Why is IndyCar Dragging Their Feet?

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Over the weekend, I was reading through the Racer Mailbag, and I was perplexed by what Marshall Pruett said about IndyCar’s reluctance to pursue a show like the ultra-successful “Drive to Survive” series on Netflix. In case you’re unfamiliar with the show; “Drive to Survive” is a docuseries that goes behind the scenes of Formula One. Not only does it have fantastic racing footage, but it gives viewers insights into the lives of the drivers, owners and team principals. Most importantly, the show has been given unparalleled access to the politics and cutthroat business practices that have been a part of the sport for years.

I was a latecomer to the series. I had heard about it for sometime and we finally binge-watched the series last offseason, about a month before Season Three dropped in March. I once followed Formula One almost as close as I followed IndyCar. Somewhere between 2000 and 2010, my interest waned and I lost track of the sport. Oddly enough, that was when F1 raced at IMS – when I should have been most interested. I took my kids to F1 qualifying at IMS in September of 2002, and that was about the extent of my interest in the USGP in those years.

By 2010, I barely knew the names of any of the drivers and I was no longer tuning in to watch on early Sunday mornings. I can’t pinpoint what made my interest decline or when it did, but by 2010 – I was not even a casual fan.

Watching “Drive to Survive” reignited my passion for Formula One. Based on the US TV ratings, I’m not the only one that has experienced a resurgence in an interest in the sport. Has it replaced my interest in IndyCar? Not by a long shot, but I will say that I have followed F1 much more closely in 2021 than I have NASCAR.

If you saw the record crowd that showed up for the Formula One race at COTA a couple of weeks ago, you saw the Circuit of the Americas bulging at the seams to contain the fans. It barely even looked like the place that was near-empty when IndyCar raced there in 2019.

The crowd at COTA, the boost in TV ratings and the overall surging popularity of Formula One in the US can be traced back to one thing – “Drive to Survive”.

According to Pruett, IndyCar has been badgered by fans, drivers, team owners and sponsors to come up with a similar series to highlight the NTT IndyCar Series. If it can revive interest in the US for Formula One, surely it could get close to replicating those results for IndyCar. Yet IndyCar officials have been sitting on their hands.

Publicly, we’ve heard Penske Entertainment President and CEO Mark Miles say all the right things, that they are currently looking into doing something similar – but we’ve seen nothing even in the works. We just hear talk.

Pruett cited IndyCar’s current marketing slogan, Defy Everything, as the most recent example of lameness when it comes to marketing the series. I don’t even know what that means, but in the real word – I tend to shy away from people that defy everything. They tend to be angry a lot, and are not a whole lot of fun to be around. Defy Everything is only the latest in a long line of marketing failures from the same folks that brought us I am Indy.

Quite honestly, I don’t think anyone would care if an IndyCar docuseries came off as a direct copy of “Drive to Survive”. Television has always been a copy-cat industry. Sometimes the knock-offs turn out better than the original. When I was a kid, My Favorite Martian was the first show to feature someone with magical powers, being hidden in suburban America. That show spawned knock-offs like Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie, which both turned out to be more popular than the original. Fans knew they were direct rip-offs of My Favorite Martian and they didn’t care. There’s your 60s TV sitcom bit of trivia for the day.

Why has IndyCar been so hesitant to take the plunge, if so many of their participants are clamoring for it? Are they looking for just the right vehicle for such a project? Are they hesitant to give access, so that fans get a better glimpse behind the curtain? Is there no interest from anyone like Netflix, Amazon or Hulu in producing such a show? What about Peacock? They’ve already got the NBC tie-in. Surely they could come up with something that would actually promote the series they are already carrying on their broadcast network.

Since I first binge-watched “Drive to Survive” less than a year ago, I’ve been wondering why IndyCar was dragging their feet on producing something similar. I figured there must be something going on behind the scenes or there was a strong reason for the hesitation. I assumed I was just missing something.

Marshall Pruett is about as much of an IndyCar insider as there is these days. If he is perplexed as to why IndyCar is so reluctant to embrace something that has been as wildly successful for Formula One in the US; then there doesn’t seem to be a good reason.

Mark Miles is a smart man. So is Roger Penske. I keep thinking that surely these two visionaries have something cooking on this, but according to The Mailbag – that does not appear to be the case. My question is…why?

George Phillips

11 Responses to “Why is IndyCar Dragging Their Feet?”

  1. Matthew Lawrenson Says:

    I can only assume that as IndyCar is far more sponsor-dependent than F1, they’re worried that some of the more…interesting personalities in the IndyCar paddock might say something stupid on this putative show that will annoy someone who’s ponying up the dollars to pay for stuff. Even in NASCAR, despite a season of almost unmitigated success, Kyle Larson’s car is solely displaying the logos of his team boss’s companies.

    Of course, Penske Entertainment could be completely ruthless with the editing of said show and cut out anything that could possibly be controversial. But what kind of show would it be left with, and would it be worth watching?

  2. Good question, George. I think some larger teams are hesitant to allow the type of access that Drive to Survive has. I hear NASCAR is looking into a similar project. Indycar needs to have their show out first .

  3. James T Suel Says:

    You pose a great question! It seems to me that this lack of marketing knowledge has been a factor in Indycar since the USAC days.Just like the Indianapolis 500, they never had to do anything and the place was sold-out every year. But that does not happen in today’s world. I also think Penske and Miles are two smart guys, hopefully they wake up and kick their marketing group into gear!!

  4. Um … cubic dollars?
    I’ll bet Drive to Survive cost a small fortune to produce.

  5. When did the marketing slogan “defy everything” appear? Until reading the new mailbag last week I had not even heard of it. I have no idea what it means. These slogans are an embarrassment to IndyCar. They are better off with no slogans compared to what they are coming up with. Who is thinking up this stuff anyway? This leads to the bigger question about IndyCar’s marketing inferiority in motorsports. I know it stems from a lack of money but I was hoping this lack of insight that has plagued the series for so long would turn around with Penske Entertainment in control.

    • billytheskink Says:

      The “Defy Everything” slogan first appeared at the start of this season, and was probably used most prominently in Facebook and other social media ads though it also appeared in the series TV commercials. It’s pretty corny, but no less so than most slogans, and very much doubt it was a detriment to Indycar in any way (an asset? also probably not).

      Formula 1’s slogan just a couple of years ago was “Engineered Insanity”, and this is the series we’re talking about emulating in this very post… Sports slogans are a real challenge to come up with, I imagine. They cannot usually be flippant or silly because sports organizations (especially in a sport like auto racing) generally demand to be taken seriously, but a slogan that veers too far in the other direction risks sounding self-serious or pandering.

  6. Nat Krieger Says:

    This is one area where had Randy Bernard not been fired we would have been more ahead of the curve. Not to take anything away from RP
    And Mark Miles but this is the kind of areas where Bernard would have excelled.. wasn’t on his watch that IndyCar opened an office in LA for this kind of purpose? An office that was closed after Bernard was fired/resigned.. Roger Penske is a brilliant businessman but Bernard was a showman am
    Understood the entertainment angle better

  7. Going to be annoying and put thoughts in point form from an Indycar fan with a wife who got into DTS but won’t watch a race of either:

    -Saying this with love, Indycar lacks the “glamour” factor aside from the 500, Laguna Seca, and maybe Long Beach. The Monaco episode in 4k at the start was just stunning. Even the 500…some nice shots of the speeedway and the crowd, but zoom in on folks eating tenderloins?

    -Indycar fans can already get pretty amazing access that would cost four figures to an F1 fan at a grand prix, even to the point of accidentally walking into Penske’s whole paddock setup…(cough). I can go to a race and watch RLL fix a car for 30 minutes if I wanted (and have). We’re not as starved as their audience.

    -Hate to say it, I think Matthew above is right re:politics. F1 drivers/teams are trained to be diplomatic for a worldwide audience, knowing the Indycar paddock, there would be quite a few “let’s go Brandon”/Q moments that any production company would keep in for ratings.

    I think the big missed opportunity was not following the Grosjeans around and making a documentary series (as a spin off, like you suggested), would have been fantastic.

  8. Mark Wick Says:

    Connor Daly and James Hinchcliffe may have some extra availability relative to IndyCar next year. Penske and Miles should get them together with Randy Bernard and turn the three of them loose with access to his checkbook. I believe he would see a significant return on investment.

  9. why?
    i do not know.
    my guess is:
    change is bad.

  10. I’ve actually been less interested in F1 in the last several years. I watched when it was still cool, and we had an American broadcast.

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