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IndyCar, other circuits show signs of motorsports recovery

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In the last year, the IndyCar Series has signed 14 new sponsors as the league starts to improve its financial fortunes under CEO Randy Bernard, who took office last March.

The IndyCar Series is not alone in its successes. There have been a string of major racing sponsorship announcements that have some motorsports insiders wondering if the sport is making a comeback after four years of dwindling sponsorships and financial hardship.

Chip Ganassi, who owns IndyCar and NASCAR teams, thinks growth in the open-wheel series is driving growth in the sport.

“All of us in the industry feel the momentum of what’s going on in IndyCar racing,” Ganassi said. “We’ve got American drivers and new sponsors coming into the sport. That’s a breath of fresh air for us.”

motorsports California-based Lucas Oil Co. this month signed a deal to become the title sponsor of the Clermont venue formerly known as O’Reilly Raceway Park. (IBJ File Photo)

This month, locally based Bryant Heating & Cooling signed a multiyear deal to be the title sponsor of the Indianapolis Speedrome on the city’s east side, and California-based Lucas Oil Co. signed a five-year deal to replace O’Reilly Auto Parts as title sponsor of the facility formerly known as Indianapolis Raceway Park in Clermont. It’s now called Lucas Oil Raceway.

Both agreements, motorsports business experts said, net mid-six figures annually.

The IndyCar Series has signed recent deals with Verizon, Sunoco, Avis and Starwood Hotels to name a few. In 2012, Chevrolet and Lotus also will become major series sponsors and engine suppliers. Collectively, the IndyCar Series deals should bring the open-wheel series $5 million to $10 million annually.

IndyCar teams are sharing in the success. Penske Racing recently signed deals with Meijer, Shell Oil and Izod; Target Chip Ganassi Racing has signed a deal with Novo Nordisk and TBC Retail Group’s Service Central; and Sarah Fisher Racing has signed Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka.

Motorsports experts estimate that the IndyCar Series will see a 10-percent sponsorship revenue increase on the team and league levels this year, and up to 20 percent next year when the series will unveil a new car and engine package.

Despite the recent string of motorsports successes, there are still challenges. Bernard acknowledged that the IndyCar Series has not been profitable since its 1996 founding and is not likely to be profitable this year.

“I believe we could be profitable this year if we really wanted to, if that was our sole priority,” Bernard said. “But this is no time to cut corners. We must lay a solid foundation for the future.”

The future is now for Lucas Oil founder and CEO Forrest Lucas, who said all of his company’s racing properties are growing. Lucas’ firm owns racetracks, series and teams in various series nationwide, in addition to a television production company dedicated to motorsports.

Lucas is one of the nation’s biggest sponsors in the NHRA, the nationwide sanctioning body for drag racing. He said sponsorship of the local Raceway Park is a natural fit.

“I think the recent growth shows motorsports is working for certain businesses,” Lucas said. “It’s definitely demonstrated a return for us.”

Lucas said motorsports sponsorships are a no-brainer for many automotive companies, but are also proving successful for many consumer brands looking to be closely identified with the athletes that drive the sport.

Zak Brown, president of Zionsville-based Just Marketing International, said none of his clients are exiting motorsports, and some are contemplating putting more money into the sport as the economy thaws.

JMI represents some of the biggest sponsors in Formula One, NASCAR, NHRA and the IndyCar Series.

“In 2011, I expect Formula One to be up in year-over-year sponsorship revenue, NASCAR is starting to stabilize and strengthen, and IndyCar is doing the best if you look at new transactions,” Brown said.

Larry DeGaris, director of academic sports marketing programs at the University of Indianapolis, thinks motorsports is making a comeback by emphasizing up-close opportunities with drivers and team owners that aren’t available with the stick-and-ball sports.

The IndyCar Series is this year, for the first time, allowing children as young as 9 years old to get garage and pit row passes. Previously, most IndyCar tracks required fans to be 18 to be in those areas.

“For sponsors and fans, motorsports offers opportunities like no other sport,” Brown said. “What other sport can you get that close to behind-the-scenes action? [Motorsports operators] have gotten better at telling their story to potential corporate partners.”

Tracks like Lucas Oil Raceway and the Speedrome have succeeded by keeping costs down, DeGaris said.

“It’s like the Indianapolis Indians,” he said. “They’ve carved a niche out for themselves with family-friendly, affordable entertainment. A fan can buy a ticket for the same cost as going to a movie and, in some cases, sponsors can get in for a few thousand dollars.”•

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  • Peat and Repeat
    Uh, Chief...go back and count the number of failed cart venues during their lifetime for comparative purposes. That number is much higher. You also keep saying ratings and attendance for Indy Car were 'horrible' over the first fifteen years. Actually, neither supposition is true in the context of actual reality, except to bitter cart enthusiasts who create obtuse straw men scenarios to justify their ludicrous stances, all of which are without merit.

    The primary proof is in the continuation of business, and two facts remain:

    -The INDYCAR Series is in business and is considered healthy by professionals who actually see it as a successful venture.

    -cart killed itself. Twice.
  • So
    Why couldn't the IRL attract attendance at the 20+ tracks and markets that it abandoned over the past 15 years?

    There is a constant in all of this but the buffoon and other IRL stooges insist that IMS and the IRL's 'brand' of racing are not responsible.

    Bruce Martin writes most of the 'articles' for the speedway....I do recall his name in the news not too long ago. Maybe he'll be driving one of them new Camaro's during the 9 days of May.

    Keep lying D.
    • Open Your Mind To The Truth
      Go read the actual stories and quotes from the principals, kid. If you can (and whether you can remains in question) you will discover:

      -The INDYCAR Series dropped ISC tracks. Not the other way around.

      -Watkins Glen wanted the series back and lamented a challenging economy.

      If you are able to read, these articles are not difficult to find.

      By the way, what relevance to Anthony's story does your quaint little commentary have?
    • Lies
      You are a paid IRL propagandist. Why should anyone believe anything you say?

      Because the lame IRL series failed to capture the interest of fans after several years of forced ticket purchases, ISC unloaded the IRL.

      After several years attendance DROP...and when NASCAR dropped the tix extortion, the IRL couldn't stand on it's own. So it lied about it to save face. Last year I reported in these blogs about the promotions in my area....and how much the IRL was being rejected by fans.

      Stop BLAMING everything else and take responsibility for the DESTRUCTION of the sport. It's pathetic the great "INDY" is never liable for anything, isn't it?

      Geez, just admit the IRL stunk and was a failure already.

      • Renewed Presentation of Actual Facts for Those in Denial
        Actually, Indy Car has remarkable name recognition. Bernard all but admitted he changed the name primarily to try and appease bitter cart enthusiasts who tend to simplistically blame all they feel is wrong on Tony George. Hopefully Randy has learned there is no reasoning with the impaired.

        Another thing clearly stated by Randy Bernard was that ISC tracks were dropped by INDYCAR due to lack of adequate promotion. He took a stand. The notion INDYCAR got 'kicked out' is merely a childish fantasy of the handful of obsessed haters who squat on comment threads like these and not reflective of actual reality. We have covered this topic many times before.

        The theme of Anthony's story; i.e., things are looking up for INDYCAR and motorsports in general, is lost on the squatters as usual.
      • IRL didn't have name RECOGNITION?
        That must be why the IRL was kicked out of all there legacy ovals...no name recognition. After 16 years of fine Tony George legacy, 3 wide, short trackers getting chances and mega-oval failures.

        So, you're saying after 16 years the IRL had NO NAME RECOGNITION. Fascinating.
      • Multiple Attempts at the Same Explanation
        Same reason 'Clarion Health Services' changed their official name to 'Indiana University Health Services.' Better recognition. Like the IRL, Clarion did not go out of business. Rather, they continued in business, only with a different name. In how many threads will this need to be explained to you, Chief?
      • Why did they eliminate IRL?
        How come they KILLED the IRL moniker? If that which you speak was SO fruitful for the 'leegue', why would they bury the IRL moniker?

        Geez, what ever became of the IRL? 15 years, $750MILLION +, lower TV ratings, no attendance. Oh, that's right...they changed it's name so it wouldn't be associated with that IRL failure. BUT, it's still the SAME old IRL...with the same 9 year old chassis ad nauseum.
        • It IS Really Not That Difficult to Use Your Brain
          As a mature adult with firing synapses, I do not think in childish, kindergarten terms such as 'IRL' or cart 3. I look at facts. The primary facts are:

          -it is, in fact, INDYCAR, a direct continuation of the series Tony George started in 1996.

          -cart did, in fact, kill itself. Twice.

          Try wrapping your limited intellect around them for a change.
        • No brianer
          Mr. RJ Cunningham: What is a 'No Brianer'? Is it something to do with idiots?

          Ms. Defender: You miss, as usual. Just because the Speedway management realizes they need to get back to CART formula-style racing ASAP, that DOESN'T mean they can regurgitate the FAILED IRL formula from the past 16 years with a new name and expect morons to 'overnight' accept it like it was CART.
          Ma'am, it's not CART...it's CART3...a facsimile. It's like eating what you had for dinner last night again after it's been digested. That's INDYCAR today. YOU like it...but real AOW racing supporters do not. Maybe 2012 it can get better....if they can afford it.
          • Facts. A Wonderful Thing.
            "It's true...the lack of promotion of the 'Most Important Race in History' is clear indication the 'pros' at 16th and Georgetown are on it...again."

            Chief, this seems to be your latest sub-obsession with the INDYCAR Series. In every reply you have chosen to harp on this one self-concocted 'issue.' As a fan, I am also frustrated there is no nationwide media blitz on every channel, but I am also realistic and mature. I honestly do not believe you will see a ramping up until March. We live in a short attention span society. Why throw away money now to promote something six months away, particularly an event so well known already? Chief, every once in a while you need to use what intellect you have. Combining intellect with maturity would be even better.

            "So, listen NOT to what Indy lackeys preach as gospel. Instead, listen to the TRUTH...the series is NOT healthy."

            'Lackeys?' Classy. Hmmm. That's odd. Your opinion contradicts factual indicators cited by Anthony Schoettle in his piece. It is probably a better idea for rational folk to rely on actual reality. Not the desperate bleating of some obsessed, disenfranchised cart enthusiast.

            "Not until the series (and Indy) extract themselves from the horrific TV ratings"

            Again, factually speaking, the ratings are not 'horrific.' As a matter of fact, ratings in targeted demographics (the ones on which ad sales and sponsorships which are up significantly are based) are up 40%. No other sport can claim such increases.

            "and poor attendance at ALL IndyCar events, the sport will continue fail."

            I like countering imbecilic arguments with simple facts. In 2010 the INDYCAR Series drew 1.2 million paying fans. That is not poor attendance. Individual tracks that had poor attendance were dropped. That is what adults refer to as 'smart business practices.'

            "Just like the IRL."

            Please allow me to present additional actual facts:

            The acronym 'IRL' and the name 'Indy Racing League' were retired by current leadership. Retiring a name is not the same as 'failing.' This happens all the time in business. For example, 'Clarian Health' recently changed its official name to 'Indiana University Health' because that name is more relatable and relevant. Methodist Hospital did not go out of business. Likewise, neither did the INDYCAR Series, founded in 1996 by Tony George and IMS, the rightful continuation of the sport of Indy Car.

            "So, enjoy cart3....only with 8 year old chassis (series too poor to get new ones), spec Honda engines, and NO ISC ovals due to lack of interest in IRL-type racing."

            If it is cart3, why wouldn't cart fans love it? New cars and manufacturers are on the way on 2012, as you may have heard. Again, more facts: ISC tracks were not renewed by Randy Bernard. He is first and foremost a promoter, and tracks that fail to adequately promote its events will not be retained. I am personally bummed about Chicagoland and Kansas, but Bernard had to send a message, as most effective leaders do.

            "The IRL FAILED and so will the new Izodcar IF the series owners don't promote it."

            Sorry. Wrong again. cart failed. Twice. The IRL/INDYCAR Series is preparing to run its 16th consecutive season. That is pretty distant from failure. Again, use your brain.

            "SPend money to make money....they missed the football playoffs already. Now, even the greatest defender of the iRL series, DEFENDER, is calling for a ramp-up of promotion for the centennial."

            Of course I am. Have been for a while. But it needs to make sense and be timed correctly.

            "Do it, or die again IRL."

            Your sociopathic, immature tendencies aside, common sense and actual reality run contrary to your recurring, obsessive yelps. You probably ought to find a new schtick. The current one is making you look extraordinarily foolish.
          • Your an Idiot
            I think this is a no brianer. You must be an idiot if you can't see the potential growth in this series and it's now sponsors. I for onw disagree with your comments and then some. I will admit though the waiting game for a new chassis and not enough ovals bother me but the growth and such does not.
          • IRL's Success Greatly Exaggerated
            It's true...the lack of promotion of the "Most Important Race in History" is clear indication the 'pros' at 16th and Georgetown are on it...again.

            So, listen NOT to what Indy lackeys preach as gospel. Instead, listen to the TRUTH...the series is NOT healthy. Not until the series (and Indy) extract themselves from the horrific TV ratings and poor attendance at ALL IndyCar events, the sport will continue fail. Just like the IRL.

            So, enjoy CART3....only with 8 year old chassis (series too poor to get new ones), spec Honda engines, and NO ISC ovals due to lack of interest in IRL-type racing. The IRL FAILED and so will the new Izodcar IF the series owners don't promote it. SPend money to make money....they missed the football playoffs already. Now, even the greatest defender of the iRL series, DEFENDER, is calling for a ramp-up of promotion for the centennial.

            Do it, or die again IRL.
          • INDYCAR is in Great Shape
            "Bernard has done some good things to Indy Car racing. He has a huge job ahead of him. Indy Car racing has had 32 years of accumulated problems and missteps but as long as there was AJ, Mario and Mears to headline the series you could gloss over the disaster that would someday come."

            Fortunately, cart went out of business. Twice. So...you only go back 32 years? There is much more history than that. Personally, this is my 52nd year of enthusiastic support.

            "Alas they all retired and they couldn't throw enough money at the problem. Tony George tried for a while but decided to go the same failed path as before."

            Fortunately, professional business people are now running the show.

            "Bernard and company to their credit has found some sponsors and has taken some positive steps. Now comes the big problem and that is trying to market this group of drivers,"

            Same problem in every evolutionary period. Every era has stars and every era has footnotes.

            "One driver became the princess and the real deal even before she turned a wheel in Indy Car racing."

            Danica Patrick became famous after she went INDYCAR racing.

            "One driver is more famous for winning Dancing with the Stars than winning the Indy 500."

            Says who? Idiot cart enthusiasts with axes to grind? Any real racing fan and millions of casual fans knows who Helio Castroneves is. DWTS is icing on the cake, and involves primarily female demos. That particular line of nonsense is particularly entertaining and tends to prove the abject ignorance of those who parrot it.

            "One other driver is a case of nepotism gone bad."

            I assume you are referring to Marco Andretti. The Andretti name has value, and once Marco learns how to drive more like an Unser and less like an Andretti he will begin to enjoy a tad more success.

            "Between good talent like Dixon, Franchitti and Kanaan you have such iconic names like Viso, Baguette and Dracone and many others that quite frankly could not draw flies."

            Same as in any other era. All three are actually pretty good and have acquitted themselves well.

            "I'm glad they are taking an interest in Bryan Clauson who has been winning races seemingly at will on the short tracks. I hope Mr. Barnerd realizes there are drivers where Bryan came from."

            So you are a proponent of Tony George's original vision. Great.

            "Lastly those tired and boring Dallaras that have raced for an eternity. I hope after this year they will finally all go to the trash compactor where they belong."

            The primary group of people to who this matters are loudmouthed cart fans. The average fan does not care.

            "Hopefully the replacements will neither be another Dallara redux complete with all the aero crutches or the gimmick car that has been bandied about."

            It's Dallara 'open source' if you will, and three other manufacturers are signed up for body work as well as two other engine makers thus far. That will be great.

            "Please Randy Bernard, continue to change Indy Car. Don't make it the same old same old that only a defender could love."

            This Defender, as a real racing fan, has loved Indy Car for 52 years in all its iterations. As any real racing fan would.
          • The Heart if the problem.
            Bernard has done some good things to Indy Car racing. He has a huge job ahead of him. Indy Car racing has had 32 years of accumulated problems and missteps but as long as there was AJ, Mario and Mears to headline the series you could gloss over the disaster that would someday come. Alas they all retired and they couldn't throw enough money at the problem. Tony George tried for a while but decided to go the same failed path as before.

            Bernard and company to their credit has found some sponsors and has taken some positive steps. Now comes the big problem and that is trying to market this group of drivers, One driver became the princess and the real deal even before she turned a wheel in Indy Car racing. One driver is more famous for winning Dancing with the Stars than winning the Indy 500. One other driver is a case of nepotism gone bad. Between good talent like Dixon, Franchitti and Kanaan you have such iconic names like Viso, Baguette and Dracone and many others that quite frankly could not draw flies. I'm glad they are taking an interest in Bryan Clauson who has been winning races seemingly at will on the short tracks. I hope Mr. Barnerd realizes there are drivers where Bryan came from.

            Lastly those tired and boring Dallaras that have raced for an eternity. I hope after this year they will finally all go to the trash compactor where they belong. Hopefully the replacements will neither be another Dallara redux complete with all the aero crutches or the gimmick car that has been bandied about. Please Randy Bernard, continue to change Indy Car. Don't make it the same old same old that only a defender could love.
            • F is for FAVORED
              Tony George wanted to destroy CART...so when he got the chance he changed the C to an F and they became the FAVORED teams in the IRL...thereby dumping all the original IRL teams. Worked out for everybody because they just killed the IRL because it was so bad and CART dominated. Good thing too, because the IRL was proven to be a horrible idea that FAILED.

              Some of us are pretty good at remembering.
            • cart ?
              why did they use the acronym 'cart' while their group was named Failed Auto Race Teams ??
            • It Would Be Nice if the cart Enthusiasts Would Act Like Adults
              Oddly, the sport of Indy Car racing has always been secondary in terms of general consciousness. Even in the cart years when the world was completely different.

              Stop trying to sell me your nonsense, kid. INDYCAR is on the upswing and some of you are unable to handle it.
              • Pesky Fact
                The American public in general and the sports fan in particular still could care less about IndyCar racing. It basically does not exist to them. It is a tiny little niche sport of perhaps 300,000 hard core fans and gets an annual boost into the 3.5 TV rating realm for the Indy 500, an event itself, in tailspin decline. People have moved on from motorsports. It is back to niche, second tier, lower rung status.
                • Good Article
                  Uh, Chief...the only thing that has been destroyed is cart. Twice. Like your posting above.

                  American Open Wheel has been around for well over a century now, and remains centered around Indy.

                  The pool of money to which you refer is not solely designated for disaster relief, and the transformation of Speedway's Main Street is shaping up to be phenomenal. The old cinderblock building formerly on that site is now gone. In other words, the money is being well spent, and jobs are being created.

                  Dallara is also helping with funding, as well as other private entities.

                  Your continuing interest in the INDYCAR Series is also a wonderful sign of fan support in the future, and profitability has arrived!
                • Yet, Taxpayers Get Nailed
                  Good for motorsports.

                  But, I strongly disagree with the use of Public Funding to pay for the failures of the past, specifically the IRL and the proposed $6.5 MILLION dollar bond proposal to build the Dallra plant on Main Street.

                  These are public funds provided from a pool of monies designed for disaster relief. Just because TONY GEORGE and family decided to destroy the AOW sport does not give them right to pilfer the public's pocketbook. Let the IRL/INDYCAR and all their vast riches from sponsors fund this crap.

                  And NOTE: Randy Bernard said IRL/INDYCAR/IZODCAR NEVER profitable since 1996.
                • Yet, Taxpayers Get Nailed
                  Good for motorsports.

                  But, I strongly disagree with the use of Public Funding to pay for the failures of the past, specifically the IRL and the proposed $6.5 MILLION dollar bond proposal to build the Dallra plant on Main Street.

                  These are public funds provided from a pool of monies designed for disaster relief. Just because TONY GEORGE and family decided to destroy the AOW sport does not give them right to pilfer the public's pocketbook. Let the IRL/INDYCAR and all their vast riches from sponsors fund this crap.

                  And NOTE: Randy Bernard said IRL/INDYCAR/IZODCAR NEVER profitable since 1996.

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