The Bland Driver Atittude

INDYCAR drivers have arguably the most talent and skills racing open-wheel cars in the world. Heck, some of them, like Simon Pagenaud, are in all forms of motorsports.

The notion that these drivers not only can drive in any sort of venues (road, street, ovals, dirt) is, not only impressive, but these skills need to be promoted constantly in primetime television.

The IndyCar brand will only gain a great Return on Investment (ROI) by purchasing TV time (say ESPN) to show some In-Car Camera shots like the series is showing on YouTube.

But, the one issue we have with today’s drivers is how bland they have become. The don’t want to be exposed by either facing danger racing cars (REALLY!!!) and being way too polite.

Although I was not a fan of Sam Hornish Jr, he was what an open-wheel drivers should be: fearless and not a whiner. When Tony Kanaan, Oriol Servia, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti started to complain about high-speed ovals is the day I wanted them to retire. Can you imagine AJ Foyt, Mario or Michael Andretti, or any Unser complain about the dangers of the sport?

In that last paragraph lies the problem with INDYCAR today. Its best asset, the drivers, is sometimes the worst asset. How can you sell you have the best drivers in the world when they complain about speed, high banked ovals, super speedways, and any other related complaint you can add.

IndyCar drivers should be all about guts, speed records, pushing the limit of the car, and being the best in history. That’s what INDYCAR has been all about in 100 years.

The Corporate-bland image the series promotes cannot be extended anymore. Let drivers have spats on Twitter or in Television. The notion that sponsors will retract dollars for any “negative” endeavor is foolish. The airtime these drivers can give is only good for sponsors.

I recommend each one of you to go back and see races from 20 or 30 years ago. See the tempers, the energy to push to the limit, to be fearless, to challenge others, to simply be: the best driver in the world, not the politically-correct and whining driver.

Why People Are Not Watching INDYCAR racing?

When I watched CART I was 18 years old and was fascinated by oval racing and the daring drivers. When CART went full blast with road and street racing I lost interest. The foreign drivers were not an issue for me (my favorite driver at the time was Emerson Fittipaldi) as it brought the best in the world to the sport.

The IRL brought back the daring drivers, the ovals, and the excitement toward IndyCar racing until 2006. After that, the model went slowly but surely the CART model but with spec cars.

Now, we need more Americans to be able to get rides. You cannot keep losing the Jeff Gordon’s, Hildebrand’s, Larson’s and so forth. That right there is INDYCAR’s mistake. You need to be able to bring those people into the series. It all about funding and sponsors.

How?

First, be realistic, the sanctioning fee for ovals HAS to be LOWER. Help the promoter get its investment on track.

Second, bring sponsors that ARE business partners. Is not all about the money (CASH) but how you promote and sell your brand. In the heyday you would see lots of commercial make reference to IndyCar and its drivers (by the way, Emerson was in a few of those).

Third, enough talk about how costs cannot bring technology and new chassis or grandfather old ones. That right there is what sold tickets before. You can name it whatever you want, people came to see the drivers race fast in those beautiful AND different car combinations: THE CARS ARE THE STARS!

Fourth, You have to make the Indy 500 exciting again but not with false aero tricks to have 68 passes for the lead. Make qualifying difficult and an honor as it used to be. Pay more to the entrants; a minimum of $350,000 so it covers the costs if one team does not make the show (more on this on another later post). Bring more entrepreneurs to be enamored with the mystic and tradition IMS brings.

This four (4) items should be a blueprint to bring back INDYCAR where it should be. Anything less is just band-aids and to procrastinate the problem. Think big and you will get there…think small and with fear and you will get nothing. IT IS THAT SIMPLE IN BUSINESS!

Understanding INDYCAR’s Logic

Yes, I’m writing again thanks to a couple of days of heavy conversations on Twitter with buddies like Steve (@sejarzo) Matt (@bauerracing) and Chris (@andhesonit).

The conversation started basically as I was watching YouTube videos of Chicagoland Speedway Peak Antifreeze Indy 300 races from 2005 until 2010. My frustration with this matter is that INDYCAR could not come to an agreement with Chicagoland to stay there. If you see this races from 2001 until 2008 (afternoon races) the stands were full with an estimate 50,000 on average (75,000 seating capacity). In fact, the better thing is that INDYCAR crowned its Champion twice with full stands and you can hear the crowd clapping this moment. In Homestead or Fontana, not that much. The icing on the cake: the close racing was beautiful and unbelievable. When you make Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear call races almost without breath you know you have a great on-track product.

I want Homestead and Fontana for many years to come (add Phoenix, Michigan and Richmond) but you need to understand that your best race should be the season finale on a Top 5 market. With the new cars and new aero package for 1.5- mile oval tracks it is time to bring back Chicagoland to IndyCar history.

On a previous post I wrote about the Oval Track Business and how INDYCAR needs to “give some to get some”. The 3-year plan I lay out it is achievable and financially responsible. As a former Operations Manager myself I understand that your customers sometimes need some “financial break” in order to keep coming back and putting the effort to be loyal to your brand. You may not like it but at the end it helps both parties.

I created and started writing this blog when Randy Bernard (RB) was INDYCAR’s CEO. I still think he was the right man for the job and he “gets it” when it comes to understanding the paying customer, the show, and what needs to happen on the business side. Yes, his determination on keeping sanctioning fees at $1.5MM as much as possible could hurt some venues but he was starting to see how to view other options including renting the venues. Examples: Las Vegas Motorspeedway (rent), Milwaukee (lower fees), Texas (share TV costs for primetime slot).

That’s the leader we had and was let go by Hulman & CO by listening to the wrong group, car owners. The buying customer is the one who adds staying power to your brand. RB was great on listening to this fan and even writing back on ideas. The idea you run a company only as a profit & loss accountant is mistaken. Yes, the ultimate goal is running in the “black” but if your product remains marginal, at best, then that’s what you are going to get.

Bring back Chicagoland and the other ovals I mentioned before and help track presidents buy-in on your brand. There is no question the product is great.

If INDYCAR wants to be known as a marginal and niche sport then they are doing it right. For us, the attending fans, that’s not acceptable to keep helping a brand that just does not care.

Itaipava Sao Paolo Indy 300 Presented by Nestle – What Did I See?

A street race that you can pass!?!? A straight that you hit 193MPH on a street race!?!? Josef Newgarden going for the win!?!? Takuma Sato leading until the last corner, going for TWO wins in a row!?!? Penske and Ganassi boys not a factor!?!?

Well, if you saw the same race as I did, you could appreciate another awesome street race. Yes, I wrote that very clearly. I think it is time that everyone takes notice that IndyCar is on the rise, doing very well but needs Mark Miles to make a big splash by making NBC, ABC, or someone show ALL races on Network TV. No more waiting, no more excuses, no more being the black sheep of motorsports.

As a fan I’m static that IndyCar product is sooo good. As a businessman I’m dissapointed that this product is being missed by much of America mainstream due to a TV deal that at the time made sense but now is just an anchor holding back the series.

The Sambadrome was full of Brazilians showing the big support and fans IndyCar has outside mainland US. The series needs to appeal all fans and having international races helps promote the IndyCar product.

One big plus of having Sato (Japan), Hinchcliffe (Canada), Servia (Spain), Kanaan (Brazil), and Newgarden (USA) battling for the lead and win is the potential attention-grabbing news and highlights that can bring new and old fans back to IndyCar from different countries.

Congrats to James Hinchcliffe on his 2nd win as well as Takuma Sato, Marco Andretti for the podium finish. My BIG applause goes to Josef Newgarden who finally is showing his skills with results. He should win one by the end of the year (you read it here first!).

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Season Opener – Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – What Did I See?

There are many race fans that complaint about anything on IndyCar’s current state: not enough fans, not enough ovals (count me in), low ratings, underpowered engines, so and so. Well, we just witnessed one of the best street course races EVER with the deepest field EVER (have doubts on this, listen to last week’s trackside and find out why!).

The most dramatic thing is that in all of this hoopla we had a 1st time winner in James Hinchcliffe (@hinchtown) who has shown he is as good as advertised (pun intended with the GoDaddy sponsorship!).

Maiden Victory for the Mayor of Hinchtown

Maiden Victory for the Mayor of Hinchtown

My predicted Top 5 was mared by technical difficulties all race long but my darkhorse Simona was right there until the final 400 meters. Call me crazy but Simona could win at Long Beach or Baltimore. The street races suit her strengths.

Helio Castroneves once again proved why he is my favorite driver. He knew when to attack, when to lead, and when to concede that he needs points to win the champioship. I want Helio to have his championship this season.

KV Racing Technologies looked impressive and it seems the pairing of Tony Kanaan and Simona is good to go. I expect KV to at least win a race this year.

Will Power was not in my Top 5 because for some reason he misses more than he hits on strategies at street courses. St Pete has not been kind to him.

Also, I predicted that the Ganassi boys will not sniff the Top 5 as they seem “slow” compared to the Chevy-powered drivers. I still don’t know how but Scott Dixon edge Simona at the finish line for that Top 5 spot. I have to finally understand that Dixie is an impressive driver, even if he drives forthe hated Ganassi team.

This year’s race dull moments were the long, long cautions (10 laps on a street circuit is WAY too long!) that dilute the great racing. Still, I would put it as the best edition closely followed by the 2012 edition.

NBC Sports Network hit a Home Run in having Leigh Diffey (@leighdiffey) as their broadcast anchor. I hadmy doubts basedon his primary experience in Formula 1 and though he would fumble names and data. Boy, was I wrong! He did not fail ONCE! He has a new fan in me. Also, having Jon Beekhuis (@JonBeekhuis) at the pits was a concern as I thought he brought the fan lots on information from the booth. Again, nice move as we had his customary technical information available plus he could interview drivers directly. Great job!

IndyCar is on the rise and with many moves still pending on the business side by Mark Miles (Hulman Company CEO) there is plenty of upside available.

This Randy Bernard fan says…”it is time to move on!” “IndyCar is going up because of RB’s contributions and he has made his mark”. “Thanks Boss!”

IndyCar 2013 Season Opener – St. Petersburg Grand Prix

It is that time of the year, people! After a 6-month hiatus from along, long offseason, we have IndyCar racing back.

Last year’s race was kind of a 3-part race: exciting, then dull, then exciting! Helio Castroneves (my favorite driver, if you are not tired of reading this!) is the defending Champion of the race. Every lap, pole, start and win Mr. Castroneves completes he pushes himself into IndyCar lore.

The field of drivers is the most competitive in years and the championship should be decided again at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California’s Season Finale. More on my predicitions on a later blog post.

Now, the weather could be a factor at St Pete as rain is expected in the afternoon. My trusted friend, IndyCar Weatherman (@Indycar_Wxman) has confirmed this: “@IndyCar_Raider right now I think race starts dry, with rain to the north moving into TB/StP area in 2-3pm timeframe…” . So we could see a flurry of strategies going overboard as the rain could catch up by the last 10-20 laps.

My Top 5 for the race are Castroneves, De Silvestro (yes, you read right!), Bourdais, Pagenaud and Hunter-Reay. As you can read Will Power is not on the Top 5. He has dominated all practices and spring training but strategy usually hurts his chances as this venue and will do so again. The Ganassi boys have looked slow and they are hurting from the, dare to say, the Honda’s lack of power.

There will be lots of contact as these drivers are still rusty from the long offseason and weather could be a factor.

The race will air on the NBC Sports Network (Dish Network Channel 159) at noon with pre-race coverage. Today is the qualifying efforts brought to you LIVE by NBC Sports Network at 2:30pm EST.

The Cars Are The Stars!

When I fell in love with IndyCar racing watching the 1989 Indy 500 race it was based on two things: the awe of watching drivers push the envelop on the corners to gain more speed and the cars (livery, engines, tires, chassis) how they performed.

To write that I knew every chassis manufacturer and its aerodynamic packages by looking it at the TV would be a classic lie. I still would not be able to properly identify them but it was nice to know that teams would make everything in the name of innovation to have the best car.

IndyCar racing IS innovation. Is that simple. Having a series that is spec racing is simply not the way to attract old or new fans to the sport. You can say whatever you like to justify costs and bring a leveled playing field, you still need open competition to assure you keep pushing the envelop and be relevant in today’s sports landscape.

I do think that there is no place for 900+ horsepower engines in this day in age. That premise of powerful engines is way out of touch in today’s production vehicles specially as hybrid engines keep digging on the market pie chart. You need relevant engines that are technically better, more efficient, and produce a fast and attractive race car that does not pollute the environment and it is fuel efficient.

It is no secret that my chassis of choice was the Swift over the Dallara. Yet, why can we have both of them? Again, conversation surrounds costs…but this would not be a problem if INDYCAR and the team owners understood that it would be a hard one or two years but when the interest grows (fans AND sponsors) then it will not matter.

You need to bring entertainment to the forefront and it costs money to invest in your future. You cannot have everything you can be without sacrifices and giving some to get some. I still keep my confidence that 2014 will be the breakout year for IndyCar racing. Therefore, it is time to shed aside the inferiority complex and put an agenda to finally bring the full load of innovation and entertainment you stars can provide…and it starts with your protagonists: your IndyCars!