• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Saturday, August 30, 2014

MILES TO GO BEFORE HE SLEEPS

I sure hope you Verizon IndyCar series fans -- especially those who stayed up late in the Eastern and Midwestern time zones Saturday night -- enjoyed the MavTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway because the long off-season is now underway. Congratulations to Will Power and Roger Penske on their series championship. (Finally!) That avoided the biggest late-season collapse since the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies. Thank you to those amazing true fans -- could there have been 10,000? -- who sweated it out (literally) in the triple-digit temps in the grandstands.

As I suggested to a few writers before the race, some enterprising reporter should have gone into the stands when the green flag waved to interview any available Boston Consulting Group brains who got paid Big Money to suggest ending the season by Labor Day. It pains me to say it, but I can honestly see a season two or three years from now when the Indianapolis 500 is the only oval. I put that notion to Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles during a conversation in the IndyCar business unit Saturday afternoon. He said he doesn't expect that to happen, but think about it, please. 

Fontana, Milwaukee, Iowa, Pocono all have challenges and are no long-term sure thing. Last week Miles announced a new race in Avondale, Louisiana -- a road course -- but there's still nothing in Avondale, Arizona, home city to Phoenix International Raceway. Miles admitted to me zip is happening with PIR and it seems obvious whatever window of opportunity there existed for a PIR return under Randy Bernard's leadership (he told me in 2012 a PIR race for the track's 50th anniversary season this year was "a must.")

"I don't think that's where we'll end up or where we want to be," Miles told me as to an Indy-only oval schedule. "We're just going to have to work really hard to make sure that's not the result. It's obvious that ovals got overbuilt. That creates challenges. It's certanly our intent for them to be part of the series.

"It's a hypothetical we don't ever expect to face. We will find ovals that will be vibrant events. We don't have a quota but it's a part of our racing and a big part of our brand is the diversity."

I Tweeted a bit about this ( @SpinDoctor500 ) and the other big part of my on-the-record portion of the conversation had to do with international events. Expect a couple of them in a narrow time window right after the Super Bowl. As I said to Miles, the world is a mess, and has terrorism caused him to rethink his plans? Of course, Miles was involved in many international tennis tournaments, so he got my drift. 

"We're not oblivious to the point," he said. "I won't name the person, but a well-known racing name came to me and said, 'You're not thinking of taking us to places where they kill Americans.' And I'm not."

Miles assured me security at overseas races can be independently verified. The big checks from those races will help bolster the Leader Circle plan money to teams. That might balance against companies not willing to sponsor cars in countries where they do not conduct business. 

One thing I'll really be watching in the coming months is if the IndyCar staff, especially in sales and absolutely especially in PR, will be greatly expanded. The series desperately needs a high-horsepower PR leader who knows relationship-building isn't done via E-mail. Miles needs someone aggressive enough to be knocking-down doors to get the national media attention that's so needed and necessary.

Especially during a long, cold, dark off-season.

[ more next week . . . ]