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Archive for the tag “Randy Bernard”

The end of the IndyCar Mom and Pop

I grew up in a small Indiana town.  Not only did I know all the business people and citizens of the place, I knew every dog in town by name.  If you were a quarter short on your bill, the local grocery, drugstore, and gas station would let you have it on the cuff.  They knew where you lived.  It was a good way to grow up.  Sadly, the small town experience has fallen victim to Wal-Mart, Lowes, and Amazon.  Personal service is a thing of the past.  I miss it.

Sometimes, though, the loss of the small town Mom and Pop store needs to happen.  Wal-Mart, for all its heavy-handed insistence on driving competition out of business, saves consumers money, and Amazon allows people the convenience of shopping for everything from home.  Hulman & Company, the corporation that owns both Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Verizon IndyCar Series, has finally moved away from its Terre Haute roots and is searching for success in the 21st century.  They understand that they have to grow or atrophy.  There is no in-between.

Exit Jeff Belskus.  The Hulman & Company president and CEO announced his (cough) retirement from the business last week.  Mark Miles has systematically  cleaned house reorganized the business to consolidate his power.  If he, and IndyCar fans, want the series to succeed, this had to happen.  Poor Randy Bernard, brought in by the board to affect change, was hamstrung and marginalized from the beginning of his tenure by the tentacles of the Terre Haute mafia that allowed anyone with a grievance to do an end-around to the offices of his superiors.  Additionally, Bernard was never given the budget to hire the pros in marketing, sales, event management, and finance that Miles has brought on board.  Whether fans like it or not, the face of IndyCar racing is changing forever.

Recently, Miles added Allison Melangton, former president of the Indiana Sports Corporation,  as VP of events, and Cindy Lucchese as chief financial officer and chief administrative officer.  In fact, Belskus was out on Thursday and Lucchese was in on Monday.  Different positions, yes, but both are financial people.  The years of IMS and the IndyCar Series being a sinecure for family and friends, no matter how well-connected and nice, are over.   Well, kind of over.  Just because you are connected doesn’t mean you are incompetent.  IMS and the series still employ family and friends, who, from all indications, are capable.  They just may no longer have as much access to the inner sanctum.  And that is important.

The Yellow Shirts and ticket and credentials offices at IMS continue to retain their folksy ways.  If you call or stop by for a visit, you will absolutely be introduced to true Hoosier hospitality.  That’s the veneer.  If you venture to where the new bosses reside, I am sure the vibe would be much more professional.  President Lyndon Johnson famously said, “I don’t want loyalty.  I want loyalty.  I want him to kiss my a– in Macy’s window at high noon and tell me it smells like roses.”  Miles has his loyal team and has gathered the power to him.  Now it’s time to take care of business.

 

 

 

 

Dr. Strangerace or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New IndyCar Schedule

The new, shortened schedule of the IndyCar Series has provoked a visceral response from the remaining engaged and invested fans of American open-wheel racing: the vast majority see it as an insult to those who follow the series and a capitulation to the popularity of NASCAR and football.  Pondering the fact of the schedule one night, I was pulled into watching the Stanley Kubric black comedy, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.  Something seemed eerily familiar, and then it hit me.  The plot of Dr. Strangelove was paralleling the perceived issues of the IndyCar schedule.

I do love black comedies.  In the movie, a rogue Air Force general launches a nuclear attack on Russia that climaxes with a cowboy pilot played by Slim Pickens waving his hat while riding a bomb to earth like  a rodeo cowboy.  And no, the connection to Randy Bernard is not lost on me.  He lost his job before I could use the idea.  But the theme of following a flawed protocol to an inevitable bad end was not lost on me.  It reminded me of the debate on the current IndyCar schedule.

Here is where my argument takes an ironic turn.  I don’t think the new schedule is flawed.  The old one was. While attendance at events is vital to allow promoters to make a profit, it is more important in the long run to increase television viewership to attract sponsorship and provide a means for the teams to make a profit.  Mark Miles, the series’ Dr. Strangelove, is moving in the right direction.

Dr. Strangelove, played by Peter Sellers, is the President’s scientific advisor and counsels the POTUS on how to deal with the reality of mutually assured destruction.  Similarly, Mark Miles is navigating the politics of making a marginalized niche series, one possibly headed to financial destruction, into a viable money-making proposition.  To do this, he has made, and will make, decisions unpopular with the core constituency of the small but rabid IndyCar fan base.

His first decision was to shorten the window of the North American schedule to avoid the Chase in NASCAR and both college football Saturdays and NFL Sundays.  Again, Miles wants to improve viewership on television to bring in presenting sponsors for both the promoter and the networks.  Everyone needs to eat.  The networks need to sell advertising; the promoters need to sell presenting sponsorship; the series needs to receive sanctioning fees; the teams need to make money…somehow.  The series’ window provides the best opportunity for the networks to generate viewership.  The series’ on-air competition with other sports during the new IndyCar schedule is not quite as stout.  The new series’ window provides the best opportunity for promoters to find presenting sponsors.  Again, the competition is less robust.  And if ratings improve, sponsorship opportunities will improve, also.  The series has some wiggle room with sanctioning fees, but it must have a long-term commitment from promoters and networks to make deals.  Again, the television ratings for the new, shortened schedule will dictate everything.

But what about the teams?  The unfortunate truth is that they seem to come last in the pecking order of who needs to make money.  The history of IndyCar shows that tire and engine makers subsidized the teams while sponsorship made up most of the difference.  No more.  The teams are spending more on equipment and making less on sponsorship while purses at all races except the Indy 500 are too pitifully small to make a difference.  How will Dr. Strangemiles manage to fatten the purses of the teams?  Easy answer: international races.

International races are coming.  Period.  Miles has floated the idea and has vast international sports’ experience from his time running the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals).  His membership played tournaments where they could make the most money.  That’s the whole idea, isn’t it?  A short South American series in the spring and another set of rounds in Europe, Asia, India, and/or the Middle East would make sense.  To host these races, the promoters will need to have solid sponsorship and financial backing that will pay the teams’ expenses and put some money in the pockets of the owners.  As much as I want to say it is all about the fans, that is not true.  The fans are an important constituency, but they are not the only one.  As I said before, everyone has to eat.

Before the schedule detractors start jerking their knees, let’s look at the old schedule.  There were massive gaps between events that stopped any momentum the series developed, and everyone complained about it!  That problem has been solved.  The same unhappy fans will say that foreign events are in different time zones.  South America is pretty close in terms of time.  And Europe and the Middle East will occupy the same early Saturday or Sunday time that F1 and Premier League soccer occupy now.  That is still watchable, right?  And if one or two races find themselves in Australia or Asia, then I guess the DVR will be put to good use.  The American sports public records events all the time.  It is not an issue.

The same people will complain about the championship.  How can we care about races that don’t count?  My guess is that any South American races will be run before the series opens at St. Pete and may eventually be points-paying races.  The championship still needs to end on Labor Day, and it needs to conclude in North America to satisfy the fans, sponsors, and television partners.  The fall rounds could be an exhibition series, but I can envision a set of races with a sponsor’s trophy at the end.  Call it the Dr. Strangleove Cup, if you will.

At the end of the day, the fans will be happy because the series will survive and maybe even thrive.  Embrace the changes.  If economic history has taught us anything, it is that a business has to be nimble and able to adapt if it wants to survive.  In Dr. Strangelove, the title character advises the POTUS to move people underground to survive the Doomsday weapon of the USSR.  Likewise, Mark Miles and his new schedule are reacting to the reality of the sporting and economic landscapes.  In the end, the series will survive because someone made hard and unpopular decisions.  Then again, maybe it will be like Slim Pickens as Major “King” Kong, riding the nuclear bomb to the ground yelling, “Yahoo!”  In IndyCar’s case, I hope it is not an example of art imitating life.

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.

Ten Worthless Opinions: Honda Indy Toronto Poutine Edition

IndyCar had quite the time in Toronto.  Border security, rules interpretation, feuds, and Scott Dixon’s domination mixed together in a doubleheader race format to provide a highly entertaining  weekend.  In other words, the IZOD IndyCar Series is sometimes just a blogger’s dream.  So grab your poutine (fries, brown gravy, and cheese curds) and settle in for that other messy treat that is “Ten Worthless Opinions.”

1.  There are so many interesting/entertaining/puzzling storylines to the weekend, I truly don’t know where to start.  Let’s go ahead with what was the big interest going into the weekend: standing starts.  The IndyCar series has a knack for taking the big story and fumbling it like Sebastien Bourdais did his runner-up trophy after Saturday’s race.  Standing starts are a big deal only because IndyCar has for years been unable to have competent two-wide starts due to driver gamesmanship and officials unwillingness/inability to enforce a standard for rolling starts.  The only reason to use a standing start to spice up the beginning of the race is because the normal rolling starts are so brutally ugly.

2.  The standing start concept did, however, generate interest, which makes the fumbling on Saturday even more egregious.   I have no problems with IndyCar using standing starts.  My problem is the seemingly amateurish handling of the concept.  The drivers and team principals are allowed to publicly question/ridicule the choice of starts.  That’s the way to build a brand, if your brand is churlishness.  The fumbling occurred when the officials decided to abort the standing start when Josef Newgarden had an issue.  And I’m OK with that choice.  What leaves me rolling my eyes is how IndyCar did not make clear to its on-site and TV audience what the rules for using or not using the standing start were.  I’m pretty sure if IndyCar handed a list of the standing start rules to NBC Sports and said,”You might want to make a graphic of this for your booth and your audience,” they would have done it.  And NBC Sports is not off the hook.  How could they not request/demand the rules in a production meeting?  Picture the fans at the venue and the hundreds watching on television with their palms up saying, “What the hell’s going on?”  Be prepared to tell the story.

3.  Loved the NBC Sports booth of Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell, and Steve Matchett.  Matchett in particular brought enthusiasm and insight to his first foray into IndyCar.  He watched it like a well-informed fan.  Bell continues to be smooth, and his low-key delivery is a nice contrast to Diffey’s exuberance.  Jon Beekhuis excels at giving technical information, this week explaining how the clutch works in a standing start.  NBC Sports broadcast shames ABC, which seems to simply go through the motions.

4.  I did question how NBC Sports handled the Dario Franchitti/Will Power contretemps, though.  After Franchitti blocked/held his line against Power’s aggressive/optimistic/stupid move in turn three, there was a great opportunity to build a feud between members of the two dominant teams in the series.  How did NBC Sports handle it?  They had the two talk it out on the Sunday broadcast with Robin Miller, the same Robin Miller who says, “Hate is good.”  What a let-down.  Where’s the shit-stirring Marty Snyder when you need him?

5.  The racing was great.  And that’s not just shilling.  Other than Scott Dixon absolutely checking out on Sunday, cars were passing and being passed on both days.  Scott Dixon may be rather vanilla when it comes to personality, but what a racer.  He did not put a wheel wrong all weekend.  Speaking of Ganassi Racing, the in-race and post-race comments of Mike Hull are always informative, even when he is being sly about strategy.  Chip Ganassi was at his well-behaved best in the post-race interviews, even welcoming Dragon Racing’s Jay Penske to the rich guys’ club.  His feigned magnanimity chafes me since his normal demeanor is peevish and irascible.  Leopards and spots, you know.

6.  I wonder if we will ever hear the full story of IndyCar race director Beaux Barfield and his border bang-up?  Was he smuggling Cuban cigars into Canada?  I mean, who doesn’t like a good Cuban to smoke after dinner?  Was his passport not up-to-date?  That happens to the best of us.  The truth is probably mundane, but I would love to know.  Until then, I will just make it worse by offering conjecture and innuendo, as a reputable blogger should.  Of more concern is Derrick Walker’s seemingly less-than-enthusiastic support of Barfield in Jenna Fryer’s recent AP story.  Beaux had relatively free rein under former boss Randy Bernard.  My guess is life is different under the dominion of Walker.  Keep your eye on this relationship.

7.  Let’s talk about rules!  In race one, the rule was that two wheels had to be in contact with the racing surface at all times to keep the drivers from curb jumping.  IndyCar gave warnings for violations and then rescinded the rule during the race Saturday when the drivers continued to jump the curbs.  I imagine the conversation going something like this:

  • Race Control: “Stop jumping the curbs!”
  • Drivers: “No!”
  • Race Control: “Stop it!”
  • Drivers: “No!”
  • Race Control: “Never mind.”

8.  More rules interpretation.

  • Race Control: “Dario Franchitti, you blocked Will Power!”
  • Franchitti: “No, I didn’t!”
  • Race control: “Yes, you did!”
  • Franchitti:  “I’m getting my dad!”
  • Race control: “Never mind.”

9.  Even more rules interpretation.

  • Race Control:  “You will do standing starts/double-file restarts/two laps on red tires.”
  • Drivers: “No.”
  • Race Control: “OK.”

10.  OK, that last was a cheap shot.  The drivers and teams knew about the rules for aborting the standing start, the change from double-file to single-file restarts, and the codicil permitting a change of tires without using them for two laps.  The people who did not always know were the broadcasters and the fans.  And since IndyCar is trying to engage the fans, it might consider keeping them informed.  Just a suggestion.  One more: when announcing rules interpretations to the audience, IndyCar might want to include the phrase, “Pursuant to Rule #…”  That would certainly have helped the NBC Sports crew give the audience the facts instead leaving both the booth and the fans twisting in the wind.

There you go, my WO’s (worthless opinions) for Toronto.  Now if you will excuse me, I have to get these poutine stains out of my shorts.  The stuff really is messy.

A Tale of Two Detroit Cities

With sincerest apologies to the memory of Charles Dickens,  “It was the best of races, it was the worst of races…” at Detroit this past weekend.  What, you don’t recognize the mangling of the opening line from Tale of Two Cities?  What were you doing in high school?  It was required reading!  You can always count on New Track Record to bring up arcane connections to help you understand the value of a liberal arts education.  Let’s look at the best and worst of the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit.

Best of Times

  • Roger Penske has created one of the best street courses in IndyCar racing.  He took a broken track in a broken city and made it racy.  From a track where passing was nonexistent and asphalt patches attacked the racers, Penkse revealed a new layout that not only held together but allowed actual passing.
  • Besides making a racy layout, Roger Penske is building one of the crown jewels of the IndyCar season on Belle Isle.  Yes, the racing is good, but so is the event.  Roger Penske is a businessman and promoter nonpareil.  At a time when most venues see no value in hosting the IZOD IndyCar Series, he saw an opportunity.  Instead of banking on ticket sales for his profit, Penske worked the business-to-business angle and made his money on corporate sales.  Having Chevy as a title sponsor helps, too.  According to Doug Guthrie of The Detroit News, grandstands across from pit row will become double-decker corporate chalets next year.  And we all know that a “chalet” is much tonier than a suite.  Great event, great people, great organization.
  • One of the best things about the year is the parity between the big and small teams.  Fill-in driver Mike Conway won the first race for Dale Coyne Racing and landed on the podium for the second while Simon Pagenaud won the second race for Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports.  You know that has to chafe Chip Ganassi, Roger Penske, and Michael Andretti like sand in the swimsuit.  Expect changes to the formula that allow the teams with the most money to buy success.  It’s the American way.
  • Mike Conway’s win was the best thing of the weekend.  A journeyman winner is always welcome, particularly one who suffered such serious injuries in a horrific crash at Indy.
  • Honda had a pretty good weekend in the heartland of Chevy.  After failing on the national stage of Indianapolis, the Japanese marque showed their twin-turbo street course savvy at Detroit by winning both races and sweeping seven of the top ten spots on Sunday.
  • Personalities once again shine.  In the first race, Sebastian Saavedra waved the double middle finger salute to Marco Andretti while Will Power, known for a similar obeisance to race control two years ago, hurled his gloves at Sebastien Bourdais after a safety worker restrained him from an actual physical attack in the second race.   Anything that makes me laugh out loud is the “best of times.”
  • Beaux Barfield, whose honeymoon is over with the drivers and teams, made a great call with a local yellow for Ryan Briscoe’s shunt into the tires at the end of the first race, allowing the race to end under green and silence the groundswell of moronic insistence for a green-white-checkered rule to prevent yellow flag finishes.  Kudos, Beaux.
  • Call it what you will, the doubleheader format worked.  The ratings were up, and the crowds were good.  The drivers, and especially the crews, suffered from lack of turn-around time, but tin-top drivers and dirt track racers have been doing it for years.  It was a good show.  Do it again.

Worst of Times

  • After the first race had only three yellow flags, there were high hopes for plenty of green flag racing for the second contest.  Not so fast.  Whether it was fatigue, as suggested by the television crew, or an abundance of optimism and idiocy, as suggested by me, the drivers could not seem to get out of each other’s way.  Ed Carpenter nerfed Alex Tagliani. Sebastien Bourdais biffed Will Power, starting a six car scrum.  Simona De Silvestro and Ryan Hunter-Reay both found the same wall.  Not quite the smooth event from the day before.  The big question about the two race format is simple: what if these wrecks happened during the first race?  Would safety be compromised because of crew fatigue and time constraints?  If the format is continued, we will find out.
  • The worst luck of the weekend happened to A.J. Allmendinger.  The Penske Racing driver did not complete a lap either race.  The cherry on his bad luck sundae was that both wrecks can be chalked up to driver error.  The pathos of his sincere sorrow and completely defeated demeanor touched me.  It truly was “the worst of times” for A.J.
  • Could the timing of IndyCar’s press conference regarding aero kits be any worse?  Since Mark Miles, the new chief plumber at Hulman & Co., has not yet been able to plug the press leaks that have plagued IndyCar, the series was forced to go public with their plan to increase speeds, provide more team development opportunities, and allow manufacturer designed body parts before they were ready.  Way to steal a promoter’s thunder, IndyCar.  We wouldn’t want the media talking about the race happening on the track, would we?  The politics and drama of the series continues to provide fodder for low-life bloggers like me to mock the dysfunction.  And I thank you.
  • Social media once again provided entertainment.  The Twitter dust-up between Randy Bernard (@RBINDYCAR) and Panther Racing (@PantherRacing) made me smile.  Gig ’em, Randy!  I actually debated which category this fit.  For entertainment, it’s the best; for the IZOD IndyCar Series, it’s the worst.  Call it a coin flip.  If you are not on Twitter, you are missing people talking first and thinking later.
  • The gimmick of double-file restarts causes wrecks on narrow street courses.  No debate.  Proponents can justify them by arguing TV ratings and NASCAR, but they create pack racing and lead to FUBAR’s like the six car melee that ended Will Power’s day Sunday.  Unlike the 40+ cars in NASCAR, the IndyCar Series has a diminishing number of contestants and open cockpits.  Exciting?  You bet.  Dangerous?  Absolutely.  Necessary?  That’s the real question, isn’t it?
  • Listening to the radio feed of an IndyCar race is exciting.  The announcers scream about the action in front of them.  It sounds like something is happening.  Listening to the ABC broadcast is mind-numbing.  The vapid and insipid delivery of the boys in the booth truly harshes the buzz of the great racing we are seeing on the screen.  I wonder if Lunesta, a sleep aid advertising on the race broadcast, complained about ABC/ESPN competing with them with its choice of broadcasters?

If only this writing was “a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done…”  Get it?  That’s the last line from Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities.  You Philistines simply must read the classics.  It is always high art here at New Track Record.

Ten Worthless Opinions: Indianapolis 500 Race Fan Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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.

The Big Kahuna at IndyCar

I like sobriquets like the big kahuna or the kingpin.  They personalize and soften the people in power.  They humanize them.  After the purges and pogroms in IndyCar lately, some softening seems to be in order.

The big boss man Mark Miles has made his presence felt in the offices of IMS and IndyCar.  After the releases of Randy Bernard, Steve Shunck, and Liza Markle, it seemed that Hulman & Co. was consolidating power and cutting ties with anyone who seemed to be connected to the previous regime.  Or maybe the bean counter in charge was just saving money.  Twitter was aflame with angst.  Robin Miller was apoplectic. The general consensus of those who had dealt with any of these people was that they were friendly, helpful, and relentlessly geared to customer satisfaction.  After years of perceived mismanagement, the few hard-core fans left felt loved and appreciated.  Someone was finally listening to them.  And then the roof caved in.  Bernard was released in a clumsily organized power play, and then Jeff Belklus took over in a scene reminiscent of  Alexander Haig’s “I’m in control here” verbal gaffe, deep diving the IndyCar offices to put the house back in order.  And then Mark Miles arrived.

It is clear that the new big cheese was in charge.  As Hulman & Co. CEO, Miles rearranged the remaining management team, putting Doug Boles in as COO of IMS and Robby Greene in as COO of IndyCar.  Belklus is their immediate boss as CEO of IMS and interim CEO of IndyCar.  Mark Miles is still the potentate of all.  What Miles did is called consolidating power, and it is always the prerogative of a new boss to do so.  He needs people loyal to him, or afraid of him, in his key management positions.  He now has that.

The hard-core fans are wondering the same things.  They all have the same questions:

  • Does Miles understand racing?
  • Does he appreciate the Indianapolis 500 and the Speedway?
  • Is he a tool of the Hulman-George family?
  • Is he one more in a long line of compromised leaders?
  • Can he deal with the multiple constituencies of IndyCar?
  • Does he care about the fans?
  • Will he show the fans that he cares?
  • Will he communicate a vision for the series?
  • Will he be an ivory tower leader?

Are these all the questions?  Consider what the list looks like for other constituencies.  What questions do the owners have?  The drivers?  The sponsors?  The vendors?  You can assume a list of questions just as long or longer for each of them.  The basic question is who is this guy and can he do the job?

After listening to Miles on Trackside with Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee, I have high hopes for the reign of King Mark.  Listen to the podcast.  He was smooth, articulate, knowledgeable, and sharp.  He gave his views on the current state of IndyCar and where the series needed to go.  He did not shoot from the hip.  In many ways he was the antithesis of Randy Bernard.  He only committed to things that he was already committed too.  If he did not know the answer, he did not vamp, stutter, or make things up.  He said he didn’t know.  Refreshing.

It is clear that Miles is decisive.  He jumped on board with the IMS Tax District concept and explained it in cogent terms on the radio.  He put people in the positions he needed them.  He has released people from their employment.  He has clearly stated that IMS and IndyCar are on the same team and need to work more closely together.  Translation: you all report to me.  And don’t forget it.  The family may have found their guy: Mark Miles can make them money, bring them good PR, and finally herd all those damn cats into the corral.  And that is something Hulman & Co. desperately needs.  The family wants to have the goodwill of the community and millions of dollars in their pockets.  And they need a man like Miles to give it to them.  History has shown they have trouble doing it themselves.

We all know time will tell, but a Henry Ford quote I’ve used before seems most apropos: ““Asking ‘who ought to be the boss’ is like asking ‘who ought to be the tenor in the quartet?’ Obviously, the man who can sing tenor.”  Warm up those vocal chords, Mr. Miles, you’re on.

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.

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