A Taste Of May In February

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IndyCar Media Day started quietly enough. After a quick trip to Charlie Brown’s, where I ran into a few old friends – I made my way to IMS. It was a little surreal as I was making my way toward what is usually a vacation destination for me, in the middle of Indianapolis rush hour as everyone else was headed for their daily routines and jobs.

I was early arriving at IMS. I could see the construction for Project 100 – the refurbishing of the upper grandstands along the front straightaway, as well as what used to be Georgetown Road behind it – from the roundabout. I pulled into the quiet and empty entrance off of 16th Street. Talk about surreal – to pull into a completely empty and silent IMS is eerie. But I followed the signs around and parked directly behind the Media Center, just beside The Pagoda. Believe it or not, they had Yellow Shirts directing what little traffic there was, except at this time of year I guess they’re called Yellow Coats.

I got settled into what has been my usual seat since 2010, on what used to be known as Blogger Row. With the dearth of IndyCar bloggers these days, there are just a few seats left for bloggers. Surprisingly, when bloggers were more numerous, they put us all on Row Four of almost fifty rows of desks – in what I consider prime seating. On a side note – yesterday, I also had the privilege of sitting directly behind Paul Page.

The day started with the rookies. Conor Daly (who showed up in a driving suit by mistake), Spencer Pigot and Max Chilton shared the stage with returnee Mikhail Aleshin. The only really noteworthy comment came from Daly. He found out after the season that he was held out of races by Dale Coyne late in the season in order to protect his rookie status for this year. He says although there are a couple of interpretations of the term rookie, he is under the impression he’ll be able to run for Rookie of the Year. Apparently, he was the last to know of this strategy and said he would’ve felt a little better about his status for a 2016 ride had he known of this strategy.

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Next up were the Young Guns of IndyCar, featuring Marco Andretti, Josef Newgarden, Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe. The joke was how long can three of the four actually be called “young guns”, since Marco is headed into his eleventh IndyCar season, Rahal his ninth and Hinch will be thirty on his next birthday.

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Then Mark Miles and Honda’s Art St. Cyr were next on the docket to announce that Honda had signed a two-year agreement with an option on three years (whatever that means). I found it curious that the initial announcement offered no details of the length of the agreement. It wasn’t until someone asked during the press-conference that they announced the timeframe. Regardless, this is a big deal for IndyCar and I’m glad it’s settled – for now.

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Following that, was IMS President Doug Boles to give an update on Project 100 and all of the improvements going on just outside and across the track from the Media Center. What struck me most in his comments was his commitment to maintain the look and feel of the historic venue. He offered a great example that if Wrigley Field was to remove the ivy and put in artificial turf that there would be a justified outcry. The same goes for longtime attendees of the Indianapolis 500. He mentioned that it was suggested that the new stadium seating areas might use the confetti style seating they used in the renovation at Daytona. Boles decided that it would be best to maintain the standard green seating that had been used for decades. It was his goal to maintain the look and feel of the place while upgrading the structure. It looks like he is succeeding.

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After a semi-delicious box lunch, we were taken to the Green Room beneath The Pagoda where Scott Dixon helped to unveil the “new” livery for his No.9 Target car. Longtime fans will recognize it as a throwback to the Target livery that Ganassi ran between 1996-2000. Ironically, as long as Dixon has driven for Ganassi – he never ran with the lightning-bolt scheme.

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Then we were taken out onto the track where a special presentation was to take place on the yard of bricks. I was able to take the obligatory on-track pictures including heading into Turn One and the yard of bricks. It’s a sight I never grow tired of nor take for granted whenever I see it.

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While we waited, a very cold downpour came. As big a fan as I am, I’m not an idiot. We all ran for cover and decided to forget the presentation – whatever it was.

Fortunately, the presentation was moved to under The Pagoda. I’m glad I stuck around and didn’t head for a warmer area. What it turned out to be was a presentation to Helio Castroneves from Doug Boles, presenting him with a section of the fence that Helio had climbed following one of his three Indianapolis 500 victories. The old fence had been replaced in the fall and Boles was thoughtful enough to remember to save a section to give to Helio, who seemed genuinely surprised and touched by the gesture.

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Back to the warmth of the Media Center, there was an interesting exchange as Juan Montoya and Will Power re-lived the final laps of last year’s Indianapolis 500.

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After that, Mark Miles had a podium moved out just for him to make some remarks regarding some promotional strategy changes and factors involved for television coverage. He also made remarks about the return to Phoenix and Road America this season, as well as the new race in Boston – which he thought would certainly take place. He also mentioned some new safety features such as tethered car pieces and flaps similar to NASCAR’s roof flaps to help keep cars from going airborne.

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When asked of where he thinks IndyCar is today, he uttered the phrase ”…fan metrics are improving”. Is that a phrase that someone uses if they are really in touch with fans and listen to them directly? That, to me, sounds like the verbiage used by someone that reads reports in an office and has no direct or personal interaction with fans.

That is my top complaint about Mark Miles. I just don’t get a sense that he really knows what fans want. I also found it a little condescending that he was the only speaker of the day to speak from behind a podium. I thought that spoke volumes. I also thought that the absence of new IndyCar President Jay Frye was a little curious. A few said they saw him in the crowd earlier, but I would’ve thought this would be a good time to trot him out in his new role…but that’s just me.

With that, the official festivities concluded a little before 3:00 local time. Miles hung around and took a few more questions. Many drivers including Carlos Muñoz, Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay came in and made themselves available for one-on-one time until about 5:00.

The weather radar was starting to really look nasty – especially towards Nashville. I posted this post and headed to the gift shop (which had closed an hour earlier) and then to Dawson’s on my way out of town. My plan to stop at Mug-n-Bun was thwarted. When I drove by it yesterday morning on my way to the track from my hotel, they had a sign announcing their winter schedule and Tuesday was not on it. Bummer. I’ll have more on my activities, as well as more pictures as well as videos on Friday.

I was afraid that I would drive all the way up for a lot of nothing. That was not the case. Instead, I had an absolute blast! It was so good to remove myself from the dreariness of winter and the pressures of work for one day. It was as if I transplanted myself from early February to the middle of May. I was able to see many old acquaintances that I usually see once or twice a year. It was also good to see the drivers in a much more relaxed state of mind. It was very therapeutic to get a taste of May in February.

George Phillips

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27 Responses to “A Taste Of May In February”

  1. Br!an McKay back from Daytona Says:

    Glad that you enjoyed a Winter getaway to the Speedway and acquaintances.

  2. Thanks a lot for the report, George.

  3. A couple of questions you left unanswered: how was the new hotel and what did you bring back for Susan? 😆

    I agree tho, why didn’t they bring out, introduce, and have Mark Frye make a couple of remarks? Perfect opportunity wasted. Also,mid the Boston race is in such great shape, why not have someone there from the race group to talk about it briefly to emphasize that point? Hmm….

    Looking at JP brings to mind a discussion I’ve had many times: drivers need life coaches to teach them how to behave in public. Sitting there, looking like you’ve been called to the principal’s office or bitten into a crap sandwich is not a way to represent yourself or your team. Especially not Team Penske. Slumped over and scowling shows a shitty attitude.

    • There’s very fine line between fans/sponsors wanting drivers to express their true selves & corporate selves. When Montoya was in F1, he was (and still is) the most blunt and honest driver
      I’ve ever seen here. He once criticized Schumacher’s defence tactics on track as the act of a man “[who is] either blind or stupid.” I must admit when Monty walked out of F1 halfway through 2006, the excitement dried up due to the sudden reduction in on-track incidents. To be fair Monty does take it too far in the “me-me-me” department, but you have remember Indycar did lose Tony Stewart to NASCAR in the late 90s. Now consider the drivers who mostly comprise F1 and Indycar today. Where Indycar has Scott Dixon, F1 has Jenson Button. Both good-looking, but bland in their press conferences (Button even once went out with Scott’s wife). Ultimately, if you keep hammering drivers for being stroppy and acting in the true manner of a racing driver (moody, selfish, egotistical, defiant, quarrelsome, aggressive, cold & calculating), you lose the essence of a racing driver. You just end up with plenty of choirboys who appease the likes of Mark Miles, Bernie Ecclestone & their cronies.

      Okay yes Monty could do a bit better considering it is a PR day with no competition taking place. I was never a fan of Monty, but if you keep telling your flamboyant youngsters such as Sage Karam to behave themselves, they will flock to rival series and Indycar will be left with a personality as dry as a desert.

    • Wow. I think it is remarkable that you could tell all that from a photo that captures an instant in time.

  4. good job as usual, george.

  5. I agree 100% about Mark Miles .

  6. No witty words to add, just wanted to say thank you for another fine read and allowing us to “join” you as you went through the day.

  7. “It was his goal to maintain the look and feel of the place while upgrading the structure.”

    That is one Indycar decision I can agree with! Like hearing that.

  8. Bruce Waine Says:

    George – Thank you, indeed, for the rapid turnaround posting your report. It provides a detailed insight that we would otherwise not have access to from the regular known race coverage types that post once a week or seldom during the off-season.

  9. billytheskink Says:

    Thank you for the report, George, sounds like a good time.

    I think we need more cars with lightning bolts on them… and more bloggers. It is unfortunate to read about how few there now are. I have long thought that Indycar has done an excellent job encouraging bloggers to cover the sport, especially with the media access they are willing to grant, but the facts no longer seem to match my opinion. Were we just unlucky to have found most all of the folks who ever wanted to blog about Indycar at around the same time and now we’re burning them out one-by-one?

  10. Mike Silver Says:

    Thanks for the post, George. I was at Daytona last weekend, and I thought the facility was blah. It was my first time there so I can’t compare old and new, but I didn’t get any sense of history or that I was at an iconic track. I did get plenty of PA pretentiousness about the world’s first motorsports stadium. Seriously? Glad IMS is sticking with green seating and maintaining the traditional look.

  11. “Fan metrics are improving” – I think we have a new catch phrase for the drivers to use when asked to offer an opinion on something controversial. 😉

    Thanks for the great post. May can’t come soon enough!

  12. I checked in to the live feed periodically throughout the day. I could not agree more George with your perception of Mark Miles. Everyone else gets a chair and a mic and Mark Miles gets a podium. Nothing screams disconnected or pretentious more than that. I have no idea what “fan metrics” means either. One should not fill a press conference ( if that what that was ) with corporate -speak and buzzwords. He is clearly , whether intentional or not, elevating himself from the rest of us plebeians.

    On a brighter note, it is cool to see all the progress on the speedway. That must have been a fun experience and a good break from a mundane day in February.

  13. Having all these photos accompanying your presentation makes for a delightful read on this cold, rainy Wisconsin day. I can’t imagine anyone else doing it any better. LARGE THANKS.

    Metrically yours………………………………………………….Ron

  14. Thanks for the report George. I am happy for you that you enjoyed the day. You brought back many memories for me, including rain at the Speedway.
    Your comments on Mark Miles spoke volumes beyond your words.
    It is good the IMS will continue to look like IMS. For all the changes that have been made since I was first there in 1963, it still seems familiar every year.
    Here is a little trivia note for you. Just East on 16th Street is what still looks like the old Victory Field/Bush Stadium home of the Indianapolis Indians. The outfield walls were covered with ivy.
    Many, many years ago Phil Wrigley, the owner of the Chicago Cubs was in Victory Field, saw the ivy, and decided that would be good for Wrigley Field. He took some clippings from Victory Field back to Chicago and that is why the walls of Wrigley Field are covered with ivy to this day.

    • Hi Mark. Not to be picky but it sounds like you haven’t been by old Bush Stadium here in Indianapolis; it was converted to condominiums several years ago and looks nothing like the fabulous old style ballpark it used to.

      Phil Kaiser
      Indianapolis

      • Mark Wick Says:

        Phil, I haven’t been in Indy since March of 2013, so I haven’t seen the old stadium. I have seen photos and it looked like from the old parking lot it looks much the same. I know it is very different inside the old facade.
        I spent four wonderful seasons, 1986-1989, photographing at nearly every Indians home game, and I was sorry to see that wonderful stadium fall in to disrepair. I am happy that at least some of it remains.
        And, there is still the ivey in Wrigley Field.

  15. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    Any word on if they plan to continue the Indycar Fan Metric Village at each event? I hope so, the metrics of 11-17, 18-29, and 30-49 would be greatly served.

    Thanks for covering this George. I always appreciate the fortunate and independent blogger’s view behind the scenes, not veiled only in a curtain of quotes and PR releases.

    Now I’m off to fill my 30-49 year-old fan-metric face with a imperially-measured burger.

    PS: I typed this comment from behind a podium, don’t judge.

  16. I was interested to hear Doug Boles, when speaking about the grandstand improvements, say that they have managed to work around the trees in back. My uncle Dick Campbell, who lived nearby in Broadripple and attended about 40 races in a row, managed to acquire over the years a parking spot on a small patch of grass next to one of those trees. As we would approach 16th street on the morning of the race he would give me $20 to hop out and bribe someone in line to let us in. After that he had some kind of magical pass/sticker that enabled him to kind of part the Red Sea-if you will-and get us very quickly to that wonderful tree. It was so cool to see those police officers stopping traffic to wave us through. Unfortunately IMS did not allow any of our family to inherit the grassy knoll.

  17. metrics…heh heh.

  18. OK, I’ve gotta chirp in on the runaway Mark Miles demolition going on here. When Mark Miles says “fan metrics”, what he means is actual things that they can measure with real numbers. In this case, he’s referring to TV ratings and in-person attendance. Those are two things that can be measured and compared from year to year. It’s incontrovertibly true that TV ratings have been on the increase the last two years. Likewise, I believe that he’s probably correct when he says (and this is just a couple sentences later in that same quote):

    “What matters most is more fans paying more attention. I think that’s happening. We can talk about the metrics, whether they’re digital, dot-com, social, broadcast. It’s very hard to get a handle on attendance. We learned about some new technology in Phoenix that will give us a better ability to have a better understanding by day at each event how that works. But my sense is if you can sort of normalize for crummy weather and rain last season, the vast majority of our races have bigger crowds. I think about attracting more fans and I think the direction is good for us. ”

    He makes some allowances there for races like Fontana 2015, when he says “the vast majority of our races have bigger crowds.” Only a complete moron would claim Fontana 2015 was anything other than a catastrophe, attendance-wise, so he left some wiggle room in there to put Fontana in the “vast minority”. But, objectively speaking, it sure does seem like attendance at most races are headed up, same as TV numbers.

    Things like “what is going to make/keep the fans happy?” is an incredibly nebulous and impossible to define or measure thing. I’m not sure if any of you have spent any time on Racer.com’s comments, or TrackForum (though I still only spend about 10 minutes there every calendar year), or even right here in George’s comments, but my impression is that if you ask 100 long time IndyCar fans what their “platonic ideal” IndyCar series would look like, they’d get 60 different variations, maybe more. Some folks want all ovals. Some want all road courses. Some want a full month at Indy. Some want three days at Indy. Some want the roadsters back. Some want $10 million chassis with hybrid turbine systems. And on and on How do you plan on making this wide variety of people with nearly infinite viewpoints happy? Miles and the folks at 16th and Georgetown probably spent all of 30 minutes researching this topic and came to this conclusion: “you can’t”. You can’t measure what the fanbase wants, because every fan wants something different. So “fan happiness” does not fall under the umbrella of “fan metric”. So, instead, they’re doing what they can do. In this case, it’s making little tweaks to the schedule, trying to control costs, attracting sponsors where they can, trying to get in front of more eyeballs by avoiding things that’ll guarantee limited TV audiences (like NASCAR races and NFL games), etc. And then when those things have been done, you measure what you can. If attendance and TV ratings go up (the two things you can objectively measure with numbers that can give you any kind of indication of “fan hapiness”), you’re going in the right direction, because those are the two things that will bring in the dollars that will sustain you as a viable business into the future.

    Look, Miles is a little wooden and maybe a little aloof. Maybe it doesn’t “send a great message” that he was the only person standing behind a podium all day (though it seems like other than the incredibly grounded and capable “off the cuff” speaker of Doug Boles, Miles was the only person who had any prepared thoughts or notes to work off of). But that doesn’t mean that the guy isn’t a bright business mind who’s trying to make sure that the IndyCar Series can be operated well into the future for us to continue to enjoy.

  19. Mark Miles is beginning to make “Jargon Joe” Heitzler sound like a genius.

    Geez, could Miles speak any more words, while actually saying lees, than Joe at his most “lucid”?

  20. ecurie415 Says:

    It’s too bad the blogger row is shrinking. I blogged about IndyCar for the better part of six years, and finally gave up. The IndyCar people and the raceway people were always professional and wonderful to deal with. But there were more than a few times that I felt completely out of place in the media center, usually by a full-time sports columnist that knows zero about racing, but received a free pass to attend Sunday’s race and wasn’t happy to see bloggers given any kind of access. At the same time, it was really the bloggers who provided support for a series that struggles to find attention in the mainstream media.

    It was also disheartening to deal with the constant rancor between the fans, the series, the media, and other stakeholders. I found that the deeper I dug, the less I liked what I found. Seems counter-intuitive but sometimes ignorance is bliss.

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