Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

There is an axiom that floats about the business world, “people will tell you what they want, if you just listen to them”. The most successful salespersons and businesses shut up and listen, examine that information, and then figure out how to best provide it.

Today the Formula 1 drivers Association also took their concerns to F1 via an open letter to the ownership and directors of that sport, expressing a desire to see better stewardship of the sport with regard to long-term vision and plan. It all sounded so familiar. I even mentally inserted “Indycar” anywhere the words “F1” appeared with very little difference in consistency with issues known in Indycar for decades.

I thought to myself, ‘here’s yet another example of how Indycar has lead the world of autosport by 10 to 20 years’. We’ve been dealing with a sport whose organization can be characterized by the public as insular, short-sighted, lacking vision, and reactive since the late 1970s and especially so since the mid-1990s.

The good news for Indycar is, that is a bit farther up the road in dealing with a business ‘contraction’ than F1 or even NASCAR. The bad news is that the progress has come in fits and starts and is always much slower than the customer would like to see. It also comes at a time when it competes with ever-more diversions for the public, never less.

So how is it then, that a company can be perceived to be so aloof, especially when the lifeblood of its existence (sponsorship and broadcasting rights monies), is based on having eyeballs and ears on the product?

As we draw ever-nearer to the incredibly massive landmark 100th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, we again are reminded so vividly of a sport that has been extremely adept at holding up it’s super-speedway, golden era (early 1960s to mid-1970s) as the hallmark of it’s existence and implying a parallel with the modern day. Those who have lived long enough to have seen those days with our own eyes and ears, always bristle at the comparison and rightly so. The sport today resembles so little of that Golden Era. The fact that we STILL gush more about the innovation of 1961 Cooper Climax, or the 1967 Paxton STP turbine, a full 50 years later than we do about the one that won just 11 months ago, or even two weeks ago, I’ve always found to be quite telling.

F1 has also been good at holding itself up as the pinnacle for newest and most innovative technologies for decades. It some ways it actually has, but as for the management of the sport, it’s still shows a heritage with the Draconian-types of the industrial age. 

At one time, the production auto industry used autosport as a working laboratory for development of better machinery to be translated into the passenger vehicle. Now it appears a new day is dawning in the automotive industry where technology is rapidly changing the mobility vehicle and how we engage with it. Likewise, there is an opportunity to examine those changes and see how autosport can incorporate them into their future.   


I’m reminded of that famous phrase, uttered in front of a shiny, new ‘K-car’ c. 1981.

I’m not sure if he originated the phrase, but I recall quite clearly for well over 30 years now, Lee Iacocca, then President of Chrysler, making that quote famous via his television ads for the ‘new Chrysler Motor Company’ – “In this business, you lead, follow, or get out of the way.” 

At the time, the car company was attempting to emerge from a terrible recession and bring a new philosophy, optimism, and ambition to the fore. It was a successful campaign in many ways although it didn’t solve all of the ills that plagued the company or the industry as a whole.

Autosport is still a reflection of that industry in many ways, especially by being tied so closely to the worldwide auto industry for obvious reasons, but I think the future will hold that the sport who was able to show the ability to listen to all voices of interest (not merely a few select ones), establish a forward-thinking and relevant vision, a clear plan to achieve it, and provide the product that people will demand in the future, will be the most successful. 

Even at it’s relative nadir, Indycar can still be a player in that game. Once the celebrations, revelry, and nostalgia of the landmark 100th Indy 500 end, I believe strongly that a new era must begin. One that is bold, exciting, invigorating, and isn’t afraid to be something innovative.


“Fear can hold you prisoner, hope can set you free” is the promotional tagline from one my favorite movies, “The Shawshank Redemption”, which was adapted from Stephen King’s Different Seasons group of novellas. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption represents the season of Spring and is also subtitled, “Hope Springs Eternal”.

The character of Ellis “Red” Redding in that story cautions the reader (through a dialogue with the optimistic protagonist Andy Dufresne) that “Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane”. Later, however, in reply, the character of Andy Dufresne states, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies”.


I still hold out hope that Indycar can be the pinnacle of modern autosport it was.

I hope I’ll be able to make it to that day.

I hope to be there and shake my Indycar friends’ hands. 

I hope that Indycar will be as incredible as it has been in my dreams.

I hope.




Not Good Enough


It doesn’t seem so very long ago when we were all left in stunned disbelief following the death of Dan Wheldon, October 16, 2011.


Maybe it’s because it hasn’t been that long really. 

Now resigned to the terrible result of another all too fateful moment on Sunday, I finally had to take a moment away from my work duties this morning to read what I wrote in the hours (of shock and disgust with the sport) and days (of ‘Indycar family’ and hope) following Wheldon’s death. 

Seeing the television footage of the helicopter rising from its mid-track perch at Pocono on Sunday was an all too familiar scene and one that left me suspended between disbelief, despair, and hope. 

I told my kids this morning about Justin dying before they left for school. Certainly far from ideal timing but I also I didn’t want them to not hear it from me. 

Nick, Justin, Ellie. Milwaukee 2012.
Photo: (c) Lynne Zehr
My daughter is a casual fan who could name several drivers and recognize a few by face. My son has a bit of deeper interest and knows most every car and driver visually. In the case of Justin Wilson, he represents a rare moment that they both shared with him in Milwaukee back in 2012. 

He had just finished a TV report of his riding the Milwaukee Indyfest ferris wheel with a young fan and was heading back to the paddock. We just happened to be walking nearby and asked for a quick photo opportunity with him which he so graciously, and so ridiculously-commonly, obliged. 

That was over three years ago and while my kids have grown so much when compared to the picture, they both remember this moment quite vividly and fondly. Both were saddened to hear the news I had to share with them this morning. 

I was equally sad to have to deliver it.

Having just surpassed my recent “Gurney Eagle/Jerry Karl/Foyt’s third entry” birthday, each year seems to bring more energy into my brain for more existential pondering – “what, if any, is the purpose and meaning of life?”

You may have also read my recent post with the same question bent specifically toward the sport of Indycar. Having little remaining hope that Indycar will ever be any sort of genuine ‘innovative and working future-thought laboratory’ for auto manufacturers as I’d dream, I have finally come to grips that this sport is set-up primarily as an entertainment vehicle which sells thrills and tradition and nostalgia in direct support of the Indianapolis 500 and the benefit of those who own the event and property.

“Duh.” might be your response. 

Fair enough, but I bought in early and heavily into the ideals found in automotive innovation found in the golden years of auto-racing (c. early-1960s to mid-1980s). Giving up on that ideal has been difficult for sure as it represents, to me, all that is good about people – the unfailing human desire to achieve and progress – working together to improve the things in our lives and the world around us.

That flicker of optimism found in human nature as reflected in the form of automotive racing has finally been extinguished for me. So what is left is simply a sport as entertainment vehicle. 

What is left is simply not good enough. 

This sport, as we are all too-well aware, is horrifically brutal. There are moments of thrilling performance to be sure, but when things go wrong, it seems it is always in spectacular fashion. I’ve written before about the ‘the long dark thread’ woven into the fabric of autosport. Sunday was evidence that thread is long and continuous. 

And so here we are again.

Another death. 

Another widowed family. 

Another horrible event in a long list of horrible events. 

It seems that only numerous, and somewhat random factors, align to produce these darkest of events which often leave us with nothing else to ponder but “why?” Could every single death of every single racing driver and fan have been prevented somehow? Of course, but it’s always that strange alignment of wrong thing, wrong place, wrong time. 

In pursuit of something so uncommonly amazing, such as landing a human on the moon, the risks are significant and great and their achievement stands as incredible historical human events. People lined up to be selected for those ridiculously dangerous roles because their desire was so great to risk their very essence to be a part of that history.

For me, Indycars racing around tracks on a sunny, summer Sunday afternoon for the benefit of thousands watching in person or on broadcast are not of such gravitas. Likewise nor do I think the similar risk of life is worth the paltry sums of either glory or riches we have today in autosport, and Indycar specifically.

Therefore, I simply find no good, remaining excuse you can give me why the safety of the competitors (and crews and fans) isn’t paramount anymore. You may want to argue with me whether safety is or isn’t paramount, but following and understanding what has happened in this sport over the last 40 years, I’m of the informed opinion that cost-containment, not safety, is at the forefront. That isn’t to say that the current cars aren’t amazing in how they protect drivers and fans, but that safety needs to be at the forefront of autosport design now. 

The time for making only reactionary improvements in safety has long passed. These people aren’t sound-barrier or moonshot pilots, they’re highly skilled drivers of cars for entertainment purposes. I have no desire to see people on either side of the fence get maimed or killed for a paltry bit of entertainment. 

What we have is simply not good enough. 

Justin Wilson knew all too well the risks involved. By most all accounts he also was a very thoughtful and genuine person who spoke often of his concerns for the safety of fans and drivers alike. We know there are significant risks that have existed for several years and still need to be addressed as evidenced by the most recent injuries and fatalities from cockpit intrusion in autosport, and especially over the last seven years. I call for this issue to be addressed now via development of the full enclosure of the cockpit from all manner of intrusions. End of story. It will take nothing away from the sport and it’s enjoyment. 

Not just incrementally better but BEST driver protection should be the new hallmark.

No amount of tradition, nostalgia, or perception of danger is worth this. No excuse you can give me for not immediately pursuing, testing, and incorporating designs fully-enclosed cockpits in Indycar is acceptable. Anything short of this is not acceptable and I’ll go one further and propose that NO MORE Indycar racing should occur after Sonoma until this is properly done. 

What we have is simply not good enough.

I’m telling everyone in the positions of power and rule over the sport of Indycar – I will not watch people die anymore for the sake of mere entertainment. 

No reason you can give me, or Susie Wheldon or Julia Wilson or whomever the next is to be widowed by this brutal sport, is good enough.


What we have today is simply not good enough.

 
Right now, this sport is simply not good enough to go on.






The Future is Now


February 25, 2017 – Austin, TX

Good morning everyone from sunny Austin, Texas and welcome to the first on-track open test of the inaugural season of the 2018 RedBull Hypercar Series.

Ever since the purchase of the nearly-defunct Indycar series by RedBull in late 2016 and the subsequent debut of the RedBull X1 chassis as the spec chassis for the new RBHS, fans have flocked to to the internet, track, and television to get their first impressions and follow the development of this amazing “hypercar” powered by a very unique, hybrid propulsion system. 


Fascinated by cutting-edge auto-racing, yet also unhappy with the fractious divides, polarization, and lack of transparency in the governance of F1, RedBull founder Dietrich Mateschitz vacated his teams and money from Formula 1 and devised his own series, and made an audacious offer for the failing Indycar Series that the Hulman and Company board could not refuse.  

The concept for the new series, born out of the twilight of the Indycar Series following the 100th Indy 500, was to open a new outlet for forward-visioning, single-seat, monocoque, single-spec chassis, incorporating a hybrid propulsion of various internal-combustion motors and electrical motor systems. 

Multiple settings will exist for the motors and even can be altered during the race based on strategy and in-race conditions. Teams will be allowed to devise their own fuel of choice prior to the race (from traditional ethanol, methanol, compressed natural gas, or biodiesel) and also their own downforce configurations from the bodywork options as well. 

Paid winnings will also be coupled with a points system including a graduated bonus system for minimal energy input usage.  A baseline for energy units (combustible fuels or electrical storage in the battery configuration) will be established for each race. Teams exceeding the baseline will receive a graduated-scale of reduced winnings while teams staying below the baseline will receive an increasing scale of bonus winnings and points in addition to their placement payout.


The new Redbull Hypercar Series will incorporate sprint and endurance racing, and span two divisions (one each in the South and North American continents) culminating in the Inaugural Championship of the Americas to be held at Circuit of the Americas near Austin, Texas in October 26-28, 2018. Each division of the Series will contest their own race series. Based on the results of those ‘seasons’, each division will produce 8 contestants for the final Championship race with a purse of US$20 million going to the winners.

Several existing racing teams from the former Indycar series have shown up for this weekend’s testing fielding multiple cars piloted with an illustrious list of drivers for the new series.

In the North American Series, 12 events in the US and Canada will be held on a variety of race circuits, and run from May to late-September. The Central and South American series will see 8 races hosted in Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico, with the season running from July to September.

The Top 8 teams from each division will contest the final 6-hour race at COTA with the Champions receiving the all-new traveling RedBull Hypercar Cup Trophy.


The inaugural 2018 season will launch in North America at Mazda Laguna-Seca Raceway on May 5th, with stops at Indianapolis on May 27, Road America on June 9. Night races also feature in the North American series including stops at Daytona International Speedway (road course) in late June, and again in Indianapolis for a 12-hour endurance race on the road course in late-August. 

Excitement and interest in an American racing series has not been seen like this for decades. Citing pre-sales of tickets already well-beyond 50% capacity at many of the venues, RedBull expects the inaugural season to be a success with likely expansion of new divisions to Asia and Europe following in 2019.




Godspeed

Just a few days ago, on a recent music-related trip to Nashville, Tennessee, I was also able to devote some impromptu time for what I will loquaciously describe as a ‘Friday PM Indycar Fan and Blogging Commiseration Summit’. 

In the maelstrom of the final hours before the 2013 Indy 500, I had several regretfully much-too-brief interactions during the pre-race tweet-up and picture this past May.  When I officially knew we were coming to ‘Nashvegas’ for a few days, I knew I needed to look up our good Indycar friend, George. George Phillips (of Oilpressure Blog fame and @oilpressureblog on Twitter) and his lovely wife Susan (aka @chiapet58) and I gathered together only to share some time getting to know each other. I doubt they’d mind if I revealed that the evening was full of good conversation and laughs on a great many subjects, Indycar included. 

Of all the things I’ve experienced over the last several years in the world of Indycar as experienced over the internet, my most positive experiences come from the direct social interaction with people whom I’ve only previously known via a digital environment. This includes fans, drivers, and racing industry people alike. This Friday PM was no exception.

After our ‘tweetup-of-3’ and after much discussion on the messages we put out in the universe via our blogs and twitter, I was left with the overriding feeling that, of all the problems Indycar has to overcome just to survive, the fans are not one of them. 

I also felt, as the same themes keep appearing in my writing and truly I have nothing new to say, and, as I’ve been threatening for several posts now, this is a good time to set the blog aside for a while. 

In summation, as I have written many a tome on the subject of Indycar, my primary goal (and the reason for the naming of Grounded Effects) was to produce thought-provoking and engaging commentaries for the fans of Indycar. I still feel many of the thoughts here have value in the near- and long-term for Indycar fans so please feel free to visit the “Museum” of the Grounded Effects blog… don’t cost nothin’.

For your ease of future reference, below is a compendium with green listings among the most read, and the orange listings among the most read and personal favorites of mine, the links for which are found under the ‘Museum’ heading on the upper-right column of this blog. 

If you wish, please also follow down to the bottom for my final thoughts. 


2009
Sep.   
I’m going to blog about Indycar.
How I got started following Indycar, part 1.
Oct.
How I got started following Indycar, part 2.
Favorite Indycars, part 1 – ’79 Chaparral.
          Nov.
Indycar thoughts for the future.
Favorite Indycars, part 2 – ‘65 Lotus.
          Dec.
An Indy 500 trip for $365 (aka The Dollar a day plan).
Fave Indycars, part 3 – ’70 PJ Colt.
Please don’t change/mess up the start of the Indy 500.
2010
          Jan.
Tony G is out – Open letter to Hulman IMS ownership.
          Feb.
The Hallowed Grounds in winter.
Carb Day concert band suggestions.
100 days to Indy – Indy trip planning.
          Mar.
Fortune favors the bold – new car/engine ideas.
Season opener – Sao Paulo race review.
Faux Carb Day concert band announcement.
          Apr.
Disparity in racing is OK.
Simple Indycar math.
Celebrating some good news and more Indycar math.
          May
May = Indy for me.
500 Qualy predictions.
Last minute Indy trip stuff/prediction recap.
          July
D-day ICONIC preview.
          Sep.
Reviving the fading mystique of Indy ramble.
          Oct.
End of Season thoughts, part 1 – Dario is a legend, small crowds and TV.
End of Season thoughts, part 2 – Indycar is a niche sport, but devoted fanbase.
          Nov.
Post-season withdrawals, Pagoda shuttered, Chevy’s back, TK out of ride.
Thanksgiving and more Indycar math.
2011
          Jan.
Blog review.
Blog visual refresher.
Whither Sam Hornish.
Essence of NASCAR vs Indycar racing/competition.
          Feb.
American auto companies thoughts.
          Mar.
Indycar misses formula for future.
Whom should Randy Bernard trust?
Favorite Indycars, part 4 – ’85 March Cosworth ‘spin and win’.
          Apr.
Indycar parody lyrics – Jay Penske – Lawyers, Guns, and Money.
          May
Greatest 33 thoughts.
500 Qualy predictions.
Qualy predictions recap, race preview and prediction.
          Jun.
Race and predictions review.
Explaining Indycar to non-fans.
          Aug.
Predictions for the future of Indycar – Pain.
Fave Engines of Indy, part 1 – ’60s Ford V8 (sounds).
          Sep.
Why NASCAR drives won’t race the Indycar World Challenge.
Funky Cars of Indy, part 1 – Yunick’s ’64 Hurst Floor-shifter Spcl.
          Oct.
Indycar’s missing character – the car.
Post-Las Vegas/questioning my Indycar.
Dealing w post-Vegas grief.
          Nov.
Indycar Slang.
          Dec.

Looking to 2012 – Carb Day band ideas.

2012
          Jan.
Goofy graphical thoughts.
Missing Dick Simon.
          Feb.
Fans demand better Indycar coverage online.
Laughing at the new F1 cars – Platypus fever.
Zip-Line fever/Ideas for the 500.
Fave engines of Indy, part 2 – The Offy (sounds).
          Mar.
Pre-season cautionary thoughts.
Indycar Parody lyrics – Pippa Mann – Pippa Nation.
Equinox – new season.
St. Pete expectations/self-mantra: post-Wheldon.
          Apr.
Writing contrition.
The Greatest 33 and Indycar nerdery cont’d.
          May
Indycon Level 4 and my origins redux.
Jay Penske redux and diatribe on Indycar’s direction.
My rambling Indy 500 trip memories, 2004, part 1 – a new beginning.
My rambling Indy 500 trip memories, 2004, part 2 – cont’d.
My rambling Indy 500 trip memories, 2004, part 3 – final.
Indy 500 qualy predictions.
          Jun.
Milwaukee Indyfest trip and an energy revelation.
          Jul.
Drama as an asset to Indycar, not a distraction.
Humorous end-of-race alternatives to Green-White-Checkers.
          Sep.
Indycar needs some Gangnam Style.
Now THAT’S a season (review).
          Oct.
Days of Reflection (Wheldon and life).
Escapism in the off-season.
          Dec.
Left adrift as an Indycar fan – no more apologism.
2013
          Feb.
Post-Superbowl, waiting for Indycar.
Indycar and my iPod shuffle (a noir narrative).
          Mar.
Crystal Ballin’ – 2013, beyond… die spec racing.
          Apr.
Nostalgia as a false pain-relief remedy.
          May
One last plea for Indycar change.
          Jul.
Pocono – an on-site review for IndycarUK.
          Aug.
Should there be an end of the Hulman reign over Indycar?
          Sep.   
Final Rites – Grounded Effects Blog Recap.
Epilogue
I have been a fan of varying degrees of Indycar for nearly four decades and have come to the following conclusions with regard to the sport:
1. The Indy 500 is still truly a worldwide showcase event.
2. Building a viable series around the Indy 500 has proven to be folly. Aside from the 500, it has been and essentially still is a niche (300,000 followers/20,000 in person) sport and will remain so until a philosophical shift of what Indycar is supposed to be occurs, if ever.
3. For the sport of Indycar (or any autosport) to thrive and grow in the next 20 years, it MUST allow for an open, flexible, and agile set of rules and platform in which real innovation, creativeness, forward-thinking, and ingenuity are welcomed as the norm. Something akin to a ‘formula libre’ Indycar can thrive. 
4. I believe no other option exists for Indycar but to change radically. If not, it will continue the slow degradation and devaluation death march we’ve seen for nearly 20 years. Change is well overdue. 
5. I give Indycar in its current state through the 2016 season. It must either have a plan for radical change in place or it will be done. The current ‘timeline’ recently set by Walker and Miles is not a plan which will cause Indycar to survive beyond 2016.
6. We fans are never the problem, RATHER, we’re the solution, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Until Indycar figures out what fans truly want and supplies what we demand, there is no long-term viability of the sport.

It is truly as simple as basic economics:
– The fans are consumers. We have the power of our money to support the things we demand. 
– Discretionary spending will continue to be reduced as the economy continues to polarize and eliminate the middle-class.
– The ONLY reason any professional sport (product) exists, ultimately, is to fill a demand by the fans (consumer). 
– Supply of product in and of itself does not create demand.
– Consumers will respond positively when you supply something they demand.
– The supplier who truly listens, who cares, and aims to provide the best possible product to meet or exceed the consumer expectations will be the one who ultimately survives.
– For auto-racing to be a viable sport, supply MUST ONLY follow demand.
– For Indycar to merely have the potential to survive, it must provide a product in much greater demand (at least 3 times the current demand in both TV and on-location markets), all other things being equal.
– You fans are the consumers. You have the power to demand, but it’s up to suppliers to fill that demand. 
– I believe without question that demand will be filled. 

By whom is the Billion-Dollar answer.
“Whosoever desires constant success,
must change his conduct with the times.”
-Niccolo Machiavelli


Best wishes and Godspeed to you all!