A positive spin for IRL defections?

February 18, 2008
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
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?
  • 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.

Post a comment to this blog

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
  1. I am so impressed that the smoking ban FAILED in Kokomo! I might just move to your Awesome city!

  2. way to much breweries being built in indianapolis. its going to be saturated market, if not already. when is enough, enough??

  3. This house is a reminder of Hamilton County history. Its position near the interstate is significant to remember what Hamilton County was before the SUPERBROKERs, Navients, commercial parks, sprawling vinyl villages, and acres of concrete retail showed up. What's truly Wasteful is not reusing a structure that could still be useful. History isn't confined to parks and books.

  4. To compare Connor Prairie or the Zoo to a random old house is a big ridiculous. If it were any where near the level of significance there wouldn't be a major funding gap. Put a big billboard on I-69 funded by the tourism board for people to come visit this old house, and I doubt there would be any takers, since other than age there is no significance whatsoever. Clearly the tax payers of Fishers don't have a significant interest in this project, so PLEASE DON'T USE OUR VALUABLE MONEY. Government money is finite and needs to be utilized for the most efficient and productive purposes. This is far from that.

  5. I only tried it 2x and didn't think much of it both times. With the new apts plus a couple other of new developments on Guilford, I am surprised it didn't get more business. Plus you have a couple of subdivisions across the street from it. I hope Upland can keep it going. Good beer and food plus a neat environment and outdoor seating.