Danny Sullivan - "It's gone"
Danny Sullivan was asked this week on Dave Despain's Wind Tunnel on SPEED, what he thought was the weakness of the current IndyCar product.
"Back at that time, we had big names in the sport, Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Emerson, all that...and we don't have that fan base for the drivers anymore. You gotta build the drivers back up. You have to get those fans cheering for those drivers."
Dave Despain added "Well this is a point we go back to; something we have talked about many times, that those drivers came from the local tracks...American tracks. They had loyal followings that followed them to Indy, and that system is completely gone now."
"It's gone" Danny agreed.
Despain asked "Is there a way to make a system that replaces that?"
"Well, I don't know how you go do that. I mean all the junior systems now guide toward NASCAR, toward the cup series. Even with the Red Bull Driver Search program, the guys who didn't really think they could get to Formula One, they were looking at it as a launch pad to get them into NASCAR. They though this was the chance."
Sullivan and Despain were laboring over a riddle that nobody seems to have a good answer for. The organic system that existed back then, simply does not exist now. Back in the day, the majority of drivers came into IndyCar from a local track culture. That local track culture is more conducive to producing a NASCAR type of driver.
Back then, they were oval drivers that were simply good drivers that also embraced road racing, and road racing really made the better drivers shine. The fans that came out to see their favorites were able to latch on to guys that perhaps did not come from the core oval tracks, like Rahal, and even foreign drivers like Emerson Fittipaldi.
Now the drivers for open-wheel come from series that don't race in the same place every weekend. There is no "local" to these drivers because they are all over the place. That's not a bad thing by itself, but it doesn't allow that loyalty and fan base to develop and ascend along with them.
You might be able to develop some following with current drivers that are just interesting and compelling personalities, but you just are not going to cultivate the kind of fervor for a driver from Peru (a random foreign country) that pops up in IndyCar racing because he has a loyal "sponsor" from his country, with a product nobody in America has ever heard of, even if he is winning races driving the car upside down on the roll hoop, and wearing one of those bristly mohawk embellishments on top of his/her helmet.
That kind of fan intensity is going to come from some kind of regionalized base that puts these drivers in the hearts and minds of race fans as a regional group, or a group with some sort of community or cultural connection here in North America; people who all have something in common and that the driver is part of. That is what compels them to turn on their televisions, what brings them to the races, and motivates them to buy merchandise.
A system that does this has to be created and aggressively implemented. Without it, IndyCar will just be spinning their wheels trying to get the public to get excited about it. Scott Morris, AR1