Overheard in Milwaukee - Friday
A warm but nice day here in Milwaukee with a decent turnout of fans given it was a work day. However, entrance was free today. What the Andretti group has done for this event is remarkable. When we arrived at the historic Mile this morning the track infield looked like nothing we had seen before. It was completely transformed with concert stage area, a snake pit, a Midway, a family zone and a fan zone with Ferris Wheel.
IndyCar team Owner Michael Andretti, who last year established Andretti Sports Marketing, said, "I think we'll eventually help the sport grow. There are a lot of good agency-based groups that are involved in the industry, and we're the guys on the inside. Our sole focus is representing corporations involved in sports, and we have this niche specialty in racing"
So far this weekend the drivers have been avoiding the bottom groove here at Milwaukee, which has been repaved. The asphalt down low does not have the same grip level as the old asphalt in the middle groove. So all the drivers are rubbering in the middle groove and the track, and it has become a one-groove track, which can make the race processional. Why IndyCar did not force the drivers to all run the low groove for 30 minutes this morning to rubber it in is beyond us.
We hear the issue with IndyCar running with the ALMS on Sunday August 19th (to replace the cancelled China race) is the fact the track has already scheduled events that day because IndyCar was going to be in China, so to move those events is an issue. We spoke to Randy Bernard about the 16th race and it's clear they have not spoke to Road America, at least not yet, and he would not commit to a date when a decision will be made as to venue, but suffice it to say it has to happen soon.
We discussed the opposition to running on the IndyCar road course and he said there is not enough time to properly research and promote it by August 19th. And that would be just three weeks after the Grand-Am/NASCAR weekend. October 7th would be doable but so far the family only appears interested in running every other series imaginable at Indy (F1, NASCAR Nationwide, Grand-Am and MotoGP, maybe swamp buggy racing will be next) instead of running a 2nd IndyCar race at the historic home of IndyCar. It would be a local race for the teams (lower cost) and would be the 2nd biggest race on the IndyCar schedule. But we guess they'll consider swamp buggy racing next instead so they can dilute the IndyCar product at IMS even further.
While on the topic of Indy, we did agree that if they were to run the Indy 500 under the lights on Saturday night (with Sunday afternoon as the rain date) it would be a major boost to TV ratings. The problem with running the race during the day is the fact you are competing with family barbeques so most people are not watching TV. I reminded him that when ABC Wide World of Sports used to air the race tape delayed on Sunday night the TV ratings were triple and quadruple what they are today with market share over 30% (over 30% of all TV sets in America turned on were tuned into the 500). However, since NASCAR now runs the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday night, IndyCar would need to run Saturday night. The cost to light the speedway has been estimated to be $12 million, including lighting the parking lots for fans as they exit the race drunk, or half drunk. Can you imagine how spectacular the Indy 500 would look on TV under the lights on TV in Prime Time? I was encouraged to hear that it's been considered and we are hopeful someday the Hulman George family makes it happen. The added revenue from the higher TV ratings would pay for the lights in a few short years and the Indy 500 TV ratings would once again dwarf those of the Coca-Cola 600.
We talked about what happened with the China race and he said the new mayor was concerned about getting a black eye so soon after starting his new job. Because 5 million people attend the Beer festival, there was a concern the added traffic from the race (which was to run during the festival) would cause complete gridlock. We'll have more details on this.
On the positive side he did say many tracks want an IndyCar race next year, so filling the schedule with more races should not be a problem. And now that the new car has proven to be good on ovals it opens up more possibilities for adding more back into the schedule. Of course the problem remains NASCAR, the White Elephant in the closet that sucks customer (fan) wallets dry leaving little money to buy IndyCar tickets in almost all the oval track markets.
Randy did say that it was extremely important to get this Milwaukee race weekend right because the negative press this event got last year, due to the dismal attendance, was a major drag on the series the rest of the year. This did not come from Randy, but someone from the Andretti marketing group told me they spent almost $200K on advertising for this event. They have done everything possible to make the event a success and the weather gods appear to be cooperating.
We spoke to Keith Wiggins, the last team owner still sticking with Lotus and he told us he has no confidence that Lotus is committed to making the Lotus engine competitive and wonders if the new owners of Lotus are going to continue the program. His inquiries have so far gone unanswered, which is not a good sign. He says even John Judd, who is building the engines, is in the dark.
|Rumor has it that Ed Carpenter is now officially Tony George's son. Should we now call him Ed George?|
And word in the paddock is that Tony George's wife Laura has adopted Tony George Jr. as her son and husband Tony George has adopted Laura's son, driver Ed Carpenter, as his son, now making them all one big happy family. Apparently this quietly transpired this spring without fanfare. Mark Cipolloni reporting from Milwaukee