Sunday, May 22, 2011

Burned Hands, Autographs, Popemobiles and the Future of IndyCar

Drama filled day at Bump Day, Gutted for Ryan Hunter Reay, Thrilled for the last row members and basking in the illumination of an epiphany. 
Today was a fun day for me.  I spent much of the day with my Nephew, a Dale Jr, nascar fan.  Much of it was spent wandering through a wet Gasoline alley trying to share whatever knowledge I knew that might perk an interest for him.  We talked about fuel injection and turbo chargers, how P2P works now, how it will next year, how the engine is part of the cars structure.  We saw Paul Tracy’s crew make a change in the gearbox before their final run, saw Will Power’s car broken into a tub and rear suspension, w/ no engine in between.  He’s more mechanically inclined than I am and I hoped I wouldn’t run out of material before the afternoon was done.
First trip through we saw Simona Desilvestro out signing autographs.  I told him how she had second degree burns on her hands after a wicked accident on Thursday.  We saw her hands and the bandages.  We saw the same hands sign autograph after autograph, even at a time when there was concern whether she would need to zip up the Nomex, hop back in the old warhorse tub and bang out 4 laps fighting through the pain the whole way. 
We saw the clouds and wandered over to the paddock to take advantage of a covered seating space while we watched Ana and Graham make their runs.  I found the replay of Simona’s accident on YouTube and he expressed the same surprise he had a year earlier watching Mike Conway’s accident “The driver lived?”
I explained that during the landing of Simona’s car, the roll bar was destroyed taking out the fueling point to the fuel cell with it splashing fuel on and soaking gloves that caught fire, scorching the flesh underneath.  After the rain we went back to Gasoline Alley and Simona was out signing autographs again and again for all takers.  Even after a second round of rain we headed back to Gasoline Alley and passed the HVM garages and yes, there was Simona, Signing autographs again.
The track was beginning to dry and one very notable driver had yet to qualify.  We looked down that row of garages and we saw the throngs loitering around.  Then we saw the tow vehicle coming with the team loaded on and the bright green car in tow behind.  I said, “Let’s wait here, she’ll be coming by soon” I could tell my Nephew was interested…this was someone he Knew before hearing me drone on indefinitely today.  Then it rolled our way…something completely unanticipated…I uttered out (and later tweeted) the first thing that came to mind…”It’s a F-ing Pope Mobile!” I looked over to my nephew, and the moment had fizzled.  We weren’t expecting much perhaps a smile and a wave, but what we got was an insult.
A golf cart with an engineered enclosure to insure that the passenger inside could completely avoid interaction with the masses that define her place in the world and ultimately pay her wages.  It is probably worthy of a debate, is she the “Girl in the bubble” or the “Woman Above it all” but at the end of the day the demarcation between star and fans was real and tangible.
To me this is a two sided tale of how stardom is made.  Are stars made by talented individuals giving back to the people that make their occupation possible or are they the artificial creation of cynical brand managers and soul-less spin doctors? 
Bob Kravitz of the IndyStar made his once a year trip to the speedway to write his after the matter has been decided column about how IndyCar must do everything it can to keep Danica in the fold.  Educated fans know the truth, she’s gone.  But the retort “she’s the only one that moves the needle” is always thrown about. 
What moves the needle is simple…it’s fans who LOVE drivers.  Perhaps I am nostalgically na├»ve, but while Fans Loving a driver may be had in short lived mass media created in 30 second commercial bursts, in the long term it has more permanence when it is built brick by brick, interaction by interaction.  One autograph signed with a bandaged and burned hand will not only gain the fan who walks away with the autograph but also the 20 people they tell about the experience. 
One of these strategies has staying power, one doesn’t, one is expensive and the other just requires commitment and a little humility.  If I were a team PR rep I would make sure my driver spent as much time as possible interacting with and touching fans.  With drivers committed to their fans and a fan base built this way, IndyCar will find itself and its future. I just hope everyone is on the same page...

No comments:

Post a Comment

My Blog List