The RACER Mailbag, February 23

The RACER Mailbag, February 23

Insights & Analysis

The RACER Mailbag, February 23

By ,

Q: NASCAR’s Cup Series used the Los Angeles Coliseum for the Busch Light Clash this year for only one race only. Will the IndyCar Series use any stadium or a street to convert in to a racetrack for one race only, and after that race they tear down that race track?

Chris Fiegler, Latham NY

MP: Not totally clear on all that’s being asked here, but in the case of streets, they all get torn down after the last race of the weekend is over. As for IndyCar looking to do a similar Coliseum event, it feels like they’d get slammed for simply copying NASCAR’s idea.

Q: I noticed some comments regarding NASCAR’s Clash in LA in last week’s Mailbag. I think it’s worth noting that NASCAR engaged a crowd full of first-timers that otherwise may have never even considered watching the sport. Same goes for F1’s “Drive to Survive.” Both of those creative ideas ignited a new fanbase, despite being gimmicky and purely for entertainment. While I’m not suggesting IndyCar copy these ideas (dare I bring up IndyCar’s ripoff of “Cars,” “Turbo”?), I am saying that I can’t recall the last time IndyCar made any real attempt to truly expand its fanbase.

We’ve been beating the “most competitive series in the world” drum for a while now. And while I beat that drum too, it’s not enough to move the needle on its own. Although I don’t have any revolutionary ideas myself, it always stings to see racing’s big brothers whip out a wild idea and execute to reinvigorate their sport while IndyCar gets involved in eSports 20 years late.

Michael, Halifax, Nova Scotia

MP: So you’re saying IndyCar’s ‘Defy Everything’ marketing campaign hasn’t done the trick? (Kidding.) I’ll keep beating the same drum and say that if IndyCar wants to make new fans, take the series to places where those people live and drop a street race in their laps.

Nashville is a perfect example of this formula, which was used to great effect by IMSA, and IndyCar to a slightly lesser degree in the 1980s, when both series were ragingly popular. NASCAR’s idea of taking its product to a solid market and make it easy for people to attend is the same exact formula, but trading streets for a downtown coliseum.

IndyCar has an amazing product to offer, and for those who see it live, the hooks are set. The location of where IndyCar tries to set those hooks is where there’s room for growth, and going to the same tracks every year isn’t making much of a difference.

I always think of my home track of Laguna Seca as an example when this question comes up. When racing was a much bigger deal, fans would stream into Monterey to watch the major races. From where I live in the Bay Area, where there are millions of us, Laguna’s about a 90-minute drive south.

Since our favorite kind of racing has decreased in popularity, there aren’t many who know or care about a sporting event that’s 90 minutes away, buried in the hills, and offers almost no modern amenities like you’d find at a MLB/NFL/NBA/NHL game. I wish it weren’t the case, but IndyCar’s return has been a ghost town. Same for IMSA.

If IndyCar wants to grow, let’s hear about the Unser Family 200 on the streets of Albuquerque. Let’s race around the Oklahoma Thunder NBA arena. When do we load in for Chip Ganassi’s Pittsburgh Grand Prix that sprints around the Pirates and Steelers stadiums? Go to where the people are and let them rejoice in IndyCar. Amen.

Like all street races, the St. Pete track infrastructure will be taken down immediately after the event. Phillip Abbott/Motorsport Images

Q: Why the change from “Gentlemen Start Your Engines”to “Drivers Start Your Engines”? And please don’t use the lazy excuse that there are more women in racing; I’m sure those in charge are smart enough to realize when a women is in the field and to say “Lady/Ladies.”
Hard to call them the most famous words in racing if they are not the same words!

I hope this isn’t the racing industries attempt to appease the PC crowd. History of the sport means something.

Chuck Ney

MP: Come on, man. I thought email was invented in the late 1980s, but you’ve somehow managed to send this from the 1950s. Not exactly sure what the thought process was when assembling this ode to old-timey thinking where casual sexism was cool and women “knew their place.” It doesn’t belong in IndyCar, or anywhere else. But while we’re here, this is what Paretta Autosport owner Beth Paretta had to say:

“It was changed over a decade ago to reflect who they are addressing more appropriately. Also, it’s still wrong to say Drivers Start Your Engines but for another reason. Not to “ladysplain,” but in IndyCar the driver does not, in fact, start the car. The crew member standing behind the car does with the mechanical starter, and sometimes, that crew member is a woman. If we want to be accurate we could say “Teams,” but we’ve settled on “Drivers,” which is used in most forms of motorsport around the world. Welcome to the show.”

Q: Has brand identity in IMSA and WEC gone too far? I get it – brand identity brings the big manufacturers and that ensures healthy starting fields and sponsorship. But, I’m having trouble seeing the similarity between the Peugeot 9X8 and any of their production vehicles or the coolest looking sportscar ever – the 905.

To a certain extent, the same could be said of the Cadillac GTP. While I applaud both makes exploration of new aero approaches, it appears the stylists have won the battle. The 9X8 and Cadillac GTP look like set props for a Transformers movie. Tell me these cars will look better after homologation.

On a completely different subject, it seems Multimatic has become a genuine competitor to Dallara in the sportscar arena. The fact that Porsche chose them for their GTP entry says a lot. Does Multimatic fabricate its monocoques using its own autoclaves?

Jonathan and Cleide Morris, Ventura, CA

MP: I like what I’ve seen so far of the 9X8 and the Caddy GTP car, so I hope they don’t change. I’m pretty simple that way; I love it when IndyCars and prototypes and GTs look radical or like they’re from the future. Acura’s ARX-05, while being a fine motor racing machine, does nothing for me. Same with the looks of the current Caddy DPi-V.R. They aren’t unpleasant to view, but they are miles away from being iconic designs.

Oh yes on Multimatic. They have a few giant facilities throughout the globe and the race car manufacturing side is tiny compared to everything else they do. To my knowledge, all the big stuff is done in-house.

Q: Just finished John Oreovicz’s excellent Indy Split book. It lays out in perfect detail the fact that neither side won that stupid war. It was obvious to all of us who lived through those mostly dark times that CART/Champ Car was not going to be able to survive without racing at Indy and the IRL was not going to be successful in forcing an all oval, all-American driver series down the public’s throat.

One of the things that really struck me were the comments by Dario Franchitti, who said how much he hated the pack racing the IRL encouraged, but obviously ran in them anyway. Do you know if that was a prevailing thought in the paddock and were you aware of any drivers who showed genuine fear about participating in those races?

Rod, Houston

MP: I was fortunate to work in both series in the 1990s, and yes, there were some pack races back then — more so in the 2000s — that were not for the faint of heart. You’re always going to have the daredevils who plunge headfirst into the insanity, and you’ll have the thinkers like Dario who used healthy doses of fear — call it a self-preservation gene — to keep from driving like a lunatic at all times. And then you had the ones, more often in the IRL than CART, who were decent in Indy Lights (or something similar) but didn’t belong in a dogfight with 10 cars stacked on top of each other. In those instances, we’d see them back out of the pack and take consolation in surviving to finish a few laps down.