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Archive for the tag “Tony George”

The paradigm has shifted: IndyCar is a street course series

Hoosier humorist Kin Hubbard once wrote, “T’aint what a man don’t know that hurts him. It’s what he knows that just ain’t so.”  I have no authority or research to show that he was a fan of racing, but the blindness to reality of many IndyCar fans is summed up in that aphorism.  IndyCar has changed…forever.  The time has come to accept that truth.

That’s not to say that change is bad, but it is certainly inevitable.  The fact is that IndyCar, in its current incarnation, is a street course series, and that is not going to change anytime soon.  On the current 18 race Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, eight of the races are street courses.  This number is likely to increase domestically in coming years.  And it’s a simple reality why this is true: it’s more value for everyone.

Before any of my tens of readers respond with Tony George, IRL, IMS, or spec racing rants, let me offer a piece of advice: shut up.  The war is over.  You lost.  And keep in mind that I am a true aficionado of all things oval.  As an oval fan, my choices were to quit caring about IndyCar, which will never happen, or embrace the great racing going on in front of me.  I choose to embrace.

We are a festival society.  We love to go to metropolitan downtown areas and party.  Cities have Irish, Italian, and German fests.  Giant art fairs take place around the country.  We celebrate beer, brats, and ribs.  Music festivals draw huge crowds.  Racing and speed are just other things to celebrate.  Most cities have vast experience hosting these spring, summer, and fall festivals.  They bring people downtown after business hours.  Cities want in.  And it is in IndyCar’s best interest to get in.

The fans that IndyCar needs to court do not care about CART or the IRL.  They do not care about spec cars or Tony George.  They do not care about horsepower or aerodynamics.  They care about getting entertainment value for their dollar.  Currently, the Verizon IndyCar Series is the ONLY racing series making a concerted effort to bring racing to where the people are, in revitalized or revitalizing downtowns.  The series OWNS this.  No one does it better, or for less investment, than IndyCar.  The suggested F1 foray into Long Beach will fail simply because of the vast infrastructure investment required.  IndyCar will race on the course that is there.  That’s value.

Street courses have proven to be good business.  Look at what Roger Penske has done in Detroit, a failing city with a successful race.  Penske made it successful by courting business as his primary way of generating revenue.  The Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit actually removed seating to add the much more valuable chalets for business customers.  This business-to-business model works very well in city centers with easy access to hotels, dining, bars, and the racing itself.

Street courses offer the regular fans something not offered on most ovals: on-track action throughout the day(s).  The entire Road to Indy support series can be put in front of spectators, not to mention their sponsors.  Add in the Pirelli World Challenge sports cars and Robby Gordon’s Stadium Trucks and you have action and value for the fans and the sponsors.  THIS builds the series, not the constant rehashing of past politics and the self-scourging by fans longing for an oval or CART based salvation.

Accept it.  The future of IndyCar is going to include a majority of street courses because that is where the money and the people are.  And by happy chance, the racing is great.  William Shakespeare said, “What’s past is prologue,” and he’s right.  All the history, politics, bravery, greed, and stupidity have brought us here to this moment.  Embrace the street race!



The Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s past is not its future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The end is near…or not

Are the Mayans here yet?  Will December bring tumult, chaos, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse or just another Y2K?  Will our alien overlords stop back in to see how we have managed to screw up the world, or will the end of the year pass as every other year has passed in recorded history with nothing much changing?  IndyCar fans really don’t need the Mayan calendar to tell them the world is ending.  They will know the answer if Tony George and his minions regain control of IndyCar.

Is IndyCar paralleling the unrest in the rest of the world?  Many IndyCar fans equate the rise of one T. George from the dung heap of auto racing to possibly leading the series to the rise of the Antichrist foretold by Revelation and that Joe Nostradamus guy.  I think he is one of those call-in gambling touts.  Anyway, the teeth have been gnashing on Twitter and the message boards decrying the possibility.  Unless, of course, the fans happen to be of the oval persuasion, in which case they see George as the road to salvation…or at least the road back to Nazareth and Michigan International Speedway.  The fact that nobody is stepping up to risk promoting these events is lost on them.  Ovals are a blind faith thing to these proselytizers.  Holy war, indeed.

Be that as it may, it might be worth cogitating on how the Antichrist – I mean T. George – might come back into power.  I would like to believe the faithful who say that IndyCar is not for sale because the IMS Board of Directors said so.  The people on this board are above reproach, eh?  Saints, most likely.  Unless you are one to believe in mankind’s baser instincts.  The instincts that say everything has a price; that nothing is sacred.  Read the comments of Jeff Belskus, president and CEO of Hulman and Company, closely.  He said IndyCar is not for sale.  He said they plan to keep it because it gives them control over the series that feeds into the Indianapolis 500.  He said they did not solicit offers for the series.  At no time did he say that IMS would never sell the series.  Good business practices almost always allow for a door to be kept slightly ajar.  Word is that IndyCar lost $7 million last year.  That’s reason enough to sell, no matter what anyone says.  And if reports by the Sports Business Journal, leaked no doubt by the T. George minions, are true, then George has quite an elite set of backers.  According to published reports, Tony George’s apostles include Chip Ganassi, Roger Penske, Michael Andretti, Kevin Kalhoven, and Zak Brown, the CEO of Just Marketing, International.  The money-changers in the temple worked so well before, how can we imagine it would not work this time?  I think this time might be different.

The saint-in-sheep’s-clothing in this case may be Zak Brown.  He is a true marketing mover and shaker in F1.  Check out JMI website here for some insight.  Zak Brown does not need IndyCar, but IndyCar may need him.  In an Indianapolis Star interview, Brown was not coy about his interest in being involved in a future leadership position in F1.  He’s interested.  Not only is he a motorsports marketer, he is also a former racer.   He knows the business.  One of the owners major complaints with Randy Bernard has been that he doesn’t know racing.  Zak Brown does.  But why would Zak Brown want to be involved in IndyCar?  I think he’s sitting in the catbird seat here.  My guess is that Zak Brown would be the CEO of IndyCar with an ownership stake in the company.  IndyCar’s success would be the bona fides for his future aspirations in F1.  If he could make IndyCar a going concern, he could write his ticket in another series.  The board of directors, presumably chaired by Tony George, would be forced to give him everything he needs to be successful, including an ironclad contract.  The owners get someone who understands racing and their concerns, both competitively and financially.  The drivers get a former racer who understands their issues.  And the fans get a business run by a marketing professional who understands the sport and feels compelled to deliver the goods.  It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?

It probably is.  An old saying is a leopard can’t change its spots.  And that is the eventuality here.  The owners on the board would pressure Brown to give them a competitive advantage.  Tony George would find himself marginalized and very unhappy.  And Zak Brown would have a golden parachute that would allow him to float away from the internecine warfare that always engulfs this sport when it’s on the cusp of success.  And that’s the gospel according to New Track Record.

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