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Archive for the tag “NASCAR”

Where’s the noise? – the silence of IndyCar management.

Listen.  Can you hear anything?  I know, Robin Miller is still rattling some cages in “Miller’s Mailbag,” and Track Forum is always Track Forum: someone is always saying something over there.  But other than the recent test at Barber Motorsports Park, what is there to talk about?

And yes, I see the irony in my managing to write about the fact that there really isn’t anything about which to write.  The question is whether that is a good thing or not.  I believe there are two schools of thought on the subject.

The first school of thought is the drone of the dour doubters on “Miller’s Mailbag” and at Track Forum.¹  From their point of view, the silence of the post Randy Bernard regime is borderline criminal.  How can the series grow if the leaders of the series are not constantly out promoting the product?  My god, we are up the creek in a barbed-wire canoe!  We are going straight to a hell where we will be forced to watch NASCAR and listen to Darrell Waltrip tell us how that series invented the breaded tenderloin and steering wheels!  This school of thought sees a Hindenburg of a series just tossing the mooring lines out at Lakehurst, New JerseyOh, the humanity!

The other perspective is a little more restrained.  They see the silence of the management team as a sign that a deliberate and thoughtful plan is in place to move the series forward that does not include the bosses being the story.  Randy Bernard’s popularity with the fans (which was much deserved) stuck in the craw of some of the drivers who believed (and rightly so) that they were the stars of the series.  This new low-key style was played out at Barber this week when a decidedly unpublicized meeting took place with Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, IndyCar CEO Jeff Belklus, and IndyCar COO Robby Greene meeting with IndyCar drivers and team principals.  This would have been press conference material in the recent past.  The agenda would have been leaked and dissected before the event.  Interviews and comments about the meeting would have found their way into Curt Cavin’s “Pit Pass” as well as a snarky column from Robin Miller.  This year?  Crickets.  No press release, no leaks, no videos, no snarky comments.  What in the world is going on here? This may be a sign that IndyCar is becoming  a serious business.  The focus was on the product.

In any case, it appears that a new management model is in place.  That may be good news for IndyCar, but it is absolute hell on bloggers who need the series dysfunction that had become the norm so we have something about which to write.  A successful IndyCar series would silence the snark.  So come on, IndyCar people, do something stupid.  I cannot keep writing about nothing.  This is not Seinfeld, you know.

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1.  I love “Miller’s Mailbag” and Track Forum.  And I’m not just saying that so the maniacs there don’t feel the need to verbally attack me here, although that would make a lot of sense.  The fact is we need the maniacal and the fanatical.  Every sports entertainment property needs the hard-core fans.  They are the sourdough needed to make new bread.  You have to have yeast, and I am sure there are very doughy body types single finger typing behind those 10-year-old HP computers.  I appreciate the passion.  We need more of it.

AJ Allmendinger: a casualty of corporate hypocrisy

Penske Racing has announced that AJ Allmendinger is going to drive the IZOD sponsored No. 2 Team Penske car at the IndyCar Series race at Barber Motorsports Park and the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Huzzah for him!  Also, a huzzah is order for IZOD for doing something to promote the series that is branded with their corporate name.  Way to step up, corporate-partner-looking-for-a-way-out.  But I digress.  This is about AJ Allmendinger being the whipping boy for our politically correct sports/corporate/media world.

Allmendinger has an impressive curriculum vitae: he won 5 races and had 14 podiums in 40 Champ Car races and racked up 29 top tens and 2 poles in 174 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events.  Add to that his Atlantics Championship and his Rolex 24 win and you have criteria for a racer.  But he has a couple of other stats, too.  In 2009 he was arrested for drunk driving and in 2013 he tested positive for Adderall.  In today’s rush-to-judgement society, he had become a pariah.  The corporate masters at NASCAR, a series founded on bootleggers racing their hopped up liquor delivery vehicles, could not stomach a young driver making such mistakes.

And Allmendinger did make mistakes.  He got behind the wheel drunk and was punished for it.  As far as we know, he did not get behind the wheel under the influence of amphetamines. He served a punishment for that, too.  Fair enough.

What bothers me is how modern society conveniently ignores that our athletic heroes have always pushed the envelope when it comes to enhancing something, whether it’s performance or partying.  The media, mainstream or social, absolutely delights in making these activities public.  We revel in it.  And the hypocrisy makes me shake my head.  From Babe Ruth’s epic appetites to Mickey Mantle’s hang-over home runs to Brad Keselowski’s giant championship beer, we cheer the victors’ substance abuse when they win, but wait in the weeds to pounce on them when they fall off the championship pedestal.  And the entire episode will be sponsored by Miller Lite, Budweiser, Florida Lottery, Five Hour Energy, Amp Energy, Burger King, McDonald’s, and Cheez-It’s.  NASCAR endorses drinking, gambling, liquid energy, and gluttony as long as they pay for the props.  That’s just business as usual in America.  The hypocrites rule, as they always have.

At least IndyCar and Roger Penske are willing to overlook Allmendinger’s poor choices.  The history of open wheel racing is just as wild and wooly as its tin-top brethren.  The 1950’s and 60’s are chock full of stories of drinking and carousing.  Back then this behavior was “colorful,” not anti-social.  IndyCar has said very little about Allmendinger and for good reason.  He is a driver, not a morality play.  A corporation that advertises the party in the Snake Pit at its biggest event needs to be careful about seeming too pious.

Our values have not really changed.  What has changed is corporate America’s perception of its public image.  They have cleaned and bleached the drivers so much that they are merely shills for the nervous sponsors.  Even Tony Stewart has matured now that he owes his living to his sponsors.  Most recently, NASCAR fined Denny Hamlin $25,000 for simply stating the truth about the Gen 6 car.  Remember, it’s always rainbows and unicorns unless we decide to let you wreck each other for entertainment and ratings.

IndyCar still allows its drivers to be themselves.  Josef Newgarden, Will Power, Helio Castroneves, James Hinchcliff, and Tony Kanaan still entertain us on a human level as well as on the track.  My fear is that once IndyCar has the success it deserves, the suits will suck the life out of it with policy and purview.

So welcome to the party, AJ.  The IndyCar circus is going to be a perfect fit for you.  We don’t care if you raise a little hell and have a personality.  I just hope Big Brother doesn’t start watching this series, too.

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:

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All bark and no bite: social media and IndyCar

Social media has allowed me to have a very small voice in the much bigger world of IndyCar racing.  A few incredibly supportive and intrepid souls regularly read my blog posts, which are almost all opinion pieces that I just make up.  I was even allowed to be a part of the inaugural Social Media Garage at the Indy 500 and the Super Weekend, for which I am forever grateful.  I do minimum research.  I simply watch the races and read what real reporters and insiders discover using real reporting techniques.  I’m just another fan with an opinion.

Social media has allowed me this access.  This blog and my Twitter account (@NewTrackRecord) allow me to pretend that my opinion matters, that what I think will somehow affect IndyCar in some vague but vital way.  It’s not true.  The truth is that what I write, either in the long form blog or the microblog that is Twitter, is read by very few and impacts nobody in IndyCar in any meaningful way.  My opinions mean nothing.  The time and effort it takes to write and comment have no discernible return on investment.  Yet the immediate gratification of publishing my opinions makes me feel like what I have to say has value, even though logic says it doesn’t.  That is the fact of social media.  It makes people believe someone cares about their opinions.

I liken the social media noise of IndyCar to a small yapping dog that just won’t shut up.  It will bark at anything that enters its line of sight.  This furry package of fury is an annoyance, not a threat.  That’s us.  That’s all of us who think our blogs and tweets influence anyone.  People hear us.  They notice us.  They just don’t really care.  Our power, for the most part, lies in simply making noise.  For all of its perceived shortcomings, Track Forum is still the most popular social media site related to IndyCar racing.  Posts often get over 1,000 views, and we are talking about multiple posts daily.  The site says that they have served over 3 million people.  I’m not sure what that means exactly, but it’s a big number.  Even so, the people who post and respond are relatively small, just like that damn little barking dog.

Another set of barks and growls comes from Twitter.  Every decision by IndyCar causes a blowing up of Twitter.  Fire Randy Bernard?  Boom!  Hire Mark Miles?  Boom!  Mention Tony George?  Boom!  Boom!  Boom!  How much actual power does Twitter have?  The few thousand IndyCar fans who are on Twitter are certainly vocal, but can a few thousand influence policy?  Randy Bernard responded to social media.  How did that work out for him?  He made the fatal mistake of thinking he worked for the fans.  I still don’t see a Twitter account for Mark Miles or Jeff Belklus.¹  I’m pretty sure we won’t see them.  They are too important to mingle with the great unwashed.  Our opinions have very little value to them.  Need proof?  Here are some IndyCar Twitter follower numbers compared to NASCAR numbers.

IndyCar

  • Curt Cavin-(@curtcavin)-10,672-Indianapolis Star
  • Marshall Pruett-(@marshallpruett)-7,946-Speed.com
  • John Oreovicz-(@indyoreo)-1,420-ESPN.com
  • Kevin Lee-(@KevinLee23)-5,376-NBC Sports, 1070thefan.com
  • Bill Zahren-(@pressdog)-5,500-pressdog.com
  • Tony Johns-(@TonyJWriter)-4,2016-RacingPress.com
  • George Phillips-(@oilpressureblog)-1,084-oilpressure.com
  • Zack Houghton-(@indycaradvocate)-1,871-indycaradvocate.com
  • Robin Miller-Not on Twitter-NBC Sports, Speed.com

NASCAR

  • Marty Smith-(@MartySmithESPN)-73,460-ESPN
  • Jeff Gluck-(@jeff_gluck)-44,205-USA Today
  • Bob Pockrass-(@bobpockrass)-42,294-Sporting News
  • nascarcasm-(@nascarcasm)-32,341-SB Nation
  • The Orange Come-(@TheOrangeCone)-25,8110
  • Terry Blount-(@TerryBlountESPN)-8,619-ESPN

Notice a difference?  The IndyCar media added together do not equal the attendance of even the most poorly attended IndyCar event.  Once again, for all the effort, only the hard-core fan is listening.  And IndyCar cannot build a future by listening to the hard-core fan.  The future lies in grabbing the interest of fans who are not currently interested in the series.  The numbers of followers for NASCAR media dwarfs IndyCar, including an inanimate object and someone with a name that people cannot pronounce.²  And please explain to me how Robin Miller, a leading media voice on IndyCar, is not on Twitter.  Promotion of the series and yourself is part of the currency of the media. Being a curmudgeon only goes so far.  IndyCar is clearly losing the promotional war.  Nobody is listening.

As far as blogs go, I don’t have access to the number of daily, weekly, or yearly hits at sites other than mine.  And since I have already stated that doing deep research to illuminate my opinions does not happen, I am not planning on asking for them.  Suffice it to say that the page views probably reflect a ratio similar to the numbers listed here for Twitter.  Only the hard-core are seeking information on IndyCar.

These same numbers apply to driver followers on Twitter.  With the exception of a certain Brazilian, NASCAR blows IndyCar away.

IndyCar

  • Tony Kanaan – 577,197
  • Helio Castroneves – 78,078
  • Dario Franchitti – 85,188
  • Scott Dixon – 49,613
  • Simon Pagenaud – 9,420
  • Marco Andretti – 52,534
  • Graham Rahal – 43,941
  • James Hinchcliff – 26,310
  • Pippa Mann – 12, 387
  • IndyCar – 79, 309

NASCAR

  • Danica Patrick – 696,431
  • Brad Keselowski – 358,456
  • Jimmie Johnson – 352,061
  • Jeff Gordon – 348,567
  • Mark Martin – 130,407
  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 67,442
  • NASCAR – 882,334

The numbers speak volumes.  IndyCar is not a mainstream sport in the way that NASCAR is.  Nobody is listening.  Nobody is watching.  And other than the few hard-cores left, nobody seems to care.  The followers for @IndyCar and @NASCAR tell the story.  We are outnumbered by over 10-1.

IndyCar continues to make efforts through social media, though.  The series has produced a series called The Offseason on YouTube, once again attempting to use social media to promote the brand.  The series, a take-off of The Office, stars Will Power, James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, and Charlie Kimball as they work in the IndyCar offices.  The writing, like my blog, lacks a coherent theme and plot, but at least IndyCar is trying to generate interest.  The numbers, however, are not encouraging.  According to YouTube, episode one garnered 28,784 views.  Not bad, but the numbers for the following episodes have decreased significantly.  Episode seven has 2,126 views.  Probably not quite the viral hit IndyCar had in mind.  Kudos for the effort.

What’s the point of all this?  Right now, IndyCar can ignore the barking dog that is social media.  We affect very little and IndyCar knows it.  But to ignore the future of social media is shortsighted.  Simply put, IndyCar needs to put all its effort into finding new young fans to grow a base that is currently shrinking.  Using social media in all of its forms, some not yet invented, to attract and engage these fans is an absolute necessity if IndyCar plans to connect to new followers who use these mediums as their primary sources of information, entertainment, and engagement.  Social media cannot be ignored or marginalized.  To do so is to risk the future of the series.  Even though social media at this time is just a chihuahua nipping at the heels of IndyCar, it is on its way to being a pit bull in the future.  IndyCar can afford to ignore the noise of the remaining hard-core fans on social media; we are small potatoes.  It cannot afford to ignore the future fans who will use this media as their primary source of information about everything.  IndyCar’s marketing efforts must be directed at these future fans, and social media must be a primary focus for delivering these marketing efforts.

Marshall McLuhan, a philosopher of communication theory, famously said, “The medium is the message.”  I hope IndyCar gets the message about social media loud and clear.  It’s a brave, new world out there.

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1.  In fairness, Doug Boles (@jdouglas4), the new COO of IMS, is active on Twitter.  As the former VP of communications at the Speedway, I think he understands the value of social media in the future.

2.  Just to be clear, I know @nascarcasm, an Indy native, and he is not only a great guy but is also a smart, snarky observer of all things NASCAR and IndyCar.  That doesn’t make his name any easier to pronounce, though.

Fast Times in Noblesville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The IMS Garage Sale

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

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

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

Reasons for IMS to sell the IndyCar Series

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

Reasons for IMS to keep the IndyCar Series

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

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

IndyCar’s Endless Summer

As the end of summer looms on the horizon, I have been listening to the band that has defined summer for me through the years.  That’s right, nothing says “summer” like America’s Band, The Beach Boys.  And wouldn’t you know it, it seems like their songs have something to say to IndyCar.  So get out that scratchy copy of Pet Sounds and drop the needle.  IndyCar’s Endless Summer is here, courtesy of your host with the most, New Track Record.

“Fun, Fun, Fun”  Really, did you think our trip through the summer could start anywhere except America’s playground for the rich, Nantucket?  In the song, our teenage girl is driving her daddy’s T-Bird when she should be doing something else.  Poor, privileged Jay Penske was standing on the sidewalk in one of America’s richest enclaves when he was accosted by a simple bartender for urinating in the street.  The horror.  All of IndyCar hopes he can recover from this tawdry display of the rabble trying to take a picture of the rich and famous answering the call of nature.  In today’s political climate, the rich should be pissing on the middle class with impunity.  Accountability is for the poor.  Of course, what makes this story delicious is that Jay Penske owns the gossip website hollywoodlife.com, which specializes in covering the sordid affairs of the rich and famous.  Funny, I could find nothing about him on the website.  It seems rival gossip site TMZ has no such qualms.  Go here to see their article.

“All Summer Long”  The boys sing about how wonderful summer is with all the items that define the season.  One line sings about wearing “T-shirts, cut-offs, and a pair of thongs” all summer long.  Wait a minute.  I think a definition may have changed over the years.  These are thongs you wear on your feet.  In any case, it must have been nice to have the things you love all summer long.  As we go dark in IndyCar for 20 days or so, the die-hard IndyCar fans wait restlessly while the casual fan finds something else to do.  I understand that China was scheduled in there, but who was going to watch that race, anyway.  The fact is that IndyCar is over before summer ends.  We need to race all summer long.

“Wouldn’t It Be Nice”  Ah, this one takes me back to a time when what you wanted – in this song’s case, sex – was something for which you were willing to wait, although not necessarily happily.  In IndyCar, many folks just aren’t willing to wait.  Owners want a change in IndyCar management.  Tony George wants control back.  Promoters want a better deal.  The paddock wants cheaper parts.  Fans want more ovals, unless they want more road courses.  Sponsors want better ratings.  China wants a beer festival.  Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone was willing to wait and work through the issues together.  The fragmentation of all the constituencies of IndyCar is part of the dysfunction of this particular racing family.  In the song, you know the kids are going to “get together” at some time.  I’m not so sure about IndyCar.

“Good Vibrations”  All is not gloom and doom, though.  There are good vibrations all through IndyCar.  In fact, IndyCar is “giving me excitations.”  The car count is staying up and the racing is great!  Cars are passing each other on every track (except Detroit).  The series championship is still undecided.  Did I mention the racing is great?  The problem seems to be that nobody knows about it.  The monolith of NASCAR dominates the news with its TV partners, especially ESPN.  Still, the product on the track is the best in America, or maybe the world, right now.  Hopefully, these good vibrations will continue and not be an indication of a wheel getting ready to fall off.

“Be True To Your School”  The concept of loyalty to your school is the theme of this song.  And I agree with it.  At the risk of being called a cheerleader (and I don’t even own pom-poms), I think fans should support the series, the sponsors, the events, and the networks.  They also can, and should, be critical of what they don’t like.  But they should also defend the series, at least in general terms.  I would rather have my critics inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.  Right now, IndyCar can use more people in the tent.  And I’m not sure where I want Jay Penske; I just know he’s going to be pissing somewhere.

“God Only Knows”  Sometimes we don’t take the time to show our appreciation for those things that are meaningful to us.  This song says “God only knows what I’d do without you.”  It’s good to be self-aware.  A little self-awareness might be good for all of IndyCar, fans included.  The Indianapolis 500 will always be there, but no such guarantee exists for IndyCar (remember USAC and CART).  If the series fails – and it can – then there might not be a white knight with deep pockets to pick up the pieces.  It might just be a NASCAR knight with an indeterminate color of armor.  If people think IndyCar is a niche sport now, wait until the series is taken over by an organization that views it as competition for its primary business.  It happens in the real world all the time.  Not trying to be all Mayan-end-of-the-world here, but this threat may exist.  God only knows.

“Don’t Worry Baby”  The Pollyanna choir keeps telling me how good everything is.  And the racing is good.  The propaganda of the series and its minions say that TV ratings don’t matter.  They do.  Just ask any sponsor.  The bottom-liners at every business want to calculate the ROI (return on investment).  Right now, IndyCar is iffy.  When your series is handing out Leader’s Circle money to Jay Penske based on his promise of advertising impressions, then we better be singing “Worry Baby.”  Everyone knows he’s only going to piss it away.

“I Get Around”  Whatever else you can say about Randy Bernard, he works.  He is on the road courting promoters, engine builders, sponsors, and the media.  IndyCar is lucky to have him.  It was recently announced that Randy Bernard may be getting ready to ink NOLA Motorsports Park in Louisiana.  Check out the link to see this very interesting layout.  At a time when tracks are trying to negotiate sweetheart deals, if they want to deal at all, then it’s absolutely imperative that IndyCar goes racing where someone wants it to race.  So where y’at, NOLA Motorsports Park.  I hear it’s nice south of I-10 in the spring.

My recommendation?  Roll down the car windows, cruise your local root beer stand, crank up The Beach Boy’s Endless Summer, and pretend that you’re still that too-cool-for-school kid you were – or wanted to be – when you were in high school.  That summer in our mind never needs to end.

Ten Worthless Opinions – Stranger in a Strange Land Redux

Well, I did my tour of duty in the Social Media Garage at the Super Weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Met some great people, had a few laughs, got caught in the rain, and saw “the other side” of racing.  I have attended 44 Indianapolis 500’s; this was my  first Crown Royal Presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com.  OK, I copied and pasted the name of the race because GOOD GOD, THAT’S A LONG NAME AND WHO THE HELL IS BIGMACHINERECORDS.COM, ANYWAY.  With that said, I will refer to the race as the Brickyard 400 from now on.  You’re welcome.  Here is the tale of an innocent IndyCar blogger/social media neophyte as he observes and reports on the monolith we call NASCAR.  These are the WO’s (worthless opinions) on his experience.

1.  I thought I had at least a working knowledge of the power of social media.  Untrue.  I am a babe in the woods compared to Jessica Northey, Jenny DeVaughn, the myth that is nascarcasm, and the Idaho weatherman known as Brian Neudorff.  At the Indy 500, my Social Media Garage brothers and I merrily tweeted and blogged our way through the month of May, never once saying the word “impressions.”  It seems that this word is a vital component to judging just how valuable a Twitter account or blog is to someone.  The names listed above have MILLIONS of impressions.  Jessica Northey already has business plans to make these impressions pay.  The two bright things I did this weekend were to shut up when they were explaining the power of social media to me and to ask questions after they stopped talking.  I know nothing, but I’m interested in this stuff.  I suggest all users of Twitter start tracking their metrics.  And by the way, I would LOVE for you all to re-tweet my idiotic comments on Twitter.  It seems that is of value.

2.  People are always ragging on the yellow shirts at IMS.  They yell, blow whistles, and generally brook no argument.  When alcohol induced stupidity by the fans is not involved, I have found the majority of these men and women to be friendly and helpful.  The rest, of course, are petty tyrants and martinets.  Do the workers at IMS really have a sense of humor?  Check out this sign I saw as I entered the track on Sunday.

Love it, right?  Good stuff.

3.  I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore when I walked down the merchandise trailer row.  I counted over 30 trailers hawking hats, shirts, baby apparel, models, scanners, and various and sundry cheaply made and overpriced items that a person does not need.  EVERY name driver has a trailer.  IndyCar cannot compete.  I continued my tour and came to a trailer that had a giant picture of Jeff Gordon wearing camouflage posing with what appears to be a large, dead elk.

This trailer was selling nothing but camouflaged team and driver gear.  I have never seen this merchandise at an IndyCar race.  I think we are appealing to a different demographic.  Of course I now have a Tony Stewart camouflage hat to wear golfing.  Stylish.  When in Rome…

4.  The Continental Tire Series, with its production based cars and “gentlemen drivers,” and the Rolex Series both put on damn good shows on Friday.  They run in the rain!  I consider myself an Indy guy, but I have no problem with Indy hosting other series.  It’s their track and their business.  Make some money so the IndyCar series stays strong.  Keep these races.

5.  The Indy 500 has its share of drinkers, tattoos, mullets, and boorish behavior, but I’m pretty sure the per capita on these belongs to NASCAR.  I’d bet the 500 leads in total arrests, but I’ll have to go the over on NASCAR with concealed weapons.  It’s a different crowd.  A strong need to root against someone seems to exist in stock car racing.  You not only rabidly pull for someone, you just as rabidly pull against an opponent you perceive to have done your driver wrong.  I’m convinced you could get shanked in the lavatory for wearing a Juan Pablo Montoya shirt if he had just wrecked Junior.  Or maybe just for wearing a Juan Pablo Montoya shirt.  And I’m just talking about the women’s lavatory.  It’s a rough crowd, particularly for my refined tastes.

6.  How about that race?  Be honest with me.  You took a nap, didn’t you?  In a race to race comparison, the Indy 500 laps the Brickyard 400.  Indy had lead changes, charges through the pack, and a last lap dive bomb in Turn One that THRILLED the crowd.  I get it that NASCAR has more pit strategy with 2 or 4 tires and all the adjustments you can make during a race.  In my opinion, it’s a product of a relatively low-tech series that is just coming to grips with its “shade tree mechanic” past.  Still figuring that fuel injection out, huh?

7.  Give credit where credit is due, though.  The traveling carnival that is NASCAR dwarfs the IndyCar show.  NASCAR is BIG.  They have a mass of haulers just for the series gear.  The downside to that is NASCAR has a very high overhead as a series in a very bad economy.  IndyCar’s more streamlined product may be in better shape to weather the economic storm.  IndyCar is lean.  NASCAR  has to feed the bulldog EVERY week.

8.  Traffic in the Brickyard 400 Social Media Garage was much stronger than the Indy 500 traffic.  Even though the room was hidden this week, a good number of NASCAR fans came in to check it out.  This second iteration of the SMG was also better suited to move people from entrance to exit.  Also, the Brickyard 400 brings the local Indy 500 fans.  It was good to see so many of my social media friends, especially those that had Fuzzy’s Premium in a chilled flask.  Cheers, friends.  I was hoping people were stopping in to see me, but I have a suspicion the air conditioning was the main attraction.

9.  One of the highlights of the Social Media Garage was when Chevrolet brought Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Tony Stewart in for special wristband interviews.  Doug Boles, VP of Communications conducted a very professional Q and A.  The drivers were relaxed, engaged, and funny.  When I asked Gordon if he ever wanted to get back in the sprints and midgets, he said he gets the itch every time he sees a race, and he plans to attend the Knoxville Nationals this year.  Loved that answer. When Tony Stewart was asked what he does when it rains, he said, “I try to get somewhere out of the rain.”  He said it with a smile.  When I asked him what car or formula had the steepest learning curve, he said the winged sprint cars he’s racing now are the hardest to learn because the left side digs in going through the corner, not the right like the non-wings.  The guy is a flat racer.  Johnson talked about moving from bikes to buggies to stock cars.  Basically, he has been in a stock car since his teens.  It’s all he knows.  All three love Indy, and it shows.

10.  NASCAR drivers are rock stars.  They can’t walk anywhere without a crowd forming.  One thing I like about the 500 is that the fans respect the drivers as they walk from place to place.  If they stop, then of course the fans will ask for autographs, but it’s not a free-for-all with drivers ducking for cover.  I like the more mature reaction of the IndyCar fans.

Let me just give credit where credit is due.  Cassie Conklin is the IMS person in charge of new media.  The social media people who come in (like me) are pains in the neck.  Cassie’s a saint.  Pippa Mann stopped in and was her usual friendly and professional self.  What an ambassador for IndyCar.  Jarrett Peyton, the son of Walter Payton, stopped in with his amazingly positive personality to just hang out and talk.  Ashley Stremme, wife of NASCAR driver David Stremme, stopped by to chat with Jessica Northey and stayed to talk racing.  She grew up in a racing family and drove dirt modifieds.  She had interesting comments on being a one car team struggling to find sponsorship.  I’m now a fan.  Last, but not least, Todd and Cary Bettenhausen, the twin sons of Gary Bettenhausen, were in all three days helping visitors to the SMG experience iRacing.  Every kid that needed it got positive and friendly instruction.  And the boys had some racing stories to tell.  IMS history was right there next to me.  My opinions may be worthless, but the experiences I’ve had this year through IMS, Twitter, and this blog have been far from that.  Sometimes that stranger mentioned in the title finds a home.

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.

Stranger in a Strange Land

Will all due apologies to science fiction writer Robert Heinlein and his seminal book Stranger in a Strange Land [1], that title sums up how I feel about being in the Social Media Garage for the Super Weekend.  First and foremost, I am an open-wheel fan.  Something about IndyCars, sprints, midgets, F1 and other open-wheel formulas just does it for me.  Don’t get me wrong, though.  I am a racing fan.  I enjoy the NASCAR series, even though the recent iterations of the Sprint Cup seem somewhat less than dynamic.  I know, I’m sure if someone took the time to tutor me in the esoterica of Sprint Cup aerodynamics, pit stops, and strategy then I would come to the light, drink the Kool Aid, and don a wardrobe of Tony Stewart shirts and hats.  It just hasn’t happened so far.

That begs the question of what the hell I’m doing in the NASCAR Super Weekend Social Media Garage.  Basically, I am loud, opinionated, and willing to embarrass myself in public.  I am sure IMS mentioned how important that is when they recruited the other social media types for the weekend.  I am still figuring out my persona for the weekend.  The fact is, I’m an Indianapolis Motor Speedway guy.  I know its history, its cultural meaning, and the good places to eat and drink in the area: an IMS idiot savant, so to speak.  I am offering my services to any blogger/social media expert/passerby who wants to talk Indy.  I might even be willing to listen to other opinions about racing.  But don’t count on it.

The reality is that fenders are OK with me.  I spent last Friday and Saturday at Anderson Speedway, a quarter-mile high-banked asphalt track watching three different series of stock cars (JEGS Crate Late Models, McGunegill Engine Performance Late Models, and the ARCA CRA Super Series in the Stoops Freightliner-Quality Trailer Redbud 300) race and, I had a blast.  Support your local grass roots racing by attending the show at your local track.  And the tenderloins were as big as hubcaps.  Don’t believe me?  Check it out.  That’s a full size plate.


That’s the kind of information I bring to the Super Weekend Social Media Garage.  It’s just another service provided to fans here at New Track Record.

The truth is I really like the NASCAR drivers who wheeled midgets and sprints as their paths to the big time.  I’m a fan of Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, and all the others who know what it means when they see a t-shirt that says “Slide or Be Slid.”  Even though I’m a stranger who will be attending my first NASCAR race after being in the crowd for 44 Indy 500’s, I don’t really think it will be that strange a land.  It’s still Indy.

See you in the Social Media Garage.  I will try to send out a lie post or two every day.  You can also follow my ramblings on Twitter @NewTrackRecord.

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1.  Want to know more about Robert Heinlein?  This link takes you to the Heinlein Society site.  Don’t worry.  He’s no L. Ron Hubbard, and no pseudoscientific religion has formed around him.  I doubt Tom Cruise or John Travolta have ever read his stuff.  I do love his philosophies, though.  I recommend you read Time Enough for Love.  http://www.heinleinsociety.org/rah/index.htm

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