Q: I read RACER’s report of Michael Andretti advocating for some sort of franchise system in IndyCar racing to help set values for teams. In other words, the Formula 1 model, which Andretti has first-hand experience with thanks to his Formula E team. I was quite frankly disappointed. To paraphrase Andretti, “Any Tom, Dick or Harry with enough money can put a team together and go racing, and that’s bad.” Really? I don’t think a closed shop is the answer if IndyCar wants to grow.
The recent experiences of Mike Harding and Ricardo Juncos would indicated that there are already enough barriers to entry. I also suspect that any new owner coming in today would find it difficult, if not impossible, to secure an engine lease. Formula 1 has devolved into an engineering exercise that travels the world putting on chess matches in tire management with an occasional auto race breaking out. That’s the result of a closed shop with no new blood. That’s not the direction that I’d like to see IndyCar go. Your thoughts?
Bill Carsey, North Olmsted, OH
RM: I think it was a poor choice of words by Michael, but all he’s saying is there needs to be some kind of a franchise system for full-timers that have invested their lives. Baseball, basketball and football couldn’t survive without the financial gift basket from television (same for F1 and NASCAR), and since IndyCar doesn’t have that option, what’s wrong with some kind of franchise program? The Leader’s Circle gutted the purses so that’s not the answer, and I truly don’t think people understand how expensive IndyCar is and how small the return on investment.
Q: Guessing I will be in the minority on this one but Michael Andretti is correct in saying that a franchise system is critical to the owners having something of value in their team outside of a few assets. Provided they were willing to pay for a franchise (at this point the fee would have to be quite reasonable), I see no reason why Mr. Penske would not explore such an arrangement. In the end, strong owners and teams are critical to the success of IndyCar in which he now has an even-more-vested interest. It seems a reasonable proposal.
Justin, Park City, UT
RM: Of course it’s reasonable, logical and very necessary if IndyCar is ever going to sustain anything resembling a successful business model.
Q: When Michael speaks about “revenue sharing” and other ideas, he would be wise to remember that, according to what I heard at the Speedway over the years, this was one of the major reasons for the Split. Please don’t go down that road again…
Jim Mulcare, Westbury, NY
RM: Not true. There was a rumor CART teams were going to boycott Indy and that was pure B.S. fabricated by an IMS PR man. Of course, when CART went public in the late ’90s, then the full-timers cashed in their stock, but that’s the only revenue sharing that ever existed in my memory.
Q: I will totally admit that, with the amount of money in my bank account, I am pretty naive to the kind of business challenges that an owner like Michael Andretti faces. However, as someone who has scraped and sacrificed to be a “part of the show” in other forms of motorsports, as well as a long-time USAC/CART/IndyCar fan, it is pretty disheartening to read, “Now, any Joe Blow can buy a car and a truck and show up at the racetrack, and it’s too easy.” To me, the fact that Joe Blow can do that in any form of racing is what makes it so appealing. It always has been. I guess I’m just old.
Brad in Seattle
RM: Correct. It’s the Joe Blows like Roger Rager, Phil Krueger, Jim Guthrie, Bob Harkey, Eldon Rasmussen and John Martin that always made qualifying at Indianapolis so compelling back when there were 50 cars going for 33 spots. I’m sure Michael wishes he’d have used a different term.
Q: Robin, with respect to securing a title sponsor for Indy in order to bulk up the purse, you wrote: “‘The Menards 500 at Indianapolis’ doesn’t bother me in the least if it gets the teams a well-deserved raise.” Well, it bothers me, greatly. I have no objection to title sponsorship and along with you have questioned why it has not yet happened. But the event is the “Indianapolis 500” and has been for over 100 years, so any title sponsorship has to be “The Indianapolis 500 presented by [sponsor],” not the “[Sponsor] 500.”
Aside from preserving the immensely marketable name of the event, it also makes it unnecessary to change the event name when the title sponsor changes. It would remain “The Indianapolis 500,” with only the “presented by” portion getting an update. Lest you argue that “[Sponsor] 500” has greater value to the sponsor and therefore can bring in more money, I ask only this: Is the sport really that desperate? The only true household name in racing is “Indianapolis 500.”
Bob Marlow, NJ
RM: Hell yes, the sport is that desperate. Sebastien Bourdais just got kicked to the curb. Indy’s purse is a joke, just like IndyCar’s purses, and who cares what the race is called as long as Indy 500 is in the title? The current presenting sponsor (Gainbridge) doesn’t put in enough money to make a ripple, so whatever R.P. can work out would likely be predicated on major exposure — hence the Menards Indy 500. And the ‘household name’ draws six million fewer viewers than the Daytona 500, so let’s not get too melancholy.
Q: It was one of the few times you didn’t answer one of my questions: Do you really think they need to tear down the IMS Museum? My mother took a picture of that museum when I was in Germany in 1976! Why can’t they just build onto it? This whole thing about putting a label on the 500 is ridiculous, too. The Indianapolis 500 stands on its own merit! No petroleum/tire/electro whoever sponsored Indianapolis 500! It’s the Indianapolis 500. Maybe ‘…sponsored by?’ Just quit pushing that! Penske will dive into that and ruin the whole Indianapolis 500. It can never be the Whoever 500. After that it dies.
RM: Go visit the Barber Museum in Birmingham or Speedy Bill’s in Nebraska or Penske’s in Phoenix and you’ll see why IMS needs a new one. Upping the purse and calling more attention to a race that falls woefully short of Daytona in terms of eyeballs is ridiculous? I don’t think so. If the Menards Indy 500 paid $5 million to win and $500,000 to start like it should, then we might have 40-45 cars again. If the Split didn’t kill Indianapolis, a title sponsor certainly is no threat.