The RACER Mailbag, November 9

The RACER Mailbag, November 9

Insights & Analysis

The RACER Mailbag, November 9

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Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for any of RACER’s writers can be sent to mailbag@racer.com. Due to the high volume of questions received, we can’t guarantee that every letter will be published, but we’ll answer as many as we can. Published questions may be edited for length and clarity. Questions received after 3pm ET each Monday will appear the following week.

Q: I first want to say I know there is no magic wand. I have been a huge IndyCar fan since the early 1980s. I try not to complain too much because I love my IndyCar and everything Indy 500. But it’s time for tough love.

IndyCar is lost. It’s like those at 16th and Georgetown have an “Everything is fine” mentality.

I came from a time when we watched the local news out of Indianapolis just so we could get a glimpse of the new chassis and liveries at Phoenix or Long Beach, not to mention all the different cars/motors and teams. Gone are the days when small teams could buy a year-old chassis and a motor and it could get you a start in the 500. IndyCar is growing, but we barely make 33 for the 500.

I’m not whining, I’m concerned. All that Penske has done since 2020 is slap a new coat of paint on IMS. While that’s appreciated, I’d rather see more manufacturers get involved in IndyCar, and more than one chassis. We’ve essentially had only two chassis designs (or three, I suppose) in the past 20 years and still only two OEMs. Doesn’t it concern anyone else that no car company in the world other than Honda or Chevy wants to participate in the Greatest Race in the World? Wasn’t one of the reasons the IRL was created was because TG was worried that engine manufacturers had too much power within the series? Isn’t that exactly what we have now?

Don’t get me started on IndyCar merch, because that stuff is cheap-looking and the designs are boring and lazy. Team Penske has the neatest merch and that’s because the guy who designs their NASCAR merch also does their IndyCar merch. In fact, no other team really does its own merch anymore.

Now we have Indy NXT, because that is supposed to maybe attract younger fans. Is that really going attract younger fans? That “Defy Everything” or whatever it was, was a dud from the start as well. How about making sexy cars, selling the driver personalities and having some great-looking merch? If they need a slogan how about “IndyCar, faster than a mother*****”

I’ll take a hard card and photographers’ vest in lieu of payment for the use of my slogan.

Kris, Kokomo, IN

Champ Car merchandise at Long Beach in 2003. Good luck getting a licensed hat for $15 nowadays. Lesley Ann Miller/Motorsport Images

MP: How much do you think Gene Simmons would charge us to write a new song around your slogan, Kris? Kidding aside, I don’t want to turn this into a weekly walk down the same topic, but there’s a growing disconnect between the series’ ownership group and its drivers, and some fans which are inbound every week.

Ask the folks at the very top of IndyCar, and it’s “Everything Is Awesome.” There was a slight increase in total television audience size, the Hy-Vee Iowa IndyCar Weekend was a big success, Belle Isle is moving to downtown Detroit, etc. But on the flipside, the amount of drivers I’ve spoken with who are legitimately concerned about IndyCar’s health is alarming. It’s been many years since I’ve heard this level of worry.

In isolation, IndyCar isn’t doing anything especially wrong. But when you take the series out of isolation and compare it to all of the newness and growth found among the series that are posing the greatest risk — NASCAR and F1 and IMSA — it’s easy to be frightened for its future. If there’s four houses on the block and three are either undergoing renovations or have already been remodeled, the old and largely untouched fourth house sticks out, and not in a good way. That’s where the fears are centered. Rather than acknowledge the need for a thorough remodel, the owners of that aged house are convinced it’s perfectly fine as-is, all while it becomes an eyesore sitting next to the sparkling modern properties.

The latest gut punch: When over 40,000 people show up on the streets of Las Vegas like they did on Sunday to watch a demo run by Lewis Hamilton, and I’m confident in saying that’s more people than we had on race day at Texas, Portland, and Laguna Seca combined, we have a problem.

We aren’t facing a lack of open-wheel racing fans in America. We’re facing a lack of open-wheel racing fans who know IndyCar exists or think it’s interesting enough to follow.

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