Friday, February 3, 2012

The Sometimes Unseen Measure of Encouragement that IndyCar Now Has Much More Of

A lot has been going on across all of motorsports that is quite encouraging for fans, participants and stakeholders these days. However, a lot of people (especially on the internet) would have you believe everything, especially for IndyCar, is pins and needles; teetering on the tip of doom and success when it couldn’t be more the opposite if you just pay attention to the most important factor for any racing series. The incorrect assumption is a result of putting too much emphasis on symptoms thinking of them as causes, or another metaphor, not seeing the forest through the trees.

This week specifically there were two big things and two seemingly small/unseen/unrecognized things that all went a long way in proving IndyCar is really solidifying this most important yet somewhat invisible measurement, one IndyCar hasn’t held this strongly for quite some time:


Credibility is simply how one is perceived directly as a result of their presentation and resume. Any smart marketer will tell you that the most important thing any product, service or entity needs is credibility, and that the more of it you have, the easier it is to sell, partner or expand. You basically equate credibility to two things: performance and presentation, and right now IndyCar has them growing in spades. How do we know? Let’s look at the 4 events from this week cited above (keeping in mind they are just 4 of many things):

Credibility With Outside Entities: Those fabulous Super Cars and the NFL Media Party have been HUGE. I can’t state this one enough: the NFL has NEVER before this allowed another sports entity to partner NFL logos with their product. The Super Bowl visits a lot of cities and has plenty opportunities to put its logos on other things, I’m sure they get pitched on it all the time. For some reason IndyCar was the first one to get in, and I guarantee you it wasn’t because the NFL got lazy with saying “no.” On top of the Super Cars, the NFL also held its annual Super Bowl media party at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week. Again, something the NFL had total say in, and could have done anywhere, but the reason IndyCar and IMS were asked/allowed to participate is because the NFL trusted IndyCar to perform to the level and standards they needed.

Credibility with Outside Media: All in this week Ellen DeGeneres used IMS as a backdrop to her show, Graham Rahal was on a CBS Super Bowl roundup show, and Marco Andretti was on a fabulously hilarious sketch for Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night show. And this is a full two months away from any kind of racing and on 3 channels that do not have IndyCar races (though NBC obviously connects to NBCSports). That’s 3 A-list networks and two very A-list TV shows that wanted to work with IndyCar.

Credibility Inside Motorsports: I’m not sure if you heard, but a fellow named Rubens Barichello was testing an IndyCar earlier this week. Rubens has 19 years in Formula One, he’s easily the most popular current driver in South America, and he’s not exactly the type of guy who tries out an IndyCar out of boredom or by random happenstance. He could test out cars in any series he wants right now, but because of his best friend Tony Kanaan helping build that credibility up for IndyCar, Rubens is willing to give it a shot. That in itself has a domino effect on fans (at the last count Rubens ad over 1.6 million followers on twitter) because Rubens himself has credibility and brand and standards, people who associate those things with Rubens will associate them to IndyCar by default. That means more people might be willing to check out a race, follow the series or be pressed to learn more about it… and that is the kind of growth IndyCar is looking for, something from outside their normal sandbox.

But while Rubens was the big cannonball splash this week for IndyCar news within the motorsports driver circle, there was a 2nd small thing this week that has mostly been missed that I think may say more volumes about the state of the Series credibility within motorsports.

Dean Stoneman: I will be testing for @FollowAndretti down in Houston for 2 days next week. This is such a great opportunity & I thank all @FollowAndretti

For those who don't know who Stoneman is, he’s a young upcoming British driver, he won Formula 2 in 2010 and afterwards signed to the ISR team in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series to become teammates with Daniel Ricciardo (who is now in F1). Unfortunately before the season began, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. So Stoneman had to take the 2011 season off, but very fortunately he’s beaten the disease, and he’s ready to go racing again. Stoneman’s team in Renault 3.5 held his ride for him in 2012 if he wanted to return, but it now looks Stoneman is going to continue his career with Indy Lights.

Some might say this is nothing new, that European racers always come over when their money or opportunity runs out over there (and they would be right to a certain degree because it has happened before). But Stoneman is not a mid/back-pack journeyman racer; in his last 4 years of racing between Renault 2.0 and F2 his championship finishes have been 1st, 4th, 4th and 2nd with 13 poles won and 15 race wins. I’m not saying he’s guaranteed to set the world on fire, but as far as scouting goes, he's near being a slouch.

Personally I think he would be a huge steal for Andretti Autosport to land, but more importantly as the Series, it just shows that magic measurement of credibility that more and more drivers are looking at IndyCar as a wanted career path.

But before you start writing me angry comments, let’s be clear, 4 small little things do not a great credibility make. But a credibility resume takes into account everything, and those 4 things both big and small just got  added to it. It’s not just when good or bad things happen singularly, it’s also how things are reacted to and learned from and how they all look together. While internet trolls would like to point out the few things that have gone wrong and pretend they are the only things that happened, they refuse to acknowledge the numerous things gone right and the things the Series is encouragingly showing it has learned from what went wrong.

We know that things are going right, we know the credibility is looking good these days, because without it, none of the above 4 things happen, because those 4 things above happened after someone evaluated the overall accumulation of credibility that many people remain unaware of… the forest through the trees.


DZ said...

couldn't agree more on all points!

Thanks for reminding us all of how the seemingly smaller bits can actually be big bits!

Vive le Indycar!

Pat W said...

Well said. There's been a shift in the attitude of the series and the reaction to it outside the usual IndyCar circles. It may not be noticeable day to day, week to week, but seriously try going back and watching a race from 2010 / early 2011 or remember back to the news / blogs from the time: If there was something that could be done wrong, IndyCar was supposedly doing it... only in some cases that was actually true. And of course in some respects it ran on into mid-2011 with the race stewarding.

You could sense things had changed in the lead up to Las Vegas. Suddenly IndyCar had become confident. It still is, and that's a crucial factor following Wheldon's accident, it could easily have fired Bernard and slipped into its shell again. I think it fantastic that there's an increased level of confidence and credibility. I think a change of CEO helped. I think a new car helped. I think engine competition helped. I agree the mere fact Rubens even showed up, helped.

Stoneman is pretty good, F2 is not a category awash with talent but he and Palmer wiped the floor with the rest of them. And you can't argue with a guy who beats cancer.
Personally in a choice between 3.5 and Lights I'd still pick 3.5, at least until Lights gets a new car, especially if my 3.5 team had held my seat open. I was never clear whether he was still expected to bring a budget to 3.5, that could be the sticking factor, he's never had the money which is the whole reason he was in F2 in the first place. You only do F2 because it's cheap.

Mike said...

Love the Jimmy Fallon video!

The Speedgeek said...

That Fallon bit is transcendent comedy.

Quite right all around, Allen. Pat's right, too. From the way some people talk, things have never been darker for IndyCar, for whatever reason. I'd like to show those people the following:

Exhibit A: 2009. All races but one won by two biggest teams. Nobody else (except for Justin Wilson) was even close. Most teams struggling financially. The Ghost Of Mika Duno hanging around.

Exhibit B: 2007. A divided house and a completely unclear picture of what American Open Wheel Racing even is. Both sides with car counts hovering near 20. ChampCar laden with guys who could charitably be labeled as "never weres" (a couple of whom I'd never even heard of before they landed in ChampCar, which is no mean feat). Most teams struggling financially, on both sides.

Exhibits C through H: basically every other year between 2001 and 2006. I'd elaborate every one, but I'm headed out the door to Mike's Super Bowl party here in like 10 minutes.

Now, I'm supposed to think that 2012 is WORSE? When there is ample evidence that things are headed back in the right direction? Right.