In 1987, when then-CART Chairman John Frasco and Marlboro cooked (or smoked) up the idea of the Marlboro Challenge All-Star race, and announced it at the Long Beach Grand Prix, PPG racing director Jim Chapman quietly-but-effectively issued a statement expressing the view of the series' landmark title sponsor: In brief, that while PPG supported increased prize money for drivers and teams, there should be no prize that out-headlined PPG's, and no special event that might detract from the news value and prestige of the PPG Cup championship-deciding final race of the season.
I agreed with Mr. Chapman then, and I agree now, as it pertains to the $5 million IndyCar bonus at Las Vegas for a non-IC regular who would win. I realize the current series sponsor says it supports the Vegas gimmick, but what is fundamentally more important to the core foundation of the series than its season-long championship -- and champion? If IndyCar believes that it's necessary for something to draw more attention than that -- and the Indianapolis 500 -- then the series is in an even more desperate condition than I thought. Among the several unintended consequences I can see is the devaluing of the title for the championship winning team sponsor.
As I have said and written many times in recent years, IndyCar's (and IMS') most valuable asset is its history. And, yet, the majority of those responsible haven't lived that history and don't know the lessons of that history. In the case of the Challenge, history teaches that it came to be moved off of championship weekend, and after several very forgetable runnings, passed into a richly deserved oblivion.
P.S. -- It's a very, very, VERY bad idea to invite Alex Zanardi to compete at Vegas. The reasons are clear: For a man who lost both his legs and endured great trauma and hasn't competed on a high-speed oval in a decade, the consequences of even a smallish accident should be obvious. This is the sort of thing that gives IndyCar the stench of desperation. And, despite Zanardi's incredible and inspirational example and spirit -- I'll just say it flat-out -- To me, the invitation is exploitive. (For those not aware, I say this from the standpoint of someone who worked with Alex when he was in CART, have a championship ring courtesy of him, and the helmet he wore when he made "The Pass" at Laguna Seca is displayed in my office -- a gift from Zanardi.)
It's disturbing to me, personally, that Randy Bernard again took some bad advice whispered into his ear. It's great to have advisors (official or unofficial) who are passionate about IndyCar racing. That does not mean they understand common-sense medical/safety issues, know who would be the kind of pro-active/outreaching PR representative the series oh-so needs, or what cities will be financially-successful race markets. Bernard's been in the job long enough to start expanding his pool of suggestion-makers -- some who actually combine passion with a proper business perspective.
Paul Tracy, Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon are among the IndyCar names needing sponsorship. Well, if the amount companies waste on all-hat-but-no-cattle agencies was redirected, they'd have enough for 10 years. The other day I received the following and the first graph is copied here exactly as received (except bold and italics added by me):
"Hello Brian - This is Calvin from Big Fuel in NYC. We're producing a web video series on behalf of the Chevrolet Cruze called the 'Cruze-arati'. We just filmed two videos, and we want the Spin Doctor 500 blog to be our premier partner to help us debut two videos."
Thanks for that offer, Wilbur, but I'll pass . . .
FAST LINES: Here's a test of the value of an IndyCar team sponsorship, at least in terms of goodwill -- Simona De Silvestro's sponsor is Nuclear Clean Energy . . . Just wondering: Have any of those chatroomers who called for a boycott of Firestone posted apologies since the tiremaker is back in IndyCar through 2013? . . . PR people who send images without captions shouldn't bother to waste the time or effort. Amazing that even needs to be said, but one series does it all the time . . . Insulting and ridiculous: That's the best way to describe it when a TV network wants us to hang around all day to watch our favorites race, but then doesn't show them taking the checkered flag . . . Ponder this: The way the people of Japan have acted in the face of terrible disaster vs. the way the people of New Orleans did after Hurricane Katrina.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth. It will be the 100th anniversary of the first Indianapolis 500. Reagan visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on a practice day before becoming president, escorted by Tony Hulman. (One might have thought that, given the timing, this historic photo would be on the IMS site, but I don't see it.) Reagan greeted several Indy winners and CART champions in the Oval Office. A video tribute to Reagan was shown before the Super Bowl. And before the Daytona 500 (see link below). And before the Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway. And will be before Sunday's event at California's Auto Club Speedway. I talked with two Reagan Foundation officials at PIR and was told several Major League Baseball teams will show a version of the video before games this season. Why not at Indy?
[ more next Monday . . . ]