clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The INDYCAR Fan White Paper

New, 5 comments
Getty Images

In 1978, the legendary Dan Gurney composed a white paper that he shared with all of the owners of the USAC National Championship Series. It was the first cornerstone of what would eventually become Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), and it was a manifesto whose reverberations echo even today.

In the final analysis, the formation of CART only led to short-term gains before the same self-interest and infighting that caused Gurney to write the white paper in the first place resulted in the catastrophic IndyCar split. But in the short space of time in which the CART owners heeded the call to action and vowed to become more collaborative, IndyCar racing achieved some frankly incredible goals - including, at one point, being a viable contender with Formula 1 as the world's most popular category of closed-course racing.

It is in Gurney's spirit that we now respond to the rumors of yet another attempted coup within the IndyCar power ranks with a white paper of our own - a fans' manifesto, if you will. Scholars of the sport may wish to compare the two documents to see what has changed over the course of thirty-plus years, and what has not. You may find there is a surprising amount of similarity, for it is axiomatic that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

The INDYCAR Fan White Paper

Over the past three or four years I have had conversations with many fans, media, bloggers, and other observers and interested parties. Generally, there is agreement that something is wrong with our sport - it is not reaching its full potential by any means, and there is great need for change!

Early in my discussions I realized that the powers-that-be are so intent upon working for their own benefit and not that of the series as a whole that they do not stop to look and analyze their situation. In frustration I decided things must get worse before they will all wake up. Our sport has the potential to be financially rewarding and healthy from a business standpoint for all participants. Many of the car owners and team directors are excellent and very successful businessmen in their own lives outside of racing. They as businessmen should be ashamed of themselves for being involved in a prestigious sport such as IndyCar racing with all its potential while they constantly maneuver for their own benefit and ignore the greater good. It is truly strange that with all of these "heavyweights" involved, they still do not have their act together. ("Divide and conquer" still seems to be working, doesn't it?)

OK! What shall we do about it? First let us digress for a moment. Let's study some history. Back in the late ‘70s, the status of Indy car racing was similar to IndyCar racing right now. The crowds were quite small, sponsors were hard to find, the news media was not overly interested, expenses were high and going higher, and the entire scene was one of disorganization.

It was at this moment that the desperateness of the situation made them unite and form an organization called CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams). They rolled up their sleeves and proceeded to upgrade the entire sport to the point where the paying spectator crowds were much, much larger, sponsors were numerous and happy to be involved, the media was vigorous in covering all the events on TV as well as weekly magazines and newspapers worldwide, and money was coming back to the constructors and track owners in the form of larger ticket sales, more sponsorship, more prize money, and expense money, and the spectator was getting a much bigger, better, spectacle for his ticket money.

The obvious fact is that CART transformed Indy car racing from what was a weak and scattered group of teams without any bargaining or negotiating strength into a bona fide business. They did it by uniting and making that "no turning back" commitment. They spoke with one voice and that voice gained authority by leaps and bounds.

Then, in the mid ‘90s, all of that progress was undone by that united voice being fragmented into a collection of egos and self-interest. From Tony George to Roger Penske to Chip Ganassi to Michael Andretti, the various and disparate factions in the sport tore it to shreds in the name of personal gain and hunger for power. Devolving into factions whose desire to compete took a back seat to vilifying the other side and loudly proclaiming their own dominance, Indy car racing's Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall and shattered into pieces. The media lost interest, the fans lost interest, and at the end of the day extinction of both sides was staved off only at the last minute by a rushed, scattershot unification.

What remains is a weak shadow of what the sport could still become with time and care. It is a distant second at best to NASCAR, and the Indianapolis 500 - once the greatest race in America, if not the world - pulls less than half of the TV ratings of NASCAR's Daytona 500 (in fact, it pulls lower ratings than NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600, which is held on the same day).

There are many causes for the Split, but the key factors remain that Tony George wanted to assert his personal and family control over not just the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but the series which competes in the Indy 500. Meanwhile, CART's mindset parroted the comments of Lindsey Hopkins, to wit: "We are the ones who did more to build the stands at Indianapolis than anyone else. IMS should thank us each year, in addition to our thanking them." In summary, everyone was so obsessed with the idea of their own self-importance and self-calculated value that they could not - would not - work for the greater good. And absent the greater good, it was every man for himself, dividing all parties into infighting factions and rotting the sport from the inside.

In all of our discussions, as fans of IndyCar racing, we have agreed that the only way for the sport to recover from this fifteen-year-long debacle is if all parties in positions of power in the sport continue to support INDYCAR as the sanctioning body for IndyCar racing. The improvement will be that team owners and managers will recognize that INDYCAR is working for them and supporting their causes and policies as well. It should be clearly understood that the purpose of INDYCAR is to make racing better in an overall way - not just for owners and drivers, but also for track owners and promoters and the sponsors and supporters and, last but certainly not least, the racing fans and paying spectators.

In the final analysis, of course, large crowds of paying spectators are the keys to success for all. Track owners and a sanctioning body who aggressively promote these big events will get the crowds, which in turn excites the sponsors and TV networks and the crowd, etc., thereby upgrading the entire sport business. It is our firm belief that rather than cutting the cost of racing which in itself is nearly impossible, it is far more important to make money more readily available by increasing the popularity and prestige of the sport with the general public.

Now, how do we get there from here? As we see it, the first step is for team owners and managers to agree, once and for all, that INDYCAR is the vehicle which will drive the success of the sport. Once they agree to that fact that INDYCAR and its administration is needed, they should outline what they want to do and how it should be accomplished in a cooperative, synergistic effort.

It appears that a push for relevance should be the first target. Relevance in terms of attractiveness to outside manufacturers by creating greater options for participation; relevance for local and specialty racing industry by removing prohibitive lease controls which give engine providers a stranglehold on inventory and thus control over who is able to compete at what times; and relevance for fans, current and future, by creating a racing spec which is varied, interesting, and forward-thinking. The entire picture should be shared from the standpoint of cooperation rather than killing each other.

They must work together to learn how to upgrade the overall marketing and advertising. If team owners and managers can cooperate with INDYCAR to drive up interest locally, nationally, and globally, then they should do so. It is vital that they should solve the riddle of getting more money coming in from spectators and sponsor advertisers and networks so that there is a bigger pie to carve up. Increased race purses and incentives for more teams to join the series drive up spectator interest and build relevance. It seems to us that the sport could be further ahead if everyone worked together rather than be divided.

As fans, we have dedicated years of our lives to supporting your business. Passion can only go so far, however. In the end scheme, you are still providing services to us, and it remains our choice to consume or reject those services. A business whose main characteristics are ego, confusion, disparate goals, and infighting is far less attractive than a business which projects harmony and a unified vision. By indulging in the former, you nearly destroyed an entire category of racing that thrived in this nation for almost a century. If we as fans can see this, surely people of your caliber of business acumen can also see it.

We do not advocate the cessation of disagreement or negotiation; rather, we advocate the unifying commonality which allows criticism to be constructive rather than divisive. We advocate the realization that you are members of a service industry, and that reputation alone cannot hope to match the tangible evidence of good service. We still believe there is potential left in INDYCAR; however, it is no longer up to us to ensure that it is realized. The future of the sport rests in your hands.

We advise you to act accordingly.