Q: Thanks for bringing the Mailbag back. Robin is smiling. Curious to know who or what is driving the sudden desire to move the Detroit Grand Prix back downtown. Belle Isle is a great location, and despite some annual squawking from a few locals, it seemed like a good arrangement for both parties.
JP from Motown
MP: The big response to the new downtown Nashville race made an impact on this decision, for sure. The Belle Isle race has been a decent performer most of the time, but it’s been a long time since the place was packed with full grandstands and fans lining the fences throughout the property. I’m not saying the return to downtown Motown is going to double or triple ticket and corporate hospitality sales, but it’s worth a try to see if some of the buzz that Nashville generated can be recreated by going back to downtown Detroit. I figure that if the move doesn’t deliver as they’d hope, going back to Belle Isle is a decent fallback position. Let’s give it a try and see if it brings some excitement back to IndyCar’s annual visit to Michigan.
Q: I will admit that I sided with much of what Robin had to say about IndyCar, from heyday to the Split, through CART, etc. I will miss his passion for this sport! Hopeful we will get a Saturday night slot for the first Iowa Speedway event on July 23rd and then Sunday afternoon on 24th. Looks like both are on NBC; any idea if the night race Saturday is being considered?
MP: I asked IndyCar CEO Mark Miles, and here’s what he sent back: “We aren’t in a position to finalize and announce times yet. But we are pleased that both races will be on NBC.”
Q: First time, long time. Does anyone know what Robin Miller thought of Tomas Scheckter? He was my favorite driver as a kid and teen. And maybe even still. Reckless abandon. I’ve always told my new Indy 500 rookie fans over the years that every once in a while you can see a difference in driving style, especially on restarts. Like TK and Tomas. I always felt he was a unique talent that swung and missed.
MP: In the few times we discussed Scheckter, Robin expressed lots of love for the guy, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Big balls, totally fearless, and gave zero ***** about what his rivals thought about him… kind of like a certain Texan who Robin loved when he wasn’t getting smacked upside the head.
Q: There is always the question of how to grow IndyCar further than we have seen. I know there is always the talk of a new manufacturer joining the series, more oval races, new speed records, locations, etc., to bring back old fans and get new ones. I was always one to want a third or fourth manufacturer, but I have come to believe that it is a unicorn and I will believe it when I see it. Generally, the younger generation is not as enthused by just cars or speed records. Teenagers nowadays do not seem to be as enthused about getting that first car the way that previous generations were. They seem more enthusiastic about internet personalities and streaming shows.
Therefore, I think a Netflix-type “Drive To Survive” show (I would suggest the name “A Different Breed,” used for the 2020 marketing) to get the general public interested about the drivers, tracks, and IndyCar experience. What are the odds that this will actually happen? Which is more likely to happen first — a streaming show or a third manufacturer?
MP: Let’s take a longer look at this. First, I know there are a lot of stereotypes out there about younger generations and what they do or don’t like, but as we’ve seen with soccer and F1 in the U.S., if it’s compelling and interesting sport, there’s a possibility of gaining a new audience.
“Drive To Survive” has been a global revelation for F1, and while the racing is part of the appeal, it’s the hardcore depiction of what goes on behind the scenes with all the politics and rivalries and hopes and dreams being met or dashed that has drawn a big following. F1’s underbelly is being exposed, and while some in the sport don’t care for DTS and say it’s far too contrived, it isn’t made for them. It’s for those who want to be taken inside a sport that’s new to them in amazing ways. And herein lies IndyCar’s truly bizarre lack of response to DTS.
From the moment DTS debuted, IndyCar has been hammered by drivers, team owners, and sponsors to create something similar — hell, just straight-up copy the format — to create a similar lift through streaming. I’ve heard and written for two seasons now about how the series is going to do something, but it feels like the power of DTS hasn’t been taken as seriously as it should.
Maybe the big success of the recent USGP at COTA and the wave of articles on RACER, ESPN, and countless other outlets about how DTS built a big new audience that didn’t previously exist will be the thing to make IndyCar accept that wasting money on catchy marketing campaigns like “Defy Everything” is doing nothing to gain new fans.
How’s this: If F1 developed a new fire extinguisher system that made its cars safer, I have no doubt IndyCar would jump to adopt it for our cars ASAP. F1, and Netflix, developed a new marketing plan that has been a global phenomenon for three straight years, and yet, we’ve decided to slow-walk this one and watch as F1 has created a sizable audience in America with TV ratings that rival or exceed your average IndyCar race. The years-long lack of urgency here is alarming.
And I’d put the odds on an IndyCar DTS happening at the same time, or possibly one year before a third manufacturer is on track.