Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for any of RACER’s writers can be sent to email@example.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.
NOTE: The Mailbag will take a break during the week of Thanksgiving, but please continue sending questions to the regular address and we’ll run them the following week.
Q: It wouldn’t be a Wednesday with the Mailbag if I wasn’t reading pleas to market IndyCar better. I’m hopeful that the Drive to Survive clone and other stuff will work. I do think we should also remember that there are all kinds of fun ways to get the word out. The 2012 Red Bull F1 video for the soon-to-opened COTA track was great and viral fun, and got 6.3 million views.
Ads like Michael Andretti locking Alex Zanardi in a port-a-potty or the tour van driver in Long Beach being bored with the normal tour and talking about the amazing Champ Cars and having to weld the manhole covers down to avoid them being sucked up are also great examples. If you want to get people excited, yes you need drivers to have celebrity recognition (as you remind us frequently) but you also need either fun or controversy.
I’m not saying we need to see Chastain-like rim shots on Indy oval races, but let’s bring back fun and/or controversy to the promotion. Put drift tires on Josef’s car and have him lay smoke all around Long Beach. Launch a Dallara on a SpaceX test. Surely the marketing teams can come up with some fun stuff.
MARSHALL PRUETT: Amen, Peter. Somehow NASCAR, once the super-strict and stodgy and boring sanctioning body that was afraid to try anything fun or interesting, has become the more open and creative of the two series. We’re living in bizarre times.
Of all the things I hope to see happen with IndyCar, somewhere near the top of the list is Marketing VP SJ Luedtke waking up to find an email from the series’ owners that reads:
“Good morning, SJ. We’ve decided to give this marketing thing a real try next season. We also wanted to compliment you for what you’ve been able to do so far using the pocket change you’ve had to dig out from the couch in the lobby. We’ve heard that Formula 1 commits $20 million a year to its social media efforts. Just social media. We don’t know what they spend on the rest of their marketing programs, but we’re told it’s a much bigger number.
“So, while we don’t have that kind of cash sitting around, we are going to roll the dice and commit $2 million to a social media budget for you. And since your department is really small, we’re dropping another $6 million into your 2023 budget. That way, you can go and hire a few agencies to put their best people on creating marketing initiatives that move the needle for us.
“P.S., the $8 million disappears if ‘DEFY EVERYTHING’ makes a return.”
Q: Don’t know if you saw this online, but here is a starting grid of the 1966 Mexico GP autographed by the participating drivers. I am not a big autograph seeker but this is impressive.
MP: I live for things like this, David. Not sure I have anything as cool, but I was fortunate back in early 2017 to buy a pristine program from the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans and then have my hero Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt sign the cover at the 50th anniversary gathering Ford put together in Long Beach. I’m still trying to decide whether to frame it or store it inside Fort Knox.
Q: I’m always interested in reading stories from the inside sources about the health and future of IndyCar. The drivers, teams and team owners are at the top of that list. Certainly, increased awareness of the series is needed and many have spoken up about how that promotional network is being built up and how it needs to go further.
Before we bash the current ownership too hard though, have we all read up on our history and studied the failures and triumphs of the past? We’re really focused on getting back to the ’90s era of a near-convergence with F1 and dominance over NASCAR, however, the arc of history is much longer and convergence and divergence has happened a few times over that history.
Many of us have read John Oreovicz’s book about the split and recent history of the sport. Gordon Kirby’s book about Chris Pook and the history of the Toyota GP of Long Beach is also a good read and takes us back in time a little further. I would also recommend a third book by John M. Burns called Thunder at Sunrise: A history of the Vanderbilt cup, the Grand Prize and the Indianapolis 500, 1904-1916. It weaves historical context into the birth of American open-wheel racing. It also illustrates things that were wildly popular and successful as well as the challenges the sport contended with in its infancy. Marshall, can you recommend any other good books similar to the three listed for reading in the off-season?
Eric Gackenbach, Dearborn, MI
MP: Most of my racing books remain in storage, Eric, but we’re hoping to buy a home and move later next year, so if you want to circle back on a deeper list, I’d be happy to share some deeper cuts when they all go back on the bookshelves.
So, that makes it hard to suggest books which fit that exact criteria into a response, but of those that come to mind that shed deep insights on fascinating periods of the sport, For Gold and Glory by Todd Gould is incredible. Brick By Brick by Patrick Sullivan is another. I’ve bought multiple copies in the past and given them as gifts.
Mark Dill’s The Legend of The First Superspeedway is great. King of The Boards: The life and times of Jimmy Murphy by Gary Doyle is a must-read about one of my racing heroes. I’d also pick up Black Noon: The Year They Stopped The Indy 500 by Art Garner.
As always, if you can, please buy directly from authors and racing memorabilia stores when possible.