(This post was written on the last day of April, 2013 and, after 2 days of reflection and consideration, was posted)
Tomorrow represents the figurative upswing of momentum and acceleration in Indycar toward the Memorial Day weekend classic and what I still believe is the single greatest of all auto races, The Indianapolis 500.
Before the clock strikes midnight and May begins, however, I take this remaining time in April and mark my final day of unvarnished opinion of the current state of Indycar until further notice. There is precious little to say that hasn’t already been said by myself or others if one bothers to read and, as my blog is not monetized (requiring steady and popular content), I choose to not add unnecessary noise… after today. I plan to post in the future with most everything being nostalgic bits from the past I find worth savoring and sharing.
Today will be a summation of my thoughts on various subjects regarding the current state of Indycar. If you disagree vehemently with my opinions today, be assured you won’t see them rehashed in the future, and likewise, if you agree with some or all of what I’ve said, bookmark it for future reference, but I won’t continue to preach to the choir.
Preamble – Noting that I have no personal, first-hand experience on the inner workings of Indycar, Indycar teams, racecraft, race engineering, or race event promotion, except for what I’ve experienced from the end customer’s (fan’s) perspective since my early exposures as a kid in the mid-1970s, my writing is based in observations that attempt at best to be even-handed from my volume of experience as a fan, as information to used for the betterment of the sport, if possible.
Past – I doubt anyone will argue with the thought that the essence of Indycar (as also with many other autosports) has changed immensely over the last 50 years. Since 1911, as a standalone event, and later with a related racing series growing up around it (Midget/Sprint/Championship Cars), the Indy 500 and the Speedway has always garnered the most attention in the world of open-wheel racing.
Initially, as a working laboratory for the automotive industry, IMS and the Indianapolis 500 evolved during the 1930s – 1950s from oddity to grandiose public sporting event with worldwide fame. Many people paid money for the opportunity to see something they haven’t before. Most likely what they were paying to see (or actually saw) was a combination of competitive auto technology, amazing speeds, celebratory outings, sensory-overloading race action, and some even watching the perilous dance done by drivers with death. Out of this, the drivers who managed to survive and somehow even win races, became American folk legends. The drivers who won frequently became legends and icons of automotive sport. The general public swooned.
As traits from the past changed, gone are the days of competitive technologies, speeds that amaze, and, at Indy, the significant threat of horrific death. New traits emerged – tightly-regulated, limited-cost competition, a 20-year plateau in racing speeds, and the level of daring tempered with the likelihood of severe injury or death reduced significantly. Most of this evolution was absolutely necessary and needed on a permanent basis. Fairly sanitized, now people primarily come to the 500 out of tradition, to celebrate an annual memory, or to simply be at a world-class sporting event.
Present – Today’s Indycar has an inherent dichotomy of appreciation between the popular and savage past and the evolved and refined present. The gap in these divergent viewpoints has only been widened over time, but I believe the best of both are needed to survive. Today’s reality is that lagging ticket sales and anemic TV ratings indicate a product that isn’t nearly as popular as it once was. Indycar as a business exists somewhere closer to Hunger Games than salad days.
As recently evidenced, the associated sponsor exposure dollars that follow ratings, ticket sales, and client entertainment don’t stay around out of tradition for very long, therefore we have precious little time for reconciliation to produce a better future.
Future – Can there be a solution that satisfies all constituents? I believe so and in my view, clearly understanding and providing what people want or expect to see from your product is the key to it thriving. The only question of importance then becomes, “what do people want or expect to see from Indycar”. In answering that question, the key to best securing a future will be found. So often here the temptation is to look to the past, to the salad days, and replicate that today. Clearly if it were that simple, nothing need have changed before and the current problems would not exist so that argument is fallacious. Also tempting is to copy the closest, most-currently successful model but will that also translate to the audience of Indycar? Again likely not or there would have not already been a differentiation in product existing.
It is my opinion, as a fan for nearly 40 years, the enduring essence of Indycar from inception, hallmarked throughout it’s most popular days, and recalled into the present can be summed in one word – innovation.
Innovation can be defined as ‘the introduction of something new’. It is a very broad term, but also one with much appeal in (and some might say it is synonymous with) this country. The very essence of this country is tied to innovation – from something as broad as bringing a new form of government into the world to the most minuscule of modern products for living. Improving things and methods is a rather optimistic view in my opinion in that people work and desire to see improvement for present and future generations.
Innovation in Indycar can be symbolized by the very vehicle itself. Autosport already exists in many forms with numerous sorts of rules and competition but by giving the public truly innovative and amazing vehicles and technology to witness and can’t find anywhere else, will you be able to capture the imagination of a nation of people for whom innovation is essential.
How can Indycar use this national raison d’être for its own benefit seems rather easy. Of course the devil is always in the details, but without a more broad, unified vision and direction, the details become fiendish distractions that waste the time and energy of those engaged in the business. Only with a unified vision for the sport can an opportunity for its future be assured.
I implore all those involved charged with the sport and business of Indycar to use that essence of what made this country to your own benefit. With innovation as the escalator to greater altitudes, don’t be content to simply ride, but boldly climb with a purpose and direction.Remake this thing into the image of what made this country, the facility of IMS, and the Indianapolis 500, famous. Without the survival of the sport as a whole, no more can there be an Indianapolis 500, an Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Make it something with which people and businesses want to associate. Make it a sport that captures the imagination and interest of generations of people.
I challenge you, overseers of the sport of Indycar, to boldly remake this endeavor into THE pre-eminent form of autosport in the world.
I believe it can be done.
Be bold. You need to believe it can be done.
If you do not, the game is already over.