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ISC heavily promoted the IndyCar race at Fontana

by Tim Wohlford
Saturday, September 15, 2012

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Takuma Sato promotion poster
AutoRacing1 sat down with Auto Club Speedway staffers Matt Payne (Sr.  Director of Consumer Marketing & Promotions) and David Talley (Director of  Communications) as IndyCar practice began for the MAVTV 500, and talked  about trying to sell IndyCar in the second largest market in the USA.  Bottom line -- IF the grandstands aren't full for this weekend's race, you  can't blame International Speedway Corporation (ISC or IndyCar -- 'cause  both have given this race a ton of effort.

First, let's just state the obvious --  In the past decade or two, events held at ISC tracks haven't exactly flourished.  In fact, the death toll is stunning -- Watkins Glen, Michigan, Homestead, Kansas....  So yeah, we had our doubts too when IndyCar announced it was starting a new race at California.  But not only did California Speedway (now Auto Club Speedway) open talks to have a race, ACS President freely admitted that she "stalked" Randy Bernard in order to get an IndyCar race here.  The reports were true -- after losing their second (fall) NASCAR race, ACS needed another major event to keep sponsors happy, and IndyCar fit the bill.

Once they got the race, track officials put more effort into promotion than  any race in recent memory.  Officials described the problems buying ad time  in the second-largest -- and therefore, second most expensive -- region in  the country.  What they did was to target various market segments, and use  Internet marketing accordingly.  In the press room are well-done posters  aimed at the Hispanic market (with Mexican wrestling masks, a la Paul  Tracy), Asians (the only poster featuring Takumo Sato I've ever seen), young  adults, etc.  The track offered student discounts, military discounts, and  kids under age 12 get in free.  There are motorcycle stunt riders and drift  trucks and such in the fan zone.  This week, the track opened up to "STEM"  ("science, technology, engineering, math") programs in area schools.  Hell,  they even have Ed Carpenter reading books to kids today!

Hispanic market promotion
When asked about the working relationship with IndyCar, the words came fast -- "fantastic" and "awesome" were the first two.  IndyCar staff was given high marks for being friendly, competent, timely, and organized.  And IndyCar has committed to a long-term relationship with ACS, saying that it was committed to investing to develop "date equity" (a Penske term) for this event.  Oh, and if Pocono come online, this might be part of a new "Triple Crown", something that long-time fans have been suggesting for years.

So there you have it -- both ISC and IndyCar have tried every trick in the book, and have thrown lots of money at the situation.  Whether or not a crowd shows up, braving LA traffic and record high heat, remains to be seen.

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