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Sunday, July 18, 2010

QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CONCEPT

The song No Particular Place to Go played as background music during last week's IndyCar of the Future announcement at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. It was a highly orchestrated event, including an Apprentice-esque boardroom sequence, where the ICONIC panel members used some Verizon gizmo to cast votes for their recommendation. (Oh for the days when A.J. Foyt would have pounded-home his message with a sledge hammer!)

Appearances mean a lot and the Izod series sent the wrong signal with the absence of Foyt, Roger Penske, Michael Andretti, Chip Ganassi, Dario Franchitti, Helio Castroneves, Danica Patrick (off at the ESPYs) and the other Big Names not in the audience. Word needed to have come down from On High: It's a Command Performance. Be There!

I kept thinking about that choice of music, in the context of the important decision that was made, because Randy Bernard and Co. had best understand the only Place to Go for the deeply-wounded and devalued Indy brand and sport is UP.

I have and will continue to talk about this new concept on The Race Reporters, in this blog, and elsewhere. Below are transcripts of the questions I asked, and answers received, on the media teleconference, which should let you know what I think is important.

Q. Looking at this new car from a strictly commercial standpoint, in an attempt to address your TV issue, and also to provide additional value for sponsor identification, do you envision the dimensions on the body work of this car to be significantly longer than the current package so as to make the cars more easily identifiable for the TV audience, especially on ovals, and also to provide just more space for sponsor commercial ID?

RANDY BERNARD: It's a great question and probably a better one for Tony (Purnell) or Brian. I did ask that question, and when we were going through the process is how much more space will there be on the cars for sponsorship, and I think that, you know, some of the areas that I don't think anybody right now can tell you that there's going to be a tremendous amount more space on these cars. It's going to depend on the aero kits that are designed. But I think that you can see how a fin could be created could create more sponsorship elements to it. That would be primarily my answer.

BRIAN BARNHART: I would certainly agree with Randy. It's certainly been part of our RFP and goal to improve and maximize sponsor exposure and what we are doing. We have a challenge with our cars running 230 mph, and as small as they are, it is difficult to get that sponsor signage where we want it, so it's something that's at the top of our list so there's a lot of components that went into this deal. So certainly going to be part of the package when we as a safety body sit down and draw up the rule book for 2012, we want to leave those windows and those boxes open as much as possible. Yet at the same time, we do want to define them enough so that we get an increase in square inches to improve sponsor visibility.

Q. Randy, Governor Daniels made reference to grants and tax credits from the State of Indiana in order to facilitate Dallara bringing its facility to Speedway. Can you put a total dollar value on the State of Indiana's commitment in terms of these grants and tax credits?

BERNARD: We started visiting with the governor and his office about two months ago, and Jeff was involved in those preliminary meetings, as well. The governor wanted to make sure that we would ensure that the next manufacturer would locate here in Indiana. What we did is we had as a mandate in our request for a proposal, we felt that it was great to bring jobs and manufacturers over here from Italy, but we wanted to take it one step further, on how could we retain the different team owner shops here and how could we promote a way to bring more here. We want to make this, again, and renowned for the racing capital for the world. I think that we addressed that in what the governor presented today; that there will be basically 150,000 per car, per team owner, if you are located here in Indiana. So hopefully it's going to bring some new business, and if you add that up on 28 cars, it should be close to 4.3 million, so that's basically what that part of that grant is.

Q. Is there a ceiling on the amount of funding from the State of Indiana?

BERNARD: From the State of Indiana, I believe it's at $5 million, but you might want to get that from the Governor's Office.

Q. Gil, when you were a guest on my The Race Reporters radio show last year, you described your view of the IndyCar brand as, quote, insanely fast, unquote. Do you envision this new car package to advance your perception of the IndyCar brand as insanely fast?

GIL DE FERRAN: Well, I have to say yes, and perhaps we didn't talk enough about it. Throughout this process, we discussed many subjects about I won't even call it a new car. I will call it this new strategy, new concept, and certainly one of them was performance. And when I talk about performance of an IndyCar, I can't help but wear the driver hat. I spent most of my adult life as a professional racing driver, and it's hard to give up that mentality sometimes. So as a driver, I very much wanted this new generation of IndyCars to not only retain and maintain this kind of, shall we say, this high speed aspect of it. But I wanted this enhanced. I wanted IndyCars to become more difficult to drive, more challenging to drive; so that frankly not everyone can do it. I think if we make this car such that, you know, a couple of guys when they step out of it, they are a little bit scared; that's a good thing as far as I'm concerned. The performance targets that were set for these cars, both on road courses and ovals, I think are in keeping with that idea, and I am confident given all of the parameters that were set, and capabilities that I think all of the companies involved have, that these targets will be achieved, and this new generation of cars will enhance that brand value of IndyCar Racing?

Q. Are you saying that you envision these new cars will, in fact, be more difficult to drive, and do you see the potential for this configuration of vehicle to set new track record, speed records at Indianapolis or any place else?

DE FERRAN: I think they will be more difficult to drive from the standpoint that they will be faster. And in my book, any car that is faster is typically more difficult to drive, because you have usually less time to perform the same functions with the same or more precision. So a faster car will always demand a higher level of skill from a driver. Performance targets in the ovals were to be in the same neighborhood as they are today, however, I think the latitude is there for those performance targets to increase if we can prove that that can be done safely with new safety enhancements that are not only happening on the chassis but in motorsports in general. So I think the potential is there if we can work out a way to do it safely; but that you will see some improvement in increasing speed in ovals, but I can tell you that you will definitely see that in the road races, too.


FAST LINES: It's a thrill to have Steve Kinser as my guest on Wednesday's The Race Reporters. The American racing icon typically does not do a lot of interviews like this . . . I'm a collector (and former writer) of clever headlines, so this one in USA Today, about the British Open, had me smiling: "At St. Andrews, hallowed by thy game" . . . ESPN's Mike Tirico (who I've met and like), straight off a politically correct performance in South Africa at the World Cup, told USA Today from St. Andrews that the British Open is "referred to as the Open Championship everywhere else in the world except the U.S." Thanks for making my point for me, Mike. Your audience IS in the U.S. (!) . . . Take note, Randy Bernard: The LPGA, nose-diving in U.S. public interest after domination by international players, has gotten a bounce following major championship wins by Americans Cristie Kerr and, especially, Paula Creamer. Paula could be a Danica-esque game-changer if she continues to win and becomes the face of the tour . . . I remember a time when journalists wanted to be in on covering a Big Story. It didn't matter if they were "off" -- they wanted to be in on the action. No more, apparently. One ESPN PTI host was on vacation when LeBron James made his "Decision." And both hosts were off-air the day of baseball's All-Star game, still an important annual sporting event, which also was the day George Steinbrenner died. Those are the times, from the standpoint of professional pride if nothing else, you get off the golf course and contribute to Big Story coverage . . . No surprise, this: All those media people, trying to be politically correct, pretending to be engaged by the World Cup in South Africa when their real level of interest was nil, dropped the subject about 30 seconds after the last match. You won't hear another word from them about soccer for four years . . . One of my favorite words is "consequential" and this must be said of George Steinbrenner: The New York Yankees' owner was a very, very consequential figure, as opposed to the Twitter phonies . . . Here's one of the many PR problems faced by NHRA in the aftermath of three fatalities this year -- writers writing that story who don't know anything about drag racing. Example: Last Friday, a The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif., writer reported that Mark Niver died in a "Top Fuel dragster." Actually, Niver was in an alcohol class dragster, a much different beast . . . Following my interview last Saturday on Fox Sports Radio on this topic, look for a lengthy story by me on NHRA's safety issues in this Thursday's Arizona Republic or read it at http://www.azcentral.com/ . . . And here's a link to an NHRA safety related story I wrote last Friday http://www.competitionplus.com/index.php/drag-racing/news/14920-light-1000-ft-unlikely-for-top-alcohol-classes

Upcoming The Race Reporters guests:
(Show is live Wednesdays at 7 p.m. EDT, downloadable, and available on-demand at no cost. Click on TRR page logo in upper right-hand column.)

July 21 -- Newsmaker: Steve Kinser. Panelists: Jim Chiappelli, Keith Waltz. Plus, Bob Margolis.

July 28 -- Newsmaker: Joey Saldana. Panelists: Dave Argabright, Mike Kerchner. Plus, Jeff Burk.

[ Steve Kinser news nugget Thursday . . . ]