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.