Thursday, March 24, 2011

After Six months of....

Pandering Drivers in need of PR skills, Whiney bloggers who think the league should super serve their whims, archaic fans asking the same stupid questions over and over, Graham Rahal acting dopey, Flip Flopping CEO's who would rather float trial balloons and than do proactive research and Pressdog snarking about the red and white cars...Let's F___ing Race....

In case you need something to get you in the mood...

Tune in Sunday at 12:30 to ABC Watch the Grand Prix of St Petersburg.  Know someone with a Neilson box in their house? Invite yourself over and watch the race there...

Monday, March 14, 2011

26 – The Number that Makes Qualifying Must See TV

So there was a triumvirate of angst inducing news out of IndyCar in the past couple weeks.  No more streaming practice or races, something called a Lucky Dog and then the capping of fields at 26.  All these got the faithful roused up and the number of blog postings up heading into the first test at Barber today.  I don’t feel like I know enough about the dollars and cents for the first to comment, though I feel for some of our friends in distant places who may go raceless now.  I have already commented on the second.  But as for the last one on the list, and the one that happened chronologically first, I didn’t really think much about until today.
Despite a howl from many that capping the fields at 26 is “bad for a league seeking sponsors” I really can’t share that opinion.  My first thought hearing the news was “There’s part two of the Milka go home strategy”.  I mean how can you claim to have the “Fastest Drivers in the World” if anyone who can buy a seat gets to play?  Jack Welch, the CEO who ran GE for many years was known for policies such as whacking the bottom 10% of the sales force even in good years.  It keeps everyone hungry and on their toes.  If you recall the comments Randy Bernard had concerning races and promoters from a year ago, it is clear he buys into that philosophy.  So why should it be different for drivers?  If you want to make sure that Paul Tracy gets a ride over Francesco Dracone, this is a means to that end.
But I didn’t feel compelled to comment about this until today when I realized just how brilliant, above the philosophical considerations, of an idea it really is.  I had the epiphany during my 90 minute wait at the doctor’s office today while following twitter.  Will @isitmayyet pondered the question of how will they decide who is bounced for road courses.  Since times are dependent on session, someone who runs in a damp session would be at a disadvantage to someone posting a time before the drops started to fall.  Simultaneously will and I pondered “What if in addition to the fast six, there was a slow six as well?” It struck me at how dramatic the event could be to see guys busting out hot ones just to MAKE the field for the race.
For a road course after the initial two sessions, the top six from each of two sessions advance into a round of twelve from which six emerge to run for the poll.  Until now those left behind from the initial sessions were slotted by time and went home for the day.  BUT what if all those cars were grouped into a large group, ran again with the top six qualifying in slots 13 – 18.  Then whomever was left went out one last time to fill the remaining 8 slots?  Suppose there were 10 drivers…as time ticks away on the clock for that final session …Pretty compelling TV, no??
That’s the point here.  Make qualifying in and of itself a must see event for the fans.  Those who argue that sending people home means sending sponsors home might think about it this way.  For cars 27 and 28, really at a road course, just how much exposure were those cars and their sponsors going to get in the race?  Short of putting the car into the wall with cameras focusing on the carnage, not much.  But with additional sessions to place and qualify the remainder of the field, and particularly for the 3 – 4 cars at the bottom, air time for the sponsor increases exponentially. 
SO I suppose the question becomes from the sponsor’s perspective, is no exposure on a relatively more watched broadcast better than a large dose of exposure on a less watched broadcast?  And who’s to say that the change which would create REAL UNMANUFACTURED  DRAMA doesn’t actually take ratings for qualifying shows to new levels?
So that would be how it works on road courses but what about ovals?  Right now it can’t get much more boring than each car going out, giving BB two good ones and then everyone going back to the busses to order pizza and play spin the bottle with Milka. 
Well one of the most compelling days in the month of May is Bump day, when the final field of 33 is set and the rest go home.  I don’t see anyone whining about how the field being limited to 33 is detrimental to the sport (somewhere off in the distance Meesbeer tingles with angst).  What if there were bumping for the regular ovals as well?  Here’s how it might work.  Every car gets up to three qualifying attempts, but they can only be used if the car is NOT currently in the field.  You rule out the silliness of pulling a qualified car from the field, so if you are #10, you stay #10.  But if #26 becomes #27, he can go back out to reclaim his spot in the field.  If that car gets back in then the new #27, can do the same…until everyone on the outside looking in has burned up their three attempts and then the field is set.
You wind up giving everyone a little taste for the bump day drama at indy.  Each time one of these slower cars goes back out to try to get back into the show…More airtime for the sponsor.
IMO, this GREATLY improves the product for the qualification broadcasts and has the potential to increase Saturday crowds at the venues.  It has a formula for growth built into the TV event.  If on one Sunday, someone tunes in and their favorite driver is not in the show, you bet the next Saturday that fan is tuning into quals to hopefully see that it does not happen again.  A race weekend should now have three pretty good made for TV gigs for the league to promote and for fans to watch:  IndyCar Quals, IndyLights race and the IndyCar race itself.  And the more fans watching any of these events will draw more sponsors to the sport.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Dangers of Compounding Effects

I saw a movie several years ago, forgot the title, but it was made by HBO and aired on HBO.  It was comedic look at the development of the of the Army’s Bradley Fighting vehicle.  As I recall the Army was in need of a new troop transport vehicle that could deliver a squad of infantry to the front, quickly, while offering a certain amount of protection where upon arrival the squad would dismount the vehicle quickly and take positions soon thereafter.  Essentially what they needed was a Halftrack for those WWII buffs out there. 
The movie was presented from the point of view of the Air Force officer who was overseeing the Army effort (memory is a bit sketchy as to why the Air Force was needed here but the officer was played by Carey Elwes).  Initial plans were drawn up that met the Army specs and it was presented to top brass which then hemhawed around and decided that something more than a machine gun was needed on top of the vehicle to really “Scare the enemy”, so the plans were redrawn and re-engineered to include a mid caliber cannon.  The new plans were presented to the top brass again where it was decided that “Wow with that big gun on the vehicle, the enemy might decide to shoot at it” so more armor was needed to protect the troops inside who were now a target because of the Gun on top of the vehicle they were riding in.  Plans were redrawn again with more armor and re-presented again to top brass that decided, with all the extra armor, the vehicle was now too slow, therefore it needed a bigger engine so it would be faster.  Yep, back to the drawing board, this time there wasn’t enough fuel on board to go necessary distances and back to the drawing board.  This played out repeatedly with several more iterations that I will not bore you with, but in the end the Army got their vehicle and it could be said that the final product essentially was either a big armored car or a light tank with enough jump seats to seat HALF a squad and it is a point of contention as to how effective it was in service.  BUT, one thing is not debatable, it that it wound up way over budget, costing hundreds of millions more to create produce than it was supposed to. 
That is the risk of Compounding Effects. 
Similar things happen within the medical field as well.  Grandma has an ailment, the Dr has two drugs to choose from, both have potential side effects.  Dr assigns drug #1 and patient is relieved of the initial ailment but now suffers from the side effects.  Since the initial ailment is gone, no thought is given to trying the other drug with the hope that it will have the same therapeutic effect w/o the side effects.  Instead, the Dr starts prescribing drugs to treat the side effects of the first drug and of course those drugs also have side effects that then require more drugs, and soon Grandma is taking 15 different drugs, is pretty doped up and comatose, has blown through her pension money, is broke and is now living in a Medicare run nursing home being molested by perverted orderlies.
The IndyCar brass are now flirting with the dangers of Compounding Effects.  IndyCar starts and restarts have been very poor in recent years.  Cars accelerating on the back half of the race course anticipating a green flag have stretched out fields and reduced the opportunity for passing that a restart might otherwise have offered.
One solution is simply hold off dropping the green flag until all cars are on the front stretch of the track and then allowing them to go green.  Which has been instituted.  But not content to stop there, IndyCar has now decided that it needs Double file restarts to make absolutely sure that at least some passing occurs on restarts.  But then all the “Elite” drivers decided that they were afraid of re starting next to some of the also rans since they feared being crashed out by incompetent drivers. SO then the decision was made to have the lead lap cars filter to the front and the lapped cars to the back on restarts.  Then came the outrage that a car not on the lead lap, only trailing a couple lead cars, was now in the impossible position of never being able to get its lap back.  SO now we heard today that IndyCar is adopting the “lucky dog” rule to let the first car not on the lead lap to get its lap back.  (the perils of Compounding Effects? I ask…)
Soon a mob of angry IndyCar bloggers wearing bathrobes and slippers (their usual attire) assembled outside IMS administrative offices at 16th and Georgetown and began to throw rotten eggs and eat cold pizza.  Oh the humanity!
As @shagers points out.  Why can’t we just try fixing the restarts by dropping the flag in the right place and see if that does the trick first??  Otherwise, the next thing that will come up from the compounding logic will be that since the cars are so close together on restarts, they need fenders to make sure the wheels don’t touch…
In all practicality, what the rule will accomplish is that more often than not, the 21rst fastest car now gets to cycle back around to the harass the 20th Fastest car without having to concern themselves with the 22nd fastest car.  Will @isismayyet suggests that this will get the 21rst car some additional camera time for its sponsor, but is it good exposure?  “Now the XYZ car gets a free handout because it sucks less than the other sucky cars” great brand exposure …if you can get it.
@onelapdown mentioned today that really only the red and white teams stand to benefit here.  The place where this rule will be a game changer for those teams will be when one of the fastest cars in the field makes either a pit mistake, either with a long stop or getting penalized for some sort of infraction. With the lucky dog, penalties now lose their teeth.  Mistakes no longer carry CONSEQUENCES.  Some of the great stories in the history of the 500 now lose their ability to compel because the odds were not so stacked against the team and the feat of coming back from adversity was not so great.
I am of the opinion that if the Lucky Dog stays (which should not be written in stone otherwise risking the ire of many of the leagues current fans) that it should be optional for the car entitled to it.  But if the option is used, then the car is docked 3 pts from those scored for the race.  If you review the points paying structure, 3 points will all but deter any cars from 18th place on down will ever use it.  Cars from 10 to 17 will have to have a strong dose of optimism to use it and meaning that only teams that think they can really move up the standings or win, would use it.  But by using it, the penalty would still bite and mistakes would have consequences.  The moment that it took for the team to decide not to use it would give the sponsors Will’s additional air time and the whole decision to “Go for Two” or not will throw a little intrigue into the broadcast.
To me, one of the lessons of the split was this.  That IndyCar couldn’t succeed by out nascar-ing nascar and Cart could not succeed by out F1-ing F1.  IndyCar needs to find its own solutions to problems and not simply copy the rule book from another series.  At the end of the day I simply ask, can’t we simply drop the damn green flag when it is supposed to be dropped and let the drama play out from there?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Sunday America Rediscovered IndyCar?

Editor's note, This evening the NFL labor discussions were extended another 24 hours, but read on you'll get the point...
The Izod IndyCar series has a winning poker hand and now it waits.  It now waits so see how big the pot gets. 
That really is the situation the series has been in since the announcement of the Las Vegas sweepstakes.  Since its announcement everyone has been talking about the series that many forgot existed.  It has IndyCar fans interested and it has nascar drivers, media and fans talking.  Heck, Lance Armstrong just retweeted an offer from MaxPappis about splitting the prize with the Livestrong foundation to his 2.8 MILLION followers…This buzz in and of itself is a win for the league and unless they screw up the distribution of the 80k free tickets or one of the interloping drivers makes a mistake that costs a contender the title, the whole enterprise is will be a plus. 
Now the question becomes what other good fortune might help this event have even greater impact?
The first place to start will be the drivers that come.  I personally think Roger and Chip have agreed already to have at least one of their cup drivers available that weekend.  Roger took extraordinary measures to bring Chevrolet back in the fold, it seems like a much smaller thing for him to say to Kurt or Brad, “Get on the Plane”. To all those who cry “Practice”, “Experience” etc… Remember the Penske shop is in Charlotte, down the road and around the corner from Charlotte Motor speedway which bears a strong resemblance to LVMS. 
We also heard today that Chip is planning a driver swap, Jamie McMurray in an IndyCar at Barber and Scott Dixon in the Stock Car at Talledega, “For show”.  Suppose Chip will ask Jamie when he gets out of the car “So, what did you think?”  Throw in Brian Clausson and three driver slots are penciled in and now the waiting game begins to see if the league can do better than a former Cup champ, Daytona Champ and the reigning USAC champ.  The driver list is a win, the question becomes how much of one?
Then if things break right…
Some history first.  February 18, 1979…The Presidents day blizzard was paralyzing most the east and Midwestern parts of the country.  Football was over and lots of bored, home bound TV viewers began to scan their 3 available channels for something to watch…and they found it.  On that day, the very first live broadcast of any race in America was taking place, The Daytona 500 was airing live on CBS.  Until that day even Indy was tape delayed.  What’s more, the race was a good one and then on the final lap, Cale Yarborough attempted a sling ship pass on Donnie Allison who forced Cale into the grass where he lost control and took out Allison.  Richard Petty went on to win but no one much noticed because Donnie Allison’s brother showed up to the wreck and a fight broke out between the Allisons and Yarborough.  All who were watching were captivated, and nascar almost overnight went from being a regional southern sport to one of national prominence.  All because the weather, the race and the Hoo haa all broke right.
At this point, if this Post get posted something VERY important to the sport landscape of the country has occurred.  The clock will have struck midnight and the NFL lockout will have begun.  “Surely” you say “they have six more months to get this sorted out”. but honestly, the real posturing has just begun.  The first deadline has come and gone and there won’t be any reason to rush to a settlement.  The union will decertify and an anti-trust lawsuit will be filed.  It will get ugly and it may get harder to reconcile after blood has boiled. 
If there is a delay in the football season games won’t start immediately, schedules have to be set, training camps have to occur preseason games have to get played and even if the lockout ended mid September, there would be no real games until after October 16…
Which happens to be the date of…The IndyCar finale at Las Vegas.  And if it were raining across large portions of the country bored sports fans will begin to start flipping channels, No College football, No Nascar (they run Sat night), No basketball, no Baseball (because they choose to play their playoff games after midnight for most the country) so what might these action thirsty fans find on ABC that Sunday afternoon???
IndyCar has a winning hand – now the waiting begins to see how big the jackpot gets…

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Quick Thought About on Air Talent…

About six weeks ago a rumor went around that Versus was mixing up its on air talent for the upcoming IndyCar season.  At that time, the rumor had Lindy Thackson scrambling with Dan Wheldon to find a chair when the music stopped.  At the time several Bloggers took up Lindy’s cause, George at was perhaps the most eloquent voice on the subject.  I offered the following comment to George’s post:
As for Lindy, again I don’t see an immediate reason why she needs to be replaced, but truthfully we don’t know the options or the motives for considering such a move. Suppose the person they are considering to replace her with is Kevin Lee? Take a crack at taking a stand on that one. Then too, if the goal is to grow the audience, it may be a better growth strategy to have someone on staff that tells the audience that NBC considers this to be a top shelf series and event, by placing someone with broader than racing name recognition there.”
Late last week word rumbled through the same rumor mill that Lindy had been spared, but as it turns out Kevin Lee really was joining the Versus team in the Pits.  As with IndyCar rides themselves, if someone is coming, it must mean someone is going, and as we found out the person without a seat was the tanned grizzled veteran of the pit crew Jack Arute.  I like Jack as a pit reporter, unfortunately his role last season morphed into something quite different and frankly at times a little weird.  Whether it was the alternating sweaty vs dry shirts at Motegi, the Cheese grater or the over the top “Bring out the Gimp” moment that featured a helmet, a chain and a bowling ball all connected to Jack’s head, while somewhat amusing, these bits were mostly strange.  I think Kevin’s joining the team symbolizes a return to basics with a focus on strong “in the Moment” brand pit reporting.
Most people who are really involved with following IndyCar racing know who Kevin Lee is and I think most of us are very happy that he is getting this opportunity.  George wrote a fine biography about Kevin in a post about the Trackside show.  I think Kevin resonates with so many of us because he grew up a westsider, a Ben Davis grad (his only prominent flaw) and he knows what the 500 means to his fan base, because it means the same to him as well. 
I was watching the end of the Phoenix nascar race Sunday and despite the critiques from many IndyCar fans about revisionist history and creative spins that come from the nascar on air personalities one thing is clear about all of them.  They LOVE their sport.  That enthusiasm comes through the television screen and an audience can sense that. 
Hopefully as the line ups evolve for the IndyCar broadcasting partners, this basic enthusiasm for the sport will be a factor taken into account for hiring decisions.  In George’s post about Lindy I also offered this comment. 
“I don’t see a particular reason anyone on the versus team needs to be replaced immediately, though I would suggest the lights races next year would be and excellent opportunity to groom a replacement for Bob in the future. They need to be thinking about that. In a year or two, Bob could move over the the narration role that Brent Mussberger has for the 500 with a younger more vigorous play by play guy taking the mic during the race. (I thought about blogging on this subject and off the top of my head the best I could do was Chris Denari of Butler BB, Pacer BB and IMS radio fame.”
I still think Denari would be an outstanding replacement for Bob if the day comes where it makes sense for Bob to move to a more stately position.  Likewise, should the situation change at the network broadcast partner in the next couple of years, Chris would be a great fit there as well.  He’s a Hoosier, he gets the race and what it means to its fans. 
And Finally, as it seems there might be some openings now or in the future at IMS radio, I thought I’d put my two cents in here as well.  A place @IMSRadio needs to be found for Greg Rakestraw.  Greg is a southern Indiana guy, who went to school at the University of Indianapolis and while there starred as a collegiate tennis legend.  After graduation he landed at Clear Channel communications and was involved with sports at 1260.  From there he went on to host an over achieving afternoon talk radio show at 950, the littlest brother of the three all sports stations in Indy. 
In Fact, since Greg left 950 for his new role at Hometown Sports, the ride home time slot has been pretty bleak listening for a racing fan.  The 1070 guy is a nascar guy who spends way too much time talking about what actress was naked in which movies and has turned the 1070 website into a hot or not site for stripper-tute head shots.  The 1260 guy does nothing but interview baseball types on how great his son will be in the big leagues one day.  And now 950 just sort of sounds like a high school station. 
Sorry.  I went off on a bit of a rant. 
Getting back to the point.  Greg always made a point to cover IndyCar as part of his show and has an enthusiasm for the sport.  Getting Greg on IMS radio would be restocking the shelf with talent that cares about IndyCar racing above and beyond the paycheck.  He gets it because he gets US.  I believe that On Air talent that can convey an enthusiasm for the sport because they feel it themselves, is part of the formula that will help the sport grow.

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