Brainstorming: Capturing The Next Generation

By Paul Henry

This latest installment of the “Brainstorming” series comes from the IndyCar blogger Paul Henry, otherwise known as GForcePaul. Paul Started his blog, “WideOpenWheel”, in 2011. Paul contacted me with a topic that may the most important task facing the Verizon IndyCar Series. How to attract the next generation of fans is crucial to the future of our sport. Please chime in with your own ideas and thoughts after reading Paul’s post. Thanks to Paul for the hard work on his contribution. – GP

My first exposure to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was as an eighth grader, spending some quality time with my father on an all-day field trip. We drove from northern Indiana down to Indianapolis and the speedway that day to experience qualifications. Little did I know that seeing the wedge shaped, brilliant hot red STP turbine cars would become my version of crack. All I knew was that afterward, I had ringing ears from the screaming Novis¹, tingling fingers from gripping my seat and the aroma of high speed rated industrial lubricants swirling through my nasal passages. In short, for some reason I did not want the day to end.

Fast forward 30 years, if you will. I am pulling my 6 year old son around the speedway in his red Radio Flyer. Strolling through the newly relocated snake pit in turn 4, I realize that in a few more years the gentrification of all snake pit activities at IMS will be in full swing. One would think that my son, who now is in the sweet spot of that all-important marketing demographic, would be a bigger motor head than I. Not close, folks; not even close.

What makes up the difference between the current crop of open wheel racing fan and the ones that roamed the hallowed grounds of 16th and Georgetown back in the 70’s and 80’s? Geese, there must be a gazillion differences! Kids today (read; new millennial marketing demographic) have very little interest in anything automotive. To my point, Uber makes far more sense than car payments, insurance and ad valorem taxes. Just ask any millennial which they would prefer and be prepared to be shocked. Frankly, I am just stating the facts here. For a brief, technical info graphic on the topic of New Millennials, hit this link that is brought to you by Goldman Sachs. It is a great summary and comes off as Millennials 101.

So here is the crux of the problem; how to involve, engage and ensnare the next generation of IndyCar fans? How does one go about harvesting all that soon to be disposable cash that the largest, single generation since we baby boomers, will supposedly have? Well….I certainly have a few ideas! Let’s start with the presumption that we are not just selling the race. We are going to MARKET to this generation that couldn’t care less about cars and motor sport, and we are going to be very successful in doing so.

The Vegas Effect: Las Vegas offers and sells one thing and one thing only; games of chance. I do not care if the gambling hall (casino) is red, purple or black; nor do I care if they are an oval casino, an urban located casino or a natural terrain casino. All a casino is offering is games of chance. In fact, the only thing Vegas really has to offer is a game of chance. Get my point? Each casino has as its manifest, the goal of separating you from your cash, because, as we all know, the only thing that stays in Vegas …..drum roll please….is YOUR MONEY.

So how do they succeed? I don’t recall much in the news lately informing me that Vegas seems to be running out of visitors. So how did they differentiate and separate from one another? As an example, the older casino, Circus Circus, pandered to people with children. An encompassing circus theme, complete with actual circus acts running 24/7 made it easier for both mommy and daddy to try their hand at games of chance, all the while making it a “family” vacation. I believe they call that marketing.

Vegas also was very successful in playing the E card; big name entertainment galore. These acts do not have their access fee rolled up into one big casino visit price tag. They are add on value to the cost of the room, which of course, is located pretty near the gaming tables. Say you get hungry while happily being parted from your money. How about we open a buffet line? Why not locate that buffet line in close proximity to the gaming tables? Yeah, let’s do that as it makes pretty good sense.

So now we have a city that offers only one true product, wrapped within several other products that contribute to the differentiation of one gaming house from the next one. As Charlie Sheen used to mumble: WINNING!

The Speedway Effect: I want to go and see a race but my spouse and son couldn’t care less. But I DO know that my spouse is hell-bent on seeing a good DJ or nationally famous band and dancing the afternoon away. How about we set up a KILLER mosh pit with more than just one internationally famous DJ? Smoke, fire and a BIG show? Heck yeah! Park that puppy smack in the middle of the short shoot, just behind the (insert your favorite light beer brand here) Party Deck. Now, I admit that this is not a new idea. I just want to take a more aggressive approach with the musical act and the possibilities because as I have learned, these Millennials are not coming to the speedway just for the cars.

My son is pretty geeked about virtual reality. I have discovered that Millennials tend to shun reality anyway! That being the case, consider fulfilling one of his wants. He wants to try his hand at competing with the cars on the track and the drivers IN REAL TIME. After all, life is one big virtual reality to the Millennials anyway. I will bet you lunch every Monday for a year that Verizon could “hook him up” with the technology in a tent somewhere on the premises, for a value added on fee of course!

I have a friend that is interested in cars but not all that much in watching them go around in circles all day. I do know he and his spouse are back to nature types that love being outdoors and camping. His wife is not all that rustic a camper (actually her idea of the wilderness is a paved parking lot without any lines painted on it yet). However, they are intrigued with Glamping, but without all that glam. Stick them on the golf course, out of sight of the glamorous campers, but do not deny them the experience. Don’t relegate them to the Coke lot with all the crazies! They have cash to spend so…..

Everybody I come into contact with that discovers I have, in a previous life, been involved in the television production of motorsport mistakenly believe that that must have been a glamorous activity. To a man and woman, they are smitten with the idea of behind the scenes access. This is the last commodity that has not really been exploited with the exception of the Bronze Badge program. I can take that one step further and for no more capital outlay, you grant access to true behind the scenes locations. Why not open a viewing window next to Race Control so the masses can see the decision makers hard at work? I would consider going even further. Open the side of one of the television broadcast control trailers in the TV compound and include that on the tour called “Behind the Scenes at Indy”. Send folks up the pagoda to enjoy the magnificent view next to the team spotters. Then, enter a chance to win and be present at Victory Lane at the end of the race. Exploit, Exploit, EXPLOIT!

Since the Millennials are bane to drive, let alone own an automobile, how would they even get to the track? Not to answer a question with a question but; how come there are not any Uber or Lyft lines and designated drop off points? Stage them in the north lot since the number of cars coming to the speedway should, in theory at least, be diminishing over time. Refer back to the infographic if this point seems fuzzy.

The Food Effect: Last but not least, I like food. I mean, I really, REALLY like food. Keep your current line-up of tenderloin fry houses sprinkled about the hallowed grounds. Give up on the caterer brought in to give Jugs a run for their money, charging out-of-sight prices for a very average tenderloin. I WANT TO SEE A BUFFET LINE, centrally located and opened from sun-up to sun-down. Make the hungry masses come to you and just keep changing out the hotel pans on the hot line. I would venture an uneducated guess that Jonathan Byrd and family would like a piece of that action. I would just advise a menu slated towards the highbrow Millennial taste buds.

I would like to end this tirade of mine with a question to the other tracks and events out there. Why did it take the promotional arm of the Andretti organization several years to put a beer garden inside of the fairgrounds facility in Milwaukee during race weekend? Do you think it was well received this year? Do you think any of these ideas have validity? I certainly do. So hey Mr. Miles, got a minute? I have an idea…..


In consultation with an acquaintance of mine it was discovered that there were not any Novi’s at Indy in 1968. Specifically, he wrote the following when being given an opportunity to review my draft. Chuck Walden wrote:

A technical point that I must point out as I’m sure some of your readers will know this: there were no Novis at the track in 1968. The last Novi to lap the hallowed course did so in 1966 with Greg Weld at the wheel. When he hit the wall on the final day of ‘66 quals, Andy Granatelli was already planning/building the first turbine which appeared in 1967 and he reluctantly moth-balled the Novi. However, there were a variety of engines in 1968 to make your ears ring: Turbocharged Offenhausers, Turbocharged Fords, Normally aspirated racing Fords and Offys, Stock block Fords, Repco powered Brabhams, and I think there may have been a stock block Chevy or two on the entry list as well. And of course, Granatelli had his turbines and the Shelby turbines were there as well (at least briefly.) 1968 was one of the most varied entry lists in the history of IMS in terms of equipment. Unfortunately, just no Novis.

8 Responses to “Brainstorming: Capturing The Next Generation”

  1. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    I love all your suggestions actually, but still am at a loss for the answer to ‘why?’ millenials would choose this event to attend if they’re not really at all interested in seeing ‘cars go around and around’.

    I do think there’s great value to all fans in having more than just a race to watch because, as we know, that demo is shrinking.

    The only other option I see in engaging the future crowds is to have a racing product that includes inspiring/compelling and tech-forward cars that engages the mind of the viewer with ‘futuretech’ of vehicles (think RedBull X1 as a starting point).

    May be a chicken or egg thing, but are “cars racing” not interesting/compelling to millenials because they are bland and uninspiring, or are they uninspiring because the product is bland?

  2. I don’t think we can paint all millennials with the same brush. I have three teenagers and two of them really enjoy auto racing. My son can’t wait to buy his first car.

    I think there are common sense things you can do. If you have to go to the extent of doing something completely different from the race to try to attract fans, I think you have already lost the battle.

    You have a number of great suggestions where they are related to the race. Virtual racing, access to behind the scenes locations, etc. Also the food and beer gardens. I believe having rock concerts or something similar in conjunction with a race is self defeating in the end.

    Things you can do to make it easy to enjoy a race should always be considered. But it should be race focused. But Indycar needs to start with a consistent product, meaning a fairly stable schedule every year, both with locale and dates.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    I am on the older edge of this generation, but I feel somewhat useless on this topic. I do not feel that my personal perspective offers much value, because I was a racing fan from a very young age (I received a life-size cardboard Al Unser Jr. for Christmas one year) and am now decades removed from being a new fan of the sport.

    I think it is worth noting is that the great motorsports/NASCAR boom of the 1990s was driven by Baby Boomers coming into middle age, not Generation X entering adulthood. Whether that had much to do with the generation’s age versus a possibly pre-existing interest in cars and the era’s excellent economic climate, I do not know, but I want to point out that racing has added many fans who were well into adulthood in years past. Obviously, it is more ideal to attract fans as young as possible, but all hope is not lost if you do not.

    That said, I do think any ideas that add value to a race attendee (such as those posted) are worth considering, even if they are not racing-focused. That is appealing to all generations. My generation is remarkably diverse, so categorizing them as a whole is a dangerous exercise, but there are definitely things that appeal to large niches that can be incorporated into a race weekend, many of which you suggest. This is all in the name of adding value, though, not creating it. The racing must remain the biggest driver of attendance on the ticket, otherwise, it is a replaceable part of an event weekend. If I knew how to ensure that, I’d be getting paid for typing this.

    And finally, though I do not fault you for using it since it is becoming a standard, I hate the word “millennial”. Hate it. A lot.

  4. Ron Ford Says:

    I agree with everything Bob F. has written above, so I do not have much to add. In any case, at the age of 75 I would not presume to know what appeals to millenials, boomers, late bloomers, etc.

    Mostly I think that to interest potential fans in racing of any type you need to get them to a track for a live experience; particularly teens and pre-teens. And get them into the paddock/pit area. For most families, providing that experience needs to be affordable. That means that there needs to be an IndyCar race close enough for them to attend. IndyCar is sorely lacking in that respect in most areas of the USA.

    There should be good food and drink with some of it unique to that event, such as pork chops on a stick, brats, etc. There should be enough things to keep young kids entertained until the race starts. There needs to be shade.

    The race itself needs to be an all out assault on the senses: Breathtakeing speed, squealing tires and the smell of burning rubber, danger, and the cars should be grumpy, snarling, loud, hard-to-control beasts. The first things that Paul writes about here is the total visceral experience. I believe that is what got Paul and many of us hooked for life. If a so-called millenial or whoever experiences that and then has no continued interest, then no amount of concerts or un-related race stuff will get them back.

    I think the idea of virtual reality whereby someone can race against drivers in real time is interesting. But if and when that becomes available, I think most people would do it from the comfort of their own home rather than in some tent at the track For TV viewers, in-car footage is compelling and there should be more of that. When there is good side-by-side racing going on, anywhere in the field, switch to that. Rather than have Diffey tell us how exciting that is, show us.

    I believe that IndyCar could gain fans of all ages by connecting to fans of local short tracks. I think it was wonderful that Gabby Chaves raced at the Indianapolis Speedrome last Saturday night. He was well received, raced well, and had fun. Fans were gained I think. Hopefully there will be some more IndyCar drivers at the Chili Bowl in additon to Gabby and Sarah Fisher.

    Finally, I think that to attract fans to a race more than just once, there needs to be race date continuity and the traditions that come with that.

    Well, despite my promise above I have rambled on almost as long as Bret Favre’s Packer Hall of Fame speech. Sorry about that. Trying to avoid work I suppose.

  5. What I can’t figure out is how a collective demographic of a particular age dictated simply by a birthdate, can all simultaneously be void of any attraction or interest in ethanol powered wonders piloted (mostly) by exceptionally talented individuals. Visually stunning, shiny vehicles that propel and adhere to the earth and seem to utterly defy physics, provide an indelible smell, and an all out assault on the auditory senses of any human being. A sound, better than any form of transportation imagined on any city street, country road, highway, or interstate. To me, all of the above transcends generational age groups. There has to be an interest of this flavor to younger people, termed by those that feel there is a need, as “millennial” (a term I also despise).

    Then, to add good food and beer and a cute date to this experience, well that should knock the proverbial ball right out of the park. What we have here is a sure thing but I am also “generation Xer” and if we are going to put people into neat little categories based solely on when they were born then maybe we should start to unearth a vocabulary, assemble ideas, and open dialogue with this group, so they can relate, identify with, and provide input on how to capture attention from their generation. Why do we all have to be compartmentalized into a age group?

    • Ron Ford Says:

      The descriptions in your first paragraph are-say it with me now-awesome! To the best of my knowledge, my generation are simply the codgers and codgerettes.

  6. I think I could make the case that the idea of personal competition is being slowly erased in our children by the Politically Correct police in our “schools.” Racing, whether in cars, motorcycles, boats, planes, on a bicycle or on foot, is THE most physically competitive thing a person can do, and being physically and personally competitive is slowly being bred-out of our kids because winning is not “fair,” it’s no harder to understand than that. For the past 30 years or more kids have been schooled to believe there are no “winners” or “losers” in life and if you think there are there is something really wrong with you and you need drugs to calm you down and change your tune. It’s a major problem in this country today and it affects this country in many negative ways, so it’s no wonder to me why kids don’t understand or care about auto racing.

    By the way, I taught high school for a time in two completely different states, so I have plenty of observances to back up my opinion up on this score….

  7. john of sparta Says:

    since you asked, capture the NEXT generation by:

    1. copying what the successful sports do.
    2. USA-Born drivers. otherwise, IndyCar is soccer.
    3. if BOTH of those are not done, #3 doesn’t matter.

    so, how to accomplish #1?
    on the track: super-obvious car I.D. from a distance.
    on TV: 99% on the driver…not the car/team/sponsor.
    track: PROMINENT USA designations. like rookie NASCAR paint.
    TV: up-close-and-personal USA driver info. over and over and over.
    only after 1 and 2 are completed and successful.

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