The Many Benefits Of Chevy’s Return
A quick tour of the comments section of the IndyCar blog sites this past weekend, revealed mostly positive comments about Chevrolet’s return to the IZOD IndyCar Series. Quite honestly, I wonder how anyone could find anything negative about Friday’s announcement – but a few managed to, anyway.
No matter how you slice it, this was big – for several different reasons. On the surface, it satisfies what has been the gripe by several of us: we now have manufacturer competition in the series again – something that had been lacking since the end of the 2005 season. As good as Honda has been for the series, they needed (and wanted) competition. It was hard to be impressed by Honda’s claim of no engine failures for the past five Indianapolis 500’s. Since they were only competing against themselves, they had detuned the engines where they were not pressed against the edge at all. That will change in 2012 when Chevrolet, along with another possible competitor, enters the fray.
We can expect engine failures to be part of the equation, beginning in 2012. Although some say that’s a bad thing – I welcome it. A blown engine is a sign that an engine is stressed beyond its limits in the quest for more speed. It can also serve as the great equalizer and add another element of suspense. By then, when Dario Franchitti checks out on the rest of the field at the Indianapolis 500, we’ll wonder if his engine will last. That has not been a question for the past few years.
There is also the question if a team has selected the right equipment, year after year. In 2003, Penske and Ganassi both made the right call by going with Toyota. Penske won Indy with Gil de Ferran, while Ganassi won the championship with Scott Dixon. By 2004, that move didn’t look so good. Toyota did little to improve their performance, while Honda really stepped up their game. Penske and Ganassi both struggled, while Honda won the next two Indy 500’s, as well as the next two championships. The result was Chevy and Toyota essentially being driven from the series at the end of the 2005 season.
Looking beyond the immediate intrigue of better racing and more interesting storylines revolving around each manufacturer’s evolvement, is what Chevy’s return does for the series off the track. This gives the series an immediate and sizeable boost of credibility.
A little more than a year ago, things looked awfully bleak for this series. They had just finished a season that saw two teams win all but one race. Oval races that had previously featured breathtaking side-by-side racing, had been reduced to circular single-file parades. Off the track, a family feud had sidelined the league’s founder and CEO. What had already been a series with very little direction was suddenly rudderless. Sponsors were leaving without being replaced and the new TV contract was producing abysmal ratings. Even the most optimistic fan had trouble finding much that was positive in the series.
Then IZOD was announced as the series sponsor. They said all the right things and promised to take the newly re-named IZOD IndyCar Series to a new level. Many of us were skeptical. We had heard the same thing from previous series sponsors Pep Boys and Northern Light. We had also seen FedEx come into the CART series and do next to nothing. Early signs sounded promising, but it was still the offseason.
Then on March 1, an obscure man from an obscure niche sport was hired as the new CEO – replacing Tony George. Again, there were skeptics – myself included. How could a soft-spoken guy from Professional Bull-Riding who had never seen a race before, be expected to resurrect our struggling series?
After attending two races in person this season and seeing the improvements that have been made in so many areas off the track – I’m no longer a skeptic. In my opinion, IZOD surpassed any and all expectations in their first year as the series sponsor; and enough cannot be said about the job that Randy Bernard has done in less than nine months on the job. Randy Bernard and Mike Kelly (Executive Vice President, Marketing, Phillips-Van Heusen, parent company of series sponsor IZOD) appear to have an excellent relationship, which resembles that of two people that have been working together for years.
IZOD has done everything you could ask from a series sponsor, which requires much more than just writing a big check. They have practically re-written the definition of sponsor activation. In doing so, they raised the visibility of the series during the 2010 season, despite a TV contract that limits exposure. They also raised the credibility of the series and helped justify other sponsors to come on board.
Although Roger Penske apparently worked hard behind the scenes to convince Chevrolet, his former partner, to return to the series – don’t under-estimate the role that Randy Bernard and IZOD played in Chevy’s decision to return. Nor should you under-estimate what this does to other companies that are weighing their decision whether or not to cast their lot with the IZOD IndyCar Series. Seeing a company like General Motors invest heavily in the series, gives other potential partners, sponsors, etc, something to think about.
When GM was facing bankruptcy almost two years ago, they announced that they were seriously scaling back their NASCAR involvement. Now that they are the “new GM”, I’m not sure – but I don’t recall hearing that they have increased their presence in NASCAR. I think that it is significant that they have chosen to return to IndyCar, rather than throwing more money at their NASCAR program. Don’t think other companies won’t notice that.
Although we fans will enjoy the on-track benefits of Chevrolet’s return to the IZOD IndyCar series, I think that the series will benefit more from the boardroom clout that General Motors provides in bringing in more potential sponsors. So far, this is the biggest accomplishment in Randy Bernard’s short career. I can’t wait to see what he does for an encore.