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Can a make-believe snail rescue IndyCar?
A family poses with Turbo at Indy
Can a make-believe snail rescue IndyCar racing? We’re about to find out.

In four weeks, DreamWorks Animation will release TURBO, a 3D computer-animated film about a snail who wins the Indianapolis 500. The film is steeped in Indy 500 lore, IndyCar images and big-money licensing, with partnerships that include several corporations that sponsor IndyCar teams.

The hope among executives at Hulman & Company, which owns Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is that the film will take root among people who aren’t watching or attending the Indy 500 and provide a bump in ticket sales and TV ratings for the 500 and the rest of the Izod IndyCar Series races.

Hanging out with Turbo
“The movie portrays us in a wonderful way,” said Geoff Belskus, president and CEO of Hulman & Company. “Everyone involved with it thinks there is huge potential here.”

With the movie’s release date rapidly approaching, fans attending the Iowa Corn Indy 250 this weekend at Iowa Speedway will notice the promotions. Tony Kanaan’s car will sport the movie’s logo, and DreamWorks is “activating” the sponsorship with various giveaways and promotions, many designed with children in mind.

“People say we need new fans, and in my opinion the new fans are the kids,” said Kanaan, who won the Indy 500 last month, then picked up the TURBO sponsorship for four races. “Kids are going to ask you to go to Indy 500 because of this May’s Indy 500 and the movie that they watch. When your kid asks you that, you can’t say no. It’s like, ‘Dad, can you take me to Disneyland?’ I think it’s huge for us.”

Behind the optimism, though, is a touch of desperation. The rating for the latest Indy 500 on ABC was the lowest ever recorded. Ratings and crowds have been low since open-wheel racing split into two sanctioning bodies in the mid-1990s. They merged in 2008, but interest remains stagnant.

Sunday’s race in Newton will be shown on ABC, and IndyCar officials will be watching the numbers closely, just as they’ll be monitoring the release of the film. Belskus says exit polling will provide important data about who watched the film and whether it might entice them to attend the Indy 500 or another IndyCar race.

“This is a fantastic promotional opportunity for IndyCar,” Belskus said. “It allows us to position the sport and the brand with a demographic we’re certainly interested in. Children and young parents are a great demographic to be reaching out to.”

The idea has merit, especially if TURBO is a hit. DreamWorks Animation, an arm of the DreamWorks Studios empire created in 1994 by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, has hit box-office gold in the past with animated films like Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar.

IndyCar officials and participants hope TURBO becomes a Shrek-like, multiple-sequel franchise that generates interest in the Indy 500 and the sport in general.

“We’re all hoping and looking for growth for all of our sakes,” said Bryan Herta, whose Barracuda Racing team will field Alex Tagliani’s car this weekend. “One of the obvious areas is younger people. I don’t think there’s a better way to attract younger people than to link it up with that type of movie.

"The great thing about an 8-year-old fan is that they need their parents to bring them to the races, so it becomes a family activity. That’s exactly what we need.”

In the film, Theo, an ordinary snail voiced by Ryan Reynolds, realizes his dream of superpower speed after being sucked into the engine of a drag racer. With rear wing and nickname attached, Turbo races in the Indy 500. Other voices in the film include Paul Giamatti, Samuel L. Jackson, Maya Rudolph and Snoop Dogg.

Kanaan, for one, can’t wait to see the reaction.

“We’re going to capitalize big time,” Kanaan said. “Once you gather the new fans at a young age like that, that’s what we need because the loyal fans are already here and they’re always going to be there.” Desmoines Register

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