It's Shaqtastic for IRL

June 8, 2009
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shaqI almost choked on my Cheerios when the Indy Racing League led Sunday’s 7 a.m. ESPN Sports Center. The same held true for 8 a.m. Heck, the open-wheel series was never the lead story when the World Wide Leader in Sports carried IRL races full-time.

True, Sunday’s IRL lead-in was about 10 seconds. Still, hearing NBA great Shaquille O’Neal bellow out “start your engines” at Texas Motor Speedway’s Saturday night race must have made Tony George all but forget that business with the Speedway board of directors.

The IRL finally has a star supporter who can make a ripple not only with marketers and sponsors, but with Joe and Mary Sixpack. Shaquille O’Neil is bigger than Gene Simmons, Ashley Judd and Gomer Pyle all rolled into one. While Denver Nuggets all-star forward Carmelo Anthony had a foray as team part-owner, that was clearly a marketing ploy which didn’t get much response from just about anyone.

Shaquille O’Neal on the other hand seems genuinely interested in the sport. He talks about the series’ diversity, and it makes news. He lauds the drivers as athletes, and TV cameras roll. He trades text messages with Danica Patrick, and it grabs headlines. He lifts tiny race car drivers over his head, and race-day spectators roar.

He certainly isn’t here for the money. At Texas, O’Neal was a guest of Luczo Dragon Racing, with whom he’s partnered to raise money and awareness for charity throughout the season. The IRL and Texas Motor Speedway wisely chose him as starter for the race and to sit shotgun with former Indy 500 winner Johnny Rutherford in the pace car.

Saturday night at Texas, he changed a tire on a Luczo Dragon Racing Indy car, then hoisted it high over head with one hand. Then the big man also known as The Diesel, The Big Cactus and Superman, picked up rookie driver Raphael Matos and hoisted him sky-high with equal ease. He’s funny, he’s charismatic, and he’s just what the IRL needs. It’s all Shaqtastic in the land of open-wheel.

Then in an unscripted endorsement, Shaq waxed poetic about the splendor of the series to a group of reporters at the Texas Motor Speedway.

“It’s a beautiful thing, cultures uniting here at this event for one great cause," O’Neal said. “I’ve seen all the female drivers. Gorgeous, hot. I’ll be looking to get one of those calendars. Not for me, for one of my friend's office. ... Having a different mixture of people, different mixture of cultures, I think only enhances this sport.”

If the IRL marketing staff isn’t working right this second to craft a campaign featuring the man with four NBA championship rings, I’d be dumbfounded. A charity tie-in could help the series secure the big man's cooperation.

But not even Shaq’s endorsement makes the IRL’s success a slam dunk. The one thing the 7-1, 325-pound (looks more like 365 to me) O’Neal cannot do—change the product. That will have to stand (or roll in this case) on its own four wheels. But the big man can give it one heck of a push.
  • Great piece, Anthony. Well written! Sometimes gimmicks can turn into great opportunities. Guess we'll have to stay tuned to see if the IRL brain trust (or lack thereof) can or will do anything with this. I had to laugh when I heard Shaq challenge Patrick to a race!
  • Shaq is well known and can provide great P.R. for the IRL. Like most sports stars, you hope he does not do something stupid like Barkley has done in the past. Shaq draws a crowd and draws attention. What people thought was a P.R. stunt, his becoming a reserve Miami Dade deputy has been a great opportunity for the police dept and the community. He serves as a deputy and provides a great intermediary between the cops and the community.

    I hope the IRL uses him to get the word out and to reach people who may otherwise not see the product. I would love to see him take ownership in a car.

    FYI, he is most commonly known as Shaq Diesel.
  • Someone needs to get Shaq in a car.
  • Maybe they could combine the two seater into one large seat. He did say he wanted to drive the pace care in the future, but with past pace car dust-ups, that could be dicey. Shaq behind the wheel of the pace car would certainly draw plenty of media attention.
  • Shaq loves automobiles. I have seen him on several shows including on on West Coast Customs. If he were to drive a pace car they would have to relocate the seat back quite a bit. He had a custom built Cadillac where the seat had to be moved back almost a foot.
  • The IRL: When the racing won't attract anyone, resort to gimmicks :lol:

    ;needs more Carmello:
  • Da Hooey:

    I would agree with you to an extent. IRL's racing does attract fans, just not anyway near enough, so you're right, they have to resort to all ideas. Three to four years ago, they actually had some good racing, at least it was competitive, doesn't seem to be the case anymore. And, unless they do something about it, they're going to lose fans again.
  • Sounds like you agree with me 100%.

    even the faithful are calling for a complete redesign. Something Tony likely can't afford to do now. :lol:

    the IRL: Yeah, we got mean sisters too!

    LMFAO. Karma's a beetch Tony.
  • Wow, auto races being run by showmen? Gimmicks to bring people in? How long has this been going on? You mean that those celebrities that have been brought in since the '20's were somehow not gimmicks? In a James Garner interview they asked him about his first visit to Indy. He said the studio brought him here to publicize a movie he had just done. He wasn't really excited until he got here. he enjoyed himself so much he kept coming back and became a regular. Jim Nabors tells a similar story.

    I guess all the celebs that go to NASCAR races are all there because they want to, not because they have a new album or movie coming out or they just want to be seen.

    Go back through the history of the 500. As with all racing events, it is littered with barnstormers, car stunts, and musical acts. Sorry, Dahooey, your partisanship is showing again.
  • Close to 90,000 at TMS proves the IRL is a product people can and will be interested in. Sadly, Barnfart and Company have taken the actual racing of automobiles out of the equation and replaced it with a high speed parade of automobiles, with a phantom yellow thrown in now and then to line them all up pretty-like. Sooner than later, what fans the IRL does have will see this for what it is and head for the exits. The dumbed-down racing needs to be fixed pronto, quick-like.

    That being said, I predict Eddie Gossage and his boys get another big crowd in TMS next year. They know how to do it right. Big time right. And the Metroplex is Indy's second home for certain.
  • Indyman: This is YOUR quote:

    He said the studio brought him here to publicize a movie he had just done.

    that makes my point. The STUDIO brought him here so he could promote something. Meaning the studio KNEW that the 500 would help out the movie. It was JUST THAT BIG OF A DEAL. :)

    now, compare to Shaq, who was brought in TO PROMOTE THE HAPLESS EARL. :lol:

    The IRL: Not even SupahStah Shaq can help them. :(
  • And the current flock of celebs come here for what reason then? It is the same as it was. Be they from hit shows like ER, Greys Anatomy, Lost and the Office, or film stars like Morgan Freeman, Josh Duhamel, Ashley Judd or musical acts like Ludacris, Julianne Hough, Jessica Simpson and Wynona Judd and personalities like Dick Vitale, Rupert and Miss America. Indy still draws stars.

    So what happened with your point about gimmicks? Did you finally realize that has been going on since the dawn of auto racing? So where do you get that Shaq was brought in? Anthony's article says he wasn't paid, that he was here because he was interested in the series. I will take that over brought in stars any day.
  • Take the IRL from 15 drivers capable of winning each week to just two teams winning every race.............. CHECK!

    Relegate the marketable (and only hope for popularity in the United States) american drivers to also ran status ......... CHECK!

    Slowly change the schedule to more boring street and road races and fewer exciting ovals ......... CHECK!

    And finally, take the most exciting race on the schedule with side by side racing and several passes for the lead and turn it into a single file snoozefest .......... CHECK!

    The CARTization of the IRL is complete. The IRL is dead. Welcome to CART phase II everyone.
  • Very interesting point, Scott. If they don't do something and quick, TG is going to be singing Achy Breaky Heart! His sisty uglers may hunt him down and douse him with piss and vinegar before then.

    I actually watched the Texas race hoping for some excitement, but noooooo, just more of the single file junk. Oh, for the good ol' days of Mears and Johncock, Andretti and Unser, Foyt and sad!
  • Actually, did the days of Mears, Johncock, Andretti, Unser, Foyt, and Rutherford feature single file racing? I don't remember seeing much side-by-side racing back then. I do remember Al Jr and Rahal battling side-by-side for laps one year at Michigan ('90?), but for the most part I don't remember too many oval races that were exciting back then.
  • Scott,

    I see it a little differently. When did cart ever have 15 drivers capable of winning? Even in their glory days it was only 2 or 3 teams that were capable of winning the championship. I think you will see that with most racing series. In the 25 years of CART, Two teams had 17 championships. Penske with 9 and Newman/Haas with 8. Add in Ganassi with 4 and 84% of championships were won by three teams. The only other team with multiple wins was Truesports with 2. Doesn't sound real competitive.

    Marketable American drivers to also ran status? Have you heard of Danica Patrick or Marco Andretti and add Graham Rahal if he can stay off the wall. Are you saying they are not marketable? Danica is one of the most marketable sports stars and a front runner every week. How many Americans were running in cart in its last season, let alone having a chance to win? You got to be in it to win it.

    The IRL is walking a tight rope when it comes the mix of schedules. They are adding in road and street courses to please the drivers and former cart fans without alienating the IRL oval fans. They are also adding in road courses to gain a world following and venues. How many ovals did cart have in the end?

    The IRL has been the most competitive racing with the closest finishes and tightest points races since it was started. I agree this year is not as racey, but I am sure that will be taken care of with off season rules changes like most series do. The biggest hurt is having to delay the new engine and chassis. That will improve the racing as well.

    And before the TG/IRL haters ramp up about my fascination with cart (I have no fascination with cart, and never had) I bring it up because if it were not for the IRL, all we would have is cart, if it still existed and all of the evils you blame the IRL for would be multiplied with a modern day cart.
  • Dana,

    It was interesting to see the special with Foyt, Unser and Mears on Vs. last month. Every time they discussed their wins and near misses, it usually involved their car or another car dropping out of the race.
  • Really great points, Indyman, and something we should all remember as we face a potentially impending crisis of what comes next. I appreciate those involved for what they've attempted to accomplish, even though much of it has been for naught.

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