The Truth is Out There: IndyCar's moves being noticed

HOMESTEAD FL - OCTOBER 01: Alex Tagliani of Canada drives the #77 FAZZT Race Team Dallara Honda during qualifying for the IZOD IndyCar Series Cafes Do Brasil Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on October 1 2010 in Homestead Florida. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

I'm not much for conspiracy theories, black helicopters, New World Orders or anything like that. My older brother was a big X-Files fan back in the day, but having actually worked for the government I knew no secret that big could be kept for so long.

So I was skeptical and more than a little hesitant to follow up on it when approached recently by someone, let's call him "Buck Bretherton," with a promise to share some inside information on how IndyCar is viewed by NASCAR and some of its partners.

Even so, knowing I need to somehow earn my princely salary here at Pop-Off Valve, I agreed to meet "Buck" in the walk-in freezer of a nearby convenience store. Not sure why he wanted to meet there, but then again there's a lot about "Buck" I'm not sure about.

Anyway, "Buck" knows some folks who know some folks who know some folks, if you get my drift, and he picked me to be his outlet because I was a fallen NASCAR type now in the clutches of the open-wheelers. He shared with me some emails, phone transcripts and memos that paint an interesting picture of changing perceptions about IndyCar over the past few years. I have selected a few of them to share with you today.

Note: Names have been removed to preserve the secrecy of "Buck's" identity (Ed: And because Whitmore doesn't have a lawyer).

From: (Name redacted), ESPN/ABC producer

Sent: Friday, February 22, 2008 7:35 PM
To: (Name redacted), NASCAR PR office

Subject: RE: CART-INDYCAR MERGER

Agreed -- this means nothing to you and little to us, altho we should have some fun with the open-wheelers during the 500 and the few other events we cover.

Everyone knows the only racing Americans like involves fenders and big ol' day-glo numbers on the doors. But good luck to them, can't go any worse than it has before, right?

Meanwhile, let's figure out how to spend all that money we're going to make off the new NASCAR contract. I'm thinking of buying a vineyard. Hehehe

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From: (Name redacted), ESPN/ABC field productions

Sent: Wednesday, March 11, 2009 11:12 AM
To: (Name redacted), ESPN/ABC PR

Subject: RE: INDYCAR SIDE-BY-SIDE

The outdoor channel - whoops, sorry - "Versus" is going to show all IndyCar races with a side-by-side format they're calling "INDYCAR NON-STOP." We first did this with the 500 in 2005 or 06, not sure which.

The little network is sure trying hard aren't they? To answer your question there is NO WAY we would ever consider doing the same for NASCAR. There is waaay too much $$ in it for us as it stands and we're the only game in town for the fans at home, so they'll live with it.

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From: (Name redacted), NASCAR PR office

Sent: Sunday, January 31, 2010 2:18 PM
To: (Name redacted), NASCAR executive

Subject: RE: BERNARD NEW INDYCAR CEO?

Evidently the rumors are true: IndyCar is going to name Randy Bernard as CEO. Not sure what the heck the thinking is, but I guess his "vast" experience with bull riders will come in handle trying to herd those owners. Not sure how this is an upgrade for either side, but maybe the ‘family' just wants a scapegoat not related?

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The following is an excerpt from a Monday, July 5, 2010 telephone conversation between an ESPN/ABC field producer and a network operations coordinator at headquarters in Bristol, Conn. They're talking about the network's broadcast on ABC of the IndyCar race at Watkins Glen, N.Y., the previous day.

Field producer: "Haha, I told you I'd do it."

Operations Coordinator: "I can't believe you did that! Have Vince talk about tires of all things when they were coming to the green! Did Vince or Marty have any idea of what you were doing?"

FP: "Marty asked about the timing after he threw it to Vince, but Vince had no idea. By the way, Vince was totally ticked off about it."

OC: "OK, OK. We're getting some pushback from bloggers about it, too, but whatever."

FP: "Yeah, whatever."

OC: "Sure, but never, ever try that with the NASCAR folks. They'd be ticked off royally."

FP: "Oh, I know better than that. I know messing with the open-wheelers means nothing, but NASCAR, no way I'd poke that bear. Now, what're you going to do to top my prank?"

OC: "I've got you beat, big-time. You just watch the Espys to see how we intro Danica."

 

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From: (Name redacted), NASCAR PR executive

Sent: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 4:31 PM
To: (Name redacted), NASCAR PR office

Subject: INDYCAR 2012 ANNOUCEMENT

First and foremost, next time we hold a media availability I want some cool music playing just like those guys.

Secondly, we need to stay away from any comment that would cause media to realize NASCAR is going to be the only "spec series" in bigtime racing as of 2012. Even if the ops guys are right about the new-new Car of Tomorrow coming in 2013, it'll likely be the same body for all makes but with variable noses and decals to make them look different ala the new Nationwide Mustang.

Thirdly, find out what kind of vitamins that Bernard guy is taking and order some for our guys. RB seems to be locked in on what's going on and how to make significant changes for the better.

Finally, the boss wants to know what the IndyCar peeps are going to do with the Delta Wing mockups. Call Chip's folks and see if we can get one for the Daytona office. And no, don't ask me what it's for.

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From: (Name redacted), NASCAR front office

Sent: Tuesday, September 28, 2010 2:54 PM
To: (Name redacted), NASCAR PR executive

Subject: RE: INDYCAR CHAMPIONSHIP

I don't care how close their championship standings are. I don't care that it will be a season-long battle decided in the final race.

Just stick to the script: The Chase produces exciting racing, the Chase is great, we love the Chase, we're happy with the Chase. Got it? Say it with me ... The Chase is exciting, the Chase is great, we love the Chase.

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From: (Name redacted), ESPN-ABC PR office

Sent: Thursday, October 14, 2010 8:17 PM
To: (Name redacted), NASCAR PR office

Subject: RE: INDYCAR RATINGS

It's true the Versus ratings for IndyCar were up something north of 15 percent for 2010. But those are still very small numbers overall. We're the World Wide Leader In Sports. Don't ever forget that. We flush more viewers every day with our SportsNation show than they got per race. We are NOT concerned with IndyCar's growth. NOT!

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From: (Name redacted), NASCAR PR office

Sent: Wednesday, November 24, 2010 1:43 PM
To: (Name redacted), NASCAR PR executive

Subject: INDYCAR LOOK AHEAD

The announcement that Lotus would be joining as the 3rd engine provider for 2012 (after Honda and Chevrolet) capped what can only be considered an outstanding period PR-wise for IndyCar since the end of the 2010 season.

Teams and drivers seem very happy and excited about the series and its prospects, altho they still seem to be struggling with many of the same money and sponsor issues facing our folks. Fan comments by email and social media and blogs are almost universally upbeat.

Randy Bernard and his team seem to have plotted a course for IndyCar's future that intelligently addresses costs and complaints of both teams and fans. In the parlance of our pit crews, they've made smart adjustments, including taking big swings at problems like the "spec series" label.

Contrast that with the downward spiral we saw in TV ratings throughout the season but particularly during the Chase and fan discontent over ancillary (hotels, travel, etc.) costs associated with attending our race weekends, driving down attendance. Our racing is as good as it has been in awhile, but if no one sees it ...

Our guy, who seemed completely out of touch in his end-of-season comments to the media at Homestead, doesn't do well in direct comparison to Bernard.

We're still No. 1 as far as racing goes, by big numbers. But maybe, just maybe, we should be watching these IndyCar folks and the moves they're making a little more closely. They seem to know what they're doing, moreso than we do right now.

Disclaimer: C'mon do I even have to do one?

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