Déjà vu all over again?

By now you know that I worked with Championship Auto Racing Teams as a radio announcer during that series glory years of the late 80’s and through the 90’s.  I was there to see many of the mistakes that were made that ultimately led to the demise of a series that once provided the best racing in the world. IndyCar, far from providing that same level of competition, is beginning to follow the same path.

A few days ago I received a news release from IndyCar. It read: “INDYCAR, the sanctioning body of the IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will open an office in Santa Monica, Calif., to make further inroads into the media and entertainment industries.”

It went on to say “INDYCAR is in a unique position for growth that makes opportunities for integration into film, television, music and emerging media properties exciting. “

Excuse me? Anyone remember the God awful movie “Driven?” (BTW, you can hear me in that movie and I still say it should be banned from anyone viewing it again!”

Here we go thinking that the series is somehow full of “stars” that the entertainment world just wants to hear more about. The only reason anyone in Hollywood might even know IndyCar exists is because Ashley Judd is married to Dario Franchitti.

IndyCar’s problem is product and very poor officiating. Put rouge on a pig, you still have a pig.

CART thought they were the “elite” of the world and kept moving into the “wine and cheese” lifestyle presentation.  If IndyCar heads down that path they too will be doomed.

It’s not as much about putting butts in the seats every week these days as it is TV ratings where the big money is to be made. You can attract people to the “party” such as at Long Beach and Toronto, but can you get them to become real fans? An outreach to the Hollywood community isn’t going to do a thing to change that.

As I said, I’ve seen this road taken before and it leads to a  hubris that can only spell trouble.  Think you are bigger and better than you are and not work on improving the reality of the situation and you are doomed to failure.

Advertisements

PT Barnum is alive and well with IndyCar!

Wahlberg-Andretti I am ready to go Rambo on the IndyCar series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway! First they keep trashing normal month of May traditions and now they will have a 34th car on the track coming to the green flag of the Indianapolis 500!

In their best PT Barnum impersonation, IndyCar is unveiling the “Izod Fastest Seat in Sports” at the Indianapolis 500.  This will be the series two-seater piloted by Michael Andretti with movie/television star and producer Mark Wahlberg as a passenger following the field to the green flag for the race on Sunday.  Oh, and Mario Andretti will be on the headset talking to them during the parade and pace laps. Here are all the details. (Click here )

THIS IS THE INDIANAPOLIS 500! WE DON’T NEED GIMMICKS AND SIDESHOWS!

Did I state that strong enough?  Let me repeat.  THIS IS THE INDIANAPOLIS 500! WE DON’T NEED GIMMICKS AND SIDESHOWS!

What brilliant idiot came up with this idea?  Why take away from what use to be the “Flying Start” to the Indianapolis 500?

I know some will applaud this move as “bringing in new fans” to the sport.  That’s not bringing fans into the sport, that’s amusing them like a YouTube video does.

One more move like this and IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 is going to turn off what is left of its shrinking died-in-the-wool fan base that has stuck with this type of racing through thick and thin. 

I’m done and now headed to Dr. Phil’s couch to get some much needed help to handle this abomination.

Does tradition really matter at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?

ims-centennial-sm Let me start by stating that I know I’m a Neanderthal when it comes to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500. I am guilty of being stuck in the past and see every change made around this iconic event as a travesty.

When the Indianapolis Motor Speedway added a Nascar event back in 1994 the Brickyard 400, I saw that as lowering the uniqueness of the Indianapolis 500.

When Formula One came to town with a road course being constructed and a lot of the infield area for fans including the infamous Snake Pit going away I saw that as a slap in the face.

When the “Flying Start” tradition of the Indianapolis 500 became the race starting in Turn three BEFORE the green flag dropped instead of rows of three coming down the main straightaway told me these no longer were the best racers in the world because they couldn’t do a start that had been done for years. (IRL decision to let them race before the green)

When the number of attempts a car could make in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 went from a total of 3 for the month of May to three attempts each day of qualifying meaning a team had 12 tries to make the Indianapolis 500 I was angry.

This year two days of qualifying made more changes.  Now you got three chances on Pole Day to make the “Fast 9” and then as many tries as one could get to improve your starting position and take the pole. They also limited the number of cars that could qualify on Day One to 24. To me those were gimmicks violating tradition.

I’m not the only one that believes the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been trampling tradition in its quest to regain its once revered position as “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser who has never been shy about giving his opinion on anything agrees many traditions around the Indianapolis 500 have gone by the wayside in the quest for “innovation.” I talked to Bobby on this week’s Pit Pass USA show on the PowerUp Motorsports Channel. (Listen to archived show here) He agrees traditions are quickly being eroded or eliminated and has his own ideas on how to turn things around which he shares as only Bobby can.

Again, I know I’m stuck in the past but have we gotten to the point where tradition doesn’t matter? Just how far can a tradition be “modified” and “modernized” before it’s nothing more than a marketing ploy? Is all of this making the Indianapolis 500 just another race with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway just another race track?

Those are questions I have with very few answers at this time.  I just know that to me the Indianapolis 500 and the Speedway aren’t as special as they once were and that makes me sad.

A 30 Year Indianapolis 500 Flashback

Imsradio I’m headed to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend.  30 years ago I was headed there as a “rookie” with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network.

I received a phone call that spring from then “Voice of the 500” Paul Page along with Bob Jenkins informing me I was going to be a part of the network.  At the time though they told me I was just going to be more of a “helper” than actually being one of the voices of the race.

As was the tradition back then, the network held a breakfast for everyone on Wednesday before practice began at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hotel.  It was at that breakfast I was informed I would be part of the broadcast as the announcer on the back stretch position. (The position was discontinued after the 1981 race when I moved to the third turn.)

I remember the excitement at the start of the race and seeing those 33 cars come by me on the the first parade lap. When the green flag flew it was down to business.

Just 9 laps into the 1980 Indianapolis 500, Bill Whittington crashed coming off turn 2 and suddenly I was describing to the world the incident and aftermath.  Quite something for a guy that had grown up in a small  southern Indiana town listening to the Indianapolis 500 as a boy.

Johnny Rutherford would go on to win that 1980 Indianapolis 500 but I also won that day.

Being a part of that broadcast and 14 more of them before heading to the CART series to do radio for them in 1996 fueled my love of auto racing. It opened the door to many opportunities with the sport.  It allowed me to travel to such places as Australia, Brazil, Japan, Mexico and Canada to broadcast races.  It gave me the opportunity to do radio for the last Formula One race in Las Vegas at Caesar’s Palace. It also allowed me to make lasting friendships with so many involved in racing from drivers to owners to series officials to media members and race fans themselves.

No matter what my personal feelings are about the state of IndyCar racing and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway today, I will always be grateful for the opportunity I was given in 1980 that allowed me to be doing what I am today.

IndyCar, please stop the gimmicks!

DSC_0190 Desperate times require desperate measures I guess but IndyCar’s propensity for gimmicks over improved product and listening to the REAL fans of Indy car racing is driving me even crazier than I normally am.

First came the Indianapolis Motor Speedway changing qualifying rules AGAIN by saying you have to qualify TWICE to win the pole for the Indianapolis 500. (Read the story here)

Now in its infinite wisdom, IndyCar has decided that  crowning a series champion isn’t enough, they need a champion for the road/street circuit portion of their season, one for ovals, and then an overall champion! (Here are the details on this insanity!)

New CEO Randy Bernard says he did this to create more “major” races outside the Indianapolis 500.  What, saying they go for a “championship” make them “major?” Sorry dude, get a clue!

What makes a race major are the participants not the gimmicks.

The Indianapolis 500 became what it was (my opinion to use past tense) because of the men and women that raced there.  There was a time when the best-of- the-best raced at Indianapolis. Fans went to 16th and Georgetown because the heroes of racing from the USAC ranks, Nascar, Formula One and even road racing came to Indianapolis.  There was also the mixture of exotic cars. (Read previous post)

Not that long ago people were drawn to the races to see the likes of Rick Mears, Al Unser Sr. and Jr., Mario and Michael Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Emerson Fittipaldi, Nigel Mansell, Gil deFerran and so many more.  Hideki Mutoh just doesn’t do it.

What IndyCar fans want is great racing, great stars, great cars and an understanding of WHY they are IndyCar fans!

How about LISTENING to the fans. Not the ones that come to a race and barely know a race is going on because they are busy partying and schmoozing but the real fans that sacrifice their hard earned money and time to attend an event because it’s a passion to them.

I truly believe that the best days of Indy car type racing is in its past.  However, that doesn’t mean that IndyCar racing can’t become respectable and relevant again.  It just takes leadership that gets its collective head out of its ass Gimmicks just won’t do it.