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Millennials and the future of auto racing

Imagine a future where the whole concept of a car culture shifts.  A future where the youth of America are not overly concerned about muscle cars like the 60’s and 70’s or the rolling status symbols of the 80’s and 90’s.  A future where youth culture is concerned about environmental issues like CO² emissions, climate change, and the depletion of fossil fuels.  And don’t forget about a future where technology rules and everything is “on demand.”  Now imagine how that all gets rolled into the auto racing fans of the future.  Those fans, better known as Millennials¹, are here now.

Crusty old Bernie Ecclestone at F1 has made it clear that he, and by extension F1, are not interested in creating new fans since young people do not have any money.  Bernie has always used himself as F1’s target audience; he’s only interested in other rich guys.  So while he is waiting for all those types to spring into existence, he has alienated his European promoters and allowed his teams to sink under the weight of enormous costs.  Over at NASCAR, the one-time American racing bully and its partners have been pulling seats from all of their tracks to make tickets more elite.  Well-managed but sometimes tone-deaf, the series is slowly moving away from the mainstream and back to its guns, camouflage, and beer Southern roots.  Nothing wrong with that at all.  They know their core audience and go after it hard.

All of this begs the following question: Is auto racing too expensive and elite as in F1 or too rural and redneck as in NASCAR for the Millennials to follow?  Whatever series captures this demographic while simultaneously keeping their own core fans will be the one to assert their dominance.

It would seem Formula E would have an edge here.  This electronic series, described as having forklift motors and Formula Ford chassis with bad tires, certainly checks some boxes of the Millennials: it’s green, technologically relevant, and cool.  The racing, while slow and quiet, is really pretty competitive when you get past the lack of sound and speed.  The fact is that Millennials might not know the difference.  Plus, they have some big name sponsorship with BMW, DHL, Michelin, TAG Heuer, and Qualcomm.  What series wouldn’t want that?  What it does not have is an existing core fan base.  It’s starting from scratch.

Which brings us to the Verizon IndyCar Series.  This is the series best positioned to connect young fans to old fans and begin its ascent to greater popularity.  The series certainly brings a rabid, albeit small, fan base.  Unlike F1, it is not sinking under he weight of outrageous cost.  The argument can be made that it was sinking under the weight of less-than-stellar management.  No longer.  Technology giant Verizon markets the phones and data that Millennials desire.  That checks another box.  The racing is superb, which trumps the slo-mo action on the Formula E circuit.  The Verizon IndyCar Series’ willingness to race on any type of circuit gets it into places that F1 and NASCAR cannot go: city centers.  IndyCar can bridge the past to the future.

Need more?  The introduction of the new aero kits has been big news from the non-traditional media as well as the racing media.  Articles appeared in Wired, The Verve,, Fox News, USA Today, and Jalopnik.  Okay, Jalopnik is a car site but it’s not a racing site.  The article there is outstanding.  IndyCar has some buzz going on about things that are not the bad news of recent years or Indy 500-centric.  Just as yellow flags breed more yellow flags in a race, good coverage breeds more good coverage in the media.  At least IndyCar fans hope that is true.

IndyCar promoters should look to the Indy 500 and IMS for lessons on how to hook Millennials while keeping their core fans.  At the corporate Snake Pit in the infield at the 500 this year, Millennials will pulse to the beat of world-class EDM (electronic dance music) DJ Kaskade.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t know who this is.  The Millennials do.  And it matters if you want to hook them.  Can you imagine this at Daytona?  IMS caters to its other demographics with rock and roll on Carb Day and a top flight country show on Saturday.  This stuff matters!  If a race fan doesn’t care about it, great.  Just go to the race.  You are an important demographic, too.  Quit being so stuffy about it all.

The ascension of the Verizon IndyCar Series is under way.  Real business people are running the show, real research is being done, and they have a real product to sell.  As the character of Penny Lane explains so well in the Cameron Crowe movie Almost Famous, “It’s all happening.”  Be there or be square.


¹ Millennials are the demographic group following Generation X.  Birth years of this group range from the early 1980s to the early 2000s.  These are the coveted money spenders of the future.

Ten Worthless Opinions – (Sponsor Name Here) Edmonton Indy Edition

After such a great race in Edmonton, Alberta, it was discouraging to hear talk of the race not coming back due to sponsorship difficulties.  The talk seems to center around local engagement and activation.  Nothing a title sponsor can’t solve.  What does it take to get the folks from Medicine Hat, Okotoks, Wetaskiwin, Athabasca, Waskastenau, Atikameg, Ponoka, and Sexsmith to fully engage?  OK, judging by the name, maybe the folks at Sexsmith are busy with other activities.  This was a fantastic race.  C’mon, local Canadian populace, you can’t just fish and drink beer all summer.  With the oil business at the center of Edmonton commerce, you would think local connections would flourish.  That’s why this week’s title is (Sponsor Name Here) Edmonton Indy Edition.  I’m willing to do my small part to help recruit sponsorship.  Here are this week’s WO’s (worthless opinions).

1.  I thought I would familiarize myself with Edmonton by taking out my atlas and HOLY SMOKES, EDMONTON IS IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE!  I grew up in a small Indiana town (Shirley) and thought it was the middle of nowhere, but now I know how wrong I was.  I can only assume the winters at this northern latitude are brutal, and the summers are plagued by giant biting flies.  Am I wrong?  I can see why a title sponsor is difficult to find.  Bad economy, wrong location (notice I did not say “bad location”), and low TV ratings may doom this race.  And that’s too bad; the racing was excellent.  Speaking of races, Randy Bernard is still adamant on 19 races while reports suggest that some owners are happy where they are and don’t have the money to expand to 19.  Sometimes I just shake my head at the dysfunction in the IndyCar family.  I think they all need therapy.  As a fan, I know I do.

2.  The teams complained about the long drive.  What’s the payoff for them?  Are they going to excite their sponsors with hospitality in Edmonton?  Sadly, there is no compelling reason for owners, teams, and sponsors to go to Alberta, Canada.  The Calgary Stampede does draw a huge crowd, though.  Hmm.  Maybe Randy Bernard can use his rodeo connections to combine the Stampede and the (Sponsor Name Here) Edmonton Indy race.  I’m an idea guy.  Just one of the many services offered here at New Track Record.

3.  Is it my imagination, or is NBC Sports tweaking the pre-race a little?  The giant gear that serves as Kevin Lee’s pre-race perch was missing.  That was probably a cost containment move, though.  Again, the costs to go to Edmonton are enormous, and does NBC Sports really need that piece of modern art and the wranglers that go with it?  It will be interesting to see if it continues to show up at other races.  NBC Sports cutting an already low-budget presentation is not good news.

4.  Robin Miller has been marginalized as an in-race reporter.  His schtick is the grid run.  He even has his own cartoon graphic now.  He’s NBC Sports version of Fox Sports’ Digger.  Here’s my idea.  Create a college-type mascot of Robin Miller.  He can parade up and down pit row in his suit with the Firehawk.  They can even play little tricks on each other.  With the quality of the questions he’s asking in the grid run now, the mascots vow of silence can only be a benefit to the viewer.

5.  What’s up with Marty Snider?  He went from a pretty good pit reporter to a shit-stirrer.  Pre-race, he tried to get Sebastien Bourdais to comment on Charlie Kimball from last week, even asking if an apology was offered.  Post-race, he tried to get Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power in a dust-up about Power’s alleged chopping of RHR while exiting the pits.  He also tried to get Helio Castoneves to comment on last year’s penalty.  It seemed contrived.  Is some faceless producer trying to spice things up?  Is NBC Sports trying to create some soap opera controversy?  I can’t blame NBC for trying to start things.  Ratings rule.  Let’s see if this continues.

6.  It was nice to hear Simon Pagenaud tell us that his run-in with Josef Newgarden at Toronto was not really blocking.  It was just two moves (his and Newgarden’s) at almost the same time.  I’m reminded of the guy caught in the act asking his wife, “What are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”  I’ll stick with my own eyes, but thanks for asking, Simon.

7.  Push-to-pass, or PTP, seemed to work well.  NBC Sports showed a graphic that let the viewer know when PTP was in use and how many seconds were left.  It had my interest in the last few laps as Takuma Sato tried to overtake Helio Castroneves.  In other words, it engaged me.  Keep it.

8.  I did notice that IZOD used two different commercials, one with golfer Kevin Na and one with their normal set of models splashing fully clothed in the ocean.  Still no commercials using or connecting to IndyCar.  So long, IZOD.  It’s been good to know you.  I’ll miss buying your socks and pocketed T-shirts.  They have become my signatures.  And the Van Heusen commercials with Jerry Rice and Steve Young will also be gone since Van Heusen owns IZOD.  But before you go, can you do one commercial where Robin Miller is the “schlub.”   Please.

9.  I loved all the passing at the (Sponsor Name Here) Edmonton Indy and how NBC Sports continues to show the passes, both live and on replay.  This is how you keep your core fans engaged.  Show them racing.  Let Marty Snider titillate the casual fans with  gossip; show me the action.  And I agree NBC needs both because they need the viewers.  Whatever works.

10.  I love the IndyCar post-race interviews.  The NASCAR drivers are often surly and pissy.  The IndyCar drivers seem approachable and willing to sell the brand, both their own and the series.  Helio Castroneves bubbles over with emotion.  How can you not like him?  Alex Tagliani was gracious in defeat.  Takuma Sato was all smiles.  OK, Ryan Hunter-Reay was a little moody now that he expects to win every race, but I’ll give him a pass this time.

There you go.  I hope you found this week’s WO’s (worthless opinions) satisfying.  Hopefully, IndyCar finds itself back in Edmonton, Alberta next year with a title sponsor and plenty of insect repellent to keep those damn biting flies off.  In honor of our northern friends, I leave you with this famous paean to western Canada.  You’re welcome.

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