Does The IRL Care What Fans Think?

During the early days of the IRL, Robin Miller often referred to those blindly towing the IRL company line as “drinking the Kool-Aid”. I used this term last week with a friend of mine and he had no idea what I meant. I’ll provide a history lesson for those that don’t know. This term is in reference to the 1978 mass-suicide by the followers of the Rev. Jim Jones at Jonestown, Guyana. Rev Jones used his incredible powers of persuasion, to convince his followers to drink cyanide-laced Kool-Aid to send some strange sign to the rest of the world.

Obviously, Miller’s reference inferred that anyone who spoke of the Jack Miller days of the IRL in glowing terms was obviously brainwashed and was guilty of drinking the IRL Kool-Aid. As the IndyCar Series dramatically improved in the earlier part of this decade, such self-promotion was no longer necessary. This past weekend however, it seemed like the Kool-Aid was flowing freely.

I’ve been under the weather and still disappointed after Saturday’s Texas race, so excuse the rant. I was watching the Friday afternoon practice via the internet with the audio provided by the IMS Radio Network. Play-by-play host Mike King and analyst Mark Jaynes were fielding e-mail questions from viewers. A viewer wrote in asking the same question that has been asked here as well as other sites. The question was “When will the IndyCar Series allow more than one chassis manufacturer to compete?”

In the style of Baghdad Bob, they both dismissed the question and its writer as simply not understanding racing. Mike King actually said (paraphrasing) “Anyone who thinks that multiple chassis manufacturers are going to be good for the IndyCar Series, well…you just don’t have a clear understanding of racing.” Mark Jaynes went further, adding, “…The days when some people came and dominated the field are over. Every time a driver is in their pit stall, they look ahead and look behind them…they see that every driver has what they have and they know that they have as good a chance as anyone to win the race.”

Does Mr. Jaynes not realize that after six races, every race has been won by only two teams? I’ve made my case before about innovation, engineering and competition. But to say that this product they are putting on the track right now is the best it’s ever been, is ludicrous. Give the fans some credit for having some intelligence. What troubles me is the arrogance and contempt that these two show the fans of the series. Last week, I mentioned a similar gaffe by Mike King essentially berating a viewer regarding a potential race in Cleveland next year. It may or may not happen but King went off on what a ridiculous idea that was.

This sounded like two delusional old men that couldn’t bring themselves to say that things were better only four years ago. Has Tony George censored them to the point where they are to do nothing but spread propaganda? Are they not allowed to be objective at all? I have no problem with them sounding a different opinion than mine; but for a series that is basically starving for fans, belittling the few you’ve got is not such a good idea…especially when they are encouraged to ask questions.

On a lesser scale, I felt somewhat insulted Saturday night as Bob Jenkins kept reminding us how entertaining this was with the tremendous amount of passing we were witnessing. Keep in mind we would hear this, as a single car would approach another and fall back a few times, while the rest of the field would continue in single-file. This might be entertaining for Long Beach but not Texas Motor Speedway. Did Jenkins think that our memory had been removed and we would have no recollection of how Texas used to be as recently as 2005? Excuse me Bob, but I think I know good racing when I see it and this wasn’t it. Please note that I really like Bob Jenkins. I think he is one of the top three motorsports announcers out there. I just felt like he was following a script prepared by a league official.

I saw a website Sunday that blasted those of us that complained about the poor racing Saturday night. This site took the approach that the doom and gloom people should just go follow another series, and the IRL will be just as well off. This frame of mind is wrong and is a head-in-the-sand approach. The IRL needs to acknowledge there is a problem with their races and do something quickly to solve the problem. With most of the races on a niche network, they have to give the casual fan a reason to seek them out. I don’t care for ESPN’s coverage but most sports bars are already tuned to ESPN…not Versus.

There seems to be a very large disconnect between the league and its fans. The select few decision makers sit at 16th and Georgetown and decide what they want, with no apparent regard for the fans. The Kool-Aid has blurred their vision. When fans dare express an opinion different from the league, they are essentially told to run along…that the league knows better. This is Tony George’s league and he can do with it what he wants. But here’s a hint to anyone with the IRL that will listen…Not only will you not gain any new fans with this single file battle between two teams, but with the current mindset — the hardest-core fans like myself will eventually find other things to do than watch a race, much less attend one in person.

George Phillips


8 Responses to “Does The IRL Care What Fans Think?”

  1. George,

    I can’t speak to the IMS radio team, as I haven’t been listening in, but I can confirm your take on Bob Jenkins on the Vs. broadcast Saturday. I think Bob is the best there is where TV racing coverage is concerned, but he was noticeably off his game on Saturday night. He usually isn’t one prone to hyping a race, but he was driving me crazy with his constant reminding of how great the action is at Texas. What race was he watching?

    Judging from the comments I have been seeing on the IRL blogs, most of us were wondering what the heck was happening. Texas used to be known for breath taking racing, but Saturday was a parade. If not for the phony caution flag near the end, Briscoe may well have lapped the field. What little racing there was only took place because of the debris caution. Even then, aside from Marco’s late charge up to 4th, it was just him and Danica fighting for 5th & 6th.

    Back to the Vs. team, I have seen some suggest that Jenkins was told to hype the race, but I think he’s too much of a professional to drink the koolaid. Unless it continues I am going to chalk it up to a bad night. He seemed off in other ways as well, mis-identifying cars a few times, and having some trouble following the action. In any case, the IRL did not give the announcers much to work with. Hard to make a parade like that seem interesting.

    I was happy to see Dixon call it like he saw it. They need to do something to the formula. Having everyone running the same package for 7 years has just allowed the deep pocket teams to come up with the little innovations that set them apart from the field. No small team is going to have a chance unless the Penske & Ganassi boys screw up (like the Glen last year)

    It’ll be 2 1/2 more years of these Dallara-Honda’s before they plan to introduce different engine packages & a new, as yet to be designed, Dallara chassis. I am at a loss for what they can do in the short term to mix things up again. Change the wing packages? Change the tire compounds? To be honest, I’d rather sacrifice 20 mph and see them racing in the Firestone Indy Lights package. At least those spec cars seem capable of actual racing.

  2. Cars are too aero-dependent. More mechanical grip from the chassis and the tires and less dependence on the front wing would drastically help. Someone needs to go through every single rule change that Brian Barnhart has made over the las four years and figure out which ones ruined the racing….oh, and them lock him in a room far away from the racetrack.

  3. I know first hand that the powers at the top care deeply about what the fans think. But the ladder of command are not the best at times. This has become a very frustrating point with the top. Expect a big middle management shakeup this season or in the off season.

  4. The part that nobody seems to acknowledge is if the fans don’t like what they see, they can easy find something else to do with their time and money. The customers are ultimately the ones who decide if your business lives or dies. These people act like customers are compelled to give them their attention and money. They’re not. There are many other things that are competing for our time and money. I have a dirt track near me that would love to have the attention and cash I spend on IndyCar. So treating us like idiots isn’t the best strategy. Let’s see IMS Radio Network sell ads for races nobody listens to. So go ahead and tell your dwindling fan base how great everything is as more and more go find some other form of entertainment that is actually concerned with keeping our attention and money.

  5. Let’s see what their history is.

    1) CART fans, get lost.

    2) Original Vision fans, get lost.

    3) Pre-CART traitor influx fans, get lost.

    4) Champ Car potential IRL fans, insult you before you even give it a try.

    5) Now, all 17 fans who are left, shut up and like it.

    Not that there is any time left to save this fiasco, but if there were, the IRL management clearly would rather sham and scam their way along than ever show any class, grace, or integrity to actual fans of real racing.

    They are doomed.

  6. your article certainly gave me pause as i have chosen to drink the kool aid. you make some great points and i appreciate your thoughtful insight into some of the issues facing the irl. but the leap in logic from there are problems to they dont listen is somewhat of a stretch. i think the irl and ims are willing to try just about anything to make this thing a success.
    what would you expect they stop the race in texas so someone can fabricate an alternative chassis and then start up again. it is a process that takes partnerships and planning. as you recall they had multiple chassis how well did that work? i am not saying they shouldnt have two, its just they are working within a limited set of possabilities for tomorrow and perhaps a somewhat less limited set for next year, and again a somewhat less limited set for two years from now. i know 7 years and 2.5 years are a long time but shoot man with recent and more recent events i am happy that they have 20 or more cars starting every week. i can remember wondering if this was the year aj ran that other entry to fill the field to 33.
    it sounds like they are starting with the motor. should they put that on hold for the chassis? are you happy they are looking to change the motor? are they listening to those who want a turbo?
    i was disappointed with texas myself even though indycar provided those incar camera feeds that i took advantage of to watch the danica/wheldon/marco mess from the vantage point of TKs car. that was for free. why watch espn versus or anybody else when the irl gives you that kind of access. is that a good thing?
    granted the annoucers are more promotors than critics but EVERYBODY has an opinion on what is the SAVIOR for the irl and no appreciation for what good there is.
    there is some good and some bad but i think they are listening, harder than ever. i think everyone was a bit suprised by texas this year, me included, and now everyone has the answer and why dont they do it now.

  7. part of the problem is the need to cap the speeds. the allure of greater and greater speeds — of striving, on the edge, to eke out that last bit –“and its a new track record!” everyone wonders why qualys dont pack them in like they used to. THERE WILL BE NO MORE RECORDS. THEY WILL NOT GO FASTER. that my friend is the real problem not one chassis or one motor.

    those days are gone and that, i think, more than any split, or leader, or loudmouth, is what has hurt the allure of the greatest spectacle in racing.

    that in part is what the historians miss and now something new needs to be created. they thought if cant have faster speeds have closer racing. and that worked for a time. oh wait and still does. granted your only as good as your latest race–bummer about texas but i bet we will see some very close racing yet this year.

    hell at the 500 this year i was thinking back to years ago and how at lap 175 there were still something like 17 cars on the lead lap. that was nonexistent in the old days. often times you were lucky to have two. so what is the problem? no close racing. thats always been the case at times. No multiple chassis/engines? when money is their and the teams can afford it great! but to what end better racing? faster speeds? the racing IS better on average. the speeds HAVE TO be capped.
    can we strive for better racing–yes.
    do we have to cap the speeds. i think so. can you have a race without insurance. i would bet tony added the safer barrier, tethered the tires, raised the fence, raised the wall, and etc. all because he needed to find someone to insure the race at an affordable rate so that it could continue being a viable going concern.

    anyway its late and im just rambling. i did like your post. take it for what its worth. thanks for the blog

  8. Hey George,
    Regarding team domination, you could take this further. In the last 11 months, the only two drivers to break the Penske/Ganassi hold have been Justin Wilson (Detroit; where Helio lost the race late for blocking) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (Watkins Glen; when Dixon comically took himself and Briscoe out of 2nd and 3rd during a late caution).

    It’s not too unrealistic to think that the two teams could have wrapped up every single race over the course of the year…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: