Q: With all this talk recently about being disappointed with Penske Entertainment’s lack of plans, inspiration, investment, imagination, etc. (which I share), maybe we should play “if I were IndyCar dictator for a day.” Here’s what’s at the top of my to-do list:
1. Not only bring in a new (and lighter) chassis, but develop a plan for regularly scheduled upgrades/updates/eventual replacement. We have to stop doing this “we’ll only bring in a new car when everyone is making fun of us for being a vintage series.”
2. No more relying on “we’re the most competitive series in the world” as our marketing campaign. Cup is gimmicky and F1 is a snooze, but they find ways to get people (and new people) to watch. Stop resting on our laurels and start getting creative.
3. A 180-day(ish) offseason is painful. I get the not going up against NFL, but at least start earlier. IndyCar has the longest offseason of any major racing series that comes to mind and is only beat by the NFL in terms of major stick and ball sports.
4. The criteria for selecting season-ending venue should be at least one of the following:
a) Tons of fans
b) Highly entertaining track
c) Within 20 minutes of a major city
If and when this plan fails, I shed all responsibility like any good dictator would. In all seriousness it’s frustrating and embarrassing to watch IMSA, WEC, F1, Cup and a whole slew of other series look like they’re going somewhere. They feel modern, alive, and invigorated. IndyCar feels like its peaking in college. I just wish the most competitive field in recent memory that’s full of absolute legends was accompanied by all the things other series have that IndyCar lacks.
Michael, Halifax, Canada
MP: Hard to argue with anything you’ve said, Michael. IndyCar feels like it’s bolting the doors shut, burying its money in the backyard, and preparing for doomsday. And all the while, their neighbors at IMSA, NASCAR, and long-distance relatives in F1 are wondering why this vibrant series is afraid to go outside and live in the sunlight.
Q: I really appreciated the question from Jim in last week’s Mailbag. Does Roger Penske read these RACER Mailbag Q&As? How about his staff? As much as I loved having Roger saving Indy and all the work he has done, Jim’s point about the lack of a long-term plan for improving the series and its drivers goes unanswered by IndyCar. Is it possible to get a response from them directly?
Greg, Oconomowoc, WI
MP: Hard to say how many read it, but yes, I do get grumpy messages from time to time when I share critical views. It is possible to get a direct response, but on what? There’s no long-term plan to speak about.
Q: In light of IndyCar’s most recent marketing embarrassment with the Indy Lights rebrand to Indy NXT (shouldn’t it be ALL CAPS?), could you please rank the series’ worst marketing ploys over the years?
King Hiro #IAmIndy
MP: We lost Indy Lights, replaced by INDY NXT…but I refuse to go ALL CAPS with INDY just as I refuse to do so with INDYCAR. It’s almost as dumb as taking the NXT name from the WWE.
The number of texts I had from people in the paddock, including former Indy Lights champions, with messages along the lines of “NXT…WTF?”, made it clear I wasn’t the only one to think they pooped in the punch bowl on this one. It’s also just painfully tone deaf.
Slash the advancement drive to a shell of its former self, watch as your first new Indy Lights champion flails in the breeze, but spend the time and money that could have been put towards getting him into IndyCar on a splashy new name that does nothing other than slap a different label on the same product. Maybe I’m seeing the thing the wrong way, but with how my mind works, I lean towards placing “get your act in gear” way above ‘let’s do a name change’ while your house is in disarray.
Q: Just wondering why the decision was made to drop the series formerly known as Indy Lights from Toronto for the last two years? As excited as I was to have racing back, the weekend schedule seemed a bit light and could have had room for a Lights race especially with the NASCAR race on the Friday evening. Also, with Green Savoree as the promoter, it seemed very bare around the track last year. I understand they had to recoup after missing two years, but is that the standard at their other events? Other than a fire truck and two Caribbean dancers and some food trucks, there was zero for any casual or first-time fans to do other than the on-track action.
Greg, Barrie, Ontario
MP: As I understand, Greg, it’s part of trimming operating costs for the teams and focusing on the home market where most teams and sponsors are primarily represented. It’s too bad. Great town, great event, and if it weren’t for being part of an Indy Lights crew, it would have taken me a lot longer to pay my first visit to the Molson Indy Toronto back in the early 1990s.
Q: Less of question, more of a comment. Really impressed with James Hinchcliffe’s commentary on the F1TV Mexican GP coverage. Insightful, knowledgeable without being overbearing. Hopefully he gets additional opportunities.
CHRIS MEDLAND: I spoke to Hinch in Mexico and he was loving being part of it. I think he’ll be back for Abu Dhabi and hopefully more races in the future too — he’s got a great way of engaging with fans and drivers that I think makes him perfect for the role, and by his own admission he’s only just getting used to the F1 paddock and making contacts so he’ll keep getting better the more he’s involved.
Q: Hey Medland (or is it Medders, as Baretto and Saunders are likely to style it?)
A Mailbag writer last week said something about David Croft and Martin Brundle being somehow “out of touch” or some such nonsense in their F1 broadcast. I just wanted to put in a good word for both of them, as I find them two of the best sports announcers in the business. As a relatively new American convert to F1, it was not “Drive to Survive” that did it for me, it was Crofty and Brundle’s announcing on F1 TV. Their use of language is fantastic, they have a vocabulary to put any American broadcaster to shame, and one of the highlights of every weekend is hearing Brundle narrate a lap as the camera stays on one car, and Brundle describes what the driver’s thinking, looking for, and so on. He does it so damn well — they both do. Crofty’s lap one delivery always gets my heart racing. I love them both, and they both have made huge contributions to my understanding of and passion for the sport.
No questions, just some love for two of the greats.
CM: Firstly, thanks for being a Pad-Hoc listener Brian! I knew there was another one out there somewhere… Anyway, I hope it didn’t come across as criticism of both of them as broadcasters last week — they do a really good job and have anchored Sky’s coverage ever since it got rights in the UK — but I just felt like there’s a better setup for the U.S. market while also allowing them to be fully themselves for the UK audience they’re primarily employed for. I imagine you’re not alone in being hooked through them though so I’m glad you wrote in as it shows both sides of the coin and why there’s never a simple solution.
Crofty is a brilliant live commentator, especially when he’s fully immersed in the action, and Brundle is a class above when it comes to analysis, but I’ll ask a question in response to put my point from last week another way: Do you think they would be even better if they solely did commentary for ESPN and nobody else? I’d wager that you’d be showing them just as much love and they’d connect with other American fans better, too.