Friday, December 7, 2012

Playoffs? You're Talking about Playoffs???

SO earlier today, Mark Miles decided it would be a good idea to float the tired, previously debated and much maligned Idea of a nascar style “Chase for the Cup” to throne the IndyCar champion.  Yep.  That met with approval all around, pitchforks were rounded up out of sheds everywhere and the pointy parts were sharpened up for use. 
Now before I just assume someone, like Miles in this instance, is a complete imbecile, I usually try to cover my bases.  Make sure he wasn’t misquoted, make sure I didn’t misunderstand something, you know, get the facts straight on the message. After whining of Twitter first of course. 
We all assume, that a “playoff format” necessarily means importing the Chase format as is from nascar.  But what if that is not what’s being thought about here…What if it was some other concept that brought attention to the league in different ways than the Chase does nascar?  IMO, the chase for nascar has been at best a wash for nascar’s fortunes, and any effect it has after Daytona is run only serves to focus attention on the back third of the season where it is promptly slaughtered by football.
Jenna Fryer tweeted:  “Dear Mark Miles: Go get some more TV programming. Beef up the schedule. Promote the drivers and the racing. Don't worry about the format” 
But here’s my question…
What if you could devise a “playoff” format that did all of that endogenously?

One problem people have with IndyCar right now is that it is the Indy 500 plus other stuff series.  There’s no focus nationally or even within the TV package on any other race being more than the current edition of “other stuff”.  There are no other crescendos to the season.  Unlike nascar that is Long and monotonous, the IndyCar season is short and monotonous.
The I’ve pondered this question for a while now, is how do you increase interest in at least a handful of other events on the schedule so that not only do they grow but other events in proximity to them grow as well.  One of my first pondering is here: Skip to the paragraph that starts “We all understand the importance of the 500,but there should be other races of “elevated” importance on the schedule…”.
One of the things I talked about in that post (as other people have as well) was the need for discipline awards for Ovals and Twisties.  They currently exist.  But here’s the problem…they are given out at the end of the season and are overshadowed by the championship race.  They are afterthoughts.  Perhaps IndyCar should defy the convention that all the hardware gets handed out at the end.  There are four significant pieces of hardware to hand out each year, spread them out and make a big fuss about each award, elevating the awarding event and the awarding broadcast.
SO what if a season was structured like this…
  • First six to eight aces of the year:  All twisty, either road course or temporary street circuits.  This entire stretch on NBCSN.  Finish this stretch of the season at Long Beach, perhaps as a double header, perhaps with the first race under lights, in prime time, on Friday night.  Then after Sunday’s race (highlight feeder series on Saturday, on TV), hand out the Mario Andretti Trophy, have a party, get drunk, get jiggy with a B level sex pot actress. But first…take detailed notes on who finished in positions 1 – 5 in the points standings. 
  • NBCSN can build a weekend of programming around the event.  It moves Long Beach back to a place of prestige where it belongs.  I don’t really care what Eddie Gossage thinks here, but Long Beach is this series’ second biggest event, it is time to treat it like it is.  It has been relegated to the realm of “other anonymous event” status since reunification and that is killing interest in IndyCar in the second largest TV market in the country.
  • Next up.  May.  Enough said – ABC hands out the Borg Warner and the second part of the season is under way.
  • The second part of the season is all Oval, all ABC and on Saturday night Primetime TV under the lights as much as you can make it.  Indy, Texas, Mke, Iowa, (Memphis/Chicago/Gateway/the new Canadian Speedway) and then BAM hand out the AJ Foyt Trophy at Pocono.  This kicks off the ABC portion of the schedule with all your most competitive races on the television partner with the widest reach.  ABC will start their run with something of importance and end it with something of importance as well.  Hopefully the ratings rise at every point along the way.  Pocono gets two “extras” (Foyt/triple crown) to raise its importance and supporting its marketing efforts.  After handing out the AJ Foyt Trophy (and a hammer) you know the rest… Get drunk, get Jiggy with a cute little Amish girl on rumspringe.  But first…take detailed notes on who finished in positions 1 – 5 in the points standings for this stretch of the season. 
  • NOW remember those notes on who finished 1 – 5 in each of the first two sections of the season?  The names on those two lists qualify for the final portion of the season to determine who wins the Astor Cup.  You could have anywhere from 5 to 10 finalists still in play for the championship.  Pay seeding points for the championship run like there were two races with 5 participants each, first in Twisty standings gets 50, first in oval standing gets 50, second in twisty gets 40, second in oval gets 40 and so forth.
  • Then finish the season kicking it off at an event (like say Toronto) that you would like to elevate in importance with a double header (your Canadian TV partner would be MOST happy), or perhaps double dip Texas with the kick off race, but anyway then continue on for 6 to 8 races total, mixing ovals and twisties, on NBCSN and hand out the Astor cup at the 500 Miler in Fontana, In Prime time.
  • Stage and Pace the season so that there are flourishes to the season that your broadcast partners and promoters can promote and capitalize on, you eliminate the issue of the discipline trophies being after thoughts lost in the headlines of the overall championship.  You might even be able to find sponsors for each of the three portions of the season.
Are there issues?  Yeah:
  • To make the start work, you need to find a couple extra twisty races early in the season.  Perhaps, NOLA, another south American race, Circuit of the Americas for example.  Then you also are going to need to switch dates for Long Beach and Sao Paolo.
  • To make the middle Oval portion work, you need to move out Detroit and Toronto to a different portion of the schedule and add another Oval or two.
  • To make the end of the season work, you will need to add a couple more ovals, Kentucky, perhaps.
Lots of details to work out?  Yeah, but this kind of plan builds drama and importance into the schedule at earlier points where there are fewer competing sports entertainment properties to tussle with than at the end with football.  It give yours TV partners the chance to ramp up broadcast emphasis for the subseason kick offs and finales.  Each of the two qualifying sub seasons is likely to focus on a somewhat different set of drivers and teams to highlight.  Thinks about it...sort of hits on the three buttons that Jenna mentioned.
Will something like this ever happen…well, it is IndyCar, and well, there are a variety of vested interests in play. 
BUT...If this were the kind of “Playoff” Mark Miles meant, Would you be on board? 
I might be.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Can I Please Get a Turkey Sandwich???

I hate Subway.  The thought of low grade by products ground into a mash then cooked and sliced in a factory 500 miles away troubles me.  Add to the fact that sliced meat spoils quicker than unsliced meat and that to combat the chance that the meat might arrive spoiled at the local restaurant it has to be sprayed with a Chernobyl cocktail of chemicals.  Ick.

It is also true that left to my own devices, I might subsist on Turkey sandwiches without variation.  OK so maybe not for breakfast or dinner, but I would be lost for lunch if there were no turkey sandwiches to be had.  BUT despite this neurotic need for white meat and wheaten bread, I NEVER eat at subway.  You may ponder how I survive…

Most the time there have been alternatives.  20 years ago when I was in grad school, the Blimpie on Crawfordsville road saw me at least three times a week.  Everybody knew who I was, was happy to see me when I walked in – it was that whole “Cheers” deal.  But then after being there for five years, the place closed up shop and was no more.  Fortunately by that time Schlotsky’s had migrated north from the Southwest and I began to get my fix there, but then after a while they too disappeared back into the southwest.  Never fear, for on the horizon appeared Quizno’s.  TOASTY!  But guess what … nationally over the last 5 years they too have shrunk and now have 30% fewer stores than they did in their heyday.

This strange disappearance of tasty turkey sandwich shops puzzled me.  At first I thought that my taste in turkey sandwiches was different than everyone else’s.  But all threeof these places always seemed busy. Over the years, in the day job I have seen syndicated satisfaction research for the quick servive restaurant industry. Each of these chains regularly topped subway in satisfying their customers until they fell into oblivion.  SO why can’t these places stick around?
I got some insight to this at the Local Quizno’s during it’s lifecycle.  As I became a cherished patron,  got to know the owner pretty well.  Notice the store owner wasn’t some dude at Quizno’s corporate in Denver, it was Clay, down the street in small town Indiana.  Make note of that, it will be important later. 
One day I walked in and asked Clay, “How are those singing Chinchillas?”  In reference to a new ad campaign that was running nationally.  He shot me a look that could kill.  After other customers had wandered away he told me, and I am paraphrasing, “Can you believe those?  What sort of idiot thinks singing rodents with Hispanic accents are good spokes-critters for a sub shop?  I have customers asking me ‘what’s up with the Singing Mexican rats?’ Those idiots at corporate.”
I know I am losing some of you here… six paragraphs IndyCar free…so here’s a tidbit …What sort of idiot thought “I am Indy” would be a catchy tune to represent a racing series?  Anyway, back to my elongated analogy.
Several months later I wandered in, Clay looked grumpy.  I asked why.  He said (again paraphrasing) “We have a new CEO at corporate, completely out of touch with us.  He has decided that we need to compete with fast food restaurant dollar menus.  We have these new “bullit” sandwiches that we have to sell now for $1.50.” I asked what the problem was, he said “they piss people off, people think they are getting a meal when in reality they are getting a glorified bread stick with a thin sliver of meat.  On top of that, they take my employees every bit as long to make as a large $8 sub.  SO I lose money on every one I sell.  Add into that people have to buy two or three of them to have a meal, and in the time it takes to make them, my regulars getting the $8 subs are getting peeved.”  I ordered my usual Large sub since I saw he was in a sensitive mood.
It all boiled over a few months later.  I walked in and the shop had been…lets say … redecorated.  I ask Clay: “Wow, did you buy some delinquent teenagers cans of spray paint and tell them to creatively enjoy themselves?”  Again that look of death…”Don’t get me started, the CEO thought the shops d├ęcor were getting dated so he decided that we all had to buy new deco kits.  They look like they cost a fraction of the old kit, but they charged us twice as much to buy them and they look amateurish and cheap.”
Shortly thereafter, Clay disappeared from the shop, in his stead he hired a series of recent HS graduates and whichever could count the highest got to run the store.  After Six months went by I saw Clay one last time.  He told me he was getting out, he was selling his franchise.  He simply couldn’t make any money.  In reality, he never had been able to.  He and his wife had run out of money to sink into the shop, so he left it to someone else to run and found a full time job to stop the bleeding of cash.  Eventually he sold the shop.  He wasn’t alone, Quizno’s owners everywhere did the same.  Not all found buyers and the locations disappeared all together.  But the customers weren’t ever unhappy.  Turns out happy customers weren’t enough.
Looking back I now understand that at Blimpie, it was great they were using better meat and slicing it fresh in store.  In having to maintain comparable pricing to Subway without having the cost savings in the ingredients to fuel a profit for the local owners, it was a recipe for failure (later they cut corners to please franchisees and ingredient quality suffered, annoying customers making the whole situation worse).  Schlotzsky’s had a higher pricing structure, but their stores had bigger footprints and a bunch more machinery.  The overhead ate into margins of the local owners there as well. 
In all these cases we have a different kind of business model from what we typically think about when we talk about customers and the companies they buy from.  Most of the time, the company attempts to please the customer relative to an internal budget they manage.  But in these cases, the business model is different.  These are companies run on a Franchising Model, where they create and then market the concept to the consumers and then outsource the production and delivery of the product to a local small business person who sinks his own cash into the game.  Many chain restaurants and hotels operate this way.
A CEO of a company that operates on a franchising model has to do a more complicated thing than the average CEO…he has to create and market a product consumers like with a production model and price structure that allows his franchisees to make money as well.

  • If the customers don’t like the product, it doesn’t take college to know that they will stop being customers and the local franchisees will go out of business, with franchisees going out of business so does corporate. 
  • But it is also the case that even if customers adore a product, if the economics of producing that product don’t add up for the local franchises, they will go out of business, locations will close and corporate suffers as well. 
In most cases, when the CEO of a franchise based company is canned, it is at the behest of the local franchisees who can't make money from what corporate is offering customers.
Which brings us to IndyCar.  I have chronicled before how essentially IndyCar is a two tiered franchise model.  One set of franchisees are the Team owners and the other are track operators. 
As the Randy Bernard saga has unfolded it has become fairly clear as to what the underlying dynamic tensions were.   Randy was operating full bore in "satisfy the customer mode" without concerning himself much with his franchisee’s financial well being. 
I still have the opinion that Randy was a revelation for a league that had long since settled into a mode where product decisions were made with only team owner concerns being addressed.  For example, the IR5 made for a sustainable business for teams even though fans had long since clamored for its replacement. 

Randy put an end to all that.  He was the customer’s voice.  On more than one occasion I have gotten into discussions via e-mail with Randy about stuff I have written here, most notably concerning the rebirth of Milwaukee.  Until then it was incomprehensible to me that a CEO of anything bigger than a local subshop might care what I had to say about their business (unless I was one of 1000 respondents in a survey crosstab).  I appreciate the sense of involvement that I and other fans had with Randy at the helm.  I am also smart enough to know you cannot show a disreguard for the concerns and financial well being of your business partners and hope to succeed. 
Satisfying customers by spending someone else’s money will never be a successful long term strategy for success. 
Similarly, inciting a mob of rioting fans to cuss and spit at those same business partners when they confront you with their concerns should bring the expectation that the keys to the company car will be taken away sooner or later.  That’s all on Randy and it is also on us for falling prey to allow ourselves to be used as political pawns (I hereby apologize to John Barnes for a tweet or two).  The scheming and hit mob mentality is on the owners as is an ingrained, self focussed, sense of conservatism about the sport.  The fact that no one at IMS (named Belskus) could bring these people and their egos together to find a solution is perhaps the biggest disappointing failure. 
Plenty of blame to go around, but who do I blame most?  Robin Miller.  Primarily because its like catching fish in a barrel and secondarily because I thought you might chuckle as you read it.  My Hallucination of the Truth goes something like this:  Over a beer Robin gave Randy one too many pep talks about how the owners were evil leeches that needed to be shown their place and kicked in the balls by a real cowboy. 
At the end of they day, Team Owners are not some sort of evil opposition.  They are compatriots in the joint effort that is IndyCar and their needs must be addressed or they will close shop or go elsewhere (Newman Haas anyone…Conquest perhaps...).  Too many teams leave  or close shop and there is no series.  Likewise, fewer promoters wanting races means there is no series - Even if the fans love the racing, Even if the Fans Love Randy. 
Some have suggested that IndyCar has a Cancer.  I disagree.  What Indy Car has is a very difficult fundamental business problem.  In an environment with formidable competitors, It must provide fans a product they wish to consume, while at the same time ensuring that its partner teams and promoters are able to make a return which allows them to participate in the creation of that product.  Randy marked a break from a focus on the latter to a focus on the former, and he should be commended for that.  IndyCar's savior, if it is ever found, will need to find a ballance  between the two.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Palace Coup or Sacking of an Uncooperative Dictator?

When the official news broke on Sunday and the rage began to pour over the Firing of Randy Bernard as IndyCar CEO, I was there with the mob - Angry and disappointed.  In large part I still feel that way today, another day, another opportunity for IndyCar to look the buffoon.  But as I have begun to reflect and try to understand motives, things just don’t add up for me.  The complete lack of a plan here is really problematic.  It’s not like Bernard went all Hudsucker on us and took a leap out of a 200 story building, necessitating a mad scramble.  If you PLAN to sack your CEO, typically you have a strategy as to what comes next.  But not IndyCar.

The only answer that seems logical is that they may never have meant to let him go…

Please understand, I base this on NOTHING, I am only reading tea leaves.  I can conjure two potential narratives for how this went down, and in the end, whichever is closest to the truth will color my opinion of Sunday’s news strongly.

The popular opinion runs this way. 
Seeds of contempt and betrayal were planted within the board.  Low ratings, angry team owners broke from parts invoices and a negative windfall from a Chinese disappearing act were fertilizer waiting for the seeds to germinate.  Evil schemers watered the flowerbed and created a leadership crisis that threshed Randy Bernard from the role of CEO.  With both an unexpected void in leadership and a void in vision, the board would be more receptive to the idea of selling the series as opposed to conducting a job search and reinventing a vision.  In comes Tony George and his posse of deep pocketed cronies with a “plan” for the future and reserves to fund it.  Selling the series then becomes the easy way out, even though the crisis may have been generated by those offering an unsolicited solution to solve it.
But consider this alternative narrative…
The board is generally supportive of Randy.  However, with most employees, there’s room for improvement.  For all the fans that were engaged and all the ideas that were tried, not all the ideas succeeded and television ratings suggest that only some fans were wooed to the point of being dreamy eyed.  Two Years ago I proposed goals for Randy, they were certainly aggressive, but in the optimism of the time they seemed achievable.  Certainly the time since has been challenging, but looking back, it would appear only one of these may have been met.  Accolades for success go hand in hand with accountability for shortcomings.  If you have ever given a performance review, you know that even good employees need to be challenged to get better.  So lets imagine Jeff Belkus tells Randy, "We are generally pleased with your work, but the ratings numbers are a disappointment and the financials for teams and the league are a challenge, so we want to get some additional advice on how we should be moving forward.  We hired Boston Consulting to help us with that."  At that point, Randy who has been managing and leading largely by what I would describe as a “Cult of Personality” or a “Primacy of Editorial Judgment” style is offended that he should have to heed his decision making process to an unsolicited, outside voice, becomes upset.  The relationship sours, blossoming into an unexpected parting of the ways, leaving IndyCar devoid of a plan for ascendency.
Again – I base this on nothing. 
But if were to ever know the truth, and it seemed to mirror the former, we should all be outraged and move on.  But if it mirrored the latter, that would be more like “one of them racin deals”.  A situation where personalities and managerial styles clashed , ending with an unpopular outcome.  A situation where a flow of vitriol towards the IMS board may not be warranted in the amounts it has been given (other than the PR cluster that ensued as a result)
I don’t know the truth, I don’t know what I really feel because I don’t know the truth.  I doubt anyone will come out and tell us either. 
I suspect we might be able to glean hints about truth from some things that may or may not happen in the future:
  • Does TG reacquire the series – motives become clear and understood in that scenario
  • What happens to Randy’s hires in Race control and Competition:  Beaux Barfield and Will Phillips?  If this was indeed a witch hunt to remove Randy’s fingerprints from the product, these two are sure to go.  If they remain in March, then I think we will have a better guess that a clash of personalities unexpectedly escalated. 
For what it is worth, that being - NOTHING.  If I were Jeff Belskus, here’s what I would do.
Retain Beaux and Will.  Their handywork resulted in the best on track product in years.  Reward them for that achievement because it is the right thing to do and it sends a clear message to your hard core fans that a break with the Bernard vision is not at hand.
Hire a CEO that is on better terms with the Team Owners, less caustic (but equally effective) with networks, more knowledgeable about the sport in general BUT someone who has also learned from Randy the lessons of transparency and fan engagement. 
In my book that would be Doug Boles.  He would need a strong marketing lieutenant under him and Beaux and Will handling competition, but in his time as the face of IMS proper, he seems to get it - Fans want to be and should be respected and engaged.  Likewise, as a former owner of a midsized team he would be sensitive to their needs as well. 
As Monica Hilton suggested today, we don’t know what is coming next, perhaps it could be better.  I hope it is, because frankly I don’t want to bail on the Drivers, team members and local promoters who do their best despite the shit storm that always seems to be swirling above them.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Growing An Iconic Finale

Still amazed at how much went down last Saturday night in Fontana.  Many other bloggers have opined on how great it was, so there is no need to do so here.  One thought that came to mind immediately after the race ended was this: This race, at this venue, at this distance needs to be the finale every year.

Seems the scuttlebutt on the 2013 season places the parking lot race in Houston later into October while keeping Fontana in the same time slot.  Mistake. 
One thing we have heard from IndyCar management is the need to have an Iconic finale, and as it had been originally pondered, a finale that IndyCar owned as its own.  Indeed the Vegas experiment was exactly that, a bold foray into a series created race that would be an Iconic jewel to close the season.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.
I tend to believe that Rome wasn’t built in a day, some things need time to come into their own, but you still have to be observant enough to spot potential, and wise enough to nurture it.  The race at Fontana for 500 miles has the potential to be everything IndyCar could ever dream of for a finale.  Fast, with multiple grooves at a locale not too far removed from some sexy real estate and at a race distance that lets storylines play out and harkens back memories of the sport’s most important event.
But as great as the race was, some things need some improvement, and primarily that begins in the stands.  The crowd, estimated at 25-30k by the LATimes looked miniscule in the massive grandstands that ring the main straightaway.  While that crowd at Iowa would look huge, it looked pretty lonely at Fontana.  The truth is you can’t claim something is a big deal if the house is more than half empty.
Unlike Homestead where you never really had optimism that more people would ever show up no matter what effort might be tried or Vegas that seemed to pin expectations for a crowd on tourists purchasing plane tickets, Fontana has the second largest US DMA at hand.  The people are already there.  But getting them to come is the challenge.
And In Typical JP Style (No Bitching w/o positive suggestions)…Here’s some thoughts towards filling those red and yellow seats:

Capitalizing on Positive word of mouth.  I tend to believe that Product trumps Promotion.  Recommendation weighs more than hype.  At the day job, I have been exposed to some of the thinking that goes into movie promotion and some of it applies here.  If a studio believes they have a dog on their hands they will over promote a movie to get everyone out to see it the first weekend of release before consumers all start talking to each other and realize what a rotten tomato it was.  When a studio thinks they have gold on their hands, they promote enough to gain awareness and then trust that when the first viewers see it, their positive reaction to it and the positive word of mouth they spread will manifest itself in box office gains in subsequent weekends.  I have to imagine people in the stands were entertained as much as we were at home.  For those who bought tickets, offer a renewal package that features discount pricing for additional seats purchased for next year’s race, help them share the fun with friends.

Cross Promote with Long Beach.  The second biggest event on the IndyCar schedule happens an hour and fifteen minutes to your west.  Get both promoters in the room and get a plan together to promote a ticket plan that includes admission to BOTH events.  Perhaps a buy one event and get General Admission to the other for an additional $20.  Let this deal reciprocate Long Beach into Fontana, and then Fontana into Long Beach the following year.

Tinker with the date.  If it’s 105 degrees on September 15 and you aren’t up against a Fall Cup date at the same track, run this thing when it cools down a bit.  The week after Houston would be ideal.  The newly available mid September date gives you another chance to fit another Oval into the schedule.  Kentucky or Michigan?  Perhaps Gateway, Memphis or Rockingham if you are looking for a smaller house to fill.  Kentucky, Michigan or Gateway could potentially be paired with a ticket promotion tied to Indy 500 tickets in the same way as I suggest pairing Long Beach and Fontana.

Find a Mexican Driver.  Ponder what Toronto would be without James Hinchcliffe…If you are not familiar with the Demographics of Southern California…A Mexican driver would move the needle here.  Perhaps Memo Rojas in the vacant car at G2 or perhaps someone give Esteban Gutierrez’s GP2 backers a call.  Neither of these guys are schleps.  Rojas is a series champion from Grand Am and Gutierrez won the GP2 sprint race at Hungary earlier this summer.  If you are a multicultural series, then use that multiculturalism to grow the scope and size of your fan base.

Apply the Pizzaz.  Throw a car Parade in the OC, Hold a party in Hollywood, persuade some A -listers to make the trip.  These ideas are nothing new, they have been used at Long Beach and Vegas in the Past.  They could have an impact here. 
50,000 in short order is not out of the question here.  Commitment and dedication to the cause will drive the bus and build an iconic event.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Some Thoughts on Twisty Double Headers

And no, that is not code for some sort of kinky sexual encounter….
Randy Bernard has mentioned in recent weeks the potential for the 2013 IndyCar season to feature double headers at select Road/Street (hereafter referred to as “twisties”) circuits next year and predictably this has the Pollyanna optimists out doing the “Yippee! More Racing! What a Great Idea!” dance.  Meanwhile the IndyCar Pessimist society is out calling this the “Final gimmicky straw that will once again kill off IndyCar and the 500 forever”. 
To be clear, this is not a rehashing of the Texas plan last year that took one race and broke it in two.  Two half distance, half point events broken up by an ill conceived game show, scheduled as intermission to set the starting grid for the second half.  Nor is this the typical double header seen in European feeder series where a feature is run on Day 1 and then Day 2 offers a shortened sprint race with a portion of the field inverted.  We are talking two full blown races, one on Saturday and one on Sunday.
SO will this actually happen?  Potentially…Maybe…and as with most things in life, depends on the situation.  You can rule out it happening at every twisty event.  Things like this have trial runs before becoming standard issue.  But which events and where might this be tried first?
Instead of using the “OOOHHHH that would be cool” criteria most fans employ, I am going to try to break this down by following the money and base my speculation off that.  In reality, just because something sounds cool, it is not going to happen unless it can be monetized for the benefit of the powers that be. 
Money can be summarized by two monetary amounts:  The first is the incremental gate that the Saturday race will draw over and above what the existing activities would have drawn.  This is the gain in event revenue.  The second is the incremental sanctioning fee that IndyCar would charge a promoter.  This is probably the largest part of the additional costs a promoter would incur.  The revenue gain must be larger than the additional sanctioning fee for a promoter to consider this arrangement for their event.
Word on the street is that IndyCar sanctioning fees average in the neighborhood of $2m for the first race.  IndyCar probably can’t get that twice for the second event since the second event is almost certainly not going to double any event’s gate.  But, since the circus is already in town, it wouldn’t cost IndyCar double to stage the second event so the second race could come at a discount, a “Buy one get the second half off” opportunity.  What IndyCar decides to charge for a doubleheader will determine how many of these we see and at what kind race weekends.
Typically a race weekend is made up of three days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Three days for a track or promoter to make some green.  Under most circumstances Friday is a friends and family only affair, which means Saturday and Sunday must pay the bills.  If you watch races only on TV, it might surprise you that many IndyCar events share weekends with another series.  On ovals, it is usually the nascar truck series, on twisties it is one of the Sportscar series; GrandAm or ALMS.  In most cases these races draw a pretty good crowd, with somewhere between half to 80% of the fans of the headline act. 
IndyCar, as a standalone act, is notoriously bad at getting fans to show up on the off days.  So the prime events I would think about as candidates for a twisty doubleheader are the stand alone events. 
After that, it gets harder to make a case for double headers since we are talking about events with existing Saturday features.  In this case the IndyCar event is either an add on for the existing sports car race or a replacement for it. 
Having been to events at Mid Ohio, Long Beach and Barber that featured SportsCars on Saturday, I see limited opportunities to grow the Saturday attendance since it is pretty good to begin with.  In these cases, the incremental sanctioning fee would have to be pretty low.  Probably to a point where IndyCar would feel their product was being undervalued.
A doubleheader as a replacement for a sports car event may have more potential, particularly given the recent merger of series in the sports car world.  The merger is certain to have an impact on schedules as this is likely to be an area where 2 + 2 does not equal 4.  Merger aside, there is always the possibility that an IndyCar double header is more lucrative than a mixed event, but again that depends on the size of the sports car sanctioning fee and what the IndyCar double header fee would be.
Let’s take a quick glance through the IndyCar list of twisty events and size them up for potential.  We’ll thrown in a couple what if events to spice things up as well.  Rating each by *, where **** means the most potential, and * means the Least.
  • New Orleans *** - Not currently on the actual schedule, but bandied about for a potential event in years to come.  New Sports Car dates will be harder to come by in the future given the ALMS/GA merger, so none may be available for a new track.  What makes this double intriguing is that the 4 mile course reportedly can be broken into two smaller tracks, meaning that it wouldn’t have to be the same race twice.
  • St Petersburg *** - This event used to be accompanied by a sports car event that was dropped a few years ago.  If St Pete remains your season opener, then you could really spice the event up by having the double header to kick off your season.
  • Barber * - with Grand Am already here, no chance…
  • Long Beach ** - Will the Long Beach Sports Car crowd buy into Grand Am after having ALMS for all these years?  How that question is answered is key.
  • Brazil **** - Slam Dunk on this one.  The Sunday crowd is huge and Band TV Gets a huge TV number for the single day broadcast.  I am not aware of what racing series are available as support series in Brazil (other than this really "interesting" truck stuff), but I suspect there is room for more IndyCar here.  If you are a going to fly to the southern hemisphere you might as well squeeze in all the activity  and revenue generation you can.
  • Detroit * - Please Dear God, NO!
  • Toronto ** - Seems to me like it would make sense, just doubt it would be tried here first.
  • Edmonton ** -  Ditto from above.  Without an event sponsor and more local support via the purchase of hospitality suites, the existing event is already in enough peril.
  • Mid Ohio  This one is very interesting…* for 2013, *** for 2014.  Both ALMS and GrandAm have dates at MO.  That is certain to change.  The ALMS date is currently shared with IndyCar  while GA is stand alone.  Does MO simply drop the GA stand alone date?  If they do then that is a weekend where the track makes no money.  If they choose to leave the sports car event as a stand alone, they need something to insure that the IndyCar event does not become a day trip for it’s fans.  MO makes a fair amount of money selling camping spots to overnighters for this event, those fans may need a reason to spend the night other than Quals, Indy Lights and tent mingling after getting all liquored up…Or perhaps they don’t.
  • Cleveland *** Not that this is on the schedule either, but I still would love to see the Oval/twisty double proposed by Mike Lanigan a couple of years ago…
  • Sonoma **** Since the Sonoma Event really doesn’t have a Saturday show other than quals, it would seem to make perfect sense here.  But then this is one of Bruton Smith’s tracks, so who the hell knows…
  • Houston **** New event – no sportscar date is likely to be available.  But ponder this…IndyCar has been very lucky for several years now.  Unlike Cup where the points format combined with the chase makes it nearly impossible for the championship to be determined before the final event.  The IndyCar points system has closed out the Lights Championship before the final race 3 of the last 4 years.  JR had it sewn up at the prior event, fairly certain the same was true for JK Vernay and Josef Newgarden only had to turn a lap at Vegas last year and claim last place points to secure the championship.  The same could have and probably should have happened more often in IndyCar.  Running a double header to close out your season gives the event a bigger feel and greatly reduces the chances the series title is locked up before the final weekend.  If by chance, it gets wrapped up after race 1, there could always be a “Win them Both” bonus that could be in place to spice things up for the Sunday show.
Anyway, that's that for now.  Get back to work before your boss catches you doing this instead of what you are supposed to be doing...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

On the Rumors of my Demise and Disinterest

I noticed a handful of mentions on twitter last week that puzzled me.  They had come after a time I hadn’t tweeted much, since I was knee deep in traveling for the daily occupation and hence they were unsolicited and anticipated. 
Apparently they ultimately had to do with a conversation that had started when another blogger had taken a hiatus from IndyCar (or was it that IndyCar took a month long hiatus from us?  Don’t remember who was driving the bus here exactly).  During the hiatus he had come to realize he missed IndyCar as much as he missed a neuro-psychotic, herpe’d girlfriend from days gone by.  Another blogger took this as a sign that IndyCar’s demise was close at hand and that the mass exodous of others from the IndyCar blogger ranks were corroborating signs for the end of times for IndyCar. 
That’s where my twitter mentions fit in.  Apparently the argument went that the bloggers that left the ranks left the sport and took up an interest in some other pastime, like competitive booger eating or some other sort of what have you. 
SO yeah, I have given up committing to anything resembling regularly scheduled posts here, but that doesn’t mean I have given up on or walked away from the sport. 
Bloggering takes a fair amount of time for most of us.  Unless you have earned a living in past days via the production of prose for wider consumption, composing and editing posts takes a while because it is not something that is second nature.  Second nature for me is crunching numbers in SAS and creating powerpoint slides about those numbers in abstract form.  No prose beyond slide titles.
A few weeks ago another blogger, noted for his anti Japanese sentiment and Polo shirts, lit up on dementia patients who interfered with his consumption of IndyCar races.  He wrote a self impaling retraction a few days later that can be read HERE.  I mention this because right now my mother is sliding into that dark abyss and It has been a time consuming penance for me as well, making it hard enough to keep up appearances at the day job let alone fitting in time for superfluous activities such as you guessed it…IndyCar blogging. 
So SEE – I walked away from blogging about IndyCar and GASP! It had nothing to do with punting on the sport and crawling into a hole as a bitter scorned person.
But the change in perspective has been a good one, and no I am not going to compare IndyCar racing to an old girlfriend ravaged by venereal disease and psychotic episodes.
I generally place IndyCar fans into three buckets, with plenty of gray areas around.
  • Tier one fans watch the 500 (for any of a number of reasons) then perhaps once or twice a season stumble upon another race somewhere. 
  • Tier two fans  follow the championship for the whole season, consuming the TV broadcasts and then perhaps some additional commentary from main stream media. 
  • Tier three fans go above and beyond, they seek out alternative sources of coverage, create blogs, follow racing personalities on twitter, stream practice sessions, know the secret formula of clicks to find IndyCar coverage on
Within that context, I consider myself to have transitioned from tier 3 back into being an engaged tier 2 fan. 
Some observations:
If you are a recent tier three fan, please be aware that all this stuff that is happening now (this is true for life in general, not just IndyCar), has happened before in some related variation and it will happen again.  For IndyCar the recycling playlist comes with a cargo plane full of baggage that is marked by polarization, fear and loathing.  If diabolical self flagellation and self flatulation are not complementary to your disposition, take a big step back – don’t get quite so involved.  Or perhaps choose your media streams carefully.  But unfortunately the core of diabolical hatred that is Track Forum has started to abscess into other forms of user generated media, blogs, comments and fan twitter feeds are becoming tainted with angst. 
If you intend to be an active commentator on the recycled playlist, be prepared that with time, since the playlist of issues is repetitive you will find yourself struggling to say anything new or different.  If you yourself fall into playlist of reruns, a stereotype will find you.  You will be “that crusty old guy in the Polo shirt and white reeboks that hates Asians” or “that creep that letches on the girl drivers” or “those people that have confused blogging with a dry dispassionate paralegal exercise” or “that crazy foul mouthed Canadian woman who hates everything but Paul Tracy”.  But most importantly, don’t let the hate become you.
The unfortunate thing is that this comes on the heels of what I would have called a Golden Time to have been a tier three fan.  Reunification, the prospect of New Cars, a New CEO who actively engaged you, the advent of social media (twitter in particular) have been replaced by power politics, retracted promises of innovation, the ratings manifestation of a decade’s worth of negligence and the stale twitter feeds of drivers who have been over coached by PR types on social media.
But as most things have equal and opposite reactions, there has been a big transformation in the quality of life for the tier two fans. 
  • Watching sluggish old tubs meant for ovals poke around on a growing share of road and street circuits have been replaced by a racy car, capable of overtaking at places where it was once unheard of.  New exotic looking cars that have a slightly erotic look as they round a hairpin and accelerate up a hill.
  • Televised races in front of massive backdrops of unpopulated aluminum have been replaced by a set of bustling event locales that at least give the on-air impression of chic and aura of importance.
  • The mighty, but underappreciated, Scottish Lion is in Winter replaced by a trio attempting to boldly go where their careers have yet to take them.  One of them an American to boot.
  • A number of fresh names that sound like they could have come from the house across the street are cutting their teeth and more often than not, the funny sounding names have resume’s as large as any check that may accompany them.
  • Justin Wilson and Dale Coyne won at Texas (repeat that a few times and let it sink in…)
  • On ovals, packs and tandems have been replaced by comers and goers.  Stalking and attacking has replaced what had become a dangerous form of synchronized swimming that culminated in last October’s darkest of days.
From my perspective, it has been a great time to step back and into the shoes of a tier two fan.  It’s an old saying, but it is hard to enjoy the forest if you are obsessing about the trees.
If not a golden age, certainly a better product than tier 2 fans have been treated to in quite a long time.  Of course, the negligence of the past has taken its toll for on this fan contingency.  Tier three fans kvetch at the evidence every Tuesday as a point something number is reported by someone somewhere.  It will take time to repopulate the tier 2 ranks. 
It is important to note this, though it might offend anyone who reads this (since all of you are tier 3).  The base of Tier 2 fans is significantly more important than the ranks of tier 3 fans.  By nature, tier 3 fans will always be a small group.  Most people look to entertainment as a pastime, not an obsession.  Those willing to invest to the point of obsession will always be in the minority. 
The base of Tier 2 fans will determine the long term health and success of the series and IMO, for the first time in a while, they are being served with a much better product and that is a point for optimism…


Friday, June 22, 2012

Farewell From Where it Began...

In June 2009 Jenny and I attended our first race at Milwaukee together and we fell in love with the place.  Lots of reasons why, and it is not my point to go into them here.  A week earlier I had started this blog.  The race weekend enhanced the sense of purpose for the blog and propelled me into a period marked by more writing than I had done since my college days.

Three years later I have learned a fair bit about myself and the sport.  I didn't really accomplish one of things I hoped to, I am still a fumbling hack when it comes to composing prose in a quick, coherent manner, which always was a roadblock to more regular posting here.  Yet I take the satisfaction of seeing certain things I have advocated or suggested in this venue become reality, some for better and some for worse. 

But as of late the well is running dry.  Dark clouds are on my horizon and they are sapping my patience for "Being an active participant" in the discussion of all things IndyCar.  Fortunately, my enthusiasm for the sport remains and I am finding that the best way for me to nurture that now is to simply watch from the stands or couch and enjoy.  My TSO updates and Marshall Pruett articles are all I need to stay up to speed on the details.

So as I sat in the stands during quals at Milwaukee last Friday, I realized the time was right to pull the plug on regular contributions to this site.  Winding it down in the place where it began. 

Perhaps I'll occasionally flip the switch on the "OPEN" sign and ponder something anew.  The twitter account @JPIndyCar is staying put and if you see me at the track say hello, I am friendly, just not overly outgoing.  Most of all, I thank you for your interest and patience in my ramblings here. 

Stay Flat and Off the Limiter!

John Pemberton

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Speedgeek Speaketh...

One of the three regular readers and a frequent commenter to this blog - The Speedgeek has emerged from his blogging hiatus to share profound thoughts worthy of serious consideration.  Read his opine HERE.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Late Night Prognosticating...

Some guestimates on the impending collosus...

Mrs JPIndyCar:

Winner: Marco Andretti

And she's asleep so I can't bug her on other issues...Overheard the marco comment earlier...


Winner:  I called JRHildebrand at the start of the season so I need to stick with that, but I also called this "The Year of Ryan Hunter Reay" and Based on what I have seen so far this month, RHR may be more probable but the heart goes with JR.

Rookie of Year: Simon Pagenauld - It seems that with the extra boost taken off the cars, the Honda's are back in play and Simon is just one hell of a driver - first roundy round rodeo or not...

Eye Opening Run of the Year: Ana Beatriz

Off to bed...A Stand here we come!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Toyed with blowing some of these up into stand alone blog posts…just not enough energy so you get the cliff notes…

The Fear Has Returned…

Felt a strange feeling today as I watched the Freedom 100 – Fear. 

It has never been lost on me that racing is a dangerous vocation, through my years of watching racing as a TV spectator I can recall the crashes or the broadcast discussion for the tragedies that took the lives of Scott Brayton, Jeff Krosnoff, Roland Ratzenburger, Ayrton Senna and Paul Dana. (For those of you asking – I had turned off racing due to the split when Greg Moore had his accident in Fontana)  Yet understanding the potential for danger but anticipating it as a real risk, a tragedy with a non zero probability of occurrence had slipped from my psyche.  Only the tragedy of Paul Dana, whose passing was more of a press release than a tragedy witnessed in live action, has occurred since I returned to racing from my “Screw ‘em both” hiatus.  To me, racing had become “Safe”.  Perhaps a source of unfortunate, but survivable injuries, but not a heart in your throat, fear inducing, turn your head away event.

We were in the Vegas stands the day when Dan passed.  I knew I was affected at the time, but time can be a soothing influence and by March, the gut punch and sorrow of that October day was drifting away.  In the opening races of the year, it was back to normal.  Sitting on the green hill at Barber returned the thrill and enjoyment of racing with a sense of comfort for the participant’s well being.  Racing had returned to being sanitized again.

That all went away today while watching the Freedom 100.  Before the race I leaned over to Jenny and said “expect some carnage” as if all that was at risk were some pricey and soon to be obsolete junior formula cars.  That changed as soon as the green flag dropped and the scream of normally aspirated  engines roared into turn 1 three wide for three separate sections of the field.  The sub conscious imprint Vegas left in me was opened up again, a raw nerve waiting for the poke.  As the opening laps progressed, each one crazier than the previous, it was hard to watch and I know that I was not alone with that feeling.  I became very worried for the safety of a set of drivers whom I share no particular attachment too.

Then the big accident happened, the noise from the crowd rose in that gasping way it does in that moment, just like at Vegas six months earlier.  I sat in the seat and started checking twitter for news about drivers out of cars, thinking back to the big accident that Ana Beatriz had in 2010, realizing just how lucky I will be on Sunday to see her race again.  Everybody, was Ok, the cars and the Safer barrier the greatest casualties.  Then the race went green again, and the craziness wound back up.

Freedom 100’s tend to end under yellow, as did this one, and fortunately this one ended in a single car incident without driver harm being done.  A sense of relief washed over me.

I wasn’t expecting this today.  It was unpleasant.  I realize again that Vegas has changed things.  Packs of cars on ovals is more a source of dread than thrill of excitement.  Can Milwaukee get here soon enough?  Not sure how I will feel come Sunday.  But I pray my memories on Monday will be that of a great race featuring an outstanding finish and a series of drivers will me chatting up the race in jovial terms a week from now in Detroit.

Ok so that turned into a full fledged post…My other thought subjects are somewhat evergreen and will roll out after the race.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A View From the Pressbox

I’ve been pretty lucky in my career.  I get paid out of proportion to what my contribution to society probably is.  On good days I am better than most at what I do and as a result I am often in demand.  In demand to go speak to our clients, to travel to the main office and train members of the company on products I help create and on occasion speak at conferences to a wider audience in the profession about cool things we have done.

But for all of this to happen, I have to travel…at times a lot.  Despite how sexy and cool it sounds when you’re young, as frequently as not business travel when you are older can be a pain in the….  Take this week for example, cars on track all week at the speedway and I am in Connecticut for internal meetings and training sessions.  On top of that, my flight home Thursday night didn’t get me home in time to use my tickets of the Pacers beatdown of the Heat.

But in reality, weeks like this one are nothing compared to the opportunities that either arise with travel I must do or from the various airline and hotel points I gather from that travel.  I have been to Europe Five times and will be again next summer taking nephews as a graduation present.  Though trapped in Victoria, BC for 9/11, I took my rental car and drove home through Washington, Montana and South Dakota…Falling in love with the Northern Rockies and Great Plains along the way.  Through that journey and in that time discovering deep inside a pride in America that I did not have before.  I have been to 11 national Parks and seen some of the most beautiful places in the world. 
This past October we cashed a boatload of Miles and Hotel points and took Mrs JP’s agingnparents on a trip like they have never been on before.  We did a Canyon Country tour starting off by flying into Vegas (and was in attendance at LVMS on that unfortunate day).  From there we drove into Utah: Kollob Canyon, Cedar Breaks, Bryce Canyon and Zion Canyon, each step along the way more awe inspiring in its grandeur and scope.  I took bunches of pictures along the way (if for some reason you really want to see them, go here). 
Then south into Arizona for the Painted Dessert and the final stop…The Grand Canyon… our schedule only allowed for a single day at the canyon.  I put the camera away …this was a place that deserved more than I could do with a single afternoon.  For all the things I have seen, no single place had ever left me dumbfounded quite like this.  It was too large to comprehend, staggering and immense beyond description.  I have had instances and tastes of this feeling before: Descending from the Rockies onto the Great Plains for the first time, gazing at the gardens from the back “Porch” of Schloss Nymphenburg in Munich, traversing an Icy path six inches wide, staring down a 1000 ft steep slide to the bottom, on a Glacier in the national park bearing the same name. 
Why am I talking about all this stuff?  I am not trying to brag, but bring some perspective to something.  If you have read this blog long enough, you know that a couple years ago, I swore off using the blog as justification for getting press credentials to any race or event.  I thought I’d lose touch with what it meant to be a fan, that I would owe one to the man for eating from his table.  Not sure why, but last year at Iowa, I decided to request credentials and got them.  Part of it was to use the new camera that I was falling in love with and part of it curiosity.  Very few things in life have given me the rush that shooting from pit lane gave me that weekend, I was hooked. 
So for this year’s 500, I decided to request credentials for the 500 as well.  It didn’t quite work out like I imagined it might.  No Silver Badge to get on pit road, just the bronze I would have purchased anyway.  I also was granted access to the media centre and buffet.  Eating at the buffet means no track tenderloin so that privilege is a mixed bag.  Frankly at the Iowa media centre, I could not have felt more out of place.  An interloper in a place I did not belong.  I could just see the thought bubble from Curt Cavin as he stared at us “Who the hell are they?”
But today after taking a day of PTO, sleeping off the two nights of hotel induced lack of sleep and the sinus cold I get everytime I fly, I headed to the speedway and I used my credential to get into the media centre.  I took the elevator up to the fourth floor and the massive media room.  The place was perhaps 10% filled, Kevin Lee was voicing over track updates at his desk, Robin Miller was wandering around calling out other old timers.  I sat next to Paul Dalbey and James Black, familiar faces from the blogging ranks.   I didn’t do much, just watched lap times update on the screen above. 
Before I decided to pack it up and head home for the evening I grabbed the camera and headed out to the media cente terrace.  I walked to the front of the terrace and on my right, I could see down the main straight all the way into turn four.  On my left could see down the front straightaway until the Pagoda blocked the view of turn 1.  I then walked to the back of the terrace, I looked to the left and saw the all the way to the north Vista, panning to the right the NW vista came into view, to my right, the South and South west visas.  In my mind, the front straightaway and the stands that accompany it were behind me.
For the first time it really hit me, just how big of a place IMS really is.  For all my visits, I have just been looking at little isolated sections, never forming the complete gestalt in my mind.  But on the terrace today it struck me and it had a familiar flavor.  Not quite the strength of the Grand Canyon back in October, but the same feeling of smallness relative to something of massive grandeur.  I can only imagine how a rookie driver is going to feel a week from Sunday as they do parade laps through the massive tunnel of humanity.  I have been an IndyCar and 500 fan for a long time, but on the terrace this evening I finally felt for the first time, just how grand IMS, the world’s greatest race course, actually is.

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