“100 Days to Indy”–My Review

Things have been just a little bit busy lately, but I wanted to post my thoughts on the first episode of 100 Days to Indy before Episode Two airs tonight on The CW. Not that my opinion matters much, but I figured I would weigh in.

It’s almost impossible not to compare 100 Days to Indy to Formula One’s Drive to Survive (DTS) on Netflix, since that is the show that inspired NASCAR and then IndyCar to create their own series. I never watched NASCAR’s Race for the Championship that debuted on USA Network last October, but I’ve seen every episode in all five seasons of Drive to Survive.

The two shows are similar, yet different. DTS has been exposed for creating fake drama and taking driver’s quotes out of context, in order to create a narrative that doesn’t really exist. I didn’t see any of that with Episode One of 100 Days to Indy, because there was no drama at all. Where DTS has tried to stir the pot every chance it gets, 100 Days went almost the opposite way – presenting the drivers in sort of a bunnies and rainbows light. It was almost too sterile.

The first driver featured was Nashville’s Josef Newgarden. It felt very awkward as the cameras focused on the Newgardens in the kitchen pouring wine. I felt like an unwanted houseguest as I watched. I can imagine how the film crew felt. Then again, after personally seeing them sticking their equipment in everyone’s face at Texas, the Open Test and now Barber – I think they are pretty immune from feeling self-conscious for being intrusive. They wear special photo vests with orange lettering that sets them apart from the other photo vests you see at races. I took this photo during the race last weekend at Barber, as they were positioned in the pit of Romain Grosjean.


It’s my understanding that they have been given carte blanch to go anywhere and the teams and drivers are instructed to just ignore them. Something tells me that’s easier said than done. At Texas last month, they came in the media center and filmed a conversation between Colton Herta and Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press. I was sitting just a couple of seats down from the conversation, I’ll be curious to see if I’m visible in the background. I believe the teams and drivers also have the right to shoo them away if the time is simply not right.

The Newgarden segment did show a human side to Newgarden that we fans don’t generally see. While Newgarden is always pleasant with fans, his TV interviews have been a tad bit guarded since he joined Team Penske; or as the late Robin Miller used to say – when he got the Penske PR chip embedded into his brain.

Showing Newgarden playing on the floor with his young son, showed us a new side of Newgarden. Of course, the workout scenes showed a little too much of Newgarden. We guys are drawn to TV shows that show scantily clad women, so I guess it makes sense for them to show a shirtless Newgarden for an extended amount of time – if they are trying to increase the female audience for IndyCar.

They also focused on the kumbaya relationship between Newgarden and his Penske teammate Scott McLaughlin, as they segued from spotlighting Newgarden to McLaughlin. We met McLaughlin’s wife and her parents, in a setting by a camper that came off as more relaxed and not as intrusive as the Newgarden segment.

As close as 100 Days came to anything resembling a rivalry, was when they touched on the crash between Romain Grosjean and McLaughlin at St. Petersburg. But that was kept free of controversy, as they wrapped it up with a scene of the two drivers hugging it out after the race – after McLaughlin took full responsibility, following the crash.

One other way that 100 Days differs from DTS is the language. Being on Netflix, DTS does not censor obscene language. In fact, I think they encourage it. F-bombs fly around freely, making it not so family-friendly for some viewers. With 100 Days being on The CW, they have to adhere to stricter FCC regulations. But I have an idea that everything in this series has to be approved by Penske Entertainment, so even if this series was on a premium pay service – I’m pretty certain that the dialogue would still be rated PG-13.

I found it odd that in Episode One, they chose Jenna Fryer to plug into the Will Buxton role from DTS. Nathan Brown from The Indianapolis Star was given some camera time, as was NBC’s Kevin Lee; but it seemed like they were really leaning on Jenna Fryer’s interpretation for the “insider’s perspective”. While Fryer is definitely plugged in, I’m hopeful they will tap into the perspective of a Marshall Pruett from Racer, Bruce Martin who is affiliated with multiple outlets or John Oreovicz, who mostly covers IMSA now, but covered IndyCar for well over twenty years for ESPN.com. The more angles and perspectives, the better. It’s just too bad Robin Miller is not around for this.

Maybe 100 Days plans to focus on a different team each week, because I felt it was a little too concentrated on Team Penske. Since I’m sure they will be covering the Texas race in tonight’s episode, there will be more of Newgarden and Team Penske since Newgarden won there. With only five episodes to go, I’m guessing they are not going to get to feature all drivers where the cameras follow them around in their home life.

They did touch a little on Marcus Ericsson in Episode One, but I’m guessing that’s because he is the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion. They also featured his girlfriend, Iris; but they will have to update things, as the couple wed right after Long Beach in a private ceremony.

I’m assuming they will have the Dixon family. They present well with three kids, their nice home and of course – Scott’s wife, Emma, who always presents well. But I would like to see some coverage of the lesser known drivers; like Santino Ferrucci, Callum Ilott and David Malukas. Each of them have an interesting story to be told.

I also hope that they will spend some time with the one-off drivers for the 500, who may be the most likely to be bumped. Katherine Legge, RC Enerson and Stefan Wilson all took different paths to this year’s Indianapolis 500; and they all have an interesting tale to tell. Former winners Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay should both have features on them – sometime over the next five episodes.

But I’m saying all of this from the perspective of what a hard-core fan would want. I have to remember, this series isn’t made for us. They’ve already got us. They are trying to appeal to a wider and younger audience to lure them into becoming fans of IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500.

Will that strategy work? That remains to be seen. I don’t really know the viewing habits of Gen Z – the twenty-somethings. It wasn’t that long ago that if you aimlessly turned on the TV, you flipped around until you found something that looked interesting. Then it became easier to go through the guide for your cable system. Now with most of the under-fifty crowd, cutting the cord and relying on streaming services – flipping around the dial is much harder. You sort of need to know what you want to watch and go to whichever app will get you there.

We are old enough that we still have cable, and I had to seek out The CW and find it, just to set the DVR to record the series. The fact it is on a network few (my age) are familiar with and the series is produced by a company (Vice Media) that is reportedly about to file for bankruptcy, is cause for concern that this may not reach the desired effect. Without the traditional channel surfers, what non-fans will actually be tuning in?

I was talking to someone at Barber about this last weekend. He gave a good example by saying “I don’t like tennis, and there is nothing that will make me want to watch a reality to show about tennis.” That’s a good point, that makes me think that even though it’s not made for us die-hards, this series will probably be watched diligently by hard-core fans. It will someday make a nice DVD series to binge watch, if anyone still buys DVDs. I do because I prefer having a hard-copy of something I’d like to keep. If it doesn’t soothe the masses, it won’t be available to stream.

When I heard that Vice Media was about to file for bankruptcy earlier this week, I couldn’t help but chuckle (even though bankruptcy is no laughing matter). IndyCar sidled up with Motorsports Games for their first video game in about twenty years. Now that they are two years into the deal and the game was to be released this year, Motorsports Games is in deep financial trouble and there is some doubt the game will ever see the light of day. Now that Vice Media is in the middle of this project that is to include footage through this year’s Indianapolis 500, we hear that they are on the verge of bankruptcy. Someone in the due-diligence department of Penske Entertainment is not doing their job.

Speaking of Penske Entertainment, I’m wondering how heavy a hand they have in the production of 100 Days to Indy. Are they giving Vice free-reign to film and use whatever they want, or does every single frame of video content have to be approved by Penske Entertainment? What we saw last week was a heavily sanitized version of the NTT IndyCar Series. It was enjoyable viewing, but not very compelling.

If they want new fans, they have to give them a reason to tune in the next week besides Newgarden and McLaughlin being best friends. Maybe after their coverage of Long Beach, go after the fact that two weeks later – Scott Dixon is still fuming at Pato O’Ward for taking him out at Long Beach. Good pals don’t pull in ratings, bitter enemies do – so long as it’s genuine and not manufactured for the cameras.

In sports, you need villains. The four stick-and-ball sports have villains. NASCAR and Formula One have villains. IndyCar needs a couple of villains too. No one wants to see drivers patting each other on the back. They want to see conflict. Unfortunately, that’s what sells.

In a nutshell – Episode One was pleasant and enjoyable television for a hard-core IndyCar fan like me. But if the objective is to lure in new fans, they need to make the next five episodes more compelling than what we saw last week.

George Phillips

5 Responses to ““100 Days to Indy”–My Review”

  1. Bruce Waine Says:

    RCAER article headline: VICE, Creator of ‘100 Days To Indy’ Reportedly Facing Bankruptcy Threat – Marshall Pruett – RACER – May 2, 2023

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Bankruptcy or not, Vice is well ahead of Motorsports Games at this point… at least they’ve produced what they promised for Indycar, and all indications are that they will finish this series through its planned 6 episodes.

    I thought the show was interesting enough, but it was a bit unfocused. It seemed to be searching for a narrative… but that is of course how racing seasons typically work. The story unfolds as the season gets underway and the off-track intrigue isn’t generally there in round 1.

    I would compare it quite favorably to what I have seen of Drive To Survive, but I never much cared for DTS (I’m pushed into watching enough “rich people being catty” reality shows as it is). A good rivalry would certainly punch up the show, though I found the balance of affability and intensity in the drivers showcased (especially McLaughlin) to be quite interesting. I am quite fine with the swearing being censored, but I may be more prudish than most.

  3. If last week’s episode was compelling, I would have spent this week counting down the days and hours in anticipation of tonight’s show. In reality, the only reason I remembered there’s a new episode on tonight is because of your post. I’m happy IndyCar is getting some additional exposure, but I thought it was rather blah. Not trying to sound like those racer.com commenters who complain about everything, I’m just saying if the goal is to attract new fans to the sport, there was nothing about Week 1’s episode that would remotely accomplish that.

  4. The only television service or streaming service that I subscribe to is Peacock — during the IndyCar season.
    TrackForum told me that I could view 100 Days via the CW app on the day after each CW broadcast.
    So on my smartphone screen I viewed a few IndyCar racers being introduced to an audience in a convention room. Marcus Ericsson was introduced as a “three-time champion.”
    Then I saw Josef Newgarden pouring wine from one glass bottle into another glass bottle, sipping wine, playing with an infant, and lifting weights. An unknown person off-camera asked Mrs. Newgarden if her husband has talked about the Indy 500, and she said that he had.
    The CW app began displaying advertising, and I quit viewing because I don’t care for ads.
    I neglected to resume playing that episode in the days since Friday.
    Evidently it is “not very compelling.”
    I hope that the miniature television series isn’t “unfocused” and lacking a narrative as billytheskink suggests it might be.
    It out to have a spine, a through-line, a plot, a story, and not be fluff magazine-style TV showing ‘this is the home of a racer, this is the motorcoach of another racer, this is a racer on his boat, this racer flies a small airplane to some races, and these racers would like to win the Indy 500.’ yawn

  5. “It wasn’t that long ago…”
    yes, it was. a generation ago.

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