A Local Problem on a National Level

Posted in IndyCar on June 7, 2023 by Oilpressure

For the first time since 2016, an American driver has won the Indianapolis 500. This is not a post about Xenophobia. Instead it is an observation of some much needed work to be done.

In the past several years, we have seen how other countries have gone crazy over one of their drivers winning the Indianapolis 500. Last year, we say a mob of people outside in Sweden, as Marcus Ericsson took the stage with the Borg-Warner trophy. Japan flipped out in 2017, when Takuma Sato won the race – just a mere twenty-six years after Hiro Matsushita became the first Japanese driver to ever drive in the race. Three years later, Sato won the race for a second time.

It was the same for Will Power in Australia in 2018, and Simon Pagenaud in France in 2019. Brazil has had many racing champions, so they may not have gone as crazy when Helio Castroneves won his fourth in 2021 – but he is still considered a major celebrity in his home country.

It’s not the same for the American drivers. Nowadays, they tend to dwell in anonymity. In the summer of 2021, Susan and I attended the SRX race at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway – a very public event filled with mostly racing fans. We ran into Josef Newgarden, who was there with what looked like a high school buddy of his. Granted, he was not wearing any Team Penske or IndyCar apparel. He was just dressed in jeans and a T-shirt – with no cap or sunglasses to hide his identity. He was sitting in the stands like the rest of us. He was very recognizable to us, but apparently no one else.

In a sense, Newgarden is fortunate that he can attend a racing venue in his hometown and have no one recognize him. He was already a two-time IndyCar champion then, but he was free to wander about as an everyday fan. What is probably a blessing for Newgarden, is a curse for IndyCar. How do they market their biggest stars to the average sports fan?

We arrived back home from the Indianapolis 500 last Monday evening around 6:00 pm. Monday was the holiday, so it was Tuesday when everyone returned to work. Monday holidays on local sports talk radio always bring national programming instead of the local shows. I made sure my regular sports talk radio was on before I got in the shower at 6:00 am on Tuesday. I wanted to hear what the local folks said about our hometown boy winning the biggest race in the world.

To my amazement, there was nothing. They led off the morning with catching up with what each other did over the holiday, then they went into their usual Titans talk. From the time I got in the shower, until I walked in the door at work at 8:00 am; I listened to this station. Not a single word was mentioned about our new local hero. During the update at the top of each hour, there was a mention that Ryan Blaney had won the postponed Coca-Cola 600 – but that was all the racing they talked about. When I wrote the station to complain the next day; they explained that Josef appeared by phone on another show later in the day.

I get it that Newgarden could not be on every show; but is it not news that a local guy that was born here and still lives here, had just won the world’s largest single day sporting event? I would have much rather the morning show lead off with a story about Newgarden, instead of a recap of the hosts grilling escapades the day before.

This shouldn’t surprise me. Dario Franchitti lived in the Nashville area for every one of his three Indianapolis 500 wins. His Indianapolis wins and his championships got nary a mention on the Nashville airwaves. Locally, Dario was known mostly as Ashley Judd’s husband. Fortunately for him, he was able to shake that title about the same time his driving career was brought to an abrupt halt in the fall of 2013. He now has a beautiful wife, who is sane and two children – something he was denied by Ms. Judd, but I digress…

Not all of our recent American champions have embraced the limelight. While he recognizes the importance of fans, I think Alexander Rossi would be happy if he never signed another autograph or posed for another selfie in his life. I think the same could be said for Ryan Hunter-Reay, Sam Hornish and Buddy Rice. Those drivers and Newgarden make up the US contingent of Indianapolis 500 winners this century.

While I think Newgarden is essentially a private person, he is very media savvy and he knows just how important it is to be an ambassador of our sport. Newgarden’s anonymity in his hometown is not his fault, nor is it the local media’s fault. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure if it is IndyCar’s fault. But it is IndyCar’s job to drive the machine that makes Josef Newgarden a household name, as much as possible.

It’s not the local media’s job to follow Newgarden. I’ll bet there are some prominent local media folks here that have their collective noses buried so deep in the Titans, Vols and Predators – they probably have no idea that a prominent IndyCar driver lives here. They’ve heard of the Indianapolis 500, but pay about as much attention to it as they do The Preakness. It’s nothing more than a distraction from the NBA Playoffs and the NHL Playoffs.

I think the IndyCar and IMS Communications Department do a phenomenal job with what they have. But they are way understaffed and under budgeted. They get more out of every dollar than Dale Coyne does with his race team. It was that way when the Hulman-George family owned the track and the series. I was hoping Penske Entertainment would really beef things up, but they haven’t – not staff wise, anyway. I have no idea what the budget looks like compared to 2019, but I’ll bet it hasn’t grown much. It is their job to get Newgarden and his name front-and-center. I’m not sure how much bang for the buck they get having the winning driver ring the bell of the New York Stock Exchange. What would be better? I haven’t a clue, but that’s where the PR professionals come in.

A PR professional needs to know something about racing, just like those pushing Joe Burrow and Patrick Mahomes usually know something about football. Our sport is not plug-and-play, where it is interchangeable with football or baseball. Racing is different and requires a little education before it is appreciated.

I really thought the late Robin Miller was under-utilized. He obviously knew racing, but he also knew the nuances of other sports. Miller understood how different sports compared, and didn’t compare, to racing. He had an uncanny knack for simplifying our sport and made it relatable to the common sports fan.

It’s a big problem and one that I have no answers for. I’m not sure anyone else does either. But if there is one driver’s personality that can become that national household name – it is Josef Newgarden’s. If only people in his hometown knew who he was.

George Phillips

Random Thoughts on Detroit

Posted in IndyCar on June 5, 2023 by Oilpressure

I will admit, I went into this weekend wanting to be kind to the new downtown circuit. I had my reservations over the layout, but I had been so unkind to the Belle Isle circuit over the years – I was cautious about coming across as a hater of the Motor City.

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Detroit Preview

Posted in IndyCar on June 2, 2023 by Oilpressure

One rule that’s always been wise to live by is to be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. Such may end up being the case for this weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear.

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One Last Look at the Month of May

Posted in Indianapolis 500 on May 31, 2023 by Oilpressure

Before the calendar turns to June, I’d like to take one last look at the Month of May. I had planned for this to be just a few more photos from the month; but I do feel the need to address something that has popped up since Josef Newgarden took the checkered flag Sunday.

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Random Thoughts on the Indianapolis 500

Posted in Indianapolis 500 on May 29, 2023 by Oilpressure

Sometimes history dims some memories of an Indianapolis 500. I attended the 2010 Indianapolis 500, but if you were to ask me about what all happened – about the only two thing I could tell you about it is that Dario Franchitti won, and Mike Conway crashed into the catch fence in the north end near the end of the race. Other than that, it’s just a blur. The 107th Indianapolis 500 does not fit that category. Whether you agreed with the three red flags in the last fifteen laps or not – those last fifteen laps were unforgettable, and we will be talking about them for a long time.

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A Wild Finish in the Indianapolis 500

Posted in Indianapolis 500 on May 28, 2023 by Oilpressure

The 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 is now in the books, but not without some controversy. While I’m thrilled that Nashville’s Josef Newgarden finally won the Indianapolis 500 in his twelfth try – I’m not exactly crazy about how it unfolded.

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It’s 500 Race Day at Indianapolis!

Posted in Indianapolis 500 on May 28, 2023 by Oilpressure

Good morning from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Welcome to a still-darkened track that is already buzzing as it comes to life this morning. Once again, we reached my goal of being inside the gates of the track before the opening bomb went off. We pulled into our parking space at 5:31 am, and were ensconced in the Media Center by 5:44. It will be a long day, and when the sun begins to set – we will be worn out but very satisfied.

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