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Value added Fast Friday at IMS

As IMS rubs its hands together and gleefully prepares to spend its own tax money on moving both its facility and fan engagement into the modern era, the question is how to spend the money.  Since I have absolutely no qualifications to offer any suggestions or advice,  I feel compelled to do so.

The obvious and easy answer is to simply maintain the existing facility.  Roads need repaved, rust needs scraped, and walls need painted; money needs to be spent on this every year, and while maintenance does not necessarily enhance the fans experience, lack of maintenance absolutely devalues it.  And value for the fan is paramount in attracting patrons who will continue to attend the Indianapolis 500 and other events at IMS in the future.

At sports venues across the country, the concept of “value added” is at the forefront.  Go to a Major League baseball game and you can purchase tickets in a section that includes food and drink.  At NFL stadiums, your tickets for the club section often includes concession servers and private restrooms.  Barcoded tickets often carry extra benefits that can be redeemed at concession and merchandise stands.  Basically, owners have found a way to add value, or at least appear to add value, to attending an event.  In the past, this value was almost always reserved for the captains of industry and their minions sitting in the suites.  Extra value cost a lot of extra money.  But after these suites dwellers were mined for their cash, team owners cast their gazes at the hoi polloi in the bleachers and realized that there were ways to extort extract more money from them.  And let’s face it, the metrics of management showed that giving the plebes a little something extra once in while made them feel so good that they spent even more and came back again because their experience had “value added.”  The question is how can IMS add value to the experience at the Indy 500 and other events?

IMS has already started to add value to the Indianapolis 500.  The new Snake Pit, with DJ’s Afrojack and Diplo, absolutely adds value to the young people who go to the race, not to see the cars, but to see these celebrities and hear their music.  Many of these people will return again next year, quite likely because their experiences were enhanced.

The addition of the zip line that will be moved around the facility during the month has been much reviled by many hard-core racing fans as a gimmick, which it absolutely is, but will it bring local fans out during practice, qualifications, and Carb Day?  Yes, it will, and that is added value to the consumer.

The Bronze Badge at $100 and Junior Garage Credential for $75 are tremendous added values.  Access to restricted areas and special events is an easy and relatively cheap way to make people feel special.

Those are here now.  But how can IMS add value in the future?  Here are some ideas:

  • More and mobile video boards are needed.  The current ones are dark, blurry, and out-of-date.  Instead of enhancing the fans’ experience, they diminish it.  The modern fan expects more.  Instead of installing permanent video boards that are likely to be obsolete in a very short time, lease or buy portable devices that can moved around the facility as needed.  These can be updated when necessary, and IMS Productions could become the leasing agent of these portable boards when not in use at IMS.  That can add value to not only IMS but the whole IZOD IndyCar Series.
  • Special sections with ticketed benefits are necessary.  For an upcharge, ticket holders can get concessions and merchandise by simply having their tickets scanned.  This can include special lines for patrons with these tickets.  There should be club sections where fans have wait staff to take their concession orders.  Fans love to feel like they have something others do not.  If IMS wants to see tickets to the Indianapolis 500 be a premium again, then they need to offer premium services.  And they can charge a premium for these tickets.
  • Add seatbacks in the Vistas.  These massive sections in the turns have fantastic sight lines and back-breaking benches.  If  money and space are a limitation, then add an extra cost to the ticket to include a temporary seatback.  At major college venues, this is an upfront cost and the seatback is installed for you.  Currently, you have to rent the seatback on-site at IMS and lug it up the Vista yourself.  This would absolutely be a value added option.
  • More special parking is in order.  This year, the Speedway charged $75 for front row infield parking and $25 for general admission infield parking.  They even offered front row parking in the North 40 lot outside Turn 3.  I guarantee that every patron who paid money for these spots feels special.  It is value added, baby.  Find parking in every nook and cranny and charge for it.
  • Make sure the facility has the best cell phone reception in the world.  Your event can’t be the greatest if some things are the worst.  Today’s fans demand that their handheld devices work on all networks.  The Verizon IndyCar 13 app is fantastic, but not if I can’t use it at the race.  If it does not work at the 500, then I walk out with my experience less than enhanced.  I will be upset with IMS and Verizon.  Spend your money on making sure the fans basic expectations are met.

The formula for value added is simple.  Make it fun, make me happy, make me feel special.  Make it seem that I get something for nothing.  For me, the racing is enough, but for the vast majority of fans, it’s not.  Modern fans want to have a great experience, not just a great race.  Everything at the event needs to be incomparable.  IMS legend Eddie Sachs said it best: “If you can’t win, be spectacular.”  With its history and pageantry, IMS should have no problem making the experience spectacular for its patrons.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s past is not its future

I doubt if Tony Hulman ever envisioned the Indianapolis Motor Speedway being what it is today: a multi-race, multi-series venue poised to add lights and reap a favorable interest free loan from the state of Indiana derived from its own taxes.  The fact is, he never had to see this future.  Under Hulman’s watch, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened its doors to the public on May 1st each year and closed them after the facility was cleaned in early June.  As long as one race a year made a profit and allowed some improvement to the facility, everything was copacetic.

But a funny thing happened to IMS on its long march to immortality – the American sports’ fan changed.  While still loving iconic facilities like IMS, Churchill Downs, and Augusta National, fans want more than an event; they want an experience that transcends the event itself.

Before a knee jerks in response, I will add that a die-hard race fan does not need more than the Indianapolis 500 offers.  The slow, daily rise in speed at practice, the expectant pause as fans wait for each lap time during Pole Day, the shattering disappointment or the sudden euphoria of Bump Day are moments of history repeated every year.  On race day, the march of bands, “Back Home Again,” the invocation, and “Gentlemen, start your engines” prove to us that we share something with history.  These links to Indy’s past are powerful reminders that we are not alone as we ride the wave of history into our individual futures.  The power behind that wave is our shared human experiences.  For race fans, that shared experience is the 96 other Indianapolis 500’s that have come before now.  The problem is that not everyone cares about the history.  Many just care about right now.

Tony George, Tony Hulman’s grandson, changed the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Under his watch, the original Snake Pit in the first turn was sanitized.  His vision was a venue that was clean and safe for its patrons.  Do I miss the original Snake Pit?  I don’t miss it as place to watch the race, but I miss it as a touchstone of the past.  IMS has hijacked and monetized it by adding modern music and amenities that attract modern fans.  Face it, the original Snake Pit was a place to party and watch one lap of the race.  The new version is a corporate attempt to lure a specific demographic of twenty-somethings into the track to have an experience that will bring them back again.  It helps create a history for them that does not include listening to Donald Davidson amaze with his arcane knowledge of races, cars, and drivers.  IMS and IndyCar need the fans in the new Snake Pit to come back in the future just as much as they need the die-hards to continue their love affair with history.

George also added a road course, a new Pagoda, modern garages, and, most galling to purists, additional races with F1, NASCAR, and MotoGP.  While not to the liking of many purists who want to see IMS remain host to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing only, the track and its owners have a vision for the future that includes racing at night and most likely another IndyCar race on the road course.  While reviled by many, these are simply economic decisions to improve the bottom line.

If adding lights increases the attendance at the Brickyard 400, then add lights.  If adding an IndyCar race to the road course is profitable, then add it.  Will it diminish the historical relevancy of the 500?  Maybe, but I doubt it could be diminished much more than it is now to the vast majority of people who just do not care.  For the continued success of the Speedway, more money needs to be made and more fans need to be found.  The die to maximize profits was cast when all the major infrastructure upgrades that were needed were made.  These upgrades to seating, technology, and the fan experience need to be made every year.  Money is needed to support these upgrades, and fans are needed to supply the money.  Fans want video boards and dependable cell service.  Maybe we are spoiled, but these are the expectations.  Attendance, sponsors, and TV ratings are the coin of the realm when it comes to profits.  Businesses that survive use sound business practices.  IMS is no longer a hobby for a philanthropic family; it is the source of income.

The cost of keeping a historic venue like IMS up and running is enormous.  While I certainly like touring historically significant houses, I would not enjoy the daily and expensive upkeep that such a house requires.  Plus, I like the modern conveniences that I have come to expect in life.  The cost of maintaining the facility at 16th and Georgetown will never decrease.  The business masters at IMS will spend money only if they can make more money.  If not, you can expect cracks in the foundation and dandelions in the grass, just like at home.  You can only slap paint on the old gal for so long.  Sooner or later, you have to feed the bulldog.

So bring on the tin-tops, the motorcycles, the sports cars, and a second IndyCar race if it makes more money and allows the Greatest Spectacle in Racing to still be exactly that and not just some faded piece of history.  Winston Churchill said it best: “If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future.”  It is time for fans of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 to accept that the future is now.

Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach: Surf’s Up Edition

According to information on the Legendary Surfers website, Long Beach, California is often credited as being the site of the first use of Hawaiian surfboards in North America when two world travelers arrived home with boards after a trip to the islands.  They started a culture in California that largely defined the West Coast to the rest of the world.  And once you add cars and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, you have the beginning of another Endless Summer on the track.  With that kind of history, how can you not be totally stoked about the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, dude?  And yes, I will be attempting to use surfing slang in this “Surf’s Up” edition.  Since I am landlocked in Indiana, you can assume I will fail miserably.

Some attention needs to be paid to the bruhs on the NBC Sports telecast.  It would be a step in the right direction if the viewership on TV was greater than the total attendance at the event.  That remains to be seen.  The deep thinkers at the network continue to tinker with the production.  With Leigh Diffey calling F1, they had Brian Till as the anchor with Townsend Bell and Wally Dallenbach as color.  Brian did a nice job, but I cannot tell one announcer from another since all three sound alike.  The booth needs Leigh Diffey’s Aussie dialect to differentiate him from his booth mates and his firmer hand to rein in Townsend and Wally, so they don’t get off subject and, you know, miss what is happening on the track.  And missing the action is not cool, man.  Don’t be a Barney.

Pre-race with the boys in the pits was absent human interest, features, and Robin Miller, who seems to be slowly hanging up his NBC longboard.  If you are a hard-core fan of racing, the pre-race worked.  If you are new to the sport, and the series needs new fans, then NBC Sports did nothing to bring you closer to the competitors as human beings.  It is a fine line between simply reporting and telling stories.  I think the pendulum moved to the reporting side a little too much this week.  I do like the Wally Dallenbach/Townsend Bell track lap better than Robin Miller’s grid lurch, though.  Wally shooting Silly String in Townsend’s ear to disturb his focus while driving was a nice touch.

Dakota Meyer, a Marine Corps Congressional Medal Of Honor winner said the most famous words in racing: “Fire those things up!”  OK, he decided, in true California fashion, to do it his way.  Anyone with a CMH can say anything he wants for the rest of his life.  Semper Fi, Dakota.

The start was gnarly.  As long as you have the hairpin at the head of the frontstretch and the flagstand in the same location, rolling starts at Long Beach will always be ugly.  Standing starts anyone?  The benefit of this line-up is that it strings out the cars before the point break of turn one.  Even so, it seems that there is always someone ready and willing to drop in on another driver as they enter the turn.  These drivers can be so territorial here in Long Beach.

One thing you don’t want to do in the line-up waiting for a set is to drop in on a wave when it isn’t your turn.  Charlie Kimball did just that to Alex Tagliani at Long Beach, trying to snake under him and wiping out in the same location and in the same way as Sebastian Saavedra did earlier in the race and Ryan Hunter-Reay did near the end.  That’s what happens when you try to snake a wave, or a racing line, dude.

In case anyone is noticing, the IndyCar series has the best racing anywhere.  The DW12, even though it is as ugly as a mud fence, is a racy machine.  Cars competed for position throughout the pack all day with Justin Wilson, Marco Andretti, and Scott Dixon surfing through the field to the front.  The problem with TV is you never see the great racing until it reaches the top five.  That’s just another reason to watch this series in person.

But the Big Kahuna at Long Beach was Takuma Sato for A.J. Foyt Racing.  He carved the corners all day on his way to his first IndyCar win.  After the race, team director Larry Foyt said Sato had driven the perfect race.  You know what he was doing, don’t you?  He was in the pocket, riding the front of the IndyCar wave at Long Beach.  He was in the zone.  He never put a wheel wrong all day.  Takuma Sato was soul surfing down Shoreline Drive.  The way he drove, he may not be looking to share many waves this year.

Well, it’s time to put the longboard back in the quiver and tool back home in the woodie.  Until next time, listen to the Surfaris and try not to “Wipe Out.”  Hang loose.

Sun Tzu and the Art of IndyCar

Faced with an off-week for IndyCar this past weekend, I decided to tune in for the Chinese Grand Prix from Shanghai. I am open-wheel to the bone, and even though the drivers of F1 often make the word “entitled” seem an understatement, they certainly put on a good show. There must be something IndyCar can learn from the Chinese Grand Prix, some Zen or Tao that will offer sudden enlightenment to a series in desperate need of it. Then I had my own vision, my own flash of understanding. IndyCar must have some connection to Sun Tzu and The Art of War. This Chinese general from 2500 years ago is credited with writing a treatise that explained the intricacies of warfare and has been used in military academies, boardrooms and athletic fields to help guide leaders to victory. It is pretty clear that some of Sun Tzu’s philosophies could apply to IndyCar. Allow me to offer my interpretation and commentary on a few of the general’s quotes.

“To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy.” Well, this seems simple enough. The leaders at IndyCar over the past few years have worked very hard at becoming their own worst enemies. I’m not sure that is what old Sun Tzu was talking about, though. The list of self-inflicted wounds in IndyCar is a litany of lost opportunity. The IRL was a spec series that hemorrhaged money. Sponsors ran for the hills. A TV contract was signed that relegated IndyCar to the backwoods of cable. The palace intrigue that cost Tony George his leadership role also resulted in a very messy and embarrassing parting of ways with IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard. Yep, I think IndyCar has practiced this particular stratagem.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” In assessing how IndyCar has marketed itself in recent years, it is clear that Sun Tzu would have had a problem with the series. The vision of Kiss’s Gene Simmons with his “I am Indy” campaign that went nowhere is an example of strategy without tactics. It was a great overall concept that was never implemented as more than a slogan. Randy Bernard, on the other hand, was a master of the moment. He always had a good idea of what to do today, but it never seemed to reach the level of strategy or vision. Let’s see if the new IndyCar masters have the ability to put the two together.

“Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley.” Sun Tzu mentions leadership often. This comment seems like it was directed at Penske Racing and Roger Penske. I’m pretty sure Penske’s new driver AJ Allmendinger would follow Roger into the deepest valley. No other owner has more loyal employees or less turnover. When you have that kind of loyalty, you win the battle. I guess following that old Golden Rule bromide has some staying power. Chalk another one up for Sun Tzu.

“Opportunities multiply as they are achieved. Which team has made the most of its opportunities this year? Which team is on a roll? The answer is Andretti Autosport. First James Hinchcliffe wins in St. Pete, and then Ryan Hunter Reay finishes first at Barber. Our Chinese general understood momentum. And Andretti Autosport has it.

“Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.” Wow. It seems like Sun Tzu actually knows Chip Ganassi. How do you beat Chip? The general knows. Make him discount you. Nothing entertains me more than watching an in-race interview with Chip and hearing him complain about some backmarker getting in the way of his world domination. The nerve of those…people. Sooner or later, Ganassi’s arrogance will cost him a race. I just hope it is one of those backmarkers that beats his car to the line. How sweet will that karma be?

There are not more than five primary colours, yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen.” Enough cannot be said about the raciness and safety of the Dallara DW 12. Even though the only thing different about the cars is the livery, they have provided quality competition on all three types of venues. Is a spec series and controlled costs the way to put spectators in the seats and eyeballs on the TV screens? No, good racing will do that, and that is what the IZOD IndyCar Series has right now. The cars are just the paint and brushes; the artists are sitting in the cockpits.

“Great results, can be achieved with small forces.” Even though fans and writers rail against the idea of a spec series, it does create a parity that would not exist if the wealthy owners were able to spend their way to Victory Lane. Whether it was Dan Wheldon winning the Indy 500 for Bryan Herta, Justin Wilson winning at Texas for Dale Coyne, or Ed Carpenter winning at Fontana driving for himself, the DW 12 creates a situation where anyone can win. Let’s hope for some more great results by the little guys. Sun Tzu would get a kick out of it. And it would really irritate Chip.

“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity” This should be the mantra for the IZOD IndyCar Series this year. You have diverse venues, a competitive car, and a cast of fan-friendly characters both in and out of the car. Much of Sun Tzu’s philosophy can be distilled as “strike while the iron’s hot.” It is incumbent on the series to do something with this wealth of talent and entertainment. The leaders of the series need to lead. That seems simplistic, but much of what Sun Tzu says is common sense and simple. He advocates planning and strategy. Seize the day, IndyCar.

If Mark Miles cannot right the IndyCar ship, it may be time to bring in an Eastern philosopher/warrior/priest to instruct him. Maybe it is time for Mr. Miles to watch the old Kung Fu TV series and channel his inner Kwai Chang Kaine and meet Master Po for some instruction. Listen to Master Po, young grasshopper.

The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama: Untimely Edition

I understand this post is a little late and not in my usual WO (worthless opinions) format.  There are reasons.  Good reasons.  I could blame it on the fact that I was on vacation last week, and it took a few days to sober up get back in the swing of things.  Certainly, there was yard work to attend to that just could not wait.  Of course, there were the usual family obligations, not to mention the day job that provides the money to pursue my writing and racing habit.  These are all valid.  Those that know me understand my deeply rooted love of procrastination.  Add to that the fact that I am the editor-in-chief and sole unpaid employee of this joint, and you could assume that I can post whenever I damn well please since nobody reads this stuff anyway.  All true, but not the truth in this case.  I am late posting because I had a creative idea.

If you are a regular reader here (thank you both), you know I have an unhealthy attachment to the odd and the quirky.  I have connected IndyCar and its denizens to the following over the past year:

  • The movies The Shawshank Redemption, Sunset Boulevard, Fever Pitch, Animal House, and Christmas Vacation
  • The Warner Brothers cartoons with Bugs Bunny, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, and Porky Pig
  • Championship wrestling
  • The Mayan apocalypse (twice)
  • The Rolling Stones song “Paint It Black”
  • The songs of the Beach Boys
  • Texas singer/songwriters and their music
  • The Delta Wing and the Tanya Tucker song “Delta Dawn”
  • The science fiction writer Robert Heinlein and his novel Stranger in a Strange Land.
  • Tony Dungy, Bob Knight, and Jesus Christ

I’m proud of the eclectic collection I’ve put together.  I feel I have carved out a niche within a niche sport.  It suits me.  The question, of course, is what does all this have to do with this week’s post being late?  Let me explain.

My idea was to use the Master’s golf tournament as the comparison to the Grand Prix of Alabama since so many people gush over the beautiful and verdant scenery of Barber Motorsports Park by comparing it to Augusta National Golf Club, the site of the Masters.  Augusta National is pretentious.  How pretentious?  They name each hole after a tree found on the grounds.  They have names like Tea Olive, Juniper, Magnolia, Azalea and the list goes on.  My idea was to name each one of my ten WO’s (worthless opinions) after one of the 30 or so pieces of art on the grounds at Barber.  All I needed was a picture of ten of the pieces and I would be good to go.  In fact, I spent a couple of hours finding pictures of the art works and making up names for them like “Naked Guys on Wheels” and “Guy Pushing a Rock.”  Classy stuff, right?  But being an English teacher at heart, I wanted to be honest and correct.  I needed permission from the photographers to publish their work.  This, I found, is simple if you are not writing a piece that is time sensitive (I was) and if you have your idea well ahead of time (I didn’t).  So here I sit in the middle of the week after a race has concluded waiting for permission to use photos that may never come, so I can use a cool idea (in my own mind) to make an oddball comparison of a golf course and a race track just so I can offer my rather pedestrian opinions on a race.  So…let me now offer my untimely opinions on the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park, late because I had a great idea.

  • The prerace lap with Townsend Bell behind the wheel and Wally Dallenbach in the passenger seat was comic gold.  I loved the Tums going sideways as they missed Wally’s mouth.  That’s nuance.  The vomit bag might have been low-hanging fruit but it was funny.  It’s OK to have flavors other than vanilla.  More of this, please.
  • NBC Sports seems to have an idea on how they want to present IndyCar.  The booth was great, and the camera work stellar.  I am not a fan of shit-stirring, though.  The pit reporters are still trying to bring up a Will Power-Scott Dixon feud from last year and tried to create drama with a Will Power-James Hinchcliffe qualification episode from Saturday.  Just stop it.  The feuds will either happen or not.  It’s organic.  Like pro wrestling, the fans will determine who the heels and faces are.  Less of this, please.
  • I REALLY like Jon Beekhuis in the pits and look forward to more Professor B episodes.  I like it when they teach me something.  More of this, please.
  • You would think I would tire of mocking Robin Miller’s grid wobble.  You would be wrong.  It is unintentional comedy at its best.  He has no idea when he’s going, where he’s going, or to whom he’s going to talk.  Speaking of Robin Miller, did anyone else notice he absolutely disappeared during the broadcast?  More of Robin Miller, please.
  • The start was a little sloppy but VERY edgy.  How you can not sit up on the edge of your seat?  IndyCar is GREAT racing.  Someone is going to get punted on the start at Long Beach.  Then the shit will stir itself.  More of the attacking starts, please.
  • Other than an accordion of cars playing polka music on the first lap causing Hinchcliffe to drop a wheel, the race was green, green, green.  We had tire strategy, fuel strategy, and passes for the lead.  That’s road course racing.  More passes for the lead, please.
  • Hinch was hilarious in defeat.  Ryan Hunter-Reay was aggressive in victory.  Charlie Kimball was an eye-opener.  Scottt Dixon was stalking.  Josef Newgarden was finally in the top ten.  And Helio Castroneves was back on top of the standings.  More of everything like this, please.

Even though I thought I had an entertaining idea to build my column around, the great thing about the race was that I didn’t need it.  Sometimes events just speak for themselves.  More races like the Grand Prix of Alabama, please.

Ten Worthless Opinions: St. Petersburg “Adventures in Paradise” Edition

The first race of the IZOD IndyCar Series FINALLY arrived in paradise, or if not paradise, at least St. Petersburg, Florida.  All else being considered, it sure looked like paradise for those in the North who were locked in the embrace of winter’s last gasp effort to deny global warming.  The water and palm trees dancing on our TV screens brought back visions of Gardner McKay and the Tiki III as he cruised the South Pacific in “Adventures in Paradise.”   In this case, it looks like James Hinchcliffe took the title role in his own adventure in paradise.  A new season brings out another volume of WO’s (worthless opinions).   Mai Tais for everyone!

1.  It looks like this may be the last gasp for the Firestone Indy Lights Series.  There were nine, count ’em, NINE cars on the grid to start the St. Petersburg 100.  With only two lead changes and six cars running at the end, compelling drama it was not.  It’s easy to say that a new car and more entries are needed to save the series, but who is going to invest in a series with no traction (sorry) with fans or sponsors?  The success or failure of the IZOD IndyCar Series is the key to the future on Indy Lights.  And that result will not be evident in the short term.  I’m not sure the labor of love that is Indy Lights can wait that long.  The real downside to the possible demise of the series is that it has been successful as a stepping stone to the IZOD IndyCar Series.  IndyCar drivers like James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti, and Dan Wheldon all graduated from its grid.  IndyCar needs this series.

Another Indy Lights graduate making a name for herself is Pippa Mann.  Even though Pippa would rather be behind a wheel at IMS for the 500, her smooth debut on NBCSports portends a possible career in broadcasting.  She obviously did her homework for the broadcast.  She knew the drivers and teams and offered spot-on racing commentary.  Just remember to look at the camera, Pippa.

2.  I observed on Twitter that some people were complaining about the qualifications for St. Pete being slightly time delayed.  So what?  It actually made the broadcast run more smoothly and kept it in a time window so NBCSports could show it.  They don’t have to broadcast it, you know.  Baby steps, people.

3.  The new broadcast team takes some getting used to.  Jon Beekhuis is much better in the booth and as Professor B. than he is in live interviews.  His in-race questioning was a little obsequious.  You are the media, Jon.  Flex your muscles!  Show them who’s the boss!  Stir the shit!  I hope NBCSports will continue to use his strength in technical matters.  Kevin Lee is solid, even if he did manage to suck up to David Letterman with a gratuitous Ball State reference.  Can a Garfield/Jim Davis comment be far behind?  Brian Till was acceptable and had the quote of the weekend during an interview with Will Power when he said Power was at the top of the “championship shart” last year.  I didn’t even know they had a contest, Brian.

The booth team of Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell, and Wally Dallenbach, Jr. was competent as they hashed out their dynamic and their roles.  Diffey did a good job calling the action, but struggled at times to rein in the back-and-forth between Bell and Dallenbach.  Remember guys, most people tune in for the race, not the commentary.  Focus.  The TV commentators are at the mercy of their directors regarding what they see and what they know.  When they appear clueless, it’s most often the fault of the people talking in their ears.

4.  I really don’t want to beat a dead horse, a horse as dead as Robin Miller will be if someone does not take charge of that damned grid run.  At least he found people to talk to this time, highlighted by Alex Tagliani mentioning how close he was to the Port-O-Potty.  Good TV.  Here’s an idea:  add a second person so we don’t have to listen to Miller puff his way along the grid.  It is brutal!  That way you can switch back and forth between interviews, which give the viewer entertainment value.  How about adding Pippa Mann?  You need a female voice in the pits, and she probably can jog to the next interview without pausing to catch her breath like Miller.  This can be a great segment instead of a joke.

5.  It seems NBCSports and IndyCar are getting on the same page in regards to promotion.  The Mav TV 500 was advertised.  Robin Miller interviewed retiring Firestone honcho Joe Barbieri, which was really a hat-tip to Firestone for all the series and advertising support.  It certainly was not impromptu since NBCSports had pictures ready to roll.  The #Indy500orBust Twitter and Instagram promotion for the Indy 500 was prominently mentioned, as well as a Helio Castroneves commercial for distracted driving awareness with the snail from Turbo.  I guess J.R. Hildebrand didn’t preview that  before the race.  Maybe later.  In any case, promotion of the series and its partners was evident.  More of that, please.

6.  And then they had a race that happened to be engaging.  To begin with, the drivers made it through Turn 1 without incident.  I think the guys in the booth were a little disappointed.  They had all the statistics handy to deal with the accident.  The cars were racy and entertaining throughout the field.  Of course, TV can rarely show that on a street course since you can only see a small portion of the track.  That’s one reason the radio broadcast of a street course is so exciting.  There’s action everywhere, and the broadcasters around the track can see it.  The TV guys are tethered to a monitor controlled by a director.  Simona de Silvestro showed she is a racer.  A podium is absolutely in her future.  She ran out of rubber on her Firestone Reds at the end of the race, or she would have been there at St. Pete.  Takuma Sato started falling back but still managed a P8.  Good start for AJ Foyt and the boys from Texas.

7.  Poor Will Power.  He cannot catch a break.  J.R. Hildebrand popped a wheelie on his bumper (thought that was not supposed to happen).  This Hee Haw video is all that comes to mind regarding his luck: “Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me.”

8.  James Hinchcliffe is an absolutely deserving winner.  He was in position to take advantage of a Helio Castroneves mistake and ducked under last year’s champion in Turn 1.  His Firestone Blacks held off Helio’s Firestone Reds as the different compound gimmick created the drama is was supposed to create.  His emotional comments on Dan Wheldon and his family were sincere and spot-on.  The Canadian flag was a perfect point of pride.  Did anyone else notice a PR person hand him a notebook with the words “Thank Bob Parsons” on it.  Parsons is the CEO of Go Daddy, his sponsor.  Just a little TCB, baby.  On his interviews with Speed Center, Wind Tunnel, and local TV affiliates, he was friendly, engaging, and authentic – exactly what IndyCar needs in a champion.  And prerace, he said he “might need to pee in Will Power’s gas tank” to slow him down.  THAT’S entertaining.  More than James Hinchcliffe, Andretti Autosport, and Go Daddy, IndyCar needed this victory.  IndyCar needs a marketable champion like James Hinchcliffe.  It was big win all around.

9.  It was good to see that dysfunction exists in other motorsports and not just IndyCar.  The F1 race in Malaysia had a contratemps between teammates Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber about who was supposed to win the race.  They also had Lewis Hamilton pulling into the wrong pit box and wheels nearly falling off cars.  Maybe those 2.5 second pit stops leave a little to be desired.  And in NASCAR land, the series continues to allow and endorse a driving style that will ultimately lead to tragedy as Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin wrecked on the final lap with Hamlin crashing HARD into a non-safer barrier wall, requiring a hospital stay.  The “Woo hoo!  Yee haw!” crowd needs to come to their senses.  They are living in a fool’s paradise.

10. If IndyCar and NBCSports do not promote and market this race champion and this racing series with its remarkable cast of characters and its scintillating on-track product, then it is on them.  I hate to be all political and pissy here, but it is time for IndyCar and NBCSports to step up and do their jobs.  The continuing problems plaguing IndyCar racing are not the fault of the fans.  Maybe they can channel Cassius as he speaks to Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

That’s it from paradise.  I guess Jimmy Buffett’s song is as about as close as I’m going to get.  Just substitute “breaded tenderloin” for “cheeseburger.”  And I prefer mayo, not Heinz 57.

Preseason Blogging Practice: Boston Consulting Group Edition

Many thanks to AP’s Jenna Fryer (@JennaFryer) for doing the hard work of reading the Boston Consulting Group’s 115 page opus on what IndyCar needs to do to be successful and then giving us the Cliffs Notes version of the main ideas.  Since the IndyCar season is still down the road, it is time for New Track Record to get in some preseason practice.  With so little news coming out of the IndyCar camp, even the bloggers need some extra time to dial things in.

Does anyone else find it interesting that the AP’s Jenna Fryer got a “leaked” copy of the BCG report for her “AP Exclusive: Family told to keep IndyCar, IMS” story?  The IndyCar Series has suffered from a very provincial mindset regarding publicity.  One reason the series has not received national coverage, other than the total dysfunction of management, is that they do not work for it.  Since the main daily coverage of IndyCar was by local reporters Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star and Robin Miller of Speed, most information was leaked to them and gleaned by them.  They, along with Speed‘s Marshall Pruett, were the only real media following the series.  They play the quid pro quo game with the teams, drivers, and management.  They get the scoop.  They are also players in the continuing internecine battle for political supremacy among owners, drivers, and management.  Sources give information to reporters because it helps them in some way.  Nothing new there.

What is new is that, after being frozen out of exclusive news last year, Jenna Fryer got the skinny on the BCG information.  I don’t think it was an accident.  With the notoriously leaky ship that is IMS and IndyCar, it is more than just surprising that no one else got a copy.  Someone with unquestioned authority made sure the national media got the story first.  And that is good news for IndyCar, even thought the Twitterless Robin Miller might disagree.

If IndyCar is going to be a BIG DEAL again, then they have to think beyond the Indianapolis 500.  The practice of freezing out local media to give exclusive content to the national media is prevalent in all pro sports.  The Indianapolis sports media is often bypassed by the Colts because the power and reach of ESPN is so great.  It makes better business sense to go national.  The local media hates it, but they understand it.  It’s not personal; it’s just business.  Curt Cavin, Robin Miller, and Marshall Pruett will get their copies.  They just won’t get them first.  Watch how this plays out for the rest of the year.

Well, it was great to take the blog out for a couple of shakedown paragraphs.  I’ll get it back to the shop, check for leaks, take a look at the data, and get it back out later in the week.  For sure.

Ten Worthless Opinions: Daytona Edition

NASCAR certainly knows how to put on a show.  The monolithic racing series has grown to iconic status.   The problem with that is the warts become iconic, also.  This week, the WO’s (worthless opinions) look at NASCAR with HD.  And you know the problem with that.  As American writer Dorothy Parker said, “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes right to the bone.”

1.  First the serious: NASCAR did an absolutely tremendous job in the aftermath of the NNS last lap accident.  They had an emergency plan and followed it.  First responders swarmed the grandstands, ambulances were rolling, and the pits were cleared for helicopters.  Whatever discussions will come regarding spectators and fencing, NASCAR had plans to address this situation.  Kudos.

2. Some on social media were critical of the NASCAR officials’ demeanor in the press conference Saturday evening.  It was mentioned that they seemed cold and/or indifferent.  I thought they handled it very professionally.  In a litigious society that demands instant information that will be parsed for every nuance and hint, the truth is that your PR/communication people have to tread very lightly.  Any misstep can be worth millions in the courtroom.  Total honesty cannot be expected so soon after the fact.  Facts were given and questions were answered as well as can be expected.

3.  Tony Stewart’s muted response in after his NNS win Saturday was spot on.  It was neither contrived nor delivered for effect.  It makes a fellow proud to be a Hoosier.  Well done.

4.  But not all is shiny and pure in HD land.  Sometimes the blemishes cannot be ignored.  NASCAR had YouTube take down fan video shot on a smartphone of the accident on grounds of copyright infringement.  YouTube later reinstated the video saying that it did not violate copyright.  NASCAR backtracked and said they wanted it down in deference to the victims.  Sure. That’s why.  I’m sure it had nothing to do with possible lawsuits stemming from the accident.  Deadspin, bless their sarcastic little hearts, posted an assessment of the situation.  NASCAR claims to own the copyright on every picture or video taken at the track.  Good luck with that.  For all I know, some communications wonk overreacted.  Or maybe it’s just another big corporation assuming they own everything.  If only the American public didn’t believe in that pesky Constitution.

5.  I don’t have the answer for fencing.  It’s a dangerous sport for the participants as well as for the spectators.  Someday, when a lawsuit, or the threat of one, really scares a major racing series, a solution will be found.  Until then we will wring our hands and jerk our knees until the next race.  Then the blinders will come back on until the next step toward the government enacting more regulations to protect us from ourselves.  In other words, fixing the problem will become the cheaper alternative to settling lawsuits.  That time will come.  This issue affects NASCAR, IndyCar, NHRA, and every Friday and Saturday night track in America.  It will not go away.

6.  Lawsuits over the accident may be filed, but it is doubtful that any will go to court.  They will all be quietly settled.  Any racing series is in a no-win situation with spectator injuries.  Court is open.  The media would be a circus.  A lawyer would ask if a series had a contingency plan.  If the answer was yes, then it would be shown that the series expected an accident with spectator injuries.  Guilty.  If you had no plan, then the series would be negligent for not expecting the accident.  Guilty again.  It’s the situation Yossarian faced in Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22.  NASCAR can’t win.  It is almost always cheaper, and better business, to settle.

7.  Kyle Larson is a racer.  He’s young, aggressive, and talented.  So naturally he followed the money to NASCAR.  It will be fun to watch him move up to the big boys.  I just hope he’s a Tony Stewart clone who never gives up the dirt tracks.  He certainly went to Tony’s class on how to win friends and influence people on his last lap bump on C.E. Falk in the Whelen All-American Series race on that freaky backstretch track.  Milk it, NASCAR!

8.  Who says NASCAR doesn’t work on diversity?  They had 50 Cent (rapper Curtis James Jackson III) in the pits trying to kiss Fox reporter Erin Andrews as she searched for Danica Patrick on a grid run that made Robin Miller look like a star.  I just LOVE the random absurdity of large events.  I guess 50 Cent was going to Get Erin or Die Tryin’.  Truth is so much stranger than fiction.

9.   Of course I have a Danica Patrick comment.  She drove a smart race, and other than hitching her star to Greg Biffle on the last lap, did everything right.  It was a great run for a rookie on the big stage.  Women can drive race cars.  Period.  She puts on the helmet and takes her chances.   Gender has nothing to do with driving.  It has a lot to do with endorsements.  Sometimes it pays to be a pretty face, and I don’t grudge Danica cashing that check.  She’s just “Taking Care of Business,” baby.

10.  What else was great about the Daytona 500 weekend?  The Winter Indy Tweet-Up (@WinterIndyTwtup) made the weekend.  Big thanks to all involved in the effort.  The Dallara tour was fun, but I’m going to need some translation on the brew served at Lino’s Coffee in the factory.  The two lap 100 MPH ride around IMS may have been the highlight of the day.  Finally, it was fantastic to hang with so many other people who share my love for IndyCar racing during the Main Event party at Detour in Carmel.

That’s all I’ve got about Daytona.  The racing season is upon us, but we all know what the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” really is, don’t we?  If not, here’s a little reminder:

IMG_0249

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.

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