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The Indy 500 – Meet the new boss

I was 11 years old when I went to my first Indianapolis 500 in the late 1960’s.  As a kid from small town Indiana, the race and the track were mythic entities.  Only the special few got to attend it in person.  In lieu of going, you listened to Sid Collins on the radio.  That was special, too.  The race was a big moment.

I would like to say that I knew everything about the race, the track, and the drivers.  I didn’t.  I knew the names that rolled out of the radio because I read the Indianapolis News, an evening paper, every day.  I knew nothing of a series or other events.  Day dawned on May 1st and the sun set on May 30th.  Everything in between was the race.  It was enough for any kid.

The month consumed us.  Every newspaper wrote reams of copy and every local television station reported on the events of the day.  Radio stations had track reporters on site every day all month.  It was national news.

Attending the race for the first time, spending the night before on 16th Street, and witnessing my first bacchanalia opened my eyes to the fact that this was more than a race.  Today’s Carb Day is a pale imitation of the activities that happened overnight and in the Turn 1 Snakepit back then.  Even the party was better.

This is not a screed on how great the month of May was back then, even if it was.  This is to note that IMS and the Indianapolis 500 have their mojo back.  The old lady’s new party dress, topped off with the revamped upper deck in the front stretch is just the right touch for a new beginning.

After years of searching for a way to bring three weekends worth of action to the track, IMS finally found what they were looking for: the Angie’s List Grand Prix, a Saturday and Sunday of drama in qualifications, a sanctioned day of drunkenness with Carb Day, one of the biggest parades in America, a big concert on Saturday before the race, and a completely sold out Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.  This is as good of a show as there ever was.  When did Indy ever have this much action?

The hope, of course, is that the revival of the Indianapolis 500 will be a rising tide that will lift the listing ship of the Verizon IndyCar Series.  It has been written that the series as we know it would dissolve without the  race on Memorial Day weekend.  Agreed.  You could also say that life on earth as we know it would end without the sun.  The race, the family breadwinner in the IndyCar Series, will continue to be the sugar daddy.  The sun will continue to shine on the series.

The British rock band The Who sang, “Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss” in their song “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”  Well, meet the new Indianapolis 500, same as the old Indianapolis 500, and ready to once again take its place on the Mt. Rushmore of sporting events.  Where it belongs.

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The English Premiere League Indy 500 qualifying

One of the greatest advancements in televised sports in recent years is cable broadcasters falling in love with European sports.  All year, a fan of live sports can crawl out of bed, pour a cup of coffee, and without putting on pants, watch F1 racing, Wimbledon tennis, British Open golf, Tour de France cycling, and English Premiere League soccer.  Truly, my sports cup runneth over.

The Premiere League is particularly interesting since competition is vital at both the top and bottom of the standings, or table, as they say on the broadcasts.  Suddenly, there it was.  The Premiere League soccer season is almost identical to the new Indianapolis 500 qualifying format.  Let me explain.

To rebuild the waning interest in the month of May at Indy, the Speedway in recent years changed from a two weekend window for qualifying to a one weekend format.  Great choice.  The only problem was the car count was so small that the idea of Bump Day and its inherent drama of dreams granted or crushed was really not worth following on national television.  Audiences need action and drama, and hopefully, the new format supplies both.

In the Premiere League, there is no tourney.  Teams play all year to determine a pecking order for entry into other tourneys such as the Champions League and the Europa League.  At the bottom of the table, the three worst teams in the league are relegated, or bumped, into a a lower league while the champions of lower leagues are moved up.  It is just like the new format for the Indy 500.  Once you become acquainted with its esoteric nature (and qualifying at Indy has always been esoteric) you discover why it will work so well.

All day on the Saturday of qualification, the drivers will try to put themselves into the Fast Nine Shootout.  Just like the top teams in the Premiere League, you guarantee yourself a spot in those three rows.  And just like soccer teams playing games all season to put themselves into the Champions League tourney the next year, the drivers have multiple attempts to qualify to put themselves in those top nine spots.  In other words, the teams have great reasons to attempt multiple qualifying runs.  Good for fans in attendance and on TV.

One of the reasons the bottom of the Premiere League table is compelling is because teams are guaranteed a huge payday if they stay in the league.  The final games played by those teams determine if they stay in the league.  The pressure is huge.   Likewise, the bottom three of the Saturday qualifiers at Indy are not assured a spot in the show.  They have to come back on Sunday and go through possible bumping.  With 34 cars this year, that ramps up the pressure.

For the teams in the middle, the real urgency is Saturday, as they try to stay away from the bottom three or get into the top nine.  After that, the pressure on Sunday is not to make a mistake and take a position in row four or five and parlay it into a position in row nine or ten.  It is much easier to pass cars in qualifying at Indy instead of passing them in the race.  Again, Sunday is also a compelling day.  Add to all of this the ability to make multiple attempts without withdrawing your time, and you have the recipe for some sweet qualifying activity.

Still confused?  Check out this infographic courtesy of IMS that explains the whole process.  My only disappointment is that I can no longer compare the old Snake Pit denizens to the crazy fans in the Premiere League.  I miss those Indy hooligans.

 

 

Ten Worthless Opinions: Indianapolis 500 Race Fan Edition

How did the Indianapolis 500 start for a citizen journalist (read: blogger)?  I was up at 4:30 AM wrangling a household of relatives that included two from Greece, two from Virginia, and one from North Carolina.  Add to the mix my own young adult son and daughter plus a family friend.  I screamed, threatened, and cajoled until showers were taken, coolers were iced, and the van was packed so we could leave at 6:00 AM.  Drove 20 miles to rendezvous with friends only to find that I had forgotten the new North 40 parking pass that I purchased for them.  After formulating a new plan that required a split-second connection with my wife to get the parking pass, we left for the track.  It was 7:00 AM.  The difference between a real journalist and me is that I don’t relinquish being a fan to pretend to have objectivity.  I am a fan of the Indianapolis 500 first and foremost.  I saw the race live from our seats high in the Northeast Vista (Turn 3) and watched the replay on Memorial Day.   Here are my Ten Worthless Opinions: Indianapolis 500 Race Fan Edition.

1.  Hint to the brain trust at IMS:  If you plan to search every bag and cooler coming in the gates, it might be a good idea to add lines and employees to facilitate it.  I have absolutely no problem with security requiring these searches.  Safety first is always the correct mantra when dealing with large crowds today.  If IMS plans to make the fan experience the primary focus, then be aware that about 200,000 of your fans park outside the track.  The weather might have been part of why it was a late arriving crowd, but having security lines rivaling airport TSA at its worst just might have slowed down the fans, too.

2.  The fabled Yellow Shirts sure seemed to be spread much more thinly in the hinterland of the Northeast Vista, and they did not seem to have the zest for their jobs as the old-timers did.  Many staircases were closed and security was not as evident as in the past.  Cost cutting?  New guidelines?  The facility sure seemed to be much more bare-bones than usual.  When poachers took seats for which I paid, I could find no one nearby to settle the dispute.  Tension prevailed.  This did not enhance my experience.  Also, there were fewer concession stands open, and the ones that were seemed to have fewer offerings.  I hope all that money from the state of Indiana will upgrade more than lights and video boards.  The facility needs more than just cosmetic changes.  The fan experience is not what is was.

3.  Plenty of greatness ensued, too!  The pre-race flyover of the B-25 was aces.  Archbishop Joseph Tobin went a little long on the prayer, though.  After asking for God to bless the Indiana Pacers, I would not have been surprised if he said the prayer was brought to us by Verizon and IZOD.  He may want to dial it back a little next year.  Or just go ahead and sell commercial time.  Both work for me.  Also, Jim Nabors can still bring it.  Kudos.

4.  According to the gossips at the Indy Star, Randy Bernard was a special guest of Josie George, who is on the Hulman & Co. board of directors.  I LOVE politics.  I assume this is to be continued.

5.  Tony Kanaan!  What a popular winner.  All my thousands of new friends in Turn 3 agreed that he was most deserving.  Regular fans were crying in the stands.  It was very Lloyd Ruby-esque in that he is such a popular person and not just a great driver.  The story of his receiving the good luck necklace back from a girl he gave it to years ago was made-for-TV drama.  All hail TK!

Additionally, the NE Vista denizens gave a rousing Bronx cheer for Dario Franchitti when he was introduced.  While some may find him a little whiny, he has been nothing but a gracious 500 champion.  The NE Vista crowd is a surly lot.

6.  Kanaan’s win also brought up the ugly specter of IndyCar adding the reviled green-white-checkered finish to spice up the ending to attract more NASCAR fans.  Why else would they do it?  The casual IndyCar fan is not aware of GWC, and the majority of hard-core IndyCar fans do not want it.  The ONLY reason to do it is to attract the tin-top crowd since they are habituated to end-of-race carnage and bad behavior.  Don’t do it, IndyCar.

7.  Yes, IndyCar has spec racing.  Yes, IndyCar’s all look alike.  Yes, we need aero kits to separate and identify the cars.  With that said, how can anyone who watched the race complain about the racing?  For the first time in my four decades of watching the race live, I did not want to leave my seat for anything. There were 68 lead changes, breaking last year’s record of 34.  As a fan, you had to watch the cars come by you every single time or you missed a pass for the lead.  If ABC/ESPN and NBC Sports cannot find a way to promote this type of racing, then it’s on them.  There is no need to put lipstick on this pig.  Wow!

8.  One or two popular journalists decry that IndyCar has (gasp) pack racing, and it will surely lead to the end of auto racing and Western civilization.  I agree that the racing is awfully close, but the danger of pack racing with the old Dallara chassis lay in the fact that cars could not pass each other.  The new DW12, while not creating separation, not only allows passing but almost requires it.  Artificial it may be, but exciting it is.

9.  IMS is certainly looking to the future.  My tickets cost $80 and remain the same price for next year.  A section or two over the price increased from $85 to $100.  If you raise the price, the expectation of the level of service rises, too.  It will be interesting to see how the new bosses of IMS make this happen.  The ball, as well as the money, is in their court.

10.  Even though I watched live at the Speedway, I feel obligated to comment on the ABC/ESPN coverage.  The pre-race storylines, particularly the Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves segment, were prescient.  Lindsay Czarniak is quite the upgrade, too.  She may have been a little too reverent for my taste, but she gets auto racing and its personalities.  The camera work around the track and the super slow motion shots are beyond cool.  Now, I am sure that the trio of Marty Reid, Scott Goodyear, and Eddie Cheever are wonderful people.  They are probably active in their communities and coach their children’s youth league teams.  But their somnolent tones and torpid delivery make you forget that the race is so freaking exciting.  Can they take some classes?  Wake up!  Make me sit on the edge of my seat.  Make the race so exciting that I have to tune in, not next year, but next week.

The post-race celebration and libations with friends and family capped off another fabulous month of May.  I am reminded of the liner notes from Jimmy Buffett’s  Son of a Son of a Sailor.  He used a quote from Robert Wilder’s Wind From the Carolinas that sums of my month of May every year:

“There had been a time when the settlement had made a profitable living from the wreckage of ships, either through the changing of lights or connivance with an unscrupulous captain…

There would be a time of riotous living with most of the community drunk and wandering about in an aimless daze until the purchased rum was gone.  After that the residents sat moodily in the sun and waited for something to happen.”

Now if you’ll excuse me,  I need to go sit moodily in the sun until next May.

 

The Indianapolis 500: iconic is more than a word

An icon is someone of something regarded as a representative symbol of something.  It is fair to say that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 are icons of auto racing.  Oh, other tracks like Le Mans and Daytona can lay claim to this iconic status, but primarily as icons of types of racing like sports cars and stock cars.  Even though Indy is open wheel racing, it has always been the track and the race most associated with racing in general.  Other tracks and series will not agree, but it is a fact.

Certain names, dates, phrases, and activities become associated with anything that rises to iconic status, and IMS and the Indianapolis 500 are no different.  Allow me to present a short list of the iconography of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

  • The Brickyard: Go ahead, name another track whose nickname is as famous as its real name.  Can’t do it, can you?  Only the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has a moniker with such a great backstory.  According to the Speedway, 3.2 million bricks were used to pave the track in 1909.  Iconic, indeed.
  • Speedway, Indiana:  There are many famous tracks named after the town where they are located.  IMS has a town named after the track.  Now THAT’S a return address to have on your mail.  Eat your heart out Talladega.
  • Memorial Day: How can you not love a holiday sporting event that NEVER forgets the holiday on which it races.  IMS honors the military with fly-overs and an always emotional rendition of “Taps.”  I’m crying as I write this and will cry again on Race Day.  Thank you for remembering our veterans, IMS.  And thank you to our veterans for serving.
  • Time Trials:  Any other race has “qualifications.”  At Indy we have Time Trials.  I can picture men in suits wearing fedoras and skimmers reading their hand-wound stop watches to figure lap speeds.  The name screams history.
  • Bump Day: Only at Indy do you have a name for another day of qualifying.  It’s agreed that Bump Day has lost some of its luster since there are no longer enough cars to bump anyone from the field, but the concept is still cool.  I will hate to see it go, but economics and the lack of action may doom it.
  • Carb Day:  Where else but at an iconic facility do you have a practice session named after a piece of technology that is no longer used in the race.  At least the deep thinkers at IMS were smart enough to move this day from Thursday to Friday to increase crowds and encourage heavier drinking.  And wasn’t Poison, this year’s Carb Day band, around when the cars were still running carburetors?
  • Snake Pit: The Indianapolis 500 has a LONG history of heavy drinking and bad behavior, and the Turn 1 infield area known as the Snake Pit was the epicenter for all of it.  It got so bad in the 70’s and 80’s that Tony George felt compelled to get rid of it to help make the 500 more family friendly.  Who needs an extra 20, 000 fans anyway?  I do admire IMS for resurrecting the concept with their own corporate version appealing to the twenty somethings that they already had on a yearly basis in Turn 1 before they cleaned it up.
  • 11 Rows of 3:  Some things never need to change and this is one of them.  Anyone who says 33 is just a number is either a casual fan or just doesn’t get it.  This is what makes Indy special.  If you have never seen 11 rows of 3 roll down the front straight at Indy into Turn 1 in person, then, as Al Unser Jr. said,  “You just don’t know what Indy means.”
  • The Pagoda: The scoring tower at IMS has always been called the Pagoda and has twice actually looked like one.  When you see the current version in film or in pictures, you do not have to ask where it is.  You know.  That’s iconic.
  • The Wing and Wheel:  Indy’s logo has been around as long as the bricks have.  You don’t change history.  The Wing and Wheel is a simple logo that suggests both speed and history.  I like the fact that speed has always been the calling card.
  • Gasoline Alley: The lane from the garage area to the pits is the original Gasoline Alley.  When you have the original, then you won history.
  • Back Home Again: The song has been sung since 1946.  It’s NOT the state song, but who cares?  It’s the 500 song.
    Back home again in Indiana,
    And it seems that I can see
    The gleaming candle light, still burning bright,
    Through the Sycamores for me.
    The new-mown hay sends all its fragrance
    Through the fields I used to roam.
    When I dream about the moonlight on the Wabash
    Then I long for my Indiana home.
  • Gentlemen, start your engines!: Even though the provenance on this bit of Indy 500 history is a little suspect, let’s just say that Anton “Tony” Hulman owned it like a boss.  It was his, and no one will ever do it better.  I can’t wait to hear it again on Sunday.

Religious icons in history were often mosaics found in ancient churches.  I completely understand.  I hope you liked the little pieces of tile that help make up the picture of the racing shrine I will be visiting this Sunday.  Everyone is welcome.  The last time I checked, you only have to worship speed to step into this cathedral.

The Time Trials at the Indianapolis 500

Even with all the changes to its format over the years and the possibility of more to come, the pathos of qualifications for the Indianapolis 500 never gets old.  The Time Trials both test and reveal character every year.  The true cognoscenti of IndyCar racing understand and savor the power of these raw moments of human emotion.  John Mellencamp, a good Indiana boy, sang that we live “Between a Laugh and a Tear.” That describes the Time Trials at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the drivers and the teams.

With a series and a venue on the cusp of change, both major and minor, decisions are in the offing regarding every element of the race.  The question is what to do with the Time Trials.

One suggestion, even with changes in format, is to keep the historical moniker of Time Trials.  In an era of homogenization, the IZOD IndyCar Series needs to find ways to get noticed.  As much as the current formats of the series and the race are going to change, anything that defines you as different, particularly historically different, needs to be accentuated.  As much as the name Brickyard or the slogan The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the term Time Trials shouts Indianapolis 500.  Recent comments by Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., suggest that both IMS and the series do not want to be wedded to a past that not only comes with some baggage, but often seems to stifle forward thinking.  Instead of being guided by its past, IMS needs to use its history to define its product to a modern audience.  The name Time Trials does that.

The most obvious element of Time Trials is the true humanity that is revealed every year.  The ticking of the clock down to 6:00 PM on Bump Day creates a tension that is absolutely not artificial.  A game is not on the line as time counts down; a chance to participate in one of the world’s most iconic events is.  It doesn’t get much more compelling than that.  The faces make for perfect TV drama.  The moments that bring tears, sighs of relief, and joy always do.  The pit scene with Ed Carpenter after he secured the pole for the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 was a moment custom-made for television.  Those David and Goliath stories always are.

Lack of interest and the cost of opening the doors at IMS may doom even the current two-day Time Trials, which were pared down for those same reasons from the four-day Time Trials of the past.  Will the future bring a shortened week one with Fast Friday being the opening day followed by one or two days of qualifying?  The shortened attention span of the modern sports fan says it will.  The drawn out two weekends of track activity will most likely be packed into a much shorter time span.

Of much more concern is the viability of Time Trials on television.  NBC Sports was unfairly pilloried on Pole Day because they cut away from the Fast Nine shootout to show a Preakness post-race show.  It has to be assumed that contracts and paid advertising were in place for that live show.  IMS made the decision to extend the Fast Nine not only beyond 6:00 PM, but past the 6:30 PM coverage window of NBC Sports.  Doing so most likely created a fair and equal opportunity for all participants to have a chance to practice and qualify, but if social media outrage is any indicator, the switch infuriated fans who had invested hours of their Saturday in watching the lead-up to the Fast Nine drama and then were denied the pay-off.  IMS made the best decision for its drivers and teams; unfortunately, this decision put its television partner in a bind.  If a series or race is looking to expand its media reach, locking out viewers or telling them to go to live streaming may not be the best avenue to pursue.  With that said, in ten years switching from broadcast or cable networks to live streaming will simply be a button on the remote.  Maybe IMS is just way ahead of the times.

The nexus of television, live streaming, compelling drama and the modern fan’s attention span is changing how we interact with our sports.  Darwin’s theory of natural selection suggests that organisms must evolve or diminish.  The Time Trials at Indianapolis Motor Speedway have been evolving over the past twenty years and must continue to do so.  If not, the concept of the Time Trials will be just another grainy newsreel of a diminishing past.

IMS Marketing: Hashtag FTW (for the win)!

I like to pretend I have insight into many things – IndyCar racing, marketing, broadcasting, and event management are just a few of the areas on which I pontificate.  It’s an ancillary benefit of writing a blog.  I have no credentials or resume to support any of my opinions.  So please allow me to offer another unsolicited morsel of my deep understanding of social media.

In some metaphysical way, my blogging and Twitter presence cause people to assume that I actually know something about the power of social media.  In fact, the fine people at IMS were so completely fooled dazzled by my social media cred last year that they asked me to participate in the inaugural Social Media Garage at the 2012 Indy 500.  That participation and my subsequent Social Media Garage activity at the IMS Super Weekend for NASCAR were great insights into how a business begins to incorporate social media into its marketing.

What I observed last year was the initial flailing about as a business tried to connect a relatively new and somewhat uncontrollable method of communication with a marketing strategy that may or may not have been fully fleshed out.  One senior member of IMS management alluded to last year’s Social Media Garage as “dipping a toe in the water” of social media.  It looks like IMS has decided to jump all the way in this year.

The Twitter use of #Indy500orBust (remember, you pronounce # as “hashtag”) is the 2013 social media campaign of IMS to connect to the increasingly mainstream demographic that uses the social media platforms of Twitter and Instagram.  You can go to indy500orbust.com to get the skinny on the campaign.  The marketing team at IMS has connected Twitter to Instagram, a social media photo sharing site.  Not a bad idea to connect the two platforms, especially since Instagram users are decidedly less snarky, judgmental, and reactionary than those on Twitter.  Or so I’ve heard.

The negative reactions I have seen on Twitter (surprise!) make a very valid point about the seemingly cross-purposes of marketing at INDYCAR and IMS.  The #Indy500orBust ads that we saw before and during the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg seemed to promote the INDY 500 at the expense of races at St. Petersburg, Barber Motorsports Park, and Long Beach.  While ticket promotion at those sites is the domain of the promoter, it would seem the series would have a vested interest in promoting the television productions of these races.  If viewership drives sponsorship, then the primary business of INDYCAR should be driving eyeballs to the broadcasts.  Even so, you cannot fault IMS for trying to sell tickets to the 500.  My guess is that the new management team being put in place by Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles will be putting more marketing and promotional personnel under one roof to drive advertising dollars, sponsorship, and viewership to both entities.  The long-term viability of the series demands it.

So keep the hashtags coming IMS and INDYCAR!  Continue to connect us to Instagram, and I look forward to using Vine during the month of May this year.  And I’m sure someone in the Snake Pit will be using Snapchat.  If you don’t know what that is, ask a teenager.  It’s the next big thing.  Until the next big thing, that is.

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.

The Young and the Clueless

I have in my possession the transcript of an actual phone call placed by an agent to a Hollywood television producer.  I only have the agent’s voice, so you have to imagine the producers responses on the other end.  Here it is.

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“Hey, Max! How’s it going?  This is Sid.  You keeping it in the short grass there at Bel-Air?  Really?  What’s your handicap now?  You sandbagger.  You’re a thief.  Hey, I have a property for you that you cannot pass up.  It’s a winner.  You can say goodbye to the Kardashians.  This will blow them out of the water.  Reality TV is over, just like the soaps are over.  I have the next big thing right here.  Are you ready?  It’s a reality soap.

“No, it’s nothing like Real Housewives.  No, it’s better than The Bachelor.  Well, there’s a peripheral connection to Dancing With the Stars.

“OK,  imagine a large family owned company.  I know, it sounds like Jabot Cosmetics on The Young and the Restless.  The company was built on a kitchen necessity and the founder bought a sport’s franchise/facility.  What’s that, Max?  No, that’s just the back story.  It gets good years later.  Well, there’s a shooting and rumors years ago, but that angle can be played later.

“It’s got everything, Max!   Just like a soap opera, there’s family intrigue, greed, stupidity, lies…did I mention stupidity?  And the best part is it’s all free.  We don’t have to hire actors.  That’s the reality part of it.”

“Here’s how it goes:  The scion of a wealthy corporate family that owns a major sports franchise becomes the CEO while marginalizing his three sisters.  I know, it sound like Jack Abbott, but remember, this is true.  Mom is still the Chairman of the Board and lets Sonny run the franchise the way he wants.  He builds a new facility and brings in another tenant, but he gets snookered by a much smarter guy that owns that league.  He also brings in another league, and they screw him, too.  Yeah, I know, he sounds like all the sucker money men we have in L.A.  A fool and his money.  But it gets better.  He is so upset that nobody respects him that he starts his own league, figuring that he can’t, you know, screw himself.  But the only people who like and respect him are his own family and the cronies and flunkies he pays to like him.  Right, kind of like Entourage without the sex and drugs.  Anyway, he keeps shooting himself in the foot.  He runs the league like a hobby and manages to spend a ton of money and piss off all kinds of people, but what does he care?  He has money on tap from his original franchise.  Then he finally screws the pooch.  He spends so much money on the league that his sisters, who are all on the board of directors, stage an insurrection.  They vote him out of power.  Actually, they tell him he can either run the league, a money loser, or the franchise, a cash cow.   He pouts and quits.  The sisters and mom then hire a rodeo cowboy to come in and wrangle the league, and they bring the corporate bean counter over from the original business to run the sports franchise.

“No, that’s not all.  Sonny wants the franchise and the league back, and with the aid of a sister and his mom, manages to get his cronies on the board.  But the family fights back and adds even more people to the board.  Then he starts plotting the demise of the cowboy so he can be back in charge again.  He somehow convinces his rich buddies to finance his proposed purchase of the league he used to own and could have had for free, but it all goes public and everybody is mad at everybody and pointing fingers.  We add the social media element of Twitter and bingo, everybody’s involved.  We can play this story out on TV and Twitter.  It’s never been done like that before.  TV is the soap opera and Twitter is the reality.

“What do you think, Max?  Series?  Feature film?  Mini-series?  Think HBO might be interested.  It’s kind of like a modern Game of Thrones or Boardwalk Empire, don’t you think?  This is gold, Max, gold!

“What do you mean it seems too far-fetched?  This is Hollywood.  Nothing has to make sense.  If people believed Nightrider, they’ll believe anything.

“Not interested, huh?  I’m telling you, Max, the reality soap Indy is the next Survivor.  Get on board now or you’ll hate yourself later.  I mean, you passed on the racing snail, didn’t you.  It’s going to be a monster, too.” 

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That’s all I managed to get.  If my sources turn up anything else, you’ll be the first to know.

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.

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