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.