Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

Lately, it seems I’ve been sort of the grumpy old man that I really am when it comes to the powers-that-be at 16th and Georgetown. I’ve been moaning and complaining about the deafening silence that has been coming from Mark Miles & Company for several months and wondering just what they were doing. Well, I’ve always thought that if you’re going to complain when you think something is going wrong, you need to offer up praise when something is done right. On Monday, something was done right.

Sunday afternoon, I saw a tweet from IMS telling us to pay attention to a special announcement on Monday morning that would have an impact on the Month of May. I figured it would finally be the details on the proposed changes in the qualifying format. I saw where others thought it would be an announcement regarding a new title sponsor. I didn’t think it would be that, since it referred to impacting the month of May – not the entire series.

Don’t laugh at me when I tell you what the announcement was. OK, it was a concert. Go ahead – take your best shot at me. Scoff at me for getting excited over a concert at a race track.

First, let’s get a few things straight. I am not a concert goer. That’s not just me being old and grumpy. I didn’t enjoy going to concerts in high school or college either. I’ve seen my share of them – pretty big names, too. But I never liked the atmosphere.

My wife, Susan, on the other hand – loves concerts. She and I went to more concerts in 2013 (three), than I did in the previous twenty-eight years combined. She especially likes country music concerts. Last year, we saw George Strait in March, the Eagles (my idea) in July and Blake Shelton in September.

I’ve always been under the impression that if you want to go to a concert – head downtown and go. But if you go to a race track, you go there to see race cars. Period. I know that I am in the vast minority on that. One way that I know that is that the Boston Consulting Group told me so. Their million dollar report to the board of Hulman & Company said that those attending races and race tracks not only like to see live concerts during racing events – they expect it.

That’s why the prospect of going to Carb Day never excited me. I finally attended my first Carb Day last May. We got in town too late to see the cars run, but we arrived at IMS just before the Poison concert kicked off. Anyone that has met me will not be surprised to learn that Poison is not exactly my cup of tea. We watched from the terrace of the fourth floor Media Center with some of our fellow-blogger friends, while looking down onto the mob below. The whole time, I was counting my lucky stars that I wasn’t down there.

But when it was over, the time came to head to the Carb Night Burger Bash on the north side of Indianapolis. The crowd we encountered on our way to the var rivaled the worst original snake pit crowds I ever saw while growing up. As Susan and I made our way to the car, we came across many young women who couldn’t wait to bare their breasts. Why is it that those who are always willing to show their breasts, are always the ones that you wished they wouldn’t? Anyway, I think I’ve gotten my point across how much I really don’t care for concerts.

So why am I excited for this concert? Well, personally – I’m not. But I’m excited because the folks at IMS have finally gotten an A-Lister for a concert on the grounds. Since IMS started having concerts for Carb Day, they have had some forgettable names, some has-beens and some never-were’s. Most acts were at least ten years removed from their glory days – some closer to thirty. Never had they had a current superstar of today – not until Monday’s announcement.

On Monday, it was announced that Jason Aldean would be performing at IMS on Legends Day – the day before the race. Some will recognize the name, some probably won’t. If you are not a fan of country music, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of him. Living in Nashville, you can’t help but keep up with the latest and greatest from the world of country music, even if you don’t like it.

I enjoy country music, but I didn’t grow up on it. I know Jason Aldean is a megastar in country music, but I couldn’t name one song that he does. But I’ll promise you my wife can. When I saw the announcement Monday morning, I texted the news to Susan. Her exact response was “Yay! Someone I actually like!”. If you’ve never heard of Jason Aldean or you’re about as familiar with him as I am – Google him. You will learn just how big of a deal this really is.

The Saturday before the race has always been somewhat of a dud for most people. Personally, I always liked it. We would go to the track, go to the gift shops and go through the museum. Then – my favorite part of the day – we would head to the stands by the front straightaway and find an opening to go up to the top. There I would spend some alone time, contemplating what we were in store for the next day as well as reflecting on everything that had transpired on that stretch of asphalt in front of us over the past century. It was always one of my favorite moments of the entire month.

But the majority of people don’t get the same charge out of such moments that I do. Most considered the Saturday before the race as very dull on the grounds at IMS. Recently, they have come up with more activities centered around the newly created “Legends Day”. Each year, a certain legend is honored. Last year’s legend was Parnelli Jones. This year’s honoree is Mario Andretti. Both of those names certainly qualify as legends.

Still, there was something lacking. We went last year. We missed the early autograph session, but sat in the freezing cold on Saturday morning to see vintage roadsters run around the track for about an hour. Then there was the driver’s meeting that is nothing but show. Afterwards, there was a short ceremony honoring Parnelli. Afterwards, there was a Q&A with Parnelli on the stage in the Pagoda Plaza. That afternoon, there was an autograph session for former drivers. You could view the midgets set up behind the Pagoda, but most seemed more interested in having a tenderloin or just staying warm. Remember, it was very cold last year on race weekend.

The Jason Aldean concert doesn’t start until 5:30 on Saturday afternoon. I’m assuming it will be warmer than last year. Based on last year’s weather and what we’ve all gone through this winter, it’s hard to imagine standing outside for any length of time – but I’m sure it will warm up nicely by then (I hope).

Credit the folks at IMS for opening up their checkbook to give casual fans a reason to head to the Speedway on the Saturday before the race. Me, I’ll look at it as an annoying and unnecessary noise that will interrupt my silent moment the day before the race. But I understand that they don’t need to market to me.

These are changing times. What mattered to my generation does not interest those in their early to mid-twenties. They can either choose to market to a demographic that will be dying off in the next twenty years, or they can make themselves relevant to the up and coming generation. If they want to be around for another century, they need to appeal to those coming up. My crusty cronies won’t care for it, but that’s the way it is.

For the first time in a while, the good folks at IMS have shown us something, and they deserve a lot of praise and credit. Am I naïve enough to think this will save IndyCar and help preserve the Indianapolis 500? No – but it’s a nice start in the right direction. Whether or not you agree with the idea of a concert to lure people to a place we consider as holy, we should at least applaud the fact that they finally recognize that people aren’t going to come out and watch a bunch of burned-out rockers from the eighties. For once, they have gone after – and gotten – a major superstar of the day. If it’s not raining, I’ll promise you – the place will be packed, which is more than you could say for Legends Day last year. And Susan has already informed me – she and I will be there too.

George Phillips


17 Responses to “Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due”

  1. Mike Silver Says:

    I don’t go to the track for concerts either, but it is the way things have to be these days. I think I have only heard of 2 bands ever to play Carb Day. That’s why I always leave right after the Freedom 100.

  2. One slight disagreement – if Jason Aldean plays country music, then I’m AJ Foyt. Long live Bob Wills!

  3. He is usually referred to as a “pop” country artist; about as country as Danica’s cowboy boots. But hey, since Patsy Cline is no longer available, why not. Perhaps he will make the IMS cash registers ring and that would be good.

  4. While I do enjoy his music it just isn’t what I am there for. That being said, I like the decision. If your going to do it then do it right and IMS hasn’t done it right in a long time. Getting a name that people recognize instead of an unknown/has been shows that it is an “EVENT” and needs your attendance or you won’t be a cool kid. The fact that I am even considering walking over to see is a huge forward step, usually I head the other way.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    You would not believe how disappointed I was to learn that Jason Aldean is not from Aldine.

    I enjoy concerts, though I have pretty much never seen a very good one as the opening act of a racing event. This situation is a bit different, with the concert a headlining event the day before the race and featuring a current chart-topper (so I’m told). Kudos to IMS, I guess.

    In my experience,

    Best pre-race concert: ZZ Top sounding exactly like they do on CD/ Foreigner with no original members adding the Texas Motor Speedway slogan to the lyrics of “Hot-Blooded”.

    Worst pre-race concert: Willie Nelson. Admittedly, I’m not a fan, but I don’t see how even his fans could defend such an off-key and rambling performance.

    Weirdest pre-race concert: A Blues Brothers tribute group that entered the track in a Ford LTD (are there no Dodge Monacos that still run?) via staged police chase.

  6. While country music is popular and Aldeen is a big name, I’m not sure you can say someone’s moving into the 21st century by booking a country act.

  7. Hey George, don’t forget the very first Legends Day, which occurred three years ago honored the incredible Anthony Joseph Foyt, Junior….

  8. dzgroundedeffects Says:

    I have attended all of the Carb Day shows from ’06 – ’12 and in 2010, $20 got me an ’85 and sunny pre-summer day’ with Indycars at IMS and ZZ Top killing it. That was the best of that bunch for me by far.

    Most bands I didn’t care for but we’d have friends join our race week camping crew, just for Carb Day to see the band that was in town, so in some ways, the strategy of the past worked although I also personally wished for much bigger acts.

    I’ve been lead to believe that Miller-Coors paid for the rights to sponsor the concert and the concert ‘budget’ was based from that, hence the 2nd/3rd tier acts of various decades.

    I also proposed on my blog a few years ago that they adopt a more festival type day (Friday and/or Saturday), featuring multiple genres and stages, some bigger, some smaller, but one or two top-level artists as the showcase.

    I’m just glad it sounds like they finally got a real headliner. As I’m not a fan of country/pop-country at all, I won’t be catching it. If you go, I hope you and Susan have a blast!

  9. So the indy motor speedway is a concert venue for a day. That is going to bring in music fans, not race fans. But that is what businessmen do. Is it a good move from the standpoint of promoting Indycar racing? Nope. But it might make them some money in Indy for a day. I’ve seen the “race fans” on Carb Day. As recently as last year. Thats why I’ve made the decision to no longer attend.

  10. Mrs. Oilpressure Says:

    Seriously guys, I am so excited to be able to see Jason Aldean. As I grew up in a small town where nothing interesting happened, his music really speaks to me and many others–his concerts sell out every time. “Pop” country is one of the fastest growing music styles out there. He is both relevant to the young and older fan. This is a huge deal! His music will speak to the fans and draw some others in.
    Watch these videos:
    Fly Over States (Midwesterners pay attention!)

  11. I don’t think the Aldean concert the night before the 500 is the same thing as the Carb Day concerts. Regardless of your level of attraction for his brand of country music, Aldean will be a “big” event. Also some company is underwriting his concert–Firestone, I think.

    I assume there will still be a typical Carb Day concert featuring one of the “has been” groups.

    • That’s correct, red. IMS has said that the Carb Day performer is yet to be announced. I’ve regaled my co-workers with the list of Carb Day performers past, and they’ve also noticed the trend that the bands are roughly 10-12 years past their time of peak relevance. Therefore, the consensus at my office is that this year’s band will be Linkin Park (and, no, that is not a typo). You’ve all been warned.

  12. Well, George, if you say so. However, my cup of tea for concerts at IMS are The Screaming Mummies. They rock!

  13. As some (or most) have mentioned above, this is a big deal, especially how I see it. Not because I particularly like Jason Aldean (sorry, Susan, and sorry to the rest of the residents of Middle Tennessee who would string me up for saying so), but because this shows that Doug Boles, Mark Miles and all the rest of the folks in charge at IMS and IndyCar are well and truly treating IndyCar as a business that has to have a sustainable business model going forward.

    I’ve only stayed for one concert since I started going to Carb Day in 2008 (Stone Temple Pilots in the rain, in the interests of full disclosure), and I usually use the opening strains of the first song as my indication to head to the Coke Lot so I can be on my way to the Burger Bash (“Ain’t Lookin’ for Nothin’ But a Good Time”, to me, sounds best from 3/4ths of a mile away while walking out Gate 9), but I’ve always applauded IMS’s efforts to get more people into the gate on a day when less than capacity crowds were not a sure thing (that’s any day but Race Day). More activities with wider appeal = more patrons = more tickets sold = more $8 Miller Lights sold = $ that can be used to improve the grounds / prop up the Leader’s Circle fund / subsidize sanctioning fees at interesting venues / better promote the Race and the Series, or whatever. Giving 10-20,000 people a reason to come out to IMS and drop $25 on a concert ticket on Legends’ Day (which was probably only attended by 5-10,000 people before, at only $10 each) is a great thing. That’s some serious coin, even if basically none of those people bother to come back to the track for a single day of racing action for the rest of the year (any subsequent increase of ticket sales at any other event should be looked at as a bonus; this event is worth it, in and of itself).

    So, no, I won’t be staying for Jason Aldean (unless he brings in Kelly Clarkson to do that duet that’s one of the two Aldean songs I can identify, since even Mrs. Speedgeek will tell you that she is the Future Mrs. Speedgeek #2, in which case I will be front and center). In fact, by the time his opening act takes the stage, I hope to be pulling into the lot at IRP for the Night Before or at Anderson for the Little 500, or maybe just into the Union Jack for a Night Before pint (or three). But that’s fine by me. Make some money, IMS.

  14. I don’t put Jason in the “pop country” category; that’s strictly for the newbies like Jake Owen and the whiny narcissistic chicks (Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum, etc). POP-ular, but not pop. Not Randy Travis or George Strait, but country for sure.

    If I’m at the track, I don’t care about the concert (or if there is a concert), I’m there for the cars and stars who will be on track! But Aldean should grab the attention of more non-racing people, which can only be a plus.

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