My name is Andy Baker and I am the Director of the Motorsports Studies program in the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts on the campus of IUPUI in downtown Indianapolis. Motorsports Studies is a 21 credit hour certificate program designed to dovetail on the success of IUPUI’s B.S. in Motorsports Engineering in the School of Engineering and Technology. Our program introduces students to the non-engineering side of racing, including journalism, public relations, event management, and business marketing. Each spring semester, an Introduction to Motorsports Studies course is offered and attracts serious students across our campus seeking a variety of careers in motorsport.
A previous IndyCar 2018 author suggested I add my thoughts to this relevant conversation on IndyCar’s future.
- IndyCar 2018: Mario Andretti
- IndyCar 2018: Diego Rodriguez
- IndyCar 2018: Rick Mears
- IndyCar 2018: Robert Clarke
- IndyCar 2018: Mark Dill
- IndyCar 2018: Will Power
- IndyCar 2018: Bobby Unser
- IndyCar 2018: Troy Lee
- IndyCar 2018: American Honda’s T.E. McHale
- IndyCar 2018: Gordon Kimball
- IndyCar 2018: Spencer Pigot, Pro Mazda champ
- IndyCar 2018: Randy Bernard, ex-IndyCar CEO
- IndyCar 2018: Jeremy Dale, ex-ChampCar team manager
- IndyCar 2018: Ryan Kowalewski – engineer, business student, fan
- IndyCar 2018: Stefan Johansson
- IndyCar 2018: Derek Daly
I decided it would be more useful to ask our Motorsports Studies students to brainstorm and share their thoughts. After all, they are among the group Marshall Pruett noted in a Fall 2013 RACER article as one of the key challenges for all North American motorsports and, in particular, IndyCar racing: How does racing, in the abstract sense, adjust itself to appeal to the ‘must look down at my phone every 15 seconds’ environment we live in? As the market research confirms, the average racing fan in North America is getting old and gray. It all points to fewer 20-somethings turning up to watch Dixon, Hinch, Taylor or Milner at their craft and, like a band that was at its peak 20 years ago, North American road racing must find a way to stay relevant or risk playing in front of audiences at dive bars and county fairs.
Millennials are those born between 1980 and 2000 and have become just as large a segment of the U.S. population as the Baby Boomers. In fact, there are currently 87 million Americans in their 20s, which is 8 million more than those in their 50s. Further, in just 10 years, Millennials will comprise close to 75% of the workforce. With these facts in mind, it would be prudent to also listen to the viewpoints of IndyCar’s future from their perspective.
Millennials do have quirks. I teach 600 of them each across 10 different courses every year and have accordingly adapted my teaching style. They stare at their phones all of the time, are obsessed with taking and posting pictures of themselves, and have really, really short attention spans. But, they have much larger networks of friends, are obviously tech-savvy, and are increasingly more knowledgeable about science, technology, and engineering. After all, they’ve been the focus of the increased emphasis of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) in our K-12 schools. They are also more likely to be watching two televisions at once, with one showing the race broadcast, another an in-car camera, all while they observe timing and scoring data on their iPad.
Over the past few weeks, we have read and discussed all previous IndyCar 2018 articles along with several other RACER articles. I also led a brainstorming discussion, but after that, five IUPUI Motorsports Studies students produced the analysis that follows.
We are millennials, and despite what some old codgers on the internet might lead you to believe, some of us enjoy IndyCar racing. Granted, millennials aren’t following the sport by the masses, but some do, and they follow IndyCar with the same vigor of those who watched A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser in their respective heydays. And it’s completely within the realm of possibility to draw in many more and return the open-wheel discipline to its former glory.
As so many others noted in the IndyCar 2018 series, the process of changing IndyCar begins with its product.
One of the biggest disappointments of the IndyCar offseason was the removal of standing starts. When IndyCar first instituted the policy in 2013, the excitement felt through social media was palpable. Maybe it was the hum of the turbocharged cars idling on the grid preparing to unleash their might, but standing starts made the traditional rolling starts seem tame. In getting rid of standing starts, IndyCar threw the baby out with the bathwater. Did the botched starts embarrass the series on more than one occasion? Of course. Could the problem be fixed without doing away with standing starts? We don’t see why not.
Open-wheel series across the globe execute perfect standing starts on a regular basis. Even the Pro Mazda series performed a standing start without issue during the 2014 season. All of the experts seem to think the problem lies with the DW12, not its drivers. So why not fix it? Fix the anti-stall software, redesign the clutch, or add an onboard starter; just do something. Standing starts generated too much buzz around the series within the motorsports community to do away with them because they were inconvenient.
Most of the young race fans living within the I-465 loop never had the privilege of hearing Tom Carnegie bellow, “It’s a new track record!” after some legend of the Indianapolis 500 laid down a blistering lap. Worse yet, those who did hear that proclamation from the track speakers heard it after one of NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 qualifying attempts. It’s time to change that. Almost 19 years after Arie Luyendyk broke the qualifying record, no one has come close. To see qualifying runs lose 6mph over the span of twenty years seems counter-evolutionary. With the introduction of aero-kits and the hundredth Indianapolis 500 quickly approaching, it’s time to break the record again. Crank up the boost and write your own storyline. Will people complain it’s contrived? Of course, but someone always will. The simple fact is that outright speed still excites people.
In years past, IndyCar distinguished itself from other forms of motorsport by its diversity, particularly with women playing prominent roles in the sport. During the days of Sarah Fisher, Danica Patrick and Simona De Silvestro, female drivers piqued the interest of young girls who would not otherwise have an inroad to the sport. That sort of representation matters, inspiring young girls to pursue careers in auto racing, whether it be from the driving, engineering, or media perspectives. In not having a female driver on the full-time grid in the past few years, IndyCar missed an opportunity it would be wise not to overlook in the future.
In terms of the schedule, IndyCar needs to lengthen its schedule while not necessarily increasing the number of races on the calendar. To oversubscribe the summer months not only burns out teams and drivers, but fans as well. Instead of leaving fans starved for racing seven months out of the year, IndyCar should continually draw in fans for eight months of the year with two-week gaps in between events.
With the schedule, IndyCar must be creative in the coming years to keep its races relevant. As the last few years showed, the “same old, same old” is not a feasible business plan. As Spencer Pigot noted, the single-day Toronto doubleheader was a blessing in disguise. Having two shorter races as opposed to one long one is attractive in the scheme of doubleheaders. Realistically, fans at the track sparsely attend the Saturday event and treat it as a qualifying day. To give the Sunday crowd the biggest bang for their buck, single day doubleheaders can energize a track’s weekend itinerary.
To generate buzz around the oval portion of the calendar, IndyCar can apply the same principles. At races like Milwaukee and Iowa, the racing is good, if not brilliant, but the tracks are quiet for the majority of the day. By instituting heat races, IndyCar would not only pay tribute to a time-honored oval racing tradition, but also give fans incentive to arrive at the track earlier. By holding several shorter events, IndyCar can join Global Rallycross and AMA Supercross in catering toward those with short attention spans, including millennials, by providing quick bursts of racing action.
To reach out to millennials, IndyCar needs to delve into the mediums of which the new generation is a part. Specifically, this means video games. For so many young racing fans (and even drivers), their first association with a track or car comes from a simulator game like Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsports. Through these games, players learn the tracks of the IndyCar schedule and their quirks, thereby eliciting a reaction when the real-life drivers take to the track.
Another important thing to realize about college-aged kids is most of us don’t have two pennies to rub together. To get young people through the doors to see IndyCar’s product, it should be free. Expecting them to show up at a track and pay a lofty gate fee for something they may or may not enjoy is a flawed logic. Perhaps make a deal, where college IDs earn a free general admission ticket to IndyCar races (save the Indianapolis 500). Think of it as an investment. Getting young people to the track to experience the sights and sounds of the series will spawn a new generation of fans to replace the current aging following.
Maybe the most important thing for IndyCar to remember is its roots and its core: its fans. Over the years, IndyCar subjected its fans to so much. The Split, canceled races, in-fighting, politics, and favorite drivers killed in action. The fans who followed IndyCar to the brink and back deserve better. IndyCar must do something to cater to its die-hards. Above anything else, these fans want to be heard. For years, the voices of diehard IndyCar fans went unheard, lost in a cacophony of executives scurrying to make the sport “mainstream.” That won’t work. Diehard fans are the brick and mortar of the IndyCar Series. They put up with too much to not receive a seat at the table.
But for all that is wrong with the series, IndyCar still has a lot of things pointing in the right direction. For one, IndyCar drivers are some of the friendliest athletes in all of sports and talented to boot. For many millennials interested in the sport, a driver going out of their way to say “hello” in our youth is what originally hooked us on IndyCar racing. Compared to NASCAR, where drivers awkwardly interact with fans through a slotted Plexiglas window, invoking feelings of an encounter with a grumpy bank teller, IndyCar drivers are downright loving towards their fans.
The racing is spectacular. Regardless of which era of IndyCar racing one prefers, the modern product is closer and as exciting as ever. Not too long ago, street races were parades, little more than a block party with racecars in the background. For the past several years, street courses ended up as the most exciting races on the IndyCar schedule.
This is not to mention the excitement of the Indianapolis 500. The last laps of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing are now more breathtaking than ever before. Gone are the days of winners winning by several seconds. Now, the fight lasts to the yard of bricks more often than not. Most of the 500s in recent memory are instant classics.
No single solution will make every person happy. There will always be a curmudgeon raining on everyone’s parade. Even though IndyCar is far from perfect, fans and those directly involved with the sport must remember what is right. If played correctly, IndyCar can make the impending era of open wheel racing its greatest.
MEET THE STUDENTS
“My name is Michael Miller and I am a junior studying English at IUPUI. My interest in auto racing dates back as far as I can remember. Since meeting Dan Wheldon, I’ve been a diehard IndyCar fan, living by the emotional ebb and flow of the sport. After graduation, I want to work in technical communications or long-form journalistic nonfiction.”
(RIGHT) Michael is the writer of the Motorsports Studies IndyCar 2018 article after he synthesized the ideas of classmates and from lecture discussions.
“My name is Kavon Grant and I am originally from the south side of Chicago. While I lived in Atlanta, Georgia, I raced for a few years at the Atlanta Motorsports Park until my funding got low. I am currently a Motorsports Engineering student and hope to be involved in racing as a participant, whether it be driving, working on, or managing racecars.”
“My name is Nicole Stout and I am originally from Cleveland, Ohio and came to IUPUI specifically for the Motorsports Engineering program. As a result of my childhood cancer, I was unable to race cars with motors, so I fulfilled my need for speed while racing in the All-American Soap Box Derby. I had a successful racing career, with the highlight of my career coming when I finished 2nd in the International Championships held in Akron, Ohio.
(LEFT) Nicole is an honors student hoping to be a tire engineer for an IndyCar race team.
My name is Austin Shutt and I am an automotive enthusiast and racer. I have raced motocross and hill climb since 2008. My most significant achievement was State Champion in 2011. I enjoy competition and attend street legal nights at Lucas Oil Raceway as often as I can through the summer and enjoy leisurely karting at local tracks and indoors. I look to enter the business side of Motorsports after college, specializing in accounting and finance.
My name is Allison Schoch and I am a sophomore at IUPUI in Motorsports Engineering. I am from Lawrenceburg, Indiana, started racing when I was 5, and can easily say it is my life. I have big dreams of becoming a professional driver but I also found a more realistic dream of becoming a crew chief after I graduate.
Here is Allison (RIGHT) with her Legend car. She is also a driver for the IUPUI All Girls Go-kart Team that races in the Purdue Grand Prix every April.