If Bruton Smith and Randy Bernard have anything to say about it, Richard Petty and John Andretti will not be the only IndyCar/NASCAR "crossovers" for long. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
You've probably heard all about this by now - if you hadn't heard it from the Internet buzzwire, you heard it Sunday on FOX's NASCAR broadcast from Dover, Delaware.
There's a proposal floating around to hand out $20 million to the first driver who can win the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in the same day.
Some are saying it was Bruton Smith's idea - after all, he's the one who went public with it. Others - mostly IndyCar types - are grousing because it was IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard who floated the idea to Smith in the first place but who isn't getting any public credit for it.
What people fail to realize is that this is not a new concept at all. It just has legs now that both NASCAR and IndyCar are desperate for a hook.
In fact, I and several others suggested an idea very similar to this as early as 2002. But circumstances were different eight years ago.
In 2002, NASCAR was at the height of its pop culture popularity, a boom period built on the tragedy of Dale Earnhardt's death at Daytona. At that point, neither Bruton Smith nor anyone else in the NASCAR hierarchy cared a bit about sharing any sort of Memorial Day weekend promotion with IndyCar. In fact, the subtle undercurrent from stock car circles was that Indy was "over," and that the Coke 600 was taking over as the true marquee attraction.
IndyCar wasn't any more receptive to the idea. In fact, in 2005 the Indy 500 schedule was moved an hour later in the day by IndyCar management - a move ostensibly made to accommodate Indiana's delayed embrace of Daylight Savings Time and to bolster ratings, but also an unspoken statement about how the 500 did not need the help of any stock car drivers to make it more popular.
That, of course, was eight years ago... before the pop culture bubble enclosing NASCAR burst and before the recession took an axe to the kneecaps of the racing industry.
Now, obviously, everyone seems to think that this $20 Million Double is the bees' knees. How could it not be, what with an Indy 500 that is filled with spec cars and lacking any sort of innovative intrigue, and a Coca-Cola 600 which is an interminable nightmare of parade-style hotlapping that with every year becomes a more effective inducement to go to bed early?
Now everyone is excited about it. Darrell "Boogity" Waltrip spoke of it in hushed tones, as if he was referring to a papal visit or something. "How can you not go after something like that?" he asked.
Ol' Jaws is right, of course. It's a hell of a promotional idea. It's just too bad that it took desperation from both sides to get it to stick. And maybe that's one of racing's problems - that sense of desperation, that need to figure out creative ways to market the sport in order to bring in fans, has been missing for years. NASCAR has been sitting fat and happy on its giant pile of money and expecting The Chase to sell itself, while IndyCar has been coasting on the Indy 500's image since 1996 (don't tell me that GENE SIMMONS was an innovative marketing call, or I'll tie you down and play "I Am Indy" nonstop in your ear for six hours).
Those who think racing doesn't need this kind of "stunt casting" probably don't remember the glory days of the sport, when guys like Mark Donohue and A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti would get into the cockpit of just about any racecar in any series and go out and try to beat their opponents into submission. These days, everyone has their own little niche. The problem is that when you stick to a niche, eventually your sport becomes one.
So kudos to everyone involved for finally figuring out what many of us knew all along - that a $20 Million Double would be an American water-cooler topic and that, to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, "a rising tide lifts all boats." But let's not wait for more desperation before we explore more innovation.