31 December 2009

IndyCar Needs More Ryan Hunter-Reay

With the new year upon us, many people are reviewing 2009 and putting up their best/worst lists of the year. I have but one, coming in the February 2010 issue of Racer Magazine.

From Ryan Hunter-Reay, IZOD poster boy and the oft-rumored fourth car for Andretti Autosport, on his car for the 2009 Indianapolis 500 - a Vision Racing machine with which he struggled mightily to put in the field:
Oh, man, that was a gray time period, trust me. I tell you, until I'm old, I will never forget seeing Milka Duno climbing out of her car and being envious of the speed she put on the clock…and then thinking, 'How has it come to this? I'm looking at Milka and thinking, ‘Wow! You are an awesome driver.
And there you have it, the quote of 2009.  Or maybe the last three years.

With that, I wish you a Happy New Year.

20 December 2009

The Izod IndyCar Series Takes Times Square

Here's the latest Izod IndyCar Series commercial, running in Times Square.  Not too shabby - gets the hip, young image out there.  Though the eye seems a little "Clockwork Orange" for my tastes.

16 December 2009

Trimming the Fat

So the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is cutting down the month of May, opening the track on Saturday, May 15.  While the opening for practice is a week later than we'd come to expect, it is the shortening of qualifications, back to two days (May 22 and 23) that is perhaps the most surprising.

Last year, IMS was finally able to see its 11 cars per day plan work out over four days, as the weather cooperated enough to see the format through.  In all honestly, it was fairly exciting too (except for the cold weather), as Alex Lloyd capitalized on the format to pick up the last of the first 11 spots for Sam Schmidt's team as the gun went off on that Saturday.

Still, the new format will work for both IMS and fans, in my opinion.
From the fans' perspective, attendance had been down during qualifications for a myriad of reasons:

15 December 2009

An IndyCar Christmas List

With the holidays approaching, I figured it would be a good time to take a look at some of the gifts to give the IZOD IndyCar Series fan in your life.  So, without further ado, here are a few items that might bring some smiles around the Christmas Tree (or Menorah).

08 December 2009

Gird Thy Loins

Mentally prepare yourself, IndyCar fans.  And maybe physically prepare yourself, as well (I'd recommend earplugs and possibly one of those nighttime covers for your eyes).  Word on the street (mainly from ESPN) is that Danica Patrick will announce her signing with JR Motorsports (it's a merry band of winners who don't actually win, but are extremely popular, so it works well with Danica) to drive 9-12 ARCA and Nationwide races in 2010.


So while other racing news has been relatively buried by Mickey Mouse Sports, just prepare yourself to hear how this is the greatest thing for motorsports since some forward-thinking, NASCAR-loving caveman (and has much changed there? Ok, that's a cheap shot.) invented the wheel.

03 December 2009

Who Wants to Start a Race Team?

The thought definitely crossed my mind a time or two as a walked through the International Motorsports Industry Show, being held at the Indianapolis Convention Center.  Somewhere between 8-10,000 people will attend the two-day convention, bringing together just about every part of the auto-racing community.

If I had a clean credit history and a checkbook at my disposal, starting a race team would have been relatively easy from there.  Suppliers of everything from rack and pinion steering systems to screen-printed t-shirts made up the 572 booths at the convention.

For $13.75 billion, I hope it helps IndyCar

It's done (in theory).  Comcast has agreed to purchase NBC Universal for the hefty price of $13.75 billion, meaning that Versus now joins NBC Sports and Universal Sports in the Comcast-NBC sports lineup (Golf Channel is also in the sports tier).

We've touched on this subject a few times before, but it is worth repeating: this deal has the potential to boost the IZOD IndyCar Series' popularity and brand recognition.  While it is unlikely that NBC Sports would take to airing every single IZOD IndyCar race, the cross-promotion and marketing opportunities this presents are boundless.

02 December 2009

How Did This Happen?

Kudos to the International Motorsports Industry Show for credentialing bloggers.  How do I know they're doing this?  I have a media credential that I intend to put to full use tomorrow (though pictures cannot be taken on the floor of the show).

In any case, I'll try to file a dispatch or two from the Indianapolis Convention Center tomorrow.

30 November 2009

Life on the Road

11 days since I've written on here.  That's probably too long in the blogging world, especially given the amount of IndyCar news that has come out in the last 10+ days.

The nice part about the IndyCar season is that it occurs in the summer, when my work load is far less; once Labor Day rolls around, I'm in the vast world of sports information, working with six of IUPUI's 14 sports as their media contact.  What makes it so busy, especially this time of year?  Well, here's a sample of what I've been doing:

19 November 2009

The Car Count Goes Up (kind of)

According to the Indianapolis Star, Penske Racing will confirm today what most suspected: Will Power will drive a third car on a permanent basis for the team.  Power, who won in a cakewalk at Edmonton and was fifth at Indianapolis, drove on a part-time basis for Penske last year.

In theory, and if I'm doing my math right, the car count is at least sustained from where it was last year, and for some races (ones that Power missed in 2009), it goes up.  Which is good.

UPDATE: Here is the release from Penske Racing.  Power will be sponsored by Verizon Wireless and drive the No. 12, which he did last year at Indianapolis after Helio Castroneves returned to the track (In other races, he drove the splendid-looking yellow Penske Truck Rental car).

17 November 2009

Winds of Change Continuing to Blow at IMS?

Already the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has made some major changes since the announcement of the IZOD IndyCar Series sponsorship agreement.  For many, it was the most public that IMS President Jeff Belskus has been since taking over control of IMS over the summer.

In the last couple weeks, Belskus has been trimming the fat from IMS, including IMS Director of Public Relations Ron Green (which, as a sports information director, saddens me to see him go).  Now, the Indianapolis Business Journal's Anthony Schoettle is speculating on Belskus' next round of cuts/adjustments not only for IMS, but for the IZOD IndyCar Series.

Among Schoettle's hypothesis as to what may be coming are:
  • An end to the TEAM program (which IZOD already said it was contributing to, so I don't see it going away, unless IZOD solely funds the program).
  • Adding more street/road courses near or in cities (Baltimore is a rumored destination for 2011) to bring in more money.  Schoettle theorizes that this could mean more ovals are cut from the schedule.
  • A reduction in the amount of time spent at IMS during May.
Interesting stuff from Schoettle, as usual.  You can read the full article here.

12 November 2009

Good Lord, That's How My Voice Sounds?

So if you were listening to Trackside with Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee (and really, what else would you be doing from 7-9 p.m. ET on a Thursday?), you may have heard my voice around 8:30.

Thanks again to Trackside for hosting blogger night - their embrace of their listeners, bloggers and their opinions has really fueled the success of the show, in my opinion.  So thanks to those two.

10 November 2009

How Could Comcast's Acquisition of NBC Affect IndyCar?

According to AOL's finance page, Comcast and GE are nearing an agreement in principle on the value of NBC-Universal - $30 billion.  It's a complicated deal, and there are several roadblocks that will need to be cleared before Comcast (who owns Versus and the Golf Channel) takes control of the Peacock Network.

But if this deal does transpire, how does this affect the Izod IndyCar Series, which airs nearly all of its races on Versus (with selected races still airing on ABC, including the Indianapolis 500)?  We've taken a stab at it before, but let's try and tackle how the Izod IndyCar Series can continue its forward momentum if Comcast were to buy NBC-Universal.

05 November 2009

The Izod IndyCar Series

Even without the benefit of sound for this afternoon's Izod IndyCar Series press conference, you could notice the excitement in the press room at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  The runway-styled press conference helped reinforce the relationship between Izod and the IndyCar Series moving forward.  Seeing IMS President Jeff Belskus for the first time in what seemed like months was a nice touch, as well.  Between Belskus, Brian Barnhardt and Mike Kelly, everyone said the right thing.

To me, though, lying just under the surface of the title sponsorship is a major key to the deal: the IndyCar Series is aligning itself with a high-profile, yet middle-class sponsor.

(Well, that and the fact that it appears that Ryan Hunter-Reay will drive for Andretti Racing in 2010; on a day when one young, popular American driver continues her dalliance with NASCAR, it's nice to see another young, talented American driver staying in the Izod IndyCar Series.)

Most of Izod's line of "Izod for Indy" clothes are relatively affordable - making it a key to activating the sponsorship.  I am right in Izod's demographic (I think) - a 27-year old young professional.  Now, for a minute, let's just say that I didn't know anything about IndyCar racing.  With Macy's locations around  the country, odds are that I'll run into the Izod for Indy product sooner or later.  The biggest thing about the line, to me, as someone living on a limited budget, is that if I liked the vintage Wing-and-Wheel design, I could actually buy the shirt.

As opposed to some other sponsors of the Izod IndyCar Series (i.e. Ritmo Mundo), the average fan can find this product and buy it.

Yes, the other details of the announcement are quite intriguing (my comments in parenthesis):
  •  Increased and enhanced nationalmedia initiatives with television partners ESPN on ABC and VERSUS (makes sense to me).
  • Multi-year, multi-million dollar commitment to participate in the IZOD IndyCar Series Team Enhancement and Allocation Matrix. Introduced in 2008, TEAM provides a guaranteed financial foundation for every team committed to running the entire schedule.  (If this helps increase the size of the field, even better.)
  • Access to drivers and 100 years' worth of motorsports assets and graphics from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, including current and vintage cars, for both on- and off-track events in and out of race markets.  (Something that Izod and the IndyCar Series did masterfully last year were their events, both on and off the track, especially in New York and Macy's stores in IndyCar markets.  If this continues to improve, activation will be even better, theoretically.)
  • Shared Web initiatives and online promotions.  (Sure, makes sense.  Driving traffic to each others' web sites will increase the number of hits, and as such, allow for increased ad rates.)
I have been an advocate of the Izod IndyCar Series' need to add more middle-class sponsors, in order to relate to the biggest group of consumers of the Series.  In landing Izod in a bigger role, the Izod IndyCar Series has enhanced their relationship with one of their biggest activators, theoretically enabling an already promising relationship to grow further.

Driving home from work today, I listened to Terry Angstadt on local radio today (1260-AM, WNDE) - his comment was to the effect of:
It might not be as important a day as unification, but it's close.
If the Izod-IndyCar relationship grows as expected, it may be even more important in terms of securing the future viability of American open-wheel racing.

A Shot Across the Bow

There is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms!
Who knew that sections of Patrick Henry's speech to the Virginia House of Burgesses would apply 235-or so years later?  With ESPN and NASCAR continuing to float the rumors that Danica Patrick will sign a deal to drive the soulless Minor League cars and trucks of NASCAR, it's a pretty obvious attempt to steal some of the thunder away from the IndyCar Series' announcement about signing a title sponsor.

Now, I'm not going to spend any time wringing my hands over who is leaking the information, when it's being leaked at specific times (it does seem similar to the Chinese Water Torture-level of baseball and steroid-related leaks, though) and the reasons why.  Por que, you ask?  Because, for IndyCar fans, today is a day to celebrate, just as another major press conference back in February of 2008 was a cause to toast IndyCar racing.

Today, watch it here, and know that the IndyCar Series is taking another step back into the public conscience with their partnership with Izod.  The die has been cast, the Rubicon crossed - the IndyCar Series is not going to fade away, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will not be sold.  And NASCAR's place as America's most popular form of auto racing is hereby under assault.

The war may not be won in a day, a month or a year.  But slowly, with a unified series and strong sponsorships (like Izod), the IndyCar Series will be back.  And hopefully, we will look back on this day as one of the major steppingstones in the process.

03 November 2009

Izod It Is

Per the omnipresent Curt Cavin, Izod will officially be named the title sponsor of the IndyCar Series in a press conference on Thursday.  I saw Mr. Cavin at the IUPUI Basketball Banquet on Monday afternoon, so kudos to Curt for burning up the phone lines after the banquet to break the story.

For all of the recent talk to 'how can the IndyCar Series attract new fans?' making the Izod the title sponsor seems to be one sure-fire way to do so.  For all of the sponsors the IndyCar Series has, Izod seemed to be at the front of the line as far as sponsor activation goes.  In virtually every market the series goes to, Izod was hosting a signing, fashion show, or both to promote their relationship with the past, present and future of the series.

Say what you will about the line of clothing Izod put out (I for one thought the shirts were overdone; simpler is better to me), but if they continue to aggressively promote the series (i.e., creating more than one commercial), this is a relationship that can continue to move the IndyCar Series towards mainstream America.

30 October 2009

Greg Moore

I was 17 when Greg Moore passed away, and honestly, I don't remember much of his career, outside of him filling Jacques Villeneuve's seat with Player Ltd. Racing (and Villeneuve was one of my favorite drivers in the mid-90's).  I was busy being a junior in high school, and while I watched open-wheel races, outside of the 500 I wasn't rushing to the TV to watch the races.  

I remember hearing about Moore and seeing the crash on ESPN, but in today's Indianapolis Star, Curt Cavin writes an excellent remembrance of Moore and how a star on the rise was cut down entering the prime of his career.

There's some great stuff in Cavin's article, including some interesting insights for where Moore might be today and how open-wheel racing might has changed as a result, too.

For some more information, too, check out Oilpressure.com's excellent piece on Moore as well.

28 October 2009

Bringing IndyCar to the Masses, Part III

(The third in a series looking back at the 2009 IndyCar season and how the series can improve moving forward.)

Thus far, we've tackled IndyCar's move to Versus and the need for additional sponsors.  Honestly, these two issues go hand-in-hand.  And they also weave their way into the third issue facing the IndyCar Series - how to bring news fans to the track(s).

Growing up in Indianapolis, you know about racing; it's tough to spend any length of time here and not know that the month of May is a special time in the city, from the Mini-Marathon (come to think of it, what's special about running 13.1 miles?) to the parade to qualifications to the 500.  IndyCar racing takes on such a big part of Indianapolis' sporting spectrum that it is virtually impossible not to notice the race going on.

But as racetracks popped up in the mid-90's around the country, it became easier to not notice racing in local communities.  This year, I went to Kentucky Speedway for the Meijer Indy 300.  The track is fantastic, but it is in the middle of nowhere; because of this, I doubt that the local towns really feel much of an effect of the IndyCar Series rolling into town.  This is the case at many tracks that aren't located in communities like IMS is, but rather are on the outskirts of a town.  With that in mind, how does the IndyCar Series make their races relevant and bring people to the track who would otherwise miss the race?

22 October 2009


So the IndyCar Series may or may not be going to Rio de Janeiro in March.

Both The Silent Pagoda and 16th and Georgetown reported on a story posted to Indycar.com, dated Oct. 31, that was later pulled from the site.  It seems as if someone prepared a story that was supposed to run on Oct. 31, hit "post," only to realize that Halloween is still nine days away. 

(As an aside, why would the IndyCar Series announce  this on Halloween to begin with?  October 29 - a Thursday - seems like a much more logical date to announce this and get it into the news cycle, as opposed to a day in which half the sports editors will be out taking their children trick-or-treating.)

Rio de Janeiro is the home of adult trick-or-treating, otherwise known as Carnaval.  It's like New Orleans' Mardi Gras, just taken to an entirely different level. And as someone who experience Bourbon Street and lived to tell the tale (even with Jean Lafitte's Old Absinthe House being prominently involved), I can only imagine the atmosphere that will engulf the IndyCar Series in mid-March, 2010.  With that, I'm off to find some beads for the party.

19 October 2009

Bringing IndyCar to the Masses, Part II

(The second in a series of looking back on the 2009 season and what the IndyCar Series can do moving forward.)

Quick question: how many official sponsors of the IndyCar Series can you name without looking?  Off the top of my head, I can go Firestone, Honda, Ritmo Mundo, Peak, Apex Brasil, Izod.  Now, take a look at this page - are you surprised there are that some of these sponors exist?

It makes sense for Coca-Cola to be involved, but how much activation comes from that?  Have you seen a display in a grocery promoting the IndyCar Series and their relationship with Coke?  I can't remember seeing it, outside of my local Marsh on the northeast side of Indianapolis that builds their own display for every race at IMS.

And this brings me to the second way the IndyCar Series can do more to bring its brand to the masses - increased sponsorship and sponsor activation.

I'm sure all of the sponsors on the Indycar.com sponsors page do a fantastic job with activation.  Hopefully Coke will send employees to Alabama to support that race, since IndyCar no longer races in Atlanta.  But when it comes down to it, how many of those brands listed do you use?

I suppose we can buy Firestone tires or a Honda (or better yet, a Penske Honda), but what the IndyCar Series needs is to expand its "official" sponsors.  

For instance, can you name the Official Beer of the IndyCar Series?  (Aside from Pressdog.com's various beer selections, of course.)  The unfortunate answer is that the Series does not have an official beer.  I know that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has an official beer, Miller Lite, because Miller Lite makes a point of it to put the IMS wing-and-wheel logo on their cases of beer during the summer.

Does that cause me to buy Miller Lite exclusively?  Probably not.  And because I live in Indianapolis, I already know about IMS.  But to a racing fan in say, Indianapolis, Iowa, would putting the IndyCar Series logo on a case of Miller Lite increase the visibility for the series?  Yes.  Would that fan be more likely to look up the IndyCar race at Iowa Speedway because Miller Lite is putting the ICS logo on a case of beer, and/or putting up displays in the local grocery promoting the race?  Probably.

Finding a brewer to be the official beer for the IndyCar Series is a simple, yet big-picture step.  Coors Light is the official beer of the NFL - how many times do they beat that over your head both during the race and on billboards around a city?  A similar deal could be reached with a brewing company, allowing the IndyCar Series to be promoted via Budweiser/Coors/Miller ads throughout the country, especially areas with IndyCar racing.

Again, does the IndyCar Series have an official energy drink?  Nada.   Candy bar?  Nope.  But I've seen sponsorship of Marco Andretti with Venom Energy Drink (Venom is a product of Dr. Pepper/Snapple, which sponsors Andretti/Green Racing) and I've seen Snickers advertising at St. Petersburg.  So what would it take to get Venom on board for a full season of sponsorship?  Would making them the Official Energy Drink of the IndyCar Series help?  Probably.

Would making Snickers the Official Candy Bar of the IndyCar Series bring in more sponsorship, outside of some signage at different tracks?  I would think so.  Would Snickers be willing to put Dario Franchitti (who, henceforth, will be called Sideburns in this blog) in one of those kitschy commercials (like this one, for instance)?  I'm sure they could find a driver.

My basic point is this - it's great for the IndyCar Series to have so many official sponsors.  However, so many of these sponsors are high-end products (Ritmo Mundo) or niche-oriented (K&N Filters), that the IndyCar Series needs to find some sponsors that the middle-class American can not only relate to, but see on a regular basis, whether at the grocery store, an auto parts store (or better yet, an auto parts store becomes a sponsor) or in a shopping mall.

Firestone, Honda, Sirius-XM, et al, are good starts.  But for the IndyCar Series to become more mainstream, more viable, more visible, the Series needs to find some more generic, larger-picture sponsors.  

When I go to Marsh in the future, I don't want to see just the store-built display of Coke 12-packs mixed with Sprite packs to spell out 'Indy 500.'  I want to see a stand-up showing some IndyCar drivers promoting an upcoming race with Cokes in hand.  I want a display in the beer section that not only promotes the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but promotes the IndyCar Series as a whole (Keep in mind this was the type of racing that Miller and Budweiser used to sponsor, and I hold out hope that they will come back one day). I want to see a cheesy commercial from Snickers involving an IndyCar driver.  (And if it involves E.J. Viso scaring Jack Arute with a snake, even better).

If the IndyCar Series can find some of these sponsors - some sponsors that the average American already knows, then they can begin to relate again to the average American (who isn't buying a Ritmo Mundo watch anytime soon).  With a relationship with the average American, the IndyCar Series can begin to activate those people to returning to the track.  And when that happens, the sponsorships will grow, too.  It's very cyclical and hopefully is on the way back up.

15 October 2009

Bringing IndyCar to the Masses

(The first in a series of looking back on the 2009 season and what the IndyCar Series can do moving forward.)

With the 2009 season being the first for the IndyCar Series on Versus, let's look back at IndyCar's partnership with the Comcast-owned station.  Was it worth it in 2009, and will it be worth it going forward?

Let's look at the pros and cons of IndyCar's decision to sign with Versus and how it can be improved upon down the road. 

13 October 2009

It Just Occurred to Me

Yes, the 2009 IndyCar finale had no caution flags.  Yes, it dissolved into a three-car race, with the rest of the field lapped.  However, those were the three cars racing for a points championship, so no complaints there.

And after another series decided to artificially bunch their field towards the end of a race the following day, creating a cluster of wrecked cars and debris, let's be thankful for a moment that the racing stewards in the IndyCar Series don't resort to this kind of tactic.

Imagine if you will, shortly before Ryan Briscoe and The Haast Eagle pulled in for their final pit stops, all but handing the championship to Franchitti, a yellow flag waves for caution for a piece of debris on the track.  The debris sits harmlessly against the wall, but it's there, nonetheless.

No one would have hit it, but since the race is becoming a pit-strategy race, the stewards took it upon themselves to bunch the top three once again, for TV's sake.

With all three drivers now staying out, the field bunches.  In the closing laps, some overagressive back-markers get together.  Now, whomever is out front crosses the start/finish line under yellow, claiming the championship.

That scenario makes me want to vomit.

Thank you, IndyCar Series for at least having the integrity to let the race unfold in a natural manner and not try to play with the results for the sake of TV.

Where Do We Go From Here?

In all truth, I still haven't seen the IndyCar finale.  (Yes, I know, it's my "job" to watch these things.)  I'll be listening to Mike King and the IMS Radio Broadcast later on from the office - I figure Mike can make just about anything exciting, not that the finale wasn't exciting, if you like the equivalent of a pitcher's dual or a 74-73 basketball game.

Look, Saturday I was in Crown Point, Ind., for a wedding.  The ceremony got out at 2:30, and I was in a bar by 2:45 CT - in theory 15 minutes from being able to watch the entire finale.  One problem - no Versus at the bar.  So there went that.

The rest of the night is a hazy blur involving dancing, Miller Lite (the official beer of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway) and late-night pizza.  Somewhere in the wee hours of the morning, I saw that Dario Franchitti had won, in a caution-less race.  Awesome, I said to myself.

You know, because I picked Dario to win on this very blog.  And I probably won't let anyone forget that.

Sunday was spent driving back from Merrillville, putting far too much dairy in my stomach at Fair Oaks Farm (seriously, next time you kids are driving up I-65 to Chicago, stop there.  The grilled cheese is phenomenal.)  I should have watched the race when I got home, but the NFL and some Tiger Woods Golf for the Wii took over the TV.  That's my bad.

So I sit here now, having not seen the finale I've wanted to see, relying on Mike King, Davey Hamilton and Kevin Lee to bring it to life.  My reactions to the race will matter very little in the blogosphere world, since Indycar's preeminent bloggers have already weighed in (here, here and here).

That said, I will still watch the race and listen to it, because I'm an IndyCar fan.

Regardless of the racing, be it a 200-lap snoozer at Richmond or the Indianapolis 500, I will watch the race, because that's my obligation as an IndyCar fan.  It's not to attend every single race, it's not to buy every sponsor product on the market (though I'm trying), it's to watch the racing.  TV ratings will drive the sport forward, and it's the least I can do to sit down for 2-3 hours on a Saturday or Sunday to watch the event.

Sure, in some cases, I'll be at the race itself, or I'll pick up Venom Energy drink or an Indianapolis Motor Speedway license plate.  But the cheapest thing I can do is to watch the damn race.

So, without racing available to watch anymore, I'm left with writing a blog for 5 months.  Who knows what we'll cover (actually, I can guarantee that some form of driver/team grades will come out), but it should be interesting - I hope.

09 October 2009

What to Expect at Homestead (& Let SFR Have a Big Presser)

I voted that I thought Dario Franchitti would win on the Indycar.com fan poll, so I'm sticking with that.

Why?  First, I wanted the points on my Indy Downforce membership.  Secondly, it's just a gut call.  Briscoe won the Chicagoland race, while Dixon won at Japan.  Franchitti had his chances at both tracks, but couldn't come up with the victory.  Tomorrow, I think he gets it.

(It's a pretty scientific breakdown, I know.)

05 October 2009

How to Spice Up the Championship, Part V

(Quite possibly the last in the series.  Maybe.)

Imagine this.  The Firestone Indy Lights Series championship is coming down to the last lap.  Two up-and-coming young drivers dueling not only for a points title, but for a guaranteed ride in the IndyCar finale a day later.

Intriguing, no?

02 October 2009

How to Spice Up the Championship, Part IV

Exciting series finales.  In all actuality, I'd say the IndyCar Series has this part down.

For the last week or so, Indycar.com has been running a 'Championship Rewind,' looking at the series' top finishes.

So, what can we learn from these?

First, IndyCar fans should be proud that the series has a points system that continually has worked, i.e., creating an exciting finale.  For all the problems of the IndyCar Series (and yes, it has some major flaws), this is not one of them, thankfully. 

Hopefully, we will never see a gimmick that resets points and artificially packs the field together.  The IndyCar Series rewards teams for being successful throughout the season, and they still manage to create drama down the stretch of the season, even with one or two teams dominating throughout.

Secondly, we can look back and remember when the Indy Racing League had some even wider gaps in its schedule - for instance, look at 1996, when nearly two months separated the last two races of the year.  Can you imagine this happening today?  Good grief, I shudder to think of the vile things that would be said about the series.

So, even with the snail-like pace to the end of this season (and I'm one of its harshest critics), it is an improvement, if you consider the history of the Indy Racing League.

While the first three ideas of this series focus on things the series can do now, in 2009, let's tip our caps to the IndyCar Series for getting this part right - the last race of the season does matter, virtually every year, and it's not done artificially.  Be proud, IndyCar fans.  This three-way battle for the points title will spice up the championship at Homestead.

29 September 2009

How to Spice Up the Championship, Part III

Last week, Indycar.com's Dave Lewandowski got Indy Racing League President of Competition and Operations Brian Barnhardt on the record about the future development of chassis and engine packages for the IndyCar Series.

While Barnhardt still believes that the package(s) will be ready for the 2012 season, there is no reason this can't be rolled into the 2009 IndyCar finale at Homestead-Miami.

How, you ask?  Beneath the fold, I'll tell you.

25 September 2009

How to Spice Up the Championship, Part II

Great.  Danica Patrick has re-signed with Andretti-Green Racing (name change tba later) for three years, according to Curt Cavin at The Indianapolis Star.

So now we can all put this behind us and move on.  Well, at least until Tony Stewart pops off again and then everyone can whip themselves into a frenzy speculating on the details of Patrick's contract and where she will be in 2013.

However, I say let's use Danica's signing as another way to pump up the championship at Homestead-Miami.

After the jump, you will find out how I plan to blow this out.

24 September 2009

How to Spice Up the Championship, Part I

Ok, so there remains 17 days until the IndyCar Series Championship at Homestead-Miami.  Three drivers still have a chance to win the title, meaning once again, the championship will likely come down to the last corner of the last lap (without any contrived re-shuffling of points).

However, what will catch eyeballs and force extended highlights that night?  IndyCar will be competing with football for eyeballs, so what would cause ESPN and the network affiliates (outside of Indianapolis and Miami - will Miami TV stations air highlights?) to give the race additional coverage?

Follow me below the fold for an idea on how to raise the profile of The Haast Eagle.

23 September 2009

What to do While Waiting for the Finale, Part XVIII

I came back from a baseball practice today (I coach, no playing for me anymore) and opened the mail.  Much to my surprise was a letter with an Indianapolis Motor Speedway address.

What could this be, I asked myself?  I hastily opened it to see what was enclosed, to find a confirmation of my renewal for 8 tickets for the 2010 Indianapolis 500 - fantastic news.

Oddly enough, I also received a reimbursement check for $20 - the money I had sent in along with my renewal that was supposed to guarantee rides around the track in a pace car for both my dad and I.  Unfortunately, I came home too late to call the IMS Ticket Office, but that will happen tomorrow.

Also coming up tomorrow - another idea to improve the IndyCar Series finale at Homestead-Miami.

An Update (24 Sept - 9:30 a.m.):  Called IMS - sounds like a clerical error occurred, and my $20 check for the laps was not properly processed.  Now I get to send back the check I received and get the 2 laps I bought.  So all is well.

21 September 2009

"I guess we don't need a 'Chase'"

Fantastic quote from Dario Franchitti to Indycar.com's Dave Lewandowski (full story here).

(Though if Chase Bank would like to sponsor the IndyCar Series in some way, shape or form, I'd be open to it.)

Just look at the photo - it says: 
"What I say goes.  I know a contrived gimmick when I see one and the IndyCar Series sure as hell doesn't have one of those when it comes to a points chase."
Lewandowski is kind enough to break down the points scenarios entering Homestead-Miami - basically whomever is ahead between The Haast Eagle and The Scot would win the title if ahead of Ryan Briscoe.  For the Australian to win, here are some criteria:
  • If Briscoe wins the pole and the race, he wins the championship.
  • If Briscoe wins the race and leads the most laps, he wins the championship.
  • If Briscoe wins the race, earns the pole and leads the most laps, he wins the championship.
  • If Briscoe wins the race but doesn't score any bonus points, Dixon can win the title if he finishes second and leads the most laps.
  • Dixon will win any tiebreaker over Briscoe.
So just keep all of that in the back of your mind over the next 3 weeks - I'm sure it will occupy your attention for the next 19 days, too.

19 September 2009

Thoughts from Motegi (or, I'm a sponsor's dream)

Ok, I wasn't there, but I did watch the entire race last night.  How did I manage?

First, I prepared by working my full-time job - sports information directing a collegiate volleyball match.  During said match I began to drink a Venom Energy.  The Death Adder (fruit punch) was surprisingly good, didn't taste a drop like an energy drink.  Could be trouble if ever mixed with an alcoholic beverage.

Said energy drink was consumer by the time I arrived home at 10:00 p.m., leaving enough time to grab a pen and paper and a Miller Lite (the official beer of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway), enclosed as ever in my Team 7-Eleven Tony Kanaan koozie.

(Special thanks to the lady in Kansas who sent me a box of 12 TK koozies a few years ago, instead of the one I was expecting).

Point being, if you sponsor IndyCar racing in some way, shape or form, I will try your product.  Anyways, on to the race...

18 September 2009

The Haast Eagle Striketh

While you were comfortably asleep (I assume, since at 2:30 in the morning, I was), we saw the return of The Haast Eagle, who crushed the dreams of Mario Moraes (more than likely with its talons), picking up the Peak Pole Award and a vital point in his quest to catch Ryan Briscoe for the points championship.

(Yes, that's a Haast Eagle over there.  And those flightless birds it's about to devour are pretty large.  The lesson - Mario Moraes is lucky he lost just the provisional pole.)

Apparently Moraes was sitting on the provisional pole and Dixon was the final driver to go out for qualifications at Motegi.  Call him the Ice Man if you want, but his lightning-quick strike on Moraes' time and ability to snatch the pole was positively Haast Eagle-esque.  (No word on whether Moraes' pelvis was crushed when Dixon won the pole).
If you think this post is solely an excuse to use the phrase Haast Eagle as much as possible and push Dixon's new nickname, well, that's part of the reason (I have pledged to make Haast Eagle happen, as part of a pact with The Silent Pagoda).

Reason number two for the post resides in the fact that most people weren't awake at 2:30 this morning to watch qualifications on Indycar.com.  And, I won't be able to watch the Versus Qualifications show at 6 p.m. ET, as I'll be working (when you're a Sports Information Director and the college athletics season starts, so goes your free time).

However, I will be home in time for the race (10:30 ET), with beer in hand, to watch live and see if the legend of the Haast Eagle comes to fruition.

17 September 2009

Dr. Livingstone, I presume?

Ok, so maybe we haven't spent the last few weeks searching through Africa for the source of the Nile (or did we?).  But after a three-week hiatus that caused far too much inner soul-searching and mental anguish for our comfort, we have found something that attempted to elude the public over the last 21 days - IndyCar racing.

Sweet Jesus, it's back (and as you can tell, the Japanese media is excited - thanks for the picture, @TonyKanaan).  And live from Japan.  At 10:30 ET, as long as you don't have DirecTV.  Then you can watch at a bar or on your computer.

And while the IndyCar Series most certainly hasn't been out of contact that whole time, it's been without the elixir that keeps so many people coming back - actual racing.

Ah, Motegi, site of dreams realized (see: Patrick, Danica) and dreams dashed (see: Carpenter, Ed, running short on gas in the same race).  

The home track for Honda has seen four different winners in its history, and surprisingly none from Target-Chip Ganassi Racing.  More than likely, they will need to snap that streak in order to keep up with Team Penske (though Ryan Briscoe's best finish there in ninth, though he's made just two starts there) in the points chase.  In case you've forgotten, because a points chase can't really sustain a series over a three-week break, the Australian leads the Scot by 25 points.  Lurking in third is the Haast Eagle, Dixon, 33 points back.  

(Why call Dixon the Haast Eagle?  Click here, and make it happen.)

Motegi typically is more of a setup/handling track than a straight speed shot, which is a little different than some of the 1.5 mile tracks we've seen of late (well, like a month ago, but I digress).  Dan Wheldon has run the track well, completing 1198 of a possible 1200 laps at Motegi, including a win; The aforementioned Kanaan is right behind, having finished 1176 laps and a win.

Helio Castroneves and Patrick are the other two drivers in the field with wins at Motegi, but in all honesty, it's tough to see how AGR will win a race this season, given how they've looked for most of the year.  Just because the teams are 13 hours ahead of us right now (they're living in the future!) doesn't mean that the two most dominant teams of 2009 won't continue to do so.

Now, with 20 overtake assist pushes, the race should once again be an exciting one; and with the Versus Qualifications Show at 6 p.m. ET Friday (actual qualifications come at roughly 2 a.m. ET Friday morning - check Indycar.com for streaming I bet), you can sit down, have a meal and drink and be ready to go for the race at 10:30 p.m. ET.

Don't complain about the start time this time - just be grateful we've stumbled back upon IndyCar racing.

11 September 2009

Good God, Will They Ever Race Again?

I keep hearing rumors that the 2009 IndyCar season is still going on, despite the lack of racing.  Right now, the rumors subsist of tweets like this from @kvracing:
Last day in the shop before we head 2 Japan on Tues. Gonna be a nasty trip, 3hr bus ride 2chicago, 13hr flight & then 2hr bus ride 2 hotel!
I guess that means there will be a race in Japan sometime.  Should be interesting.  Word on the street is that the race might even be over in America around the same time as the Chicago race was.  Fantastic.

So if there still are races remaining, that means Ryan Briscoe hasn't won the points championship, either.  Well, that should be fun to watch sometime, you know, if the season hasn't really ended.

Seriously, ending this year with 3 races in 42 days is a serious buzzkill.  Similar to waiting 40 or 50 days between the end of the college football season and the bowl games.  Neither makes much sense.
Basically what I'm trying to say is that I now relate to this:
We need you. Hell, I need you. I'm a mess without you. I miss you so damn much. I miss being with you, I miss being near you. I miss your laugh. I miss your scent; I miss your musk.
The IndyCar Series shouldn't make its fans go through this kind of withdrawl.  Come back soon, old friend. 

09 September 2009

Much Ado About Nothing

So I was casually enjoying my Labor Day holiday (as much as you can enjoy it when working both Saturday and Sunday), when I stumbled across the obligatory "Danica Patrick Is Heading to NASCAR" headlines.  And while yes, it does appear that Danica will straddle the fence and drive both IndyCar and NASCAR the next few years, let's settle down about this will be the death knell for the IndyCar Series.

For some reason, I am reminded of Act V of Macbeth:
...it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
Now, I'm not calling Bob Kravitz (the writer of the linked article) an idiot.  I do agree with some of what he says in his column. Yes, does losing one of - if not the - most marketable driver in the series hurts.  And the lack of leadership on the IndyCar side is troubling (though I'll be the first to admit that we don't know what is going on behind the scenes).  

Does the series have some issues that need addressing?  Yes.  Are their problems fixable?  Yes.

However, who knows how strong IndyCar racing will be by 2012, when Danica likely moves on.  If Graham Rahal continues to improve, along with Marco Andretti (who has looked stronger in the second half of this year), the IndyCar Series is set up to have two, young American stars in open-wheel racing.  Quick test: which last name has more cache when it comes to racing: Andretti or Vickers?  Exactly.

If those two (and let's throw J.R. Hildebrand out there as Young American #3) continue to improve and build a solid rivalry over the next few years, IndyCar racing will be in fine shape.  To declare Danica's departure as the death of IndyCar racing is a hasty rush to judgment.  So let's take a step back, breathe, and let the next few years develop - I think we'll all be happy with where the ICS is by 2012, regardless of where DanicaMania has gone to.

04 September 2009

The Hunt for IndyCar Racing

We're in Day 6 of the hunt for IndyCar racing - so far, no sign of a race, though rumors abound that crates of racing supplies are being packed and prepared for a distant race.  We'll try and survive, while wondering why an American open-wheel series wouldn't have a race over Labor Day weekend (though thanks to Kentucky Speedway for stepping in and taking care of that next year).

So for now, we have plenty of notes to go through, starting with a proposed return to the 11 a.m. start to the Indianapolis 500.

My take - as a resident of Indianapolis, I don't really care what time the race starts.  I have the Super-Secret Route from my house to the track that isn't crowded at 8 a.m., and it certainly wasn't packed when my father passed down the S.S.R. to me back in high school.

Now, would moving the race to 11 (or even 12), help with ratings?  Maybe.  Team Penske President Tim Cindric went as far to tell Curt Cavin:

"It's worth one (ratings) point, at least."
 Is that the case?  Probably not in terms of ratings points - even with the addition of a few NASCAR drivers (the Robby Gordons of the world), the casual fan isn't going to tune to the Indy 500 just for that.  As it stands right now, fans can watch the Grand Prix of Monaco in the morning, the 500 during the day and the Coca-Cola 600 at night (unless you're in Indianapolis, then you watch the 500).
What would help the ratings increase for the 500?  Continued close, side-by-side racing will help increase ratings.  As will the continued renewed interest in IndyCar racing.  If the crowd for the 500 is coming back up (and believe me, it was back up last year), then the chances are that more eyeballs will hit the TV screens, in time.

On to point number two - the Grand-Am test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday.  I didn't get to go, courtesy of a staff retreat (always fun) and a sports information directors meetings (a good time).  To me, a Grand-Am or ALMS race at IMS would be an excellent addition to the 2011 track schedule.

Now, would IndyCar or NASCAR serve as a support race?  That's not a bad idea, though I'm not to keen on bringing NASCAR back to IMS more than once a year.  However, if the IndyCar Series decided to stage their finale at IMS' road course (highly unlikely) with Grand-Am racing running on Saturday, it would be interesting to see how it played out.

If Grand-Am or ALMS came to IMS by themselves, I think a 6-hour or 12-hour race would be outstanding.  Finding the time for a 12-hour race, unless it was the middle of the summer would be tricky, but I think a 6-hour race would bring a different dynamic to the track.  

Think about this for a minute: Ray Harroun's 1911 Indianapolis 500 victory took 6:42:08 to complete.  A 6-hour race at IMS would give every spectator a feel for what attending that first 500 felt like.  Now that, coming in 2011 - 100 years after Harroun - would be pretty cool.

Onward to issue number three - Terry Angstadt's ability to talk out of both sides of his mouth.  At Chicagoland, Angstadt (whom I generally believe has helped the IndyCar Series) held court with a variety of reporters and touched on a number of issues.  Among those - New Hampshire, car counts, Phoenix, TV and other subjects.  What I found interesting was how Angstadt talked about NHMS and Phoenix.

Angstadt on revisiting New Hampshire (all quotes come from Bruce Martin's notes column):
“No.  Would you like me to expand on that? I really do feel that a good part of the conversation is when there are two Cup dates at a venue without a long racing season we struggle. SMI doesn’t agree with that and we completely respect their opinion on that but we are not going to agree on every business issue between the two companies. That is a tough market to go into with that challenge. “I don’t let the comments they made impact our relationship, though.”
Fair enough; but here's what Angstadt said about Phoenix:
“That has been one of the bigger challenges for us,” Angstadt said. “We might have even used Phoenix as an example that if we can secure other markets that pay us a good value for our series then we can afford to go to another market or two that is good for the business, although not financially. We offered Phoenix a compelling package to go there but it was not embraced by the promoter. We cannot go there for free, although free is an exaggeration.”
So let me get this straight.  With good solid markets (Brazil), the IndyCar Series can establish other races at venues in which the finances might not be as strong.  So why is New Hampshire out of consideration?  Because of a small window for their racing season?  That makes no sense to me - if Angstadt says that the strength of some venues allows the ICS to go to less-financially feasible venues, then why wouldn't New Hampshire be on that list?

New Hampshire Motor Speedway has a promoter who wants IndyCar Racing.  Let me repeat that - he wants to bring IndyCars to his track.  Yet the IndyCar Series, despite Angstadt's earlier quote about venues, won't go there.  Honestly, I don't understand why the series would look for a road venue next to Gillette Stadium instead of an oval in New England (unless a title sponsorship is involved). 

In my opinion, give New Hampshire their chance.  If they can't draw fans to the track, fine, but at least you've tried.  This is a new, better version of IndyCar racing (remember, there is side-by-side racing on ovals!) that I think people in New Hampshire would embrace.  I'd go, I know that much.  And tapping into the New England market would help the series.  To not go to New Hampshire reeks of unnecessary hubris.

With those three points covered, we can now resume the search for IndyCar racing.  Eventually we'll find it (unless you're on DirecTV), I'm sure.

02 September 2009

There's Always Someone

So on the heels of another fantastic finish at Chicagoland, Speed's Robin Miller writes in his post-race notebook that:
IndyCar has somehow avoided The Big One as long as its had this package. Still, it would be nice to see a little more separation in 2010. And it would be even nicer to see Phoenix, Loudon and Milwaukee replace Kansas, Chicago and Homestead by 2011.
Now, I've been an advocate of finding a way to get the IndyCar Series to Phoenix and New Hampshire (and back to Milwaukee).  But at the expense of three ovals makes no sense to me.  Yes, IndyCar will play second fiddle to Trucks at Kansas in 2010, and who knows who will show up at Homestead.  But if the oval package is producing consistent side-by-side racing, why would the IndyCar Series shoot itself in the foot by taking away three ovals, especially it's most successful side-by-side racing track?

Yes, the pack racing that closed the race at Chicagoland was dangerous.  It was also damned exciting.  That edge of controlled chaos and carnage is one of the primary reasons people watch IndyCar racing.  Any driver in NASCAR can run into another vehicle - with closed wheels, heavy cars and lower speeds you are more protected than in IndyCar.  As Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi can testify, when open wheels touch, the results are much more interesting.  

Besides, if Helio Castroneves hadn't turned right instead of left with a handful of laps remaining, we would have never seen the pack finish we did. Would Miller still be advocating to leave Chicagoland if the 1st-13th hadn't been within 0.8 second of each other?  Because prior to Castroneves' crash, it was roughly 10 seconds (or more, I haven't watched the race replay).  That crash brought together a perfect storm of elements for the finish - a bunched field and side-by-side racing.  Yet, every driver in the field seemed to drive fairly smart over those final 5 laps.

Look, wrecks are going to happen.  They happen on road/street circuits; they happen on ovals.  Just because cars happen to run close at one track in particular (and over green flags the top cars separated themselves pretty easily) is no reason to suggest that the IndyCar Series abandon Chicagoland.

I agree with plenty of what Miller says in his notebook (especially about start times, though I can appreciate night racing at the right tracks), but on abandoning Chicagoland, he is way off.

01 September 2009

Terry Angstadt is a Sly Fox

DirecTV and Versus could not reach an agreement on a new contract, so as of right now, IndyCar fans who use DirecTV cannot see the IndyCar Series (this would include many sports bars and grills as well) at home.  
However, thanks to Terry Angstadt and the scheduling genius of 2009, IndyCar fans have 18 days (18!) for Versus and DirecTV to come together on a contract.  It's almost like Angstadt saw this coming when he scheduled the final three races of 2009 over 42 days.

With his sage-like scheduling, Angstadt has created a window for DirecTV subscribers to hold out hope that IndyCar racing will return to the satellite within two weeks.  And with Versus holding the rights to some early college football games, too, the demand for the network may be there (maybe).  

Just in case you don't get Versus back, DirecTV subscribers, at least you have your memories from the last race you saw - just keep those visions of three-wide racing and 1st-13th coming within 0.8 second of each other.  Besides, that's all any of us have for the next 18 days, anyways.

30 August 2009

Chicagoland Comes Through Again

Looking to attend just one IndyCar race a year?  If you're looking for side-by-side racing and a high probability of a photo finish, the evidence is quite clear - you need to head to Chicagoland Speedway.  Once again, the track delivered, as Ryan Briscoe somehow passed Scott Dixon on the penultimate lap to win the race by .0077 second and build on his points lead.

Indianapolis has the spectacle, history and tradition (I will never miss this race); Kentucky has a similar setup to Chicagoland and camping; Iowa is a bull ring; Texas has a history of close finishes.  But Chicago has the most close finishes in series history (now three of the four closest in IndyCar Series history) and is close to Indianapolis (3 hours or so, allowing you to drive to it the day-of, like Kentucky) and is near Chicago if you want to make a weekend out of it.  Why I haven't been there yet is a failing on my part.  Next year I will correct this.

Courtesy of teammate Helio Castroneves, who suffered suspension failure for the second straight race, Briscoe was aided in catching the Target-Chip Ganassi cars of Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti.  The duo had built an impressive lead after green-flag pit stops, and Briscoe used most of his push-to-passes getting back to third place.  His work was inversely proportional to blog favorite Tony Kanaan, who entered the pits in fifth and when everyone had cycled through was in 12th.  That's probably why he tweeted:
Morning, very frustrated night. Not happy at all. Let's turn the page and move on.
(UPDATE, as of 12:30 p.m., Aug. 31:  Tony Kanaan says he wasn't upset at Marco Andretti when he went to talk to Michael Andretti after the race, he was upset about the race strategy, which included him losing several spots during green-flag pit stops after he stayed out while most of the field pitted.)  From @TonyKanaan: 
To clear things out here guys, I went to talk to Michael after the race about the strategy, nothing happen btw me and Marco.
With Dixon well out front, Castroneves' crash was just what Briscoe needed to bunch the field and get around the Target cars.  And with a lap to go, he did just that.  The yellow flag also created the closest 1-13 finish in series history - just 0.8269 second separated Briscoe from Kanaan.

Now Kentucky was a fantastic race because of the racing throughout the field, with drivers trading places most of the night.  Chicagoland was exactly the same, if not more exciting, as multiple cars were going three-wide throughout the night.  Honestly, who didn't think that the combination of Mario Moraes, Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti going three-wide in the closing laps would not result in a wreck?  Amazingly, it didn't.

Even with Versus seemingly cutting to commercials every 10-15 laps (seriously, you don't have enough ads for this.), it is apparent that the IndyCar Series is back on track with their oval racing setup (though admittedly the late yellow really helped after the field separated themselves in green-flag stops).  

As usual, Chicagoland proved to be the grounds for exciting races.  Let's hope Motegi (get excited - it's 3 weeks from now!) and Homestead-Miami deliver the goods as well.

28 August 2009

The 2010 Car Count Goes Up

Tagliani, the 2009 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, recently purchased the assets of Roth Racing and has created with FAZZT Race Team, a partnership between Azzi Race Division, ATG and Rubicon Sports Agency.  Tagliani will drive the No. 77 car. Andre Azzi will be the CEO and former Kelley Racing general manager Jim Freudenberg as the COO will oversee the team.
Good news for the IndyCar Series as they pick up a full-time driver for 2010.  The team announced that they will reveal their sponsorship package at Montreal later this year or early next year.