IndyCar's new leader: 'We have a lot of work to do'
Mark Miles, the man tasked with rebuilding the Izod IndyCar Series, was feeling good about his new job last week. He was sitting with Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg in DreamWorks' in-house theater watching its new Indy-themed animated feature, which is slated for a July release.
Turbo, the self-titled story of a snail voiced by Ryan Reynolds with superpowers that decides it wants to race the Indianapolis 500, has been exceeding expectations with families and young children during test screenings.
"It's practically a beautiful advertisement for the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race," Miles told USA TODAY Sports, using the race's formal name that is known well to an Indianapolis native such as himself. "The storyline is fanciful and ironic at the same time. It's moving. It's action-packed. There's a lot of humor."
There also is a plot twist that might seem uncomfortably realistic to longtime fans and industry insiders of the major-league open-wheel circuit in the United States.
When Turbo arrives at the Brickyard, his dream nearly is dashed by hapless officials who initially rebuff his attempts to qualify.
Is this art imitating life?
"Fair enough," Miles said with a laugh. "Fair enough."
The Izod IndyCar Series opens the 2013 season this weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., with a challenging dichotomy: Coming off one of its most competitive seasons in memory (eight winners in 15 races) that ended with the first American champion in six years, its on-track product is viewed as excellent.
But conventional wisdom says everything else is a mess, and the pace of change in a sport with roots dating more than a century sometimes has seemed comparable with … well, a snail.
Whether it was the protracted and bungled ouster of embattled CEO Randy Bernard, who took over before the 2010 season, (the latest in a series of embarrassing office politics debacles and airing of dirty laundry), a lack of cohesive and widespread marketing strategy for its stars and a TV deal that has hamstrung the sport with low visibility (a 0.71 average that trails NASCAR's second-tier Nationwide Series), IndyCar isn't in much better shape now than five years ago – when Champ Car and the Indy Racing League merged into a single entity that many thought would resuscitate the sport after a protracted 14-year civil war nearly killed it.
Into the breach this season steps Miles, the former president of the ATP tennis tour, who has spent the past three months meeting with the drivers, car owners and key sponsors as the new CEO of Hulman Co., the parent company of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar.
"We have a lot of work to do," he said. "We have lots of assets to work with. The overall impression is people are looking for leadership, direction. They desperately want to see IndyCar be successful. That's a great starting point." More at USA Today