Ground(ed) Effects

Indycar and general autosport opinion

What was that?! Oh no… another post with “Redux” in the title.

A recapitulation of a previous post. Another lazy-assed post by a lazy-assed blogger.


Hard to argue, but after reading the details of the Jay Penske civil suit against Lotus by Marshall Pruett, I couldn’t help but have this ‘haven’t we heard this before?’ feeling.  


As my tens of readers will attest, I sometimes deal with emotional situations by making a parody song fit into the world of Indycar.  Pippa Mann was the most recent recipient back in March of this year.

I also had made a song about Jay Penske in April of 2011. When it seems all this guy wants to do is field an Indycar team, circumstances conspire to make it as difficult as possible for him.  In the words of Mister Calhoun Tubbs, “Wrote a song ’bout it. Liketohearit?hereitgo..”


Now that you’ve re-elected me to Indycar blogger of North-central Indiana region, I wish to address some issues related to our fair sport…  
*guzzles double-shot of whiskey… deep breath*…  Okay.

– The Cars: 
NO the cars aren’t the beasts they used to be in the 70s and 80s, and NO they most likely never will be again. Get over it already. There are two good reasons that these days are gone forever… money (the lack thereof) and liability (the abundance of it). 

The question of “How fast do you want to go?” will always be answered with the question, “How much money do you have to spend?” Even the supposed highest heights of worldwide automotive excellence (F1) have to set some restrictions and you now have a modified form of restricted racing. The days of ‘unlimited budgets’ are gone. Unlimited racing doesn’t exist. What’s left is the perceived level of performance relative to the technology of the day. For the record, NASCAR, while quite popular, I still consider a form of racer-tainment, not racing. It’s more about the drama of the various characters and interactions (off- and on-track). Often compared to Professional Wrestling with good reason, Pro Rasslin’ and NASCAR have for many years not been about the technical aspects as much as the character drama presented.

When the sport of open-wheel racing was at it’s peak, people often got killed in racing cars. They still do, albeit much less frequently, and racers have always signed up for a occupation which is dangerous in the extreme, but when fans get injured, maimed, and even killed, that’s when the ‘shit gets real’. To add ever-increasing power and speed and danger to vehicles and place them in relative close proximity to thousands of fans is not asking the question of “if?” but “when?”.  One way of mitigating this is to beg plead and promise the insurance companies and leagues that as venues, they’re doing all they reasonably can to protect the spectators. Making the cars more dangerous and faster is doing the exact opposite and endangering the lives of drivers, crews, and fans alike. Quite honestly, you can print all the warnings and disclaimers on ticket stubs you like, the venue, league, teams, drivers, and hot dog vendors will be named in the litigation. Let’s face it, without venues, we have no racing.

– The Venues:
I’m going to say that last bit again. Without venues, we have no racing. Venues must make money to survive. Racing venues trade danger and speed and perceived competition for your money and the right to see it at their place. They also have massive liability and the job of pleasing thousands of people at each event. I honestly think you must a fair bit nuts to want to own and run any sports venue let alone one made specifically for racing. When people pay money to an event, they want to see something they can’t see anywhere else and can’t on TV. With TV in this age, there is precious little the viewer doesn’t see or isn’t made aware of via graphics and statistics. 

For racing, I believe the ‘Event’ is the event and there must be more than the action on the track, especially when the action is diluted for the perceived safety of all. The Indy 500 is an example of that. It is one tremendous event, and the perception of a world-class event makes it a world-class event.

– The Product:
You may note I’ve used the word ‘perception’ several times. ‘Perception’ is roughly defined as ‘what we believe we engage’. When we believe something is great, we vote with our $$ to support it. Likewise in reverse. Perception of ‘greatness’ and ‘amazing’ and ‘forward’ usually is rewarded by the eager onlookers of the public (and then sponsors eager to gain attention of the onlookers) with showers of money. Indycar as a series has lacked a perception of greatness for somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 years. Perhaps there was really nowhere else for it to go but down from the heights achieved in the 70s and 80s. I contend that it was as much a function of the loss of the greatest names from the greatest era of Indycar, in a span of 24 months as all other factors combined. Yes, the split was a huge factor as well, yet the without this loss of these great names so rapidly, I believe the split doesn’t go down as it did.

I see one way the fans will perceive Indycar racing as great again (not merely ‘good’ or ‘good enough’, but great) and make them pour out money to see it. By giving the people something they cannot see anywhere else AND giving them something they haven’t seen before, Indycar has a great opportunity to leap back into relevance. What that is, is for the Owners of Indycar to discern through major market study and analysis. What I believe the public is ready for is what I like to call.. brace yourselves… Ultimate Efficiency.  

The ‘quest for speed’ days are over. Been there. Been to the edge and back. Think of Indycar much like the Apollo program – there were failures and amazingly great successes in the Apollo program (at immense expense also) and we barely got out of Apollo 13 without suffering an incredible disaster with the whole world watching. Somehow, Indycar has survived the most dangerous, most reckless times relatively unscathed and now it’s time to find a better way. A new threshold that I believe can capture the imagination of the public however is the pursuit of Ultimate Efficiency. So many products in this day and age have gone from power- and size-based values to efficiency-based value. How efficient can our propulsion systems be? What is the most efficient form of propulsion? Who will have the next amazing idea that will spur on automotive technologies?  How far and how fast can we go 500 miles on limited amounts of energy input? 

Those answers, I believe, should be answered in the form of the new INDYCAR series. Yes, folks, the new INDYCAR. The series and sport as we currently see it (much as I like it) is a dead-end, we’re just waiting to hit the wall to be sure at this point. That wall may be 9, 10, or 11, 14, or 19 years away… no matter. If INDYCAR wants to be proactive and create something to supply the demand of an intrigued public (and future fans) for the next 50 years, I see the open world of multiple forms of propulsion and high-efficiency as the basis of what future fans of people will want to see.  I’m talking about combustible fuels of all sorts, electricity, hydrogen, solar, hot air, flux capacitors, whatever.  Establish a relative unit of energy for these various types of energy usage and set a limit for a given distance to be achieved through a vehicle with specified limits on dimension, weight, coeffcient of drag, and including a standard driver safety cell. Whoever can do it within the energy limit and do it the fastest, wins.

I happen to think that when you engage all the right people in the process of creating an inventive and engaging product (the world’s inventing and manufacturing companies of propulsion systems, and to a lesser degree aerodynamics, suspensions, wheels, tires, etc.), I see them pouring money into the sport and creating a product that engages the public immensely.  The demand for personal mobility vehicles will never go away, it just changes over time.  A glimpse of the future is what the public wants to see. When that future-looking public is engaged, the sponsors will be there, the media will be there, and the money will be there.

IS INDYCAR the platform? I would like it to be. I would like INDYCAR to honor the history and tradition of innovation that built the sport. That innovation is what drove the people’s imagination and desire. Innovation is what created the legendary vehicles (both great and not-so-great) and legendary pilots who drove them. 

Involving innovation (primarily through propulsion forms) is the ONLY way I see the sport of auto-racing surviving beyond the next 20 years.

Or do you think I’m waaaaay off-base? I’d love for you to read this diatribe, digest it a bit, and tell me what you honestly think.  I’m a big boy, I can take it.

2 thoughts on “Jay Penske Redux and post-Election Diatribe

  1. Great post, DZ. Couldn't agree more with every word.

    Like

  2. DZ says:

    Many thanks! Sorry I hadn't replied sooner, just got back from an (overdue and) extended vacation with the family. I'm glad to know that; 1. I may not be totally off my rocker on this sport and 2. that someone actually reads this space.

    Like

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