IndyCar’s problem is marketing

When it comes to pure racing, no national series in America can compete with your local dirt track. That is a fact.

After that, though, when discussing the national series that you watch on national television every week, there probably isn’t anything better right now than the product that the IZOD IndyCar Series delivers.

Despite James Hinchcliffe “walking the dog" in Sunday’s Iowa Corn Indy 250, fans in attendance saw side-by-side action all afternoon long — much more than they did during the NASCAR Nationwide Series’ trip to Newton earlier this month.

James Hinchcliffe won Sunday's race at Iowa Speedway.

James Hinchcliffe won Sunday’s race at Iowa Speedway.

Take a couple of arrogant moves (my biggest pet peeve in racing) by lapped cars out of the equation and we all likely would have seen a three-car dash for the checkers, with Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay taking “Hinch" down to the wire.

Even non-IndyCar race fans usually agree that the racing within this series is phenomenal. Even so, Sunday’s race drew a 0.7 television rating. For those of you reading who aren’t in the industry, I’ll make things simple for you. That is really bad.

Now in all fairness, ESPN/ABC did choose to put the event head-to-head with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Sonoma on Sunday. That was a curious decision that likely had a lot to do with the abysmal rating but even so, you don’t have to be a diehard “racing guy" to notice something is missing when it comes to IndyCar.

An example: Go to a NASCAR race and the chances of you seeing some guy rocking a Helio Castroneves shirt are slim to none (and even that is being optimistic). However, if you attended Sunday’s Iowa Corn Indy 250, how many Dale Jr. and Jeff Gordon shirts did you see in the stands?

Hundreds, if not thousands.

So if the racing is as good as I claim it is, what is IndyCar’s problem exactly?

Well for starters, IndyCar has one obvious hurdle that it will never be able to overcome. Americans drive cars that look like the ones you watch on Sunday’s in NASCAR.

“Win on Sunday, sell on Monday."

Unfortunately, I’ve never heard of a car dealership that sells IndyCars (though that would be awesome).

It all comes down to marketing, and IndyCar has gotten better at this over the years. Long gone are the days of the embarrassing “I Am Indy" campaign, and the series is visibly trying to get its charismatic drivers (James Hinchcliffe is a great example) in the spotlight. That is a good thing.

You’ve seen their faces and maybe (a strong maybe, I might add) you know the sponsors on their cars (some are extremely hard to see), but what do you really know about the drivers not named “Castroneves" (Dancing with the Stars champion) and “Franchitti" (because he was in NASCAR for a while and was married to Ashley Judd) in the IndyCar Series?

Marco Andretti is Michael’s son. OK. What else?

Scott Dixon is a two-time IndyCar Series champion, but I’m willing to bet that the casual American race fan knows little to nothing about this man. Do you even know what he looks like?

Ryan Hunter-Reay should be a household name in this country. Last year, he became the first American to win an IndyCar Series title since Sam Hornish Jr. back in 2006.

To the casual fan, the fan that IndyCar desperately needs to win over, it is more like, “Ryan Hunter-Who?"

When it comes to NASCAR though, most folks can tell you that Clint Bowyer is a hunter, Brad Keselowski is the young, mouthy champion and Tony Stewart will race anything that has an engine. The Busch Brothers are aggressive and obnoxious (I’d add entertaining), Jimmie Johnson is a legend who rarely says anything interesting and Carl Edwards constantly smiles and does a back flip when he wins.

These drivers are all like characters in a movie. They are real people with emotions who laugh, cry and maybe most importantly, fight. They are onions. The more layers that a marketing department can peel off of these guys (and gals), the more willing the racing community will be to watch again and again because of that personal connection. Really, that is more important than the racing itself.

IndyCar produces better racing than any series in NASCAR, but the casual race fan knows little to nothing about its drivers. That is the problem and has been for close to a decade.

White …

Regarding IndyCar heat races at the Iowa Speedway: Should they stay or should they go?

After attending Saturday night’s show, I walked away giving this two-year experiment two thumbs up.

While walking into Iowa Speedway on Saturday evening, my expectations could not have been lower. Heat races and IndyCar don’t exactly go hand-in-hand. I just didn’t see how these drivers would push it at all without money being on the line.

I was wrong.

Heat No. 1 was a dud, but in round two, Graham Rahal went from seventh to first to take the checkered flag. Heat No. 3 was a star-studded field that raced side-by-side for the duration of the 50-lap event.

IndyCar needs to keep this format strictly to keep people interested in the Saturday night show in Newton. Only eight cars participated in the Indy Lights event (for comparison’s sake, 22 started this race back in 2008). That is embarrassing. It is hard to even justify charging people actual money to watch that. Had it not been for the IndyCar heat races, the night would have been a bust. Because of the three very entertaining qualifiers, it absolutely was not.

Keep the heat races. That idea is a winner that works. Des Moines Register

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