IndyCar's Fisher, Newgarden show pushing forward can require U-turn

February 13, 2014
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There’s been a lot of discussion by IndyCar Series executives recently about driver marketing. Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles said the issue is on his front burner this year. If he’s wondering how to get started on this daunting task, he might consult someone in his own paddock.

She may not be the first person that comes to mind when thinking of sports marketing, but I’ve always thought Sarah Fisher has a firmer grasp on connecting with fans than most in the IndyCar paddock, including many of the richer owners and more successful drivers.

I have to believe Fisher’s approach eventually will pay off in partnerships with bigger sponsors, a larger budget and a more successful team. Will Fisher’s team ever land in the winner’s circle as much as the Penske, Andretti and Ganassi armadas? Well, she has a long way to go.

Young race car driver Josef Newgarden appears to have the talent to help grow the team. Like Fisher, he also appears to have a firm grasp of what it means to market himself, his team and the series.

A lot of times, it’s not the grand marketing plans, big splashy ads and red carpet appearances that move a sport forward. Many times it starts at a very grass-roots level.

If ever a local university decided to offer a class in grass-roots marketing, Fisher and Newgarden would be equally qualified at standing at the front of the class as professor.

The following story, which Fisher recently shared, should be lesson No. 1.

When IndyCar fan Lesa Tennant heard a voice scream “Go, IndyCar!” out of a vehicle window passing by her Bargersville home last summer, she assumed a few kids were acting silly.

Tennant didn’t realize that inside the vehicle sat Newgarden and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing mechanic Danny Klotz. The two were driving back to Indianapolis from Sweetwater Lake, where the SFHR team enjoys spending time away from the track during the summer.

Newgarden saw Tennant wearing an IndyCar shirt. After yelling from the window, Newgarden and Klotz decided to make a U-turn and surprise Tennant.

“I didn’t recognize Josef at first,” Tennant said. “They pulled in my driveway and said, ‘We saw you are an IndyCar fan, and we like to meet IndyCar fans.’”

Said Klotz: “We talked about the Indianapolis 500. Lesa asked us where our seats are, and Josef responded with ‘Having the best seat in the house.’”

When Newgarden finally revealed himself, a shocked Tennant ran inside to get her husband, Leroy, an avid race fan.

“I was on the treadmill in the front room, and I thought he looked like Josef,” Leroy Tennant said. “But then I thought there’s no way Josef Newgarden would be in my driveway. When my wife came and told me Josef was out there, I just couldn’t believe it. That kind of thing doesn’t happen.”

Newgarden and Klotz have continued their relationship with the Tennants. Leroy and his son Kevin attended the IndyCar race at Pocono Raceway just weeks after that initial meeting, and they walked the grid with the team before the race.

Leroy, Lesa and their family recently made a visit to SFHR’s race shop, just minutes down the street from the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The Johnson County residents have no doubt recounted their story to dozens and dozens of family members and friends.

No press conference. No press release. No trumped-up event. Still, a simple gesture from a 23-year-old driver and a mechanic transformed the Tennants from fans to ambassadors. From silent observers to boisterous advocates.

It all started with a U-turn.

A sudden change of direction.

For IndyCar’s sake, let’s hope we see more of those going forward.

  • Nice piece
    Great article. Penske, Ganassi, Andretti...all you guys pay attention. This is what IndyCar needs more of.
  • Rooting For SFHR
    Penske, Ganassi, et al had to start someplace. The dedication, time and bootstrap aggressiveness Sarah, her family and crew put in is very admirable, The IndyCar paddock would be a whole lot better off with another 5 or 6 of Sarah. Hers is a great story that will hopefully continue for a long time. She also has a great new shop in the heart of Speedway and that's more than you can say for any other team as well.
  • Love Sarah
    I've ran into Sarah a couple times, and she is nothing but gracious. I truly admire her for not giving up when times got tough and for building a sustainable team. I also think Andretti is by far the one who most supports IndyCar and building the base, and has made a knack for promoting races that IndyCar or others simply couldn't do on their own. My perspective is Penske/Gannasi is more of the "what's in it for me?" group. I'd put Andretti and Fisher in the "what can we do to make it better?" group.
  • Bargersville?
    Isn't that where BiF is from? That is a touching story and I bet all 256,000 IndyCar fans are would wish an unknown IRL Indycarz star would U-turn into their driveways too. But, even hardened Indy fans don't even know who's who in the series. Maybe they should re-up the VerSus contract another 7 years because it's worked so well already. Nothing short of a miracle can change the mis-fortunes of this dreck. besides, if Newgarden was the cat's meow he'd get scooped up by Penske or ganassi for PENNEYs on the DOLLAR. So, keep dreaming this thing will turn around, swwet valentine! Bwahahhahahhaha!
    • Break out your .irl underoos, big d
      and maybe one of the superstarz of "the state of indiana presents the hulmancar clown car leage" will scream at you as they drive by, do a u-ie and then pull in your driveway to thank you for drinking the h/g clan koolaid.
    • Crowdfunded car
      Her recent involvement with CuttersRT and their fan funded racecar is pretty cool too! This could be the year for "The People's Racecar!"
    • POW Alice, right to the moon
      CuttersRT, that's like giving Bernie Madoff all your money. Come to think of it, the H-G family already did that. Not a chance in hades and a waste of money.
    • RE Chiefs blah blurb
      Hey chief, Chip Canassi drove on the Indy circuit a long time too. How about KV Racing, Menard racing – I could go on and on.. Two of the three of them raced and didn’t have great careers as drivers but have done alright as team owners. KV – how many races did they even run in last year? BUT they won the biggest race still in the world. It was a nice gesture that was it man.ITs called competition. And your ultra ego says I am bullying you? If pooh was music you would be a brass band!!
    • who's chip canassi?
      You are full of nonsense. The was no CHip Canassi ever at the greatest race in Marion county. Regardless, my point is more about big owners in the IRL Indycars taking whatever they want. SFHR will always be going CUTTER and HARTMOOR POLIO WATER and the ex-CART owners will be getting Verizon and Target. ToNy GeOrge sure fixed it all real good. LOL perhaps we'll see Mark Miles insist Josef change his name to Joseph to sound less foreign. You know, the IRL is HUGE with Americans and such.
      • That's chieF for ya
        Great come back cheeef or should I say now Archie Bunker. Go check the fries
      • Headed South Quickly
        Hey it only took 4 replies for this entire comment section to be dragged into the gutter.
      • Swirling the toilet bowl quickly
        Hey, it only took the H/G clan 18 years and $750,000,000.00 to get AOWR to the pathetic state it's currently in. If only there were some actual adults in their pathetic clan, perhaps the taxpayers of Indiana wouldn't have to underwrite the losses of the league and their ever declining crowds, TV ratings and number of events. It's all about Indy now, but that isn't even playing with the locals anymore...
      • Yawn
        The ICS* will never grow until semi pro teams like SFHR, Jabba the Foyt Racing, Panther and SIlver Spoon, err Special Ed Racing go teats up. Hopefully thats sooner rather than later.
      • Blog Back On Track
        I 100% applaude SFHR and Joe Newmarket for their efforts. She does it with a shoestring budget and gets big results, even if it includes U-turns. Good for them. BUT, sorry to break it to you Hulman Racing reality this is a game of DREAM CRUSHERS. It's NEVER going to be enough. Look...this home-spun corner-garage type of racing romanticism was perfect for 1950's dust bowl era of AOW, but face it...that's OVER. The only time the IRL Indycars EVER had publicity was when CART was the enemy, DANIKA took her clothes off, or someone had their back crushed, artery severed or cars got airborne and gratered into the fence. I ask you this...WHY CAN'T SFHR get a REAL SPONSOR? Is it some kind of AOW prejudice? CutterRT? Are you kidding me? This blog goes in the crapper because INDY romantics refuse to accept the speedway is less then it has ever been since 1945. Geez, wake up in the new century. It's over, and it'll be over if EVERY IRL driver panned out and did u-turns all over this country. It's over...come on now, join the herd.
      • Cheef is no longer credible on here.
        Chief-You say in your comment here that Chip Canassi never drove the Indianapolis 500. And you expect people to think your rants are should be credible – come on! I don’t want the Indianapolis 500 or the Indycar series to be like it was in the 40, 50, 60,s or 90,s. I want it to be better. And it’s going to - just keep being negative and think inside the box like always. Also check the 80's and see the # 60 car in 1983. Who was that in the Indianapolis 500 genius .
      • Thats right
        Chip Canassi never drove in 1983 or EVER. Jabba the Hut did though...
        First of all I love that Josef and his mechanic did this. I would have been ecstatic as I do know most of the drivers these days, but most don't, that's the point. As stated in the article, these are some of the things Miles could do at a fraction of the cost. I think it will take things like this amongst other marketing to get us back on track. People always love to meet drivers in person. I'm no marketing guru but these owners, teams and drivers need to get out there on their off season (and during) to do meet and greets, not just autograph signing. What about contests to get free Fast friday tickets and a meet with the driver and team or qualifications for that matter. Entertain 10-20 people for about 1-2 hours with an open mic type affair adn give away a team hat, whatever they do needs to be done ASAP or even your most avid fans will be entirely gone.
      • I hear 9 year old Emily's
        lemonade stand is in the running for League Title Sponsor
      • Me bee they can get Dale Jr.
        9 hours of TV coverage of Daytona 500 and Dale Jr wins the 500. It was great! Maybe the IRL can get him to fake drive the Marion County 500 and do u turns on my street? Can Tony Stewart even fit in a dw12 tub? He adept at u turns.

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