Ft. Lauderdale is destined to be IndyCar's season finale
Hat's off to IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard for trying. Las Vegas as a season finale was a nice idea but the fans didn't turn out and it failed. But sometimes things happen for a reason and I think there's a better place for IndyCar to hold their season finale - Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Ft. Lauderdale fits the bill as the perfect venue for IndyCar to end their season on a high note.
In this article I will examine why it makes perfect sense on many levels. You will understand why IndyCar driver Ryan Hunter-Reay, the founder of the Ft. Lauderdale Grand Prix, is working hard to make this race a reality for IndyCar.
Although Las Vegas has the glitz and glamour, racing north of town on the Las Vegas oval has failed for ChampCar and IndyCar twice. Three strikes and you're out as they say.
Although Bernard is trying to move the race to the streets of Las Vegas around the Mandalay Bay Casino at the south end of the strip, the fact remains that Casinos prefer their customers inside gambling, not outside spending their money on a car race and when ChampCar tried a street race in ‘Old’ downtown Vegas the casinos cried bloody murder that three days of closed streets and barricades made it difficult to get into their casinos and did more damage to their business than good and the race never returned.
F1 tried to get a street race in Las Vegas in the 80's and they ended up in the Caesars Palace parking lot. Steve Wynn tried to bring F1 to the streets of Vegas in the last 5 or 6 years, offered to pay the sanctioning fee and buy 100% of the tickets, but the other casinos wanted no part of it and the logistics proved prohibitive.
So although Las Vegas sounds like a nice idea, to pull it off and make it successful is going to be a huge, very expensive, challenge for Randy Bernard. Combined with the reality the Vegas area in general has never supported IndyCar racing and doesn’t presently have a fan base there as evidenced by last year’s race even after Randy and company did an absolutely amazing job marketing and promoting the event the stands were nearly empty even when tickets were free for the asking.
Enter Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the yachting capital of the world and the land of the rich and famous. If there ever was a venue in the USA that could rival Monaco for its waterfront opulence, yachting, dining, and night life, this is the place.
The city is a popular tourist destination, with over 12 million visitors per year. It is also known as the "Venice of America" because of its expansive and intricate canal system. The city is a major yachting center, with 43,000 resident yachts and more than100 marinas and boatyards. There are 165 miles of waterways and 23 miles of golden sand beaches within the city limits.
The city, with more than 4,000 restaurants and 120 nightclubs, sits just 23 miles north of Miami, which has a substantial Hispanic and Brazilian population and is the gate way to South America. Palm Beach County, another wealthy community that is larger than either Rhode Island or Delaware, is 15 miles from the proposed track.
Many of the rich and famous in America have homes, second homes (mansions and estates) and yachts in Ft. Lauderdale or the surrounding area.
Despite the fact that it is both far removed from the equator and located just outside the tropics, Fort Lauderdale features a tropical rainforest climate with little seasonal variation in temperature. Average monthly temperatures are always above 64.4 °F. The city does not have a true dry season. While significant rain does fall in winter, the majority of precipitation is received during the summer months.
The record high temperature of 100°F was recorded on June 22, 2009. I live in NJ, 1,200 miles north of Ft. Lauderdale and our record high is 110°F - go figure. In October, which is when the Ft. Lauderdale race would be held, the average low is 75°F and the average high is 86°F.
In other words - perfect racing weather.
The World's biggest cruise ships sail out of Ft. Lauderdale
Exotic cruise vacations and international trade are what makes Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale an economic powerhouse for Broward County and one of the most diverse seaports in the United States.
Located In the heart of Greater Fort Lauderdale, 1.5 miles from the proposed track, Port Everglades is one of the busiest cruise ports in the world. It is a leading container port in Florida and among the most active cargo ports in the United States. And, Port Everglades is South Florida's main seaport for receiving petroleum products including, gasoline and jet fuel. A foreign-trade zone and available office space inside the Port's secure area make Port Everglades a highly desirable business center for world trade.
Cars for the Rich and Famous
As Long Beach, California has proven - if you hold a race in a city that loves the automobile, they will come. And although Ft. Lauderdale is known as the yachting capital of the world, in fact those same wealthy people love their cars.
That is why Ft. Lauderdale is home to some of the nation’s largest car dealerships including BMW (Vista), Lexus (JM) Porsche (Champion), Audi (Champion) and Ferrari. Fort Lauderdale is also the home of AutoNation, the world’s largest car dealer (37 different automobile brands and in excess of 11 billon dollars in annual sales) as well as its founder, Wayne Huizenga and current CEO, Mike Jackson, the former CEO of Mercedes Benz of North America.
Other Fortune 500 companies that call south Florida home (Dade / Broward / Palm Beach Counties) and are potential title or associate sponsors of a race, include Office Depot (12 Billion and 3800 local employees), World Fuel (11 Billion), Ryder Systems (5 Billon and 1000 local employees) and the list of major companies with regional headquarters in the area is astounding.
Companies like DHL, Kraft, Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Hilton, Electrolux (who used to sponsor Newman Hass Racing in the 80’s), Oracle, Canon, Gap, Eastman, Marriott, Microsoft, Motorola (2500 local employees) SAP, Unisys, Western Union, Rinker, Wackenhut (3000 local employees), Telefonica, Royal Caribbean (4000 local employees), Carnival Cruise Lines (3500 local employees), Burger King (2000 local employees), Polo Tropical (2000 local employees), General Motors, Hewlett-Packard, Nokia, Caterpillar, American Airlines (9000 local employees) and on and on.
Nice hotels are needed for any successful street race and Ft. Lauderdale has plenty right in and around, within a mile, of the circuit. They include the Harbor Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, Lago Mar Resort and Beach Club, The Ritz Carlton, Hyatt Regency Pier 66 Resort and Yacht Club, the Westin Beach Resort, the Bahia Mar Beach Resort, the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina, the Ft. Lauderdale Beach Resort, the W Fort Lauderdale and a host of other upscale hotels all at the track or within walking distance.
Imagine the IndyCar Championship final race of the season, pre-race dinners, gala’s, yachting parties, and charity events all culminating in the IndyCar banquet in one of these premium hotels which are perfectly suited for this location and weather. Ryan says he already had the support of the Mayor, the City and County commissioners as well as prominent community and business leaders before he even approached IndyCar. If Randy, IndyCar, activates and promotes in Fort Lauderdale like they did in Las Vegas I can’t imagine this race not becoming a huge success and fan favorite.
Local Driver Presence
It's always good to have drivers for the locals to cheer for and Ft. Lauderdale/Miami have plenty. Hunter-Reay, Castroneves and de Ferran live in Ft. Lauderdale and Tony Kanaan, Vitor Meira, Raphael Matos, and EJ Viso live in nearby Miami. Even Michael Andretti has a second home less than five miles from the track in Bal Harbour, another wealthy enclave that includes the Bal Harbour Shops, that houses most of the top designer clothes and jewelry boutiques and is one of the most productive shopping venues in the world (by revenue per square foot). The large Brazilian and Hispanic contingent of fans that live in Miami/Dade County will certainly turn out in droves to see their hero’s race.
Not only is the "Gold Coast" of Florida served by Interstate I-95 and the Inter-Coastal Waterway (water taxis), the area has three sizable airports in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Getting a flight to the area is no problem whatsoever. Ample parking at the Fort Lauderdale convention center, 1.5 miles from the track, will work well with scheduled shuttle service and with most of the major hotels, restaurants and night clubs within a mile of the track the popular bike taxi’s will be busy.
Other Things for Race fans
Florida is of course a major vacation destination, Ft. Lauderdale has 23 miles of great beaches, clear warm water like the Caribbean and race fans can take in Miami's South Beach at night. Or how about tying in a cruise on one of the cruise ships before or after the race weekend. The dozen casinos within ten miles of the track, including the Hard Rock Casino with its huge clubs, concerts, and 140,000 square foot gaming floor with black jack, baccarat, poker, over 2500 slot machines and separate high limit rooms for wealthy gamblers, provide yet another diversion for those so inclined.
Fort Lauderdale was named to the Top Ten of Worlds best wreck dive sites where over 75 artificial reefs, mostly ships, have been placed on the oceans floor. Ft. Lauderdale is also one of the top deep sea fishing destinations in the world, where sportsmen fish some of the most sought after sport fish in the world including Sailfish, Marlin, Swordfish, Tuna, and Wahoo.
So will the race happen?
Ryan Hunter-Reay, the Mayor of the City of Fort Lauderdale, John P. ‘Jack’ Seiler, and others associated with bringing this race to fruition, are proposing the first two weekends in early October 2013 to stage the first race. Why early October? Because that is when tourism is slow in Ft. Lauderdale and when the city wants the race to bring people in and showcase their city on national television (it is presumed it would be an ABC broadcast as Las Vegas was). It also allows enough time to take the circuit walls and grandstands down before the annual boat show at the end of the month.
The city has already read them the riot act - we love and support the idea of an IndyCar race, but you had better not do anything to negatively impact our Boat Show which brings literally hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy.
Trying to accelerate the race to 2012, this year, just doesn’t make sense from a business or logistical perspective. You cannot promote and sell sponsorship for an event in that short period of a time (six months top) and expect it to succeed. Large corporations operate on a defined budget and their marketing dollars are spent and allocated for the subsequent year by August/September, October at the very latest.
Can it be done for 2012? Maybe. Would it succeed? Maybe, but instead of targeting potential sponsors based on which are best for the event, with a thought out custom proposal for each it would have to be a scatter gun approach hat in hand begging for dollars from companies whose marketing budgets had long since be spoken for and pushed wherever the sales people could find an open door. Marketing and promotion had to start, at a minimum, six months ago for a 2012 race and they don't even have an office open yet down there. Come to think of it if there is going to be a race for 2013 they better get an office opened and staffed now to do it properly.
While I see the Ft. Lauderdale race eventually coming to fruition, 2013 makes a lot more sense than 2012. So how is IndyCar going to fill the void of the 16th race?
They need a stop gap measure for a year until Ft. Lauderdale is ready. Perhaps, the Walt Disney World oval in Orlando that IndyCar used to race on can be fitted with Safer Barrier and brought up to IndyCar compliance to fit that bill for a year, or give Milwaukee another go after all it is a racers oval largely void of pack racing, ready to go and if it gains traction with sponsors and fans IndyCar would be happy to include Milwaukee in its permanent schedule as they are looking for quality oval tracks to race on.
IndyCar needs, deserves, a really premium race for the last race of the Championship, their banquet, and to celebrate all the good things about IndyCar. To this writer, Fort Lauderdale is that place.
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