April 17, 2012 | By Doug Boles
Random, Personal Thoughts From 39,000 Feet
First, the attorney in me says I need to clarify that these comments represent the personal thoughts of me, J. Douglas Boles. These are not comments to be construed as directives from or on behalf of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation. They are just …
Random, Personal Thoughts from 39,000 Feet
I was looking forward to a couple of hours of sleep on my flight home from Los Angeles. But the lady next to me had other plans. When she boarded with a small dog in a carry-on bag, I knew I might be in trouble. Sure enough, the dog decided to whine and bark most of the trip. So instead of sleep, I caught up on emails (thanks to wireless on the plane) and wrote down a few observations about the weekend.
Rahal v. Andretti and other controversy
Graham Rahal took a little verbal jab at Marco Andretti in his conversation with the media following the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. So, what? Thirty years ago, the jab would have been a fist, and it might have ended in a bench-clearing brawl between the respective team members as the adrenaline and testosterone were hitting human rev limiters.
Now I’m not advocating we need fist fights. But, in my opinion, we need more – lots more – personality conflicts and disagreements and plain old rivalries. Fans don’t come to the racetrack to watch drivers hug each other. Fans buy tickets, invest blocks of time, and stand up on their feet because they are passionate about someone or something. And that passion can be channeled as dislike just as easily as it can be adoration.
Bring on some A.J. Foyt versus Mario Andretti-type feuding.
Or better yet, can we rewind to Indy 2008 and just let Danica finish out her pit lane walk to Briscoe’s car? You think the 1979 Daytona 500 Yarborough and Allison altercation was big? Letting “The Walk” become “The Confrontation” – THAT would have been something.
A few of my favorite quotes from the weekend:
Regarding rookie Josef Newgarden – Dario Franchitti, the driver Newgarden was attempting to pass when he ended up in the tire barrier; said Josef’s move was “fairly brave.” Simon Pagenaud, who had a bird’s eye view of the incident from behind said “looks like Dario drove him (Josef) into the wall.”
“What’s Marco’s last name? I’ve said enough.” – Rahal to the media following the race Sunday.
“For those who thought I was not making the corner. You can go sit in one. ?” – Marco Andretti as Tweeted shortly after the race in response to tweets suggesting Marco would never have been able to execute the move he was attempting on Rahal.
“@GrahamRahal What is your problem with me?” – as tweeted by Mario Andretti on Monday, following Rahal’s comments about Marco’s last name.
Long Beach and street circuits
I first attended the Long Beach Grand Prix in 1988. It was eye-opening for a 21 year-old, lifelong racing fan that had only attended USAC Champ Dirt Car races throughout the Midwest, 12 Indy 500s, a couple of Milwaukee 200s, the 12 Hours of Sebring, and a Cleveland Grand Prix or two. It was my first time to personally experience racing in the heart of a city. On a separate and mostly unrelated note, it was also my first close encounter with Robin Miller!
These events – Long Beach, St. Petersburg, Baltimore, and Toronto – are great in-person experiences. There is a vibe at a good street race that can’t be explained – you just have to be there. It just feels as if you are part of something special. Fan of street circuits or not, being in attendance with thousands of other fans enjoying an urban setting coupled with racing is definitely an enjoyable way to enjoy a race. And I think most spectators this past weekend would tell you that they had a great time and they will put it on their calendar for 2013 as a must-attend.
The challenge we have as a sport is converting those thousands of fans that walk through the racing gates of some downtown, temporary street circuit. For many, dare I say most, of the fans I saw this weekend, we need to initiate a mindset shift from what for them is a once-a-year weekend of watching cars, drinking beer and hanging out with friends, into a year-long passion and desire to relive the experience by attending other races, watching the events on television, following drivers on Twitter, etc.
How we do that, is the tougher question. Along with a dozen other options, part of the answer may be playing up the controversies and allowing the drivers’ personalities to shine through as discussed above. Another part may be more targeted follow-up and personal outreach to fans that have attended the races to determine what they liked best and then following up with messaging that reinforces those positive experiences.
What I do know from these street circuits, urban party events is that we have a foundation and an entry point to reach a significant amount of people. We need to continue to develop an on-track product that is entertaining, and we need to deliver the messages and storylines in a manner to cause these spectators to invest their energy beyond their local event.
While we have this mix of street circuits, natural terrain road courses, small and large paved ovals – dare I say we should consider adding ORP, Springfield and the Hoosier Hundred to the championship trail? And, before you say it can’t be done, remember that when I was at Panther Racing, the team ran a USAC Silver Crown car on select pavement races for a couple of years. Can you image, Long Beach one weekend and Springfield the next?
OK, plane is landing … have to shut down. Until next time …