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Pandering to the mortal enemy of IndyCar

by Brian Carroccio
Thursday, September 12, 2013

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I don't want to add anything to Mark Miles' to-do list. The Hulman and Co., CEO has a monumental task before him in reinvigorating two of his company's properties--the Izod IndyCar Series, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway--both of which have clearly seen better days. And while I have my opinions regarding how exactly Miles should prioritize and proceed, such thoughts are open to discussion.

That said, this particular matter is not.

If the Izod IndyCar Series is to ever thrive under Hulman ownership, Miles must rid his company once and for all of an amateurish practice: pandering to the mortal enemy of IndyCar, NASCAR.

The practice of course, commenced in part under the leadership of former IMS CEO and President Tony George. In beginning his ill-fated Indy Racing League during the mid-1990s, George entered into an alliance of sorts with then-NASCAR chief Bill France, Jr. Without rehashing all the unfortunate details, the IRL and NASCAR shared racetracks, and a common interest in seeing what was once a viable Indy car style series--CART and later Champ Car--dead.

In that regard, George ultimately got his wish in 2008, when he purchased what was left of the CART/Champ Car carcass beaten and battered from over a decade of moronic Indy car civil war. The sport under the IRL banner, and was rebranded IndyCar in late 2010.

Of course, one of the great lessons of the senseless open-wheel civil war was how a unified NASCAR was able to move with impunity against a divided Indy car racing and marginalize it to beyond the fringes of public awareness. In masquerading as an agent of good with regards to George, France and NASCAR moved masterfully. Not only did they bury a viable and once great Indy car series CART, they simultaneously rendered George's ill-fated IRL a pathetic excuse for a viable Indy car series. And even with unification, Indy car racing has been unable to make any positive steps forward, in part because of NASCAR's dominance in the American market established during the Indy car civil war.

But as we know, they aren't exactly quick learners at the corner of 16th and Georgetown.

Sure, IndyCar doesn't let themselves get played as the throw-in of a NASCAR ticket deal any longer. Aside from a few events, IndyCar has wisely distanced itself from NASCAR-aligned race track entities ISC and SMI. Sadly, however, the tradition of pandering to NASCAR seems to be as ingrained in Speedway as sipping the milk.

The best example of this, has long in my opinion been the continuation of the Brickyard 400. I've written on numerous occasions that while the Brickyard may be a cash bonanza for the Speedway, the damage it does to the IndyCar brand by diluting the local market and allowing NASCAR sponsors access to IndyCar's hallowed ground far outweighs any financial benefit.

In short, the Brickyard is penny wise, but pound foolish.

Yet, as much as it may bother me personally, the simple reality is that the Brickyard seems destined to stay. And while I suppose IMS at least derives a decent payday from the Brickyard, they continue to allow themselves to be a prop in NASCAR sideshows, that have no tangible benefit, and inflict further damage on a once proud sport.

One example of this occurred during the past off-season, after IndyCar team owner Roger Penske offered Tony Stewart a ride at the 2013 Indy 500. While giving a speech after his NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski won the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, Penske told Stewart he would have a ride available at Indy if he wanted it.

Now, I'm not criticizing Penske. Its his team, his car, and he can run, whomever he so chooses. However, the reaction from the corner of 16th and Georgetown, was troubling.

Remember, this was after former INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard had been fired, a time in which IMS and INDYCAR became eerily silent. For whatever reason, there was no activation in marketing popular, charismatic American IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay. But when Penske threw out the notion of Stewart running at Indy, well, IMS just couldn't contain themselves.

Creative campaigns on social media, offers to move the start time of the Indy 500 to accommodate Stewart, and lots of begging and groveling came out of the Speedway offices. And the message was loud and clear: we'll get uber-creative and offer to move heaven and earth (or at least the start time of the Indy 500) to cater to a NASCAR driver. But when it comes to our own champion, well, he's not even worthy of a corny hash tag.

Of course, wrapped up in grand euphoria, no one at IMS actually looked at the reality of the situation and considered that Stewart's Cup schedule would undoubtedly preclude him from competing. No one considered how amateurish it might look it Stewart ignored the reek-of-desperation public campaign.

But there was IndyCar ready to switch around the entire schedule to pander to a NASCAR driver. There was IndyCar, silent after Bernard's dismissal, vocal about their desire to have Stewart. There was IndyCar in the absence of any notable campaign to market their own champion energetically using company resources to ignite a campaign to lure Stewart.

Now, I'd like to say that such groveling is confined to the IMS and IndyCar organizations. However, this practice has trickled down to many in the media. Yes, pandering to petulant babies who struggle to form complete sentences is not merely an IMS/IndyCar practice. And nothing better illustrates this than the continuing Kurt Busch non-story.

Busch, of course, tested at Indianapolis for Andretti Autosport this past May, and it was rumored he might race an Indy car at Fontana next month. Certainly, Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Champion, racing Fontana and/or Indy in 2014 would be a story of interest.

Also, let me make clear I have zero objection to Busch, Stewart or anyone for that matter running any race. Qualification rules determine who races, not me.  Further, I am not bemoaning the fact NASCAR is stealing IndyCar media opportunities. Any media outlet should place the news in the public space that readers want and editors deem worthy. I am in no position to pass such judgment.

But here's the thing: other than Busch signing with Stewart for 2014, nothing with regards to this story has changed since the test in May. There has been zero news. Yet, some in the media continue to give non-stop Kurt Busch updates.

Not only does regurgitating a story that has seen no tangible developments reek of agenda and sloth, it builds false hope. Fans, who keeping reading about something that is at best, a long shot, will understandably be disappointed if what is rumored over and over doesn't come to fruition.

And this is where Miles must come in.

Sadly, the modus operandi at 16th and Georgetown has for too long has been to feed off and/or feed into whatever the cheerleading story (or non-story in this case) du jour happens to be, whether plausible or not. We saw this with Stewart during the off-season. We're seeing it again with Busch.

Miles must realize that allowing media to actively and repeatedly forward  such rumors creates unreasonable expectation amongst both die hard and casual fans of IndyCar. If/when such rumors fail to come to fruition, IMS and IndyCar are easily portrayed as the party at fault, because well, IMS and IndyCar are pretty easy targets. Yes, the media who report the stories, whether plausible or not, can claim to be Santa Claus. But if said rumor fails to materialize Miles' and company are easily portrayed as Scrooge.

This must end.

I'm not saying Miles should use strong-arm tactics with the media. However, either he or someone with the Hulman company needs to manage expectations better, and not let agenda-driven media establish them so freely. Such a policy can end one way for IMS: poorly.

Plus, Miles must instill a culture and expectation within the company of self-sustainability. If IndyCar is ever going to be a major league sport, then relying on NASCAR stars to generate buzz not only shows a total lack of creativity, but is at best, a short-term solution. After all, if IndyCar needs a Stewart or Busch to generate attention for its biggest event, how is IndyCar going to do to generate buzz for the following week's race in Detroit?

Yes, I agree that IndyCar needs to do something to generate buzz. But this current compliance with any NASCAR driver coming to Indy rumor is not the way to do it. It creates false expectations, wastes precious resources that could be devoted elsewhere. and makes IndyCar look amateurish when such expectations fail to materialize.

And while members of the media should be more held more accountable for their agenda-driven reporting, the first step in this changing is the culture at 16th and Georgetown changing.

Yes, Mark Miles has a Herculean task before him. But making his organization more focused and reliant on the assets it does in fact have, would be a really good place to start.

Brian Carroccio is an IndyCar Columnist for AutoRacing1.com. He can be contacted at BrianC@AutoRacing1.com

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