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The magic Miles at IMS

Admit it. You saw it coming, didn’t you? When Mark Miles first broached the subject of IndyCar racing on the road course, it was a fait accompli, a done deal, money in the bank. There was NEVER any doubt that the cars in May were going to go the wrong way for the right reasons. And all those reasons come back to one thing: money.

Miles is not the first person to see that. The much maligned Randy Bernard knew from his first go-round in IndyCar that filling the coffers at 16th and Georgetown was his most important job. That he failed to wrangle the dollars needed to keep his job was not the only reason he was bucked off the boss’s chair at IndyCar. If he had managed to rope a few more promoters willing to pay sanctioning fees and a few more sponsors willing to invest in the series, he might have had a little more support in his battles with owners and drivers. Remember, he floated the ideas of double headers, IndyCars on the road course, and racing in Europe that people now see as coming on stone tablets from Moses Miles.

And I am not criticizing Mark Miles. His work with the ATP and the Super Bowl give him just a little more gravitas with the people who control all those purse strings that IndyCar so desperately needs to open. Bernard was seen as a hick and a huckster by the people that IndyCar needs to schmooze. Miles is seen as a smooth operator who speaks their language. And he does speak their language. The man is good at what he does.

The addition of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis is an absolute no-brainer. Racing now bookends the month of May with both IndyCar races on ABC. I’m guessing that ABC might be doing a little more promotion of its racing properties, particularly with NBC/NBC Sports cornering the market with its multi-series platform. In just over two weeks in May, IMS will host six races, two days of qualifying, and the debauchery that is Carb Day. Rumor has it that IMS is looking at a concert on the Saturday before the race. All of this certainly promotes IndyCar, IMS, the Mazda Road to Indy, and public drunkenness, but what it aims to do is make more money for everyone involved. And I have no problem with that.

Miles has taken a measured approach to growing the series. There are no quick fixes. The new Grand Prix of Indianapolis is not an example of an itchy trigger finger; it is a measured response to improving the month of May for the fans and the track in the long term. Once again, money. The schedule for 2014 does not contain any great new venues or opportunities. That a schedule is not yet out shows that Miles is learning the same lesson Randy Bernard did: the dotted line has to signed before an announcement can be made. But the focus Miles has on the 2015 schedule is another example of his slow and steady approach. Want more? With all that tax money in hand to make a splash, IMS has chosen to improve the road course to make a better show for IndyCar and MotoGP. I would guess the unpronounceable acronym that is sports car racing in America will benefit, too. But why no lights? Instead of adding a benefit that would get headlines, Miles mentioned the words that are honey to marketers and sponsors; the lights did not give a good ROI or return on investment. I wish my broker was that thoughtful with my money.

While cowboy Randy Bernard was wrong from the day he started work in some people’s eyes, magic Mark Miles can do no wrong. Looking at it closely, the main difference is really style and expectations. And of course, money. Let’s hope that the future of IndyCar with Mark Miles is not just smoke and mirrors. IndyCar doesn’t need any more illusions. It needs real magic.

Super Weekend – Did IMS Really Lose Her Virtue: A Mother’s Story

The purists at Indianapolis Motor Speedway shake their gray heads and mutter to themselves whenever the topic of other series racing at the stately matron at 16th and Georgetown comes up.  The purists, like the children of a widow, want their wealthy and popular mother to act her age.  They see the Indianapolis 500 as their father, whose sainted memory should be forever put on a pedestal, so his adoring family – presumably dressed in frock coats, vests, and cravats – can genuflect at his spatted feet.  The future?  Godfrey Daniels, my good man, we here in Indianapolis live firmly in the past.  They believe Mother IMS should stay home and entertain her old friends at afternoon tea.  Well, guess what?  Mother snuck out the back door while they were trying to decide what was best for her.

And luckily for racing fans she did.  The old gal refused to be put out to pasture because others knew what was best for her.  She took off those gray rags and those hideously sensible black shoes and put on leopard print stretch pants, stiletto heels, and the brightest red lipstick she could find.  But you know how people talk.  Mama Indy had some, how do we politely say it, “gentlemen callers.”  The first was that France boy from down south.  He wooed her with promises of more money and prestige, even though he was what we call nouveau riche.  His family didn’t have the right connections, but he was loaded.  And that money would come in handy as a family rift with the Champ Car side of the family was on the horizon.  So Mother Indy hooked up.  And what’s wrong with that?  After him, she took up with that Bernie boy from England, and that caused quite a stir because she had to build him a new place on the family compound.  And then she had the audacity to run around with motorcyclists.  The purist family was aghast.  But she wasn’t done.  She brought in a support series for the man from the South, and she started keeping company with some young college types that call themselves “gentlemen drivers.”  Her purist family could hardly show their faces in public anymore.  How could their mother treat them this way.  Did she have no shame?

The simple answer is that shame, virtue, modesty, and tradition have nothing to do with what the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has done since 1994, when it hosted the first Brickyard 400. It has done what any business is supposed to do for its owners: make money.  And why is that a crime?  The purists say that the tradition of the Indianapolis 500 is paramount; there should be one race only.  Carl Fisher, the architect of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, ran a series of events, including ones for motorcycles and balloons, and his first races put the cars in classes, very much like the support series for Formula 1 and the Rolex and Continental Tire Series.

Does the old lady look lonely when only 50 thousand of her friends show up for a party that can seat 250,000?  Absolutely.  Should perception be the deciding issue on hosting these events?  Absolutely not.  The bottom line for hosting an event should be the bottom line.  If it make financial sense to host a race, then host it.  Fenway Park is Fenway Park.  They play baseball, hockey, and host concerts there.  It’s the same for Wrigley Field.  I’m pretty sure the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs is not the only time the horses run in Louisville.  The Derby first ran in 1875 and the traditions (including mint juleps and ugly hats) seem to hold up pretty well with other events running on the same track.  Tradition can survive change.  It has to.

So the next time a new suitor comes knocking on Aunt Indy’s door, don’t purse your lips, look over the top of your glasses, and cluck a tsk, tsk.  Give her a big grin and shout “You go, girl!”  Tradition be damned.  Have fun.

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