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Will new Ron Howard movie help or hurt IndyCar?

September 26, 2013

Will the new Ron Howard movie be good for the IndyCar Series?

Will the movie titled Rush lead to a rush of  attention, and better yet ticket sales, for the U.S.-based open-wheel series?

There are two schools of thought on that.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles said “it’s a positive anytime we can have pop culture talking about auto racing.” He added that a group of IMS/IndyCar employees and drivers have seen a screening of the movie, and said they gave it rave reviews. Boles has not yet seen the movie.

“From everything I’ve heard, it’s an outstanding movie,” Boles said.

Sports marketers largely agree Rush will shine a positive light on all of open-wheel racing, including the IndyCar Series.

“A rising tide certainly lifts all boats,” said Larry DeGaris, director of academic sports marketing programs at the University of Indianapolis. “By all accounts this movie is well done, really polished. And seeing racing in that light can’t hurt.”

Critics are calling Rush, which opens nationally on Friday, one of Howard’s best works. That’s no small feat for the director of Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon and Backdraft.

ESPN.com’s K. Lee Davis opined that the movie should earn actor “Daniel Brühl an Oscar nomination, if not an outright win.”

Davis gushed that the movie “is sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. With race cars!”

But here’s the rub. The movie is not about IndyCar racing. It’s about Formula One, seen by many racing aficionados nationally and globally as IndyCar’s big open-wheel brother.

Rush is based on the true story of the 1976 F1 title battle between Englishman James Hunt and Austrian Niki Lauda. Not only is Brühl getting rave reviews for his portrayal of Lauda, but Chris Hemsworth is getting praise for his portrayal of Hunt.

Casual U.S. fans could certainly transfer the interest in racing spurred by this movie into an interest in the IndyCar Series, which is more accessible here, DeGaris said.

But, DeGaris added, “if the movie positions IndyCar as the junior circuit, or even puts that thought in people’s minds, that’s not such a great thing for IndyCar.”

The movie itself probably won’t directly infer that, but the fact that F1 is the focus of such a high-profile movie—and IndyCar is not and never has been—might point people in that direction.

And while Boles and everyone else involved in the IndyCar Series insist that F1 is not a competitor, television viewers can’t help but notice how much hype the series is getting on NBC's new sports channel. Maybe it’s my imagination, but NBC seems to be promoting F1 races more heavily than the IndyCar Series, which also airs a bulk of its races on the same cable channel.

The IndyCar Series (or Indy Racing League) was still two decades from forming in 1976. But IndyCar racing was certainly around in the 1970s. Many would argue that it was at its height then. Some would argue that U.S. open-wheel racing—of which the Indianapolis 500 stood as the crown jewel—during this period and even extending through the 1980s and early 1990s, was F1’s equal. Several F1 drivers crossed the pond to test themselves at Indianapolis.

But the IRL-CART split changed all that. At the same time F1 has continued to grow worldwide.

Hopefully, Rush won’t somehow drive that point home to moviegoers, who are more apt than ever these days to go home after the viewing and do a little research on the Internet. And hopefully the movie won’t drive fans from IndyCar to F1.


 

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