Silence Is Golden…And Now Mandatory

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Just when you thought it was again fun to be a fan of the Verizon IndyCar Series, along comes the infamous Rule 9.3.8. The series was just coming off of three outstanding races featuring three winners that have not been frequent visitors to victory lane recently. Television ratings on NBCSN were showing significant increases and dialogue was about action on the track instead of inaction at IndyCar headquarters.

Well, we can’t have any of that. How dare this series pick up any positive momentum this summer?

A couple of weeks ago on a conference call, IndyCar CEO Mark Miles alluded to the fact that he would be addressing drivers who publically criticized the series. There was nothing in place to keep drivers and team-members from sabotaging the series by spouting their own personal agenda whenever a microphone was put in front of them. This was in response to a few drivers and high-ranking team-members in the aftermath of the Fontana race, where many in the series felt that IndyCar management failed to listen to their pleas to curtail what they felt was pack racing, before the race started.

I get that. I really do. It sends the wrong signal to potential fans and potential sponsors that have just watched this great race, then they hear everyone saying publically that IndyCar management is inept. Whether they are or not is debatable, but those type of comments need to remain in-house.

I’ll reference my first wife, when my son was around the age of five. Whenever he would misbehave (which was quite often), his mother would step in and tell me in front of him that no discipline was necessary. She undermined the message I was trying to send to him, thereby making me look like the bad guy while she pandered to him to be the more popular parent in his eyes. Later on, I would always ask her to confront me behind closed doors if she didn’t agree with me. I maintained we had to present a united front to him in order to be effective parents. She never would and consequently, he ended up being more than the average handful in later years. Today, he acknowledges that I was right to try to enforce the message, but being a kid – he took advantage of her stance whenever possible.

Is this a simplistic example? Maybe. But it sends the wrong message when the participants of an event moan and gripe about it publically. So I really get what Mark Miles is trying to do. But there is a flip-side to this viewpoint. Drivers claim that they tried to keep it in-house and were ignored. Therefore, the next step was to use the media as a sounding board to get the attention of series officials. And the way this was handled on Tuesday is a case study in how NOT to do something.

Before I go further and in case you’ve not heard of the new edict handed down on Tuesday, Rule 9.3.8 reads:

"Competitors must be respectful, professional, fair and courteous to others. At all times, Competitors must not, attempt to, or engage in conduct or statements that in the judgment of INDYCAR:

a) Threatens or denigrates any Official, fellow Competitor or the INDYCAR brand;

b) Calls into question the integrity or legitimacy of the Rules or their application, construction or interpretation;

c) Denigrates the IndyCar Series racing schedule or Event(s);

d) Threatens or denigrates any INDYCAR business relationship, including those with sponsors or broadcasters;

e) Otherwise threatens the integrity, reputation or public confidence of the sport, INDYCAR, or IndyCar Series."

So why do I say that this was handled poorly? Surely, IndyCar knew that this was not going to be received well. If they didn’t, they are more inept than fans are already giving them credit for. But instead of having Miles or Derrick Walker announce this addition to the rulebook in a press conference, where everyone heard this at once and would be able to ask questions for clarification; this was sent in memo form to the teams. Of course, one of the teams leaked it to Marshall Pruett of Racer.com and it spread from there.

I’ve heard the argument that every sport has such a rule in place and it was high time that IndyCar did too. That’s one of the many problems with this rule. There was already a rule in place regarding conduct detrimental to racing that included language that covered driver conduct in and out of the car. Like most of the IndyCar rulebook, there was enough gray area in its wording to cover this anyway. But Miles apparently felt it wasn’t enough.

Political Correctness is a hot-topic lately. Not to go off on any political tangent, but it seems that there is always someone, somewhere that can and will take offense to almost anything these days. It’s amazing how some comments can be interpreted as offensive or hurtful. To me, that is what should be causing the most outrage. What some may consider a refreshingly candid comment, the series may interpret as a denigrating comment toward a fellow competitor or the series.

One of the biggest complaints about NASCAR is that the personality of the drivers has been zapped and they all now sound like sponsor-hawking automatons. The personality of a lot of IndyCar drivers is their selling point. Unfortunately, this new rule has the potential to neuter the drivers and make them sound as exciting as a forty-pound bag of fertilizer.

Say what you will about social media, but when news of this rule came out – the buzz on Twitter was fascinating, as well as humorous.

But the humor was dealing with an all-too serious subject – and that was what was Mark Miles thinking? It didn’t take too long for him to get the message. Within a few hours, Miles issued a statement trying to explain the meaning behind the statement, which read:

"This rule is not a gag order. We recognize that controversy, tension and drama all have a place in motorsport today. Our drivers are competitors and we have no interest in eliminating the emotion and passion that is an integral part of our sport – or limit the content for media covering INDYCAR. As an example, some have speculated that the exchange between Ed Carpenter and Sage Karam last Saturday at Iowa Speedway would result in penalty under this new rule – that is not the case. We feel exchanges of that manner do not cross the line and instead highlight the intensity of Verizon IndyCar Series competition. We feel it’s our responsibility to distinguish between irresponsible statements that damage the sport or its competitors and the intense competitive nature of the series. This rule is to ensure we have authority to act when we feel it is required."

I’m no lawyer, but the wording of the rule sure sounded like a gag order to me. When words like must not and denigrate are used in conjunction with fair, courteous and respectful; it sounds to me like there is a lot of room for interpretation for Miles or the series to punish someone who says something they don’t agree with or not like the way they said it.

I’m also wondering how far reaching this rule is. Does it pertain to media? Didn’t Tony George get Robin Miller fired form a local TV gig in Indianapolis mainly because he didn’t like what he was saying about him? If it pertains to media, how about bloggers? I don’t really get too outrageous here, but I have been known to speak my mind. If I say something that is interpreted as denigrating “the INDYCAR brand”; I can’t get fired from here but I suppose I can have my media credentials revoked.

Chip Ganassi humorously tweeted the other day that he was hiring Donald Trump as an IndyCar driver, wondering how he would react to Rule 9.3.8. The real question is, how will Mark Miles react to someone that speaks his or her mind as freely and openly as Mr. Trump? I don’t talk politics here, but like him or hate him and for better or worse – Donald Trump has stirred things up in the political arena and gotten people talking about a political race that has otherwise been yawn-inducing, thus far.

America may or may not need Trump’s type of bluntness. That’s a topic for another forum. But the Verizon IndyCar Series could sure use it. As I said on Wednesday, Sage Karam could be just what the doctor ordered for IndyCar. While America may or may not benefit from such a polarizing figure, IndyCar sure needs one. In sports, it’s healthy to have enemies. The Celtics needed the Lakers. The Colts need the Patriots. Ohio State needs Michigan.

The Verizon IndyCar Series has been touting their farcical #IndyRivals all season long. Will Rule 9.3.8 squelch their own marketing campaign, just as they may actually be growing a driver that a lot of people could love to hate? The potential is certainly there.

The last sentence in the Mark Miles statement is the one I don’t like: This rule is to ensure we have authority to act when we feel it is required. There is no black or white in this rule. There are too many open-ended interpretations that can come from it. Talk about a slippery slope? This one is treacherous.

As funny as I found Will Power’s double-bird salute at New Hampshire, I thought his punishment was justified. You can’t do that towards race-officials. You just can’t. But had he gone on television reasonably stating his objections against re-starting that race, I would have had no problem with it. But would Mark Miles? Could that be defined as calling into question the integrity of the rules or the officials? It very well could under this new rule. That last sentence pretty well gives the series carte blanch to do whatever they choose.

And just what exactly are the punishments? What are the consequences for violating Rule 9.3.8? Does Dean Vernon Wormer put them on double-secret probation? Maybe it’s another Wednesday afternoon fine. Worst yet, they could deduct points. I’d hate to see a championship lost because someone extended their middle-finger.

Can you imagine this rule being in place during another time? Aside from his outstanding driving ability, it was his fiery temper that made AJ Foyt famous. Parnelli Jones punched Eddie Sachs the day after winning the 1963 Indianapolis 500 because he wouldn’t shut up. Bobby Unser was just as quick with his tongue as he was in the car. How legendary would these drivers have been had they been silenced by a silly rule telling them they must be courteous and respectful to their fellow competitors at all times? I laugh thinking about it.

Once again, Mark Miles has demonstrated how disconnected he is from the fans of this sport. This isn’t the sport of tennis that he came from, where chair umpires get glared at and fans whistle when they disagree with something. Tempers explode in tennis where the worst thing that happens is when an umpire incorrectly judges a ball to be out. Tempers escalate in racing because someone could possibly lose their life when something goes wrong. The stakes are a lot higher and emotions are understandably a lot more frayed in this sport.

I’ve seen it said where Mark Miles is trying to strip driver’s personalities so that they will be as dull as he is. That may be a little harsh, but I remember that former CEO Randy Bernard saw the value of drivers speaking their mind and showing their true personalities. Of course, he recognized that the drivers were the stars. I’m not quite sure what Mark Miles considers the star of this series, but it’s obvious that a driver showing passion and emotion is no longer valued.

From his bunker, Miles couldn’t read the signs that fans were finally happy with most things IndyCar. For the past month, the racing had been fantastic. Attendance appeared to be up at Milwaukee and Iowa and NBCSN was getting record audiences for IndyCar broadcasts. That disconnect from fans didn’t allow Miles to see what it was that the fans liked. He only knew that he didn’t care for what he heard from a few drivers being honest and speaking their minds. I didn’t necessarily agree with what all of them were saying, but I appreciated their candor and certainly respected their opinions. Now we’ll only be treated to sterile and filtered sound bites from drivers too afraid to speak their mind out of fear that someone somewhere might be offended somehow and that they will pay the price.

How boring this great series will become!

George Phillips

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32 Responses to “Silence Is Golden…And Now Mandatory”

  1. First to vote again …
    for many reasons, Miles is not suited for his job.

  2. Nice attempt to corral the spirited horses, but it will not change, nor disquiet those with differing opinions. Also, how do you fine someone who isn’t making any money?

  3. Ron Ford Says:

    A truly awesome blog by an awesome blogger. The awesome 9.3.8 rule insures that the awesome skies above this awesome race series will never be cloudy all day. Never will be heard a discouraging word. Every day will be a wonderfully awesome day in the neighborhood boys and girls.

    • Another awesome comment Ron!

      • Ron Ford Says:

        Thanks for the awesome comment Tom G. (Actually I think most Minnesota folks are pretty awesome except for those darn Vikings.) I found Marshall Pruett’s opinion piece about 9.3.8 to be hilarious, possibly even awesome.

      • Ron Ford Says:

        Awesome of you to say so Tom. I find most Minnysotans awesome except for those darn Vikings.

  4. tonelok Says:

    Didn’t somebody have T-shirts made of Will Power’s famous double bird to the race officials at New Hampshire? If I had the wherewithal I’d propose starting a movement right here on oil pressure.com putting that hilarious (and understandably punishable) gesture on a T-shirt and any fan that doesn’t buy into this new 9.3.8 rule, buy one and wear it to Mid-Ohio. Make stickers and hats too and put them all over the place.

    This whole reaction to what happened in Fontana was handled horribly. I understand something had to be done but the way this was handled gives us all further insight into the ineptitude of the management. Nothing could be done to change Will Power and Tim Cindric’s comments on live television, but this rule needed to be handed to the drivers behind closed doors without the public knowing about it. And let’s face it there’s nothing better than a good fist fight every once in a while to help the ratings.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Texas Motor Speedway hangs a new banner over the garages during the Indycar weekend every year. Usually it says “Indycar’s second home” or “The original night-time Indycar race” or some other slogan, but a couple years ago it read “Warning: Wild Asphalt Circus Can Cause Angry Birds” and featured the (blurred out) two-fingered salutes of Power and Sebastian Saavedra, who had given the gesture to Marco Andretti less than a week prior at Belle Isle.

      And at least two teams still had those “IndyRain Series” stickers featuring the silhouette of Power giving his double fingers on their toolboxes the last time I was in the garage at a race. Funny stuff.

  5. So we get to have the fake happy drivers like Helio and Tony who smile and cheer on camera but aren’t interested in the fans when the camera is off, that is good for the series (at least this rule makes me feel like that is considered “right”) but no one can be mad?

    You know, more people watch NASCAR to see Jimmie lose than win. Jimmie is a villain and people root against him, but they are rooting for NASCAR.

    This rule, just… it makes no sense at all. Indycar is already viewed as PC, vanilla, a term I used on another site is “bougie”. I just don’t get it, now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see the pansy slapfights that NASCAR has seemingly every week with “tough guys” like Kasey Kahne and Denny Hamlin, but some emotion is not a bad thing.

  6. This rule is so ridiculous. I honestly think once everyone is done making fun of it, it will just be ignored by the teams and the drivers, and quietly disappear.

  7. Jim Peabody, Colorado Springs Says:

    Mark Miles MUST go! He is sure to drive the final wooden stake thru our beloved Indycar. Ask yourself this: is he the face you want for Indycar? This continues to be about Miles, it is bigger than this latest new “rule”.

  8. madtad1 Says:

    If it weren’t for the fact that the job security is so poor in IndyCar, I would love to see all the podium drivers at the next post race presser follow Miles’ rules to the letter:

    “Dixie, did you feel Helio chop blocked you and deserved a penalty on track?”

    “IndyCar is an awesome series, Target Chip Ganassi is an awesome team to drive for and i am proud to compete with an awesome driver like Helio.”

    “But Dixie, you almost wrecked and had to pit for a new wing! You then went back out, it looked like you squeezed Helio into the wall and then went on to win. You weren’t mad at all?”

    “IndyCar is an awesome series, Target Chip Ganassi is an awesome team to drive for and i am proud to compete with an awesome driver like Helio.”

    “Helio, what is your opinion? You were apparently wreck by Dixie in retaliation for your chop block, it appears your thumb is broken, and you will miss the rest of the season.”

    “IndyCar is an awesome series, Team Penske is an awesome team to drive for and i am proud to compete with an awesome driver like Dixie.”

    • Bruce Waine Says:

      As a follow-up to the commentary interviews conducted by madtad1, is there any truth to the rumor that what we knew as the INDY Car Series will be rebadged the ‘Bobble Head Series’?

  9. billytheskink Says:

    The bark of this rule is going to be much, much worse than its bite, I think, so I’m not worried about it gagging drivers. Maybe it will make them more careful in what they say, but I would not bet on that either. I just don’t see the Miles administration having the guts to enforce this unless someone really, really dares them to.

    Of course, Indycar management just had to display their infamously impeccable timing and tact, releasing the rule to the teams via memo and doing so as the series heads into an off weekend after three attention-grabbing, races. The fact that they constantly find new ways to try put out fires by dumping ethanol on them never ceases to amaze me.

  10. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    Firstly, leaking internal memos to the public is poor form in most any case and nearly always damaging to all parties, including the writer who posted it and won’t identify who gave it to him.

    HOWEVER,

    No matter how precisely a rule is written, nearly every rule has a gray area attached if for no other reason that the inability of being able to see or predict the future and future circumstances.

    I don’t argue with having a rule in place, per se (one existed already with enough supposed gray area for the maker’s liking).

    I DO vehemently argue with the necessity, timing, publication, language, and the mammothly-cavernous gaping gray area of this new Rule. It’s essentially all bullshit and subjective in design and language, so again, what’s the bloody point?

    To send a message.

    What message was heard by the recipient and what was meant by the sender is now subject to debate.

  11. Awesome addition to the Rulebook. You can never have too many rules or spend enough time enforcing them. I look forward every week to the Post-Race Penalty Announcements, it’s almost better than the race itself. My only quibble with the rule is that is doesn’t go far enough. It really bothers me when a driver shows a flash of competitiveness, personality or anger. Personalities should be outlawed right along with personal opinions. More rules, less racing! You have my full support, Mr. Miles.

    • Lets be honest. There aren’t really more rules because fewer and fewer rules are ever enforced. In today’s age, Goodyear would be an Indy 500 champion. What once took a simple black flag and 10 second stop and go is now ignored if not accepted with difficulty. Every other race is plagued with race control prolonging a caution period to tell drivers to get back in position.

  12. What a country we live in now. The “tolerant” are anything but, we hold people from history to today’s standards, and privacy no longer exists.

  13. Good points George. It’s times like this that you have to ask yourself…WWJD…Caution-raw Jack Hewitt moment…https://youtu.be/2tAJtnl_1bQ

    • Ron Ford Says:

      Oh geeze! Jack Hewitt………What a character! There are not enough hours in a Wednesday to list the fines he would have gotten under 9.3.8. And he could run a race car as fast as his mouth. I believe he once won all four features in four different cars at Eldora. “Fat lil queery SOB flagman!” Classic.

  14. stupid rules like these are needed when you have guys that do nothing but b***** all time such as power and Montoya. shut and drive or go run tin tops!

  15. The real travesty of this laughable rule is all of the time and energy that must have been wasted on it over the last few weeks. Surely the Indycar brass had more important issues to focus on than this rule.

    Seems like it is usually reason for concern when the folks in charge are more worried about what is being said about them, than they are about working to move their organization forward.

  16. In light of the Colin Cowherd & Hulk Hogan controversies, Mark Miles is doing everyone in IndyCar a favor. We all should go through life like Marshawn Lynch talking to the media. No one gets crucified that way.

    • Except that Indycar needs media interest to actually thrive.

      The two most damaging things to come out of IMS were the denial of credentials to Ed Hinton and the refusal to let ABC/ESPN air the in car camera of Paul Tracy’s pass on Helio (Or provide that footage to Green).

      The press pool for Indycar is already the size of a kiddie pool and is easy to miss, even in the vacant and staged confetti gun excitement of the victory lane “celebrations”.

      What better way to make even fewer people interested than to further silence anything that might be interesting.

  17. Indycar is out of line.

    End of story.

  18. Lynn Weinberg Says:

    Great article, as always! I agree, the rule is silly. It’s too broad, and overlaps with the conduct rule. More than anything though, the timing is concerning to me. It seems like a knee jerk reaction, made with little thought to how it would impact the series. There are only a few races left. Mark Miles and his posse should have waited until the off season and quietly implemented it only if they still felt it was necessary in the off season. Instead, he made an impulsive rule change that completely contradicts their PR campaign #INDYRIVALS. He’s really a nitwit.

  19. Yannick Says:

    Introducing this gag order of sorts into the sporting regulations is now going to prevent any kind of verbal controversy from happening amongst IndyCar’s stakeholders (quoting the business term Mark Miles used in his press conference), and thereby, this rule is effectively preventing free promotion of the series from happening ever again.

    I’d say it’s an overreaction and the rule should quietly be dropped again at season’s end. Now, let’s hope Race Control works just fine until the rule gets dropped again so nobody needs to break it by justifiably complaining about the chief steward or somebody else.

    On another note, I doubt that ending Mark Miles’ tenure at the helm of IndyCar would help this series because IndyCar needs continuity more than anything. And until the controversies started at Fontana, Mark Miles provided just that – with the notable exception of the racing schedule.

    He is “settled in” as a CEO now, so let’s give him the chance to build this series for at least this season and next season. He is still in the “benefit of the doubt”-period of his tenure, and most fans forget that the sparse attendance at Fontana has been a byproduct of the tenure of Jeff Belskus as IndyCar CEO because that’s when the Boston Consulting Group report was commissioned.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      I agree with you that IndyCar needs continuity. My main disappointments concerning Mark Miles is his apparent unwillingness to engage “stakeholders” and the schedule issue. I think that 2016 will be and should be the make or break year for him.

      • Yannick Says:

        If he was merely IndyCar CEO, 2016 would certainly be the year he would have to prove himself. But as he is the head of Hulman & Co, the parent company of IndyCar, he has probably got more leeway. If his 2016 plans work out well, he’ll stay, and if not, the IndyCar CEO position might be filled again, but that post is meant to report to the head of Hulman & Co, if I recall correctly.

        Here’s hoping for a good schedule, and for continuity.
        And thanks for the reply.

  20. I remember the Cincinnati Bengals doing something similar which fans started calling the Carl Pickens rule as the change was really aimed at him. Players were forbidden to criticize the ownership and management of the team. It did not go over well, but as far as I know is still in effect today.

    The reactions over Fontana were an embarrassment to Indycar. I think they had to do something. If the rule were limited to reactions similar to that (ie. attacking a portion of the sport itself) I would agree. If it goes beyond that and would stop disagreements between drivers being aired, that probably goes to far.

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