A positive spin for IRL defections?

February 18, 2008
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With its season opener six weeks away, the Indy Racing League is getting some preseason exposure from an unlikely source. During the run-up to NASCAR’s biggest race, the Daytona 500, the spotlight shined on two IRL alums vying for the stock car series’ 2008 rookie of the year honor.

Sam Hornish Jr., racing for Penske Racing, was the highest placing rookie, taking 15th at Daytona yesterday. He was in the top 10 much of the race. Dario Franchitti, who won last year’s Indianapolis 500 and now races for Chip Ganassi’s NASCAR team, was further back, finishing 33rd, one place behind Juan Pablo Montoya, another open-wheel alum who was last year’s NASCAR rookie of the year. Franchitti, and his wife, Ashley Judd, got plenty of media exposure in the week before the race. Almost every news account mentioned that Franchitti is the reigning IRL and Indianapolis 500 champion.

It has become more common for IRL racers to jump to NASCAR ever since Tony Stewart made the leap more than a decade ago. The defections are often viewed negatively by IRL marketers. But some marketers think the series could benefit from the NASCAR-related exposure.

“While you don’t like to lose your superstars, there’s still a positive side,” said Zak Brown, president of Just Marketing,  an Indianapolis-based firm that pairs sponsors with motorsports teams. “These drivers, and their affiliation to the IRL, have the potential to draw attention to the series from a different audience.”

Is there an upside for the IRL to losing some of its most talented drivers to NASCAR? Or does it make the open-wheel series look like the minor leagues?
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  • I think the exposure is positive for the Indy Racing League. Hornish and Franchitti are getting some deserved attention and it gives the IRL some credibility which is good. There has been a lot of open wheel talk even around this NASCAR-centric time of the year. Hopefully the merger discussions come to some sort of conclusion this week and open wheel fans can look forward to a great Miami race to kick off the season.
  • I don't see how it could be positive for the IRL to keep losing its top drivers to NASCAR. The publicity only makes it appear to be a minor league, when really open wheel racing requires a lot more guts and skill.

    NASCAR is loving it, especially the foreign drivers. Isn't it ironic that one of the supposed reasons that Tony George formed the IRL was to give American drivers more opportunity. Supposedly, the audience didn't want to see foreign drivers. What a moron!
  • The migration of top IRL drivers to NASCAR is bad enough, but the publicity certainly underscores the minor league status of IRL. After clearly dominating all racing in the 50's through the mid 90's, and developing a product that was/is still the best in global racing, Open Wheel Leaders chose to marginalize their progress by re-engineering a reverse marketing plan, and then in stepwise fashion, to alienate and disenfranchise their fans, sponsors, drivers, and the owners. Even if they pull Champ Car into the fold, they have already lost a generation of fans. The road to re-building the program will continue to be long and hard, at least until the leadership espouses dramatic and sustained change.
  • Mark: Two sources with close ties to the IRL have said the dominos for IRL and Champ Car unification are in place and ready to fall this week. Of course, we've heard this before. But the sources seemed especially bullish on the unification this time. Marketers also think the reality of a unified series could rekindle talks with several key potential sponsors, although a title sponsor this year remains unlikely.
  • I don't think the defections hurt the IRL. Drivers switch series all the time. No one ever questioned when a driver (pre-split) would leave U.S. OWR for an F1 ride. The Nascar defections are by IRL drivers who have reached their goals in the IRL (usually winning the Indy 500 or the series title) and now just want to make money. None of them have left because they think Nascar is better racing. It's money, plain and simple. Unification of Champ and IRL could help improve competition, crowds, sponsorship and, most importantly, prize money. If the money gets better in IRL, you may see some defections go back the other way. There are still some Nascar drivers who really want their images on that Borg Warner trophy in Indianapolis.

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  1. These liberals are out of control. They want to drive our economy into the ground and double and triple our electric bills. Sierra Club, stay out of Indy!

  2. These activist liberal judges have gotten out of control. Thankfully we have a sensible supreme court that overturns their absurd rulings!

  3. Maybe they shouldn't be throwing money at the IRL or whatever they call it now. Probably should save that money for actual operations.

  4. For you central Indiana folks that don't know what a good pizza is, Aurelio's will take care of that. There are some good pizza places in central Indiana but nothing like this!!!

  5. I am troubled with this whole string of comments as I am not sure anyone pointed out that many of the "high paying" positions have been eliminated identified by asterisks as of fiscal year 2012. That indicates to me that the hospitals are making responsible yet difficult decisions and eliminating heavy paying positions. To make this more problematic, we have created a society of "entitlement" where individuals believe they should receive free services at no cost to them. I have yet to get a house repair done at no cost nor have I taken my car that is out of warranty for repair for free repair expecting the government to pay for it even though it is the second largest investment one makes in their life besides purchasing a home. Yet, we continue to hear verbal and aggressive abuse from the consumer who expects free services and have to reward them as a result of HCAHPS surveys which we have no influence over as it is 3rd party required by CMS. Peel the onion and get to the root of the problem...you will find that society has created the problem and our current political landscape and not the people who were fortunate to lead healthcare in the right direction before becoming distorted. As a side note, I had a friend sit in an ED in Canada for nearly two days prior to being evaluated and then finally...3 months later got a CT of the head. You pay for what you get...

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