.  IMS make a profit on the sandwiches and drinks, but you don’t feel like you are being gouged.  It’s no more expensive to buy a burger or a tenderloin at IMS than it is to buy a sandwich at a local restaurant or bar.  If you have attended a concert or a professional football or baseball game recently, then you know how it feels to pay $9 or more for a beer.  IMS treats its fans better than that.  And do you know what’s really great about buying a sandwich or beer at IMS?  You get to consume it at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Think about that for a moment.

But all is not sweetness and light in a small town, though.  There is darkness, too.  The politics of a small town are full of back room deals and backstabbing.  Often, the leaders of these political factions are not, shall we say, the beneficiaries of a worldly perspective.  They are often rather short-sighted, insular, and provincial.  These “qualities” may work in the narrow confines of a small town, but they don’t work as well in the global business of auto racing.  The recent firing of Randy Bernard had all the characteristics of what happens on a small town school board.  The parents of students who have issues demand redress from the principal.  The principal, a professional at what he does, refuses to accede to their demands.  All teachers and principals in small communities know what happens next.  The parents go to their friends on the school board to leverage the principal to get their way.  And it works.  Randy Bernard was the principal, the owners were the parents, and Jeff Belklus and the Hulman & Co. board of directors were the school board.  The owners went around Bernard, and it cost him his job.  It’s ugly in a small town when this happens, but only the people in the small town know about it.  When Hulman & Co. and its board do it, it is still ugly, but because it’s being played out on a world stage, it is also unprofessional and amateurish.  The time has come for IMS and INDYCAR to leave the small town life and start living in the big city if they want to have a series that is respected around the world.

But the true example of the limitations of a small town world view reside with the board of directors for Hulman & Co.  Even though the board has been expanded to include members with a much broader vision of the world, they are still very much on the board in an advisory capacity.  They can offer their perspectives but cannot force any change.  The power resides in the family members on the board who, even with their money and the opportunities that money brings, seem to be no more worldly than the small town school board mentioned above.  On the west side of Indianapolis in the small town enclave that is Speedway, they represent power, authority, and wealth.  They have confused this small town power with the wisdom that comes from engagement with the greater world.  Just because you have the power to affect change does not mean you have the wisdom to affect positive change.  The recent events at 16th and Georgetown bear this out.

Some things do not need to change.  The small town culture that is the guiding philosophy of the Indianapolis 500 and the Speedway itself is perfect as is.  It works for the 500 and the venue.  The pre-race activities with the Gordon Pipers, the Speedway High School marching band, the Boy Scouts, and the motorcycle police are part of what makes the 500 iconic.  The lyrics of “Back Home Again in Indiana” are as small town as you can get.  The Safety Patrol with their yellow shirts and the 500 Festival Parade are part of the fabric of the event and what it means to live in Indianapolis.  All these things reflect all that is good about the small town ethos and must remain.

The issue is not with the Indianapolis 500 or the Indianapolis Motor Speedway itself.  It is with the vision of the board of directors as it relates to the series.  The real question is whether the board can examine the situation and, in a rare moment of self-awareness, see that the real problem with the series is not with the INDYCAR CEO, the owners, or the fans but with themselves.  If they reach this conclusion, then the real change needed in the series can be made.  And what is the most needed change?  The INDYCAR series needs to be divorced from IMS and the Hulman & Co. board of directors as much as possible.  It is clear that board does not plan to sell the series.  To do so would be to put the IMS cash cow in jeopardy of being leveraged by an outside entity.  That happened once, and IMS and the board will not allow it to happen again.  Until the series and its CEO can make their own decisions without the small town interference of the board, INDYCAR will continue in its downward spiral until it finally augers in and leaves nothing but a smoking crater where the series used to be.  What remains will be a diminished Indianapolis 500 and a shell of a series that the racing world, and that means fans and sponsors, only notice in the month of May.

Walt Kelly’s iconic comic strip Pogo had the title character, surveying the detritus of humans in his beloved swamp, state: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”  Until the Hulman & Co. board of directors has this epiphany regarding their own impact on the INDYCAR series, then nothing will change.  And not changing is about as small town as you can get.

The INDYCAR Fraternity: Welcome to Animal House

The recent events at 16th and Georgetown have shown the disconnect between the fans and the core constituencies of INDYCAR, as defined by new INDYCAR Grand Potentate Jeff Belklus.  INDYCAR’s core constituencies,as defined by Belklus, are the owners, drivers, vendors, and business partners.  He did manage to publish an open letter to fans, quite likely ghosted by a PR wonk, hoping that this one missive posted online would let the fans know how important they were.  This cavalier, high-handed attitude toward the fans reminded me of someone:  Dean Wormer in Animal House.  It’s time for New Track Record to head back to the movies, comparing the principals in the current INDYCAR morass to characters in the movie Animal House. “Toga! Toga!”

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Dean Vernon Wormer: Greg, what is the worst fraternity on this campus?
Greg Marmalard: Well that would be hard to say, sir. They’re each outstanding in their own way.
Dean Vernon Wormer: Cut the horseshit, son. I’ve got their disciplinary files right here. Who dropped a whole truckload of fizzies into the varsity swim meet? Who delivered the medical school cadavers to the alumni dinner? Every Halloween, the trees are filled with underwear. Every spring, the toilets explode.
Greg Marmalard: You’re talking about Delta, sir.
Dean Vernon Wormer: Of course I’m talking about Delta, you TWERP!

This is Dean Wormer talking to his co-conspirator Greg Marmalard of the Omegas about the boys at Delta house.  This is a perfect fit.  Just assume that the Deltas are the fans and Dean Wormer is Jeff Belskus or any of the owners who are bothered by the pesky people who continue to show up at races to have a good time.  The boys at the top are exasperated over the fact that the FANS have certain expectations of treatment and have had the unmitigated gall to actually like Randy Bernard.  The next thing you know, the great unwashed will want everyone to communicate with them.  The audacity.

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Bluto: Hey! What’s all this laying around stuff? Why are you all still laying around here for?
Stork: What the hell are we supposed to do, ya moron? We’re all expelled. There’s nothing to fight for anymore.
D-Day: [to Bluto] Let it go. War’s over, man. Wormer dropped the big one.
Bluto: What? Over? Did you say “over”? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!
Otter: [to Boon] Germans?
Boon: Forget it, he’s rolling.
Bluto: And it ain’t over now. ‘Cause when the goin’ gets tough…
[thinks hard of something to say]
Bluto: The tough get goin’! Who’s with me? Let’s go!
[Bluto runs out, alone; then returns]
Bluto: What the f- – – happened to the Delta I used to know? Where’s the spirit? Where’s the guts, huh? This could be the greatest night of our lives, but you’re gonna let it be the worst. “Ooh, we’re afraid to go with you Bluto, we might get in trouble.” Well just kiss my ass from now on! Not me! I’m not gonna take this. Wormer, he’s a dead man! Marmalard, dead! Niedermeyer…
Otter: Dead! Bluto’s right. Psychotic… but absolutely right. We gotta take these bastards. Now we could do it with conventional weapons, but that could take years and cost millions of lives. No, I think we have to go all out. I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part!
Bluto: We’re just the guys to do it.
D-Day: [stands up] Yeah, I agree. Let’s go get ’em.
Boon: Let’s do it.
Bluto: [shouting] “Let’s do it”!
[all of the Deltas stand up and run out with Bluto]
What really surprised the suits at IMS and the lynch mob of owners was the vitriol directed towards them after IMS gave Randy Bernard his walking papers.  As seen above, the Deltas never gave up after their frat house was closed.  In fact, the fans are very much like Bluto giving his impassioned speech about not giving up “when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor” – we may not know what really went on or what we are really talking about, but we damn sure know that something is not right.  IMS and the owners are discovering that IndyCar fans are passionate, and passion causes emotional responses.  Even stupid ones.
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[the Deltas have been expelled]
Bluto: Christ. Seven years of college down the drain. Might as well join the          f – – – ing Peace Corps.
Not only is Bluto a powerful speaker (when he finally speaks), he seems pretty self-aware.  In fact, he sounds like the many fans on Twitter, Speed.com, and the message boards washing their hands of IndyCar racing because of Randy Bernard’s dismissal, which long time fans see as just another example of what ails the sport.  The fans may come back, but the hard-core, long-time followers of the sport are tired of having their hearts broken.  They are emotionally spent.  Instead of the Peace Corps, they might as well just start following NASCAR or (gulp) F1.
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Otter: Point of parliamentary procedure!
Hoover: Don’t screw around, they’re serious this time!
Otter: Take it easy, I’m pre-law.
Boon: I thought you were pre-med.
Otter: What’s the difference?
[Addressing the room]
Otter: Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll be brief. The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules, or took a few liberties with our female party guests – we did.
[winks at Dean Wormer]
Otter: But you can’t hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn’t we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn’t this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Greg – isn’t this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we’re not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America. Gentlemen!
[Leads the Deltas out of the hearing, all humming the Star-Spangled Banner]
I can never get through one of these movie comparisons without a connection to Robin Miller.  I really like the fact that he cares so deeply about the series.  I really like the fact that he uses his bully pulpit to shine a light on the prevarications and outright lies that the fans are expected to take as gospel.  I really like the fact that he will name names and demand accountability.  And I really like the fact that he sounds just like the IndyCar peeps I have coffee with on Saturday mornings.  His spelling, grammar, and syntax may not be perfect, but just like Otter in his speech defending the Deltas, his epistles are heartfelt, even if you don’t agree with his perspectives.  We need more bombastic speeches!
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D-Day: Hey, quit your blubberin’. When I get through with this baby you won’t even recognize it.
Otter: Flounder, you can’t spend your whole life worrying about your mistakes! You  f – – – ed up. You trusted us! Hey, make the best of it! Maybe we can help.
Flounder: [crying] That’s easy for you to say! What am I going to tell Fred?
Otter: I’ll tell you what. We’ll tell Fred you were doing a great job taking care of his car, but you parked it out back last night and this morning… it was gone. We report it as stolen to the police. D-Day takes care of the wreck. Your brother’s insurance company buys him a new car.
Flounder: Will that work?
Otter: Hey, it’s gotta work better than the truth.
Bluto: [thrusting six-pack into Flounder’s hands] My advice to you is to start drinking heavily.
Otter: Better listen to him, Flounder, he’s in pre-med.
D-Day: [firing up blow-torch] There you go now, just leave everything to me.
Poor Randy Bernard.  He came into the IndyCar “family” assuming people were all pulling in the same direction.  I’m sure he thought if he had good ideas and a pure heart, then the paddock would get behind him for the betterment of the series.  At least he would have the support of his “friends” on the board if he met resistance.  Oops.  Just like Flounder, he made the mistake of trusting his “friends.”  Just like Flounder’s “friends” reporting his car stolen, Bernard’s friends will just put out a little press release that will take care of everything.  “It’s gotta work better than the truth.”  Live and learn, Randy.
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[Dean Wormer’s plotting to get rid of Delta House]
Greg Marmalard: But Delta’s already on probation.
Dean Vernon Wormer: They are? Well, as of this moment, they’re on DOUBLE SECRET PROBATION!
Once again, poor Randy Bernard.  I’ve had difficulty deciding which character best represents him.  Is he Flounder trusting his friends, or is he Hoover, the president of Delta house?  Maybe Hoover is a better connection.  It fits if you assume that Dean Wormer is Jeff Belklus and that Greg Marmalard represents the owners going around Bernard to hamstring him.  He was on double secret probation and never even knew it.  Henry Kissinger once said “University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.”  As IndyCar’s value plummets, the politics will only get more vicious.
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Mayor Carmine De Pasto: If you want this year’s homecoming parade in my town, you have to pay for it.
Dean Vernon Wormer: Carmine, I don’t think it’s right that you should extort money from the college.
Mayor Carmine De Pasto: Look, these parades you throw are very expensive. You using my police, my sanitation people, and my Oldsmobiles free of charge. So, if you mention extortion again, I’ll have your legs broken.
Even though I’ve pointedly put Jeff Belklus at the epicenter of all that was wrong with the removal of Randy Bernard, there’s a power above him at IMS.  The Hulman-George family had the power to support Bernard or not.  They didn’t.  In the movie, the only one who outranked Dean Wormer was Mayor Carmine DePasto.  When Wormer complained about being extorted, DePasto let him know where the real power was.  It’s guaranteed that Jeff Belklus was acting on orders from the board.  They might not have broken his legs, but they could sure take them out from under him.  Power may corrupt, but it’s still power.  There are no clean hands in this IndyCar saga.
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Chip: [being spanked as part of Omega’s initiation] Thank you, sir! May I have another?
Chip, one of the Omega pledges, has to continue to accept the degradation that goes with being a member of the Omegas.  He not only has to endure a beating, he has to ask for it to continue.  That is how INDYCAR, with its current and most likely future management, expects the fans to behave.  The fans will want to join the IndyCar frat.  The fans will want to accept whatever it offers.  The fans will ask the leaders to continue to punish them.  This misguided perspective on the fans’ loyalty is what has driven, and continues to drive, fans away from the series.  INDYCAR, just like the Omegas, think their club is so special that its important to keep people out of it.  They forget that the majority of the fans are GDI’s (God Damn Independents).
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The real difference between Animal House and the recent events at INDYCAR is simple.  Animal House was intended to be a comedy.  INDYCAR is a serious business that has become a joke.

Enter Yosemite Sam

My youth was measured out in Saturday morning TV shows.  It was a time before cable television and 24-hour channels that show nothing but food, sports, fashion, gardening, and cartoons.  Delayed gratification was the norm not the exception.  Things happened when they happened, and there was a good chance you had no idea of the time-table for any event.  If you wanted to see your favorite cartoon, you had to wait until Saturday morning.  And that’s not all bad.  It meant you had other things to do until that time.  And wait I did for the greatest cartoons of all time: the Warner Brothers productions of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies directed by Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng of the the 1950’s and 60’s.  After Randy Bernard presented the new schedule on Speed with the ensuing spewage of opinions in response, after Pete Pistone at MRN suggested that IndyCar do everyone a favor and die, and after the Sports Business Journal dredged the old rumor of a takeover bid, I just had to get my mind right by watching some old cartoons.  I was sure Bugs Bunny, Wile E. Coyote, Daffy Duck, and Foghorn Leghorn could take my mind off the never-ending drama of IndyCar.  I was wrong.  As I watched, the cartoon characters morphed into the players in the incessant internecine battle that is IndyCar.  So here they are folks, your Looney Tunes IndyCar comparisons.  And has the name Looney Tunes ever been more apropos than it is here?  To put you in the mood, here’s the song and dance introduction to the Bugs Bunny Show.  You’re welcome.

Yosemite Sam – Old Yosemite Sam is always after Bugs Bunny and just can’t seem to get out of his own way.  His plans always backfire on him.  Yosemite Sam is IndyCar.  He makes a lot of noise but always ends up shooting himself in the foot.  That’s IndyCar right now.  Sam just knows he’s the smartest, best-looking, and most desirable person on the planet, but no one else will believe him.  Bugs eludes him, just like the ratings and respect elude IndyCar.  Just like IndyCar with the “fastest and most versatile drivers in the world,” nobody seems to pay attention when Sam says he’s “the roughinest, toughinest, rootinest, tootinest, bobtailed wildcat north, south, east or west of the Pecos!”  The big difference here is Sam is just bragging.  IndyCar can back it up.

Foghorn Leghorn – Good old Foghorn with his homespun insults and country philosophy always makes me smile.  As the big daddy rooster in the barnyard, he sets the rules and enforces them.  He punishes the Barnyard Dawg with impunity and offers guidance to Henery Hawk and Miss Prissy’s son Egghead, Jr, not always with the intended consequences.  The connection is obvious.  Foghorn Leghorn is Beaux Barfield laying down the law to the Indy paddock.  Some of you may remember his Twitter  profile before he changed it reading “If it has wheels I’ll ride it, drive it, fix it, or f— it up.”  Now THAT’S barnyard.  Foghorn is always complaining that people don’t listen to him or do what he says.  That’s just like Beaux talking at a drivers’ meeting.  Don’t believe me?  Just watch this clip and imagine Beaux telling it like it is about his drivers.

Bugs Bunny – Bugs is the coolest character there is; he’s unflappable.  Who’s the coolest character in IndyCar?  That would be James Hinchcliff.    Nothing bothers him.  He is media savvy and willing to cut up in public.  All he needs is a carrot in a cigarette case and to open every interview with “What’s up, doc?”  Just like Bugs, Hinch is one smooth customer.

Porky Pig – Chip Ganassi.  Need I explain it?

Daffy Duck – Daffy is full of hare-brained schemes.  He sees a situation and immediately makes it worse.  He tries and tries to be relevant, but just can’t quite pull it off.  Daffy is Robin Miller.  With that said, Robin Miller is one of the very few journalists who covers IndyCar full-time.  But just like Daffy, you never quite know what you are going to get.  Recently, Robin opined about the cult of negativity surrounding IndyCar.  Here’s a very quick, never-before-seen video of RM taking the negative people surrounding IndyCar to task.  Daffy Duck, indeed.

The Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote – Poor Wile E. Coyote.  He never eats.  His gaunt figure literally haunts these cartoons.  No matter what Acme anvils, Triple Strength Fortified Leg Muscle Vitamins, or Tornado Seeds he throws at the Road Runner, he just can’t win.  But give old Wile E. credit.  He keeps trying.  Isn’t it obvious?  Wile E. Coyote is Tony George.  He wants to put an end to Randy Bernard, but just can’t quite get it done.  The Acme Rocket Roller Skates just zoom him right off the cliff.  And Randy Bernard is just as obviously the Road Runner.  Every trick in Tony George’s book just can’t quite do him in.  He’s dodged all the boulders and earthquake pills – in the form of rumors, secret meetings, and innuendo – that Wile E. Tony can throw at him.  As long as he as he has feet under him, Road Runner Randy will just twinkle his toes, stick out his tongue, and say “Beep beep.”  The only difference is we know how the cartoon turns out every time.  I just hope our Indy Road Runner always survives the schemes of his cartoonish nemesis.

I’m sure I’m missing a few connections. I always do.  Please feel to point them out to me.  Until next time, I leave you with this.

As the Firestone turns: why this and why now?

It’s an understatement to say that I was surprised when Gordon Kirby of MotorSport quoted  Bridgestone/Firestone Racing’s Al Speyer discussing the rumor that INDYCAR had already reached an agreement with another tire company to supply the racing rubber for INDYCAR when Firestone’s contract expires after the 2014 season (see here).  The silly season always seems to spawn crazy rumors, but to have them voiced by Al Speyer caught me off guard.  Whether it’s real or not is secondary to the fact that Al Speyer thinks it’s real.  That’s news.

Robin Miller at Speed.com got a response (sort of ) from INDYCAR (see here) that did nothing to quell the rumor.  INDYCAR issued a statement from Randy Bernard that was standard business-speak.  Basically, it said the contract is up in 2014, and Firestone is one of the suppliers to whom they will talk.  It should be noted that Randy Bernard is almost always willing to go on the record with Robin Miller and other journalists.  That press release was done to prevent any off-message comment.  It was cold and calculated.  Something’s up.

Al Speyer and Bridgestone/Firestone played a very public game of hardball in 2011.  They wanted more money to keep supplying the series.  I have no problem with that.  The R.O.I. (return on investment) of being the sole supplier of IndyCar had most certainly suffered as IndyCar’s TV ratings lagged.  In other words, Bridgestone/Firestone had leverage and used it.  That’s business.  The fact is that IndyCar as a series is secondary in value to the Indianapolis 500.  Firestone gets more mileage (sorry) from the iconic “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” than they do from all the other races in the series.  And they got a little fat and sassy.  Working leverage can do that to you.  Once you win, you assume you will always win.

And Firestone still has leverage, which Al Speyer has already started to use to bend INDYCAR to its will.  We are going to hear a few things in the near future:

  • Firestone is safe.  That’s true.  They have not had a catastrophic failure at a superspeedway.  NOTHING should trump the safety of the drivers.
  • The teams are happy with the tires.  They are not real happy with IndyCar or Firestone in regards to the cost of the tires, though.  The teams accepted the cost because the tire is great.
  • The drivers are happy with the tires.  They don’t fail at speed.  If you were a driver what tire would you want?
  • Firestone has a 100 year history with the Indy 500.  They are a good corporate partner and a brand that is as iconic as the Indianapolis 500.   The 500 is a very valuable asset.

I can guarantee your that the blogs, forums, and Twitter will absolutely BLOW UP over this.  Randy Bernard will be crucified and excoriated over something that hasn’t happened yet.  In other words, it will be business as usual.  But it does beg the question: why would Randy Bernard and INDYCAR consider dumping Firestone as the tire supplier for the IZOD IndyCar Series?  Randy Bernard reminds me of coach Norman Dale in Hoosiers when the character of Opal Fleener tells him, “Sun don’t shine on the same dog’s ass everyday, but mister, you ain’t seen a ray of light since you got here.”  That’s Randy Bernard.  He didn’t have the right pedigree in racing.  He personally promoted a race that ended in tragedy.  He has endured a rebellion of owners that would cause most people to get the hell out of town.  A tweet of his started a firestorm.  His schedule fell apart in mid-season, as did the track in Detroit.  Is this another gaffe?  I think we are going to meet a different Randy Bernard here.  Just like Norman Dale in Hoosiers, nobody is going to “hide-strap (his) ass to a pine rail and send (him) up the Monon Line!”

I can see no benefit to playing hard ball with Firestone to get a better deal, particularly playing hard ball in public.  Firestone, with Al Speyer, knows something is afoot.  Losing the Indy 500 would be losing face for a Japanese company.  They want Indy.  They want iconic.  That’s why they went on the PR offensive.  So what’s up?  It just doesn’t make sense for INDYCAR to dump Firestone to save the owners some money.  The bad PR on that is not worth it, nor is the safety risk.  Here’s my take: Randy Bernard has a BIG ace up his sleeve, just like a cowboy sitting in some Western saloon.  I think Randy Bernard and INDYCAR have a tire supplier who wants to make a big splash.  IZOD wants out of IndyCar and is stuck with a contract to sponsor the IZOD IndyCar Series.  My completely uninformed conjecture is that a tire manufacturer is waiting to not only provide the series with racing tires, but to become the title sponsor of the IndyCar Series.  The ancillary benefit to this manufacturer is that little race at 16th and Georgetown and the history and credibility that comes with it.  Maybe Randy Bernard is preparing to screw the pooch on this.  Maybe he is looking for an exit strategy where the board at IMS has no choice but to fire him.  I don’t think so.  I think he is ready to go all-in on his biggest bet as the CEO of INDYCAR.  Would INDYCAR dump the safety, reliability, and history of Firestone to secure the long-term viability of the series?  Would they be willing to weather the firestorm of criticism that would surely follow such a decision?  In the culture of corporate America, does money trump everything else?  We know the answers, don’t we.

Ten Worthless Opinions – MavTV 500 IndyCar Championships Edition

I really don’t know if I can condense the action from the MavTV 500 IndyCar Championships to just ten WO’s (worthless opinions).  There were retirements, new contracts, an American series champion, awkwardness, and a race winner who was roundly ignored by everybody.  It’s IndyCar at its best.  Here we go.

1.  What a race.  If you watched it, then you don’t need me to explain it.  If you didn’t, then you need to read Curt Cavin’s Indy Star article here.  Or read John Oreovicz’s ESPN.com article here.  Or Jenna Fryer’s AP article here.  They have the quotes and insights.  I just make stuff up.  I was on the edge of my seat and sweating trying to do math in my head to figure out what Ryan Hunter-Reay needed to do to be the first American champion of this iconically American series since 2006.  Robin Miller will tell us that’s a good thing because of fan interest.  I will tell you it’s a good thing because of the racing.  After a desultory first 200 miles, all hell broke loose when Will Power, who only had to keep pace with Hunter-Reay to finally win the championship, spun into the wall and opened the door for Hunter-Reay to go from journeyman to champion.  The rest of the race was a story problem from 7th grade algebra.  “Solve for x, where x is the place a driver needs to finish to score enough points to beat his closest rival.”  The math made my head hurt, so I let NBC Sports do it for me.  Unfortunately, all NBC Sports wanted to talk about was the championship.  It was still a race, and the drivers competing to win it should have been recognized a little.  Just my opinion.  And it’s likely Ed Carpenter’s opinion, too.

2.  As reported by the AP’s Jenna Fryer on Twitter, Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske both have come to the startling conclusion that there may be something wrong with the owners’  perspectives.  There has to be a back story here.  Comments about the owners not seeing the “big picture” and worrying about the parts prices instead of “building the series” were mentioned.  There is a plot afoot.  Something is about to happen.  Stay tuned.  Roger and Chip never say anything that does not in some way point to their self-interest.

3.  I will miss Bob Jenkins in the booth.  NBC Sports, and I assume IMS productions, put together a stellar retrospective of his career as an announcer.  When I think about a race, I think about it in Bob Jenkins’ voice.  Here’s to you, Bob.  Vaya con Dios, mi amigo.

4.  Mike Conway stepped out of AJ Foyt’s car because he was spooked by oval racing.  What impressed me most is the support he received from the driving fraternity.  It’s a dangerous business and nobody understands it better than the drivers who risk their lives weekly in pursuit of winning.  IndyCar drivers are a special, and rare, breed, and I have immense respect for what they do.  I get spooked at 80 mph on the interstate.  I cannot imagine hanging on in a corner at 200 mph.

5.  Did anyone else notice the crowd behind Kevin Lee’s gear-like structure in the pre-race?  They were excited!  Of course, they were excited because someone was throwing free t-shirts to them for making noise.  Here’s a hint, NBC Sports.  Don’t throw them so high that the viewers can see them on TV.  You want us to believe that the crowd is cheering for IndyCar, Kevin Lee, and the guests, not their own self-interest.  Remember, the Wizard of Oz was successful only when he stayed behind the curtain.  As always, this advice is a free service from New Track Record.  I am available for consultation.

6.  Does NBC Sports talk in production meetings about how to make Robin Miller look like a clown?  Would he wear a red nose and floppy shoes if they paid him enough?  On the pre-race, the broadcast team sat perched high on their chairs.  All except Robin Miller.  His chair was at least a foot lower than all the others.  It was entertaining to watch him try to raise it.  He failed to do so.  The sad part of this is that RM is aces when it comes to series info and gossip.  His quick overview of the silly season possibilities of drivers and teams was spot on.  Viewers need that information.  The grid run, as always, was an afterthought.  Add Marty “The Shit Stirrer” Snider to it.  If NBC sports is going to show the segment, then they should at least plan the segment.  It’s embarrassing.

7.  I say this every week, but Jon Beekhuis adds tremendous value to the broadcasts.  He not only talks, he thinks.  His “Professor B” segments tell me things I don’t know.

8.  I am warming to Ryan Hunter-Reay.  His openness talking about chasing the championship was refreshing.  Yes, he mentions his sponsors and team, but he also has his emotions right there for us to see.  When he got out of the car at the end of the race, he did not have a speech prepared.  He was moved by the moment, and we saw an honest reaction.  He’s a little wooden and a little awkward.  And that’s OK.  I like my heroes to be human.  Plus, he remained loyal to Andretti Motorsport by signing a contract extension.  I think I like that.

9.  Sometime in the near future, Will Power will be as classy a champion as he is a runner-up.  His responses last night after losing the championship in a gut-wrenching fashion just oozed class.  He allowed the fans to see the rawness of the moment.  He shared his bitterest disappointment with the world.  I seem to remember rather churlish behavior from the tin top drivers in similar circumstances.  Will Power is just another reason to like IndyCar.

10.  I will end with a shout-out to Ed Carpenter for a great win last night (called by Robin Miller).  Ed’s an oval driver.  Period.  He’s a hometown Indy guy with an Indiana sponsor who deserved to be celebrated for his win at Fontana.  And he was an afterthought to Ryan Hunter-Reay in the post-race activities.  I hope ECR decides to team up with either another car or another driver (Hey, Mike Conway) to be competitive on all the circuits next year.  The new Dallara has opened the door for the small teams to win.  It’s another reason to like IndyCar.

New Track Record’s WO’s (worthless opinions) are in the bag for 2012.  Just like the new Dallara, they were designed to be quick, functional, and used in the IndyCar Series.  I will likely hold them in abeyance until the start of the 2013 season.  But, thanks to the relative dysfunction of owners, drivers, series officials, and fans, I will have plenty to write about until then.

The IMS Garage Sale

I’m not normally reactionary.  I’ll tell a few jokes, make a few oddball connections, and generally cheerlead for the IZOD IndyCar Series.  You don’t come here for news or in-depth commentary.  Basically, I just try to be entertaining.  But occasionally I have a laser-like flash of insight; I suddenly see the future with uncanny clarity.  And I absolutely hate that this insight, this clarity, was inspired by Robin Miller.

On the Sunday, August 19 edition of Speed TV’s Wind Tunnel, a sport coat wearing Robin Miller was co-hosting and gave voice to the rumor that a few series owners were planning/conspiring to purchase the IndyCar series from IMS.  If anyone actually read this blog, I might take credit for starting the rumor that IndyCar was for sale.  Just scroll down to last week’s post, “IndyCar’s Endless Summer,” and read the “God Only Knows” section.  Sure, I suggested that NASCAR would be the deep pockets that would step up and take this slightly used series off IMS’s hands, but this sounds like a variation on a theme.  The big question is whether IMS would really sell the series.

Let’s make a list of the pros and cons, shall we?

Reasons for IMS to sell the IndyCar Series

  • The series is a giant sucking chest wound.  The patient is alive, but on life support.
  • The “family” at IMS probably doesn’t like to see their inheritances spent on a series that only gives them headaches.  Keep the kids happy.
  • No owners, engine manufacturers, chassis fabricators, series sponsors, series TV contracts, or series CEO’s will be a major concern again.  Ever.
  • It doesn’t matter who runs the series.  The Indy 500 will always be a bucket list event and make money.  Always.
  • IMS becomes the good guy again.  They don’t have to hire, fire, or defend a series boss.  Got a bitch?  Tell the guys in charge of the series.  We’re just the promoters.
  • IMS has positioned itself as a summer-long palace of racing.  They make money on every event.  Guaranteed.
  • The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is iconic.  The IZOD IndyCar Series is not.  Trade on the big name.
  • The IZOD IndyCar Series is a used car that needs new tires and is leaking oil.  That pesky “Check Engine ” light is on, too.  Some sucker will want to buy it, though.  I assume IMS will make them a whale of a deal, probably “30 Days Same as Cash.”

Reasons for IMS to keep the IndyCar Series

  • Tony George still wants to be like the Frances.
  • Power and authority never go out of style.
  • If you are one of the 1%, you can throw money away.
  • I will gladly post others if you think of them.

I really tried to find solid reasons for IMS to keep ownership of the series.  I just can’t come up with any.  IMS selling IndyCar makes incredible sense in this economy.  The only suitors out there are NASCAR, who would marginalize the series, or the current car owners, who would take it down the same trail they traveled before.  Someone can come in and look like a white knight rescuing the damsel in distress.  The new owners just need to remember that beauty is only skin deep.  Ugly goes all the way to the bone.  Anyone want to buy a used series?  I think IMS is in the market.

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