Q: I think about this subject a lot, and since I’ve been an IndyCar racing fan since the days of riding mechanics and Barney Oldfield, I worry about the future of IndyCar racing and wonder where the fans will come from. It was with moderate amusement that I read the Jalopnik interview with George Steinbrenner IV and his comments on finding fans – and since you’ve seen a few seasons, I was wondering about your thoughts on the subject, what to do, etc.
NASCAR has built-in fans -–and a consistency in sanctioning body which doesn’t hurt – they start out at their local bullring and watch their favorite driver attempt move up the ranks to the Regional touring series and then into the National series, e.g. trucks, Xfinity, Cup. Formula 1 has a built-in fan base, too. Local racers move to F3, F2, and F1. Even sports car racing has a fan base, from club racers to Le Mans, etc.
Every part of the sport has a link to its local fan base except IndyCar racing. Yes, it has a development ladder, but it doesn’t exactly have a following or even a local connection, especially since IndyCar racing has a diverse array of tracks – street, closed dedicated road courses, and ovals. So, the question is: how does IndyCar develop a fan base, not just at the top echelon, but to its feeder series?
Jake, Pasadena, California
RM: Colton Herta brought up a good point about kids and cars today, and that’s the major disconnect from when you and I grew up. Obviously I would go to Terre Haute, IRP or the State Fairgrounds and watch those midget and sprint car drivers ascend up the ladder. We don’t have that path anymore, but not sure it matters because the average age at most USAC races seems like over 50. Concerts are part of almost every race nowadays ,but that’s not enough of a hook to make a young person drive a couple hours to see a race. I don’t know the answer, but it seems like if you take a couple of neophytes to a race track, get them up close and explain what’s going on, they might get hooked. And guys like Alex Rossi and Robert Wickens made instant fans with their ability, so it’s not totally a closed door. I think Pato O’Ward and Herta will develop a following, and already have a little momentum because of their success in Lights.
Q: First of all glad you are feeling better and getting back to almost normal. Now my question—are you going to do your annual Christmas book buying list? I look forward to this every year and a few of your recommended books are always on my late list for Santa.
Rich from Palmerton, PA
RM: Yes Rich, it went up yesterday on RACER.com and it’s quite a variety this year.
Q: Is IMSA’s elimination of Long Beach and Detroit from the schedule the final nail in the coffin of any hopes of IMSA-IndyCar collaboration?
RM: No, IMSA simply dropped the LMP2 (amateur prototype class) from those venues because numbers have dwindled. DPis kick the poop out of LMP2, so IMSA gave them their own class but not enough participation.
Q: Was realizing how long I’ve been a fan when it occurred to me that I used to own “I Like Pat O’Connor” and “I Like Jimmy Bryan” badges. Wish I still had them. Here’s an idea I’ve had for a while now whose time maybe has come. I remember the thrill when I saw the transporters at Laguna Seca in the 90s with Champ Car World Series emblazoned on the sides. As a nod to the past, why not change the series name to IndyCar World Series? It wouldn’t cost much, and it would reflect the future of the series and might make the series title sponsorship more attractive.
I, like many others, think we should expand a little to include some international races again like Australia, Mexico City and ?? Could this be an idea whose time has come? I see nothing but good things for our series in the days ahead!
Patrick Hartley, Phoenix, Arizona
RM: I think I’d rather see a couple of national TV commercials rather than spend the money to re-badge everything, because honestly the only true marketing tool IndyCar has is its name. Now, if we got a new title sponsor that wanted to be part of the name, that’s fine. I think Australia, Mexico City and possibly Richmond could be back on the schedule by 2020.
Q: How about this – AARP, Ensure, and Metamucil sponsor some of these old washed-up has-been racers – you know, guys like Jimmie Johnson, Helio Castroneves, and Fernando Alonso – in a special, multi-disciplinary Champions Tour series. Each driver gets enough sponsorship to race in six events plus enough tests to make a decent run at it. I’d let the driver pick his schedule among 10-12 possibilities with some requirements for diversity.
I would also want to open it up to some of the non-marquee events. So maybe Jimmie Johnson runs the Chili Bowl, Petit Le Mans, Daytona 500, the IndyCar race at Gateway or Road America, the Knoxville Nationals, and an F2 race at the USGP. Helio runs the same schedule, except he runs Indy instead of Daytona and maybe an Xfinity race instead of IndyCar. Most points wins a walker and $1M. Produce a reality show following the drivers, with one-on-one interviews where the only rules are that they have to air every grievance they ever had in racing. That would be a compelling championship and must-see TV.
Clint, Chicago, IL
RM: It sounds IROC cool, but logistically it would be a challenge and somebody has to pay for it and organize it through all the contractual conflicts. Everyone ran whatever they felt like in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but I’m afraid those days are long gone.