Turning Darios into Marios no easy feat for IndyCar Series

August 23, 2010
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The IndyCar Series and Infineon Raceway trotted out the old open-wheel guard this weekend in California. Attempting to lure back some long-time fans, Infineon rolled out a Legends Package, featuring the opportunity to meet Rick Mears, Johnny Rutherford, Al Unser Jr. and Mario Andretti.

A smart move? Perhaps. Who can argue with staying connected to a sport’s roots.

Or is it a desperate play to put butts in seats? A sign that IndyCar's current product lacks personalities to sell? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Either way, the IndyCar Series has a serious problem.

A line in today’s Sacramento Bee hit it right on the head, stating “More people know Mario than Dario.” The notion that 70-year-old Mario Andretti is still one of the biggest names in open-wheel underscores the problem. And the fact that Mario’s name resonates more than a guy who’s been in more than a couple of the series’ more recent winner’s circles is scarier yet.

The Bee went on to say more people know Dario Franchitti for his wife, Ashley Judd, than anything he’s achieved on the track. That line has to make series CEO Randy Bernard just a little queasy.

Bernard has to find a way to make Darios into Marios.

“People come out to see household names,” Penske Racing’s Tim Cindric told a group of reporters at Sunday’s race.

Despite what series officials say about climbing TV ratings, not enough people are coming out to see.

With Danica Patrick’s star dimming at least a little, the IndyCar Series has one less thing to market. I’m not convinced that Versus is doing enough to pump up the volume of the series or its drivers, and I don’t think Bernard is convinced of that either. He’s meeting with Versus executives this week in Chicago to address that very issue.

And what about Izod? They’re pumping a solid amount of money into the series, but its ad campaign needs an overhaul. I’m not sure making series drivers look like they’re living the lifestyles of the rich and famous (flying helicopters, zipping around on a jet sky in a tropical paradise, racing a motorcycle around Gilligan’s Island, etc.) is the right way to connect with the masses.

Personally, I think the commercials of Tony Stewart making hamburgers and worrying about grill fires at Burger King are a more effective way to connect with a broad audience.

The ratings (TV broadcast viewership) for IndyCar are going up, and series officials love to wave that flag. But what does a 24 percent increase mean for the open-wheel series? A national rating of 0.36, or about 402,000 viewers per race.

Not enough, Cindric said, to draw big-time sponsors for the series or teams. And Cindric should know. Penske, despite its winning ways, it sitting with two unsponsored cars.

Infineon Raceway officials estimated attendance at Sunday’s race at 40,000, the same as last year.

“In this economy, level is the new up,” said Infineon Raceway President Steve Page.

I guess the series can lean on that kind of logic for now. But it won’t prop them up for long.

  • Oh not this again...
    srsly? you really think they can put yet ANOTHER shade of lipstick on this pig to make it fly? Give me a break. Tony singlehandedly destroyed what was once thought to be golden, untouchable, and the best form of racing on the planet.

    OK, cue "Indyman" or "Berwickguy" saying "forget about the past, let's look to the future!" How can we when the playground has changed so much? F1 has picked the IndyCar carcass clean, and NASCAR pick off the skin to begin with! Its dead people.

    What should have been done a few years ago was to kick the Idiot Tony to the curb, and replace him and that dipwad Joey Chitwood with some real racers and real smart people. Instead they let Tony and the rest of his gotards like Barnhart drive the thing into the ground. you should have listened to what the engine manufacturers and sponsors wanted.

    Nobody wants to see those farting bee crapwagons lumber around Infineon, and they stands and TV ratings show it. And the up and coming "Mr. PotatoeHead Car" isn't any better. Either get serious about this stuff (Tony Stewart grillin Whoppers is FAIL) or take the thing out back and shoot it. The fans deserve more than this half-baked attempt they give us today.

    • Yes, this again

      You raise some good points. Albeit, Mr. Bernard has been on a fast learning curve. His marketing savvy is 100 fold better than any of tony's toads. One correct decision, Cotman in charge of the new product if they can get it right. Next decision is for Bozo Barneyhart to be shown a quick exit.

      How much hope is there? I don't know, but I remain optimistic that enough good people don't just harp on the failures of the past and are trying to raise the IndyCar Phoenix from the ashes.

      Yeah, I could beat the same drum as you and be correct. But, I would rather play the optimist card. The tracks in Eldora, Winchester, Terre Haute, and Anderson, et al, God love 'em, ain't enough, never have been. Call me a loser if you want, but what else do we have to hope for?

    • Hey Schoettle
      I was just thinking - we have a WORLD CLASS race coming to indy this week, and you don't have anything else to write about?! I said this last year - why the snub @ MotoGP race?!

      Really, this is exactly how to run a series - manufacturer involvement, a smattering of GOOD American drivers, sponsor value, sponsor participation (gotta love those Ducati Island models) and a world wide TV audience. And YOU can't find anything worthwile to write about? It has major tourism dollars coming into Indy and a bunch of support events happening around town. Hell, I'll bet there are more people watching this race than the IRL race. LOL.

      i am finding you are VERY indy-centric and don;t understand or care about WORLD CLASS racing.
    • MotoGP IS successful...becaus eit's NOT based on INDY
      I own FIVE motorcycles. Bought 'em all with the money I saved by NOT attending any IRL races.

      Isn't it funny, all things racing NOT based upon INDY are successful? CART was like that before Tony got all paranoid back in 1994. Some $675 million ago when AOW was healthy and the 500 was at it's PEAK.

      Mr Bernard: When you coming out with the "We're the IRL and we SUCK" ad campaign? I predict MANY fans would feel sorry for ya and start going to races INSTEAD of HATING the IRL. Try it, everyone will like it.
    • Anthony's Grinding Axes Again
      ...and sure enough, the haters have piped in right on queue. Is anyone really stupid enough to compare Mario Andretti to any driver today? When drivers like Mario and A.J. were at their peak, does anyone here have even a whiff of a clue about how fundamentally different not only Indy Car but the world in general was back then? Or does that not count? Who's to say Dario might not have been Jim Clark had he been alive then? Parnelli Jones still has a recognizable name. About the most well known Indy Car driver these days is Danica, and great talent is not even required. It's a much different world. It would definitely be nice if writers and haters oriented themselves in it for a change.
    • Anthony nailed it
      This was a spot-on piece, especially the part about the marketing campaign. Izod is all wrong. Making the driver's psuedo-X gamers, young, hip, irreverent, is not going to attract the hardcore motorsports fans. Burger King ads with Tony, yes. Hip Indy Car racers, no. At any rate, the largest problem is very few care about foreign racers. That is the whole thing in a nutshell. Dario is no Mario and Fario from famous. Why? He's from Scotland, not Sacramento.
    • SRSLY?
      Burl - you think they need Tony Stewart tossing Whoppers down his gullet? That's the right kind of fan? You really wanna attract the chicken bucket and canned beer set? They already have a sport - and its called NASCAR for cryin out loud.

      for heavens sake we don't need the out of shape rotund Defender types who are well into their retirement years. We need a shot of young and dashing lads with excellent drivving skills, driving innovative turbo-charged state of the art flying machines. racing takes money and they need to attract it with a sexy product. What you are describing is Speedrome on a Saturday night. YEE-haul! is not what will bring the Open Wheel sport back into pominence in North America. Shoulda hired Dan gurney back when you had the opportunity. Instead you got Tony George - the $675 million dollar mistake.


      And keep your hands off my tater tots!
    • Let Me Clairfy
      Tony Stewart is a fat, stinky, unshaven, has-been. No, that is not what I was getting at. What I was getting at is young American gunners of the throttle who are not made out to be ultra-hip, richer than sick, Triathlete super duper cool cats. CART tried that. IZOD car is trying it. Indy Car fans relate to well, a Dan Gurney, car guy, man's man, over some slick-haired, jet-ski riding, remind you a thousand times he lives in Miami and jet ski's when he is not coptering around, or dancing, or collecting Maserati's all day wannabee. Indy Car racing is not a hilljack sport. But it is not MTV either.
    • Poor misguided race fan
      Burl - your total thought process is marred. You don't think Mario, Dan Gurney, AJ and the rest of your "heros" didn't collect fancy cars, chase women, cavort in Miami (or some other resort town) and ride big power boats or jet skis, wear sexy clothes, and flash the cash? NONE of them ever rode in a helicopter either?! C'mon man, clear up your mind and admit to the TRUTHS about auto racing, and hot show drivers.

      See, this is a flawed notion in the Gomer's thinking - they want it all, nice boy drivers who have never done anything wrong, but worship at the altar of Indy & AJ, but go to church on sundays and rescue kittens.


    • Poor misguided race fan
      Burl - your total thought process is marred. You don't think Mario, Dan Gurney, AJ and the rest of your "heros" didn't collect fancy cars, chase women, cavort in Miami (or some other resort town) and ride big power boats or jet skis, wear sexy clothes, and flash the cash? NONE of them ever rode in a helicopter either?! C'mon man, clear up your mind and admit to the TRUTHS about auto racing, and hot show drivers.

      See, this is a flawed notion in the Gomer's thinking - they want it all, nice boy drivers who have never done anything wrong, but worship at the altar of Indy & AJ, but go to church on sundays and rescue kittens.


    • The VISION is DEAD
      Like the Speedway Motel gone to meet it's maker, so is the Speedway's DREAM of having the IRL successful. Just ain't gonna happen.

      jack miller through milka Duno are the new Mario's. Parnelli jones? These days that dude couldn't get a cup of coffee. And frankly, it's all because of the LACK OF RESPECT the IRL has has for the sport.

      "Let's start the IRL, and everything will be good". it was a stupid idea then, it's a stupid idea now, and it will always continue to be a stupid in the future.

      No Mario's are forthcoming...all thanks to the crap the Speedway is shoveling down the throats of consumers today....a watered down broke down no fendered version of NASCAR with CART flavors mixed in. Yummy if you like Cod Liver Oil.
    • Mario at BK?
      So fans would revere Mario more had he appeared in BK commercials flipping burgers? I donâ??t see it.

      Of course, "back in the day" it might have been Burger Chef commercials. That helps but doesn't change my opinion.
    • Burl
      By the way, Mario lives in America, but was born in Italy. Dario lives in America, but was born in Scotland. What's the diff?
    • The crux of the problem is
      The CARS SUCK! you can dress this crap up any way you want, but until you put some badassed cars out there with excellent drivers (who are a plenty looking for jobs these days) with some real soponsors and players, you are not gonna attract anything but some overweight, has been, nascar wanna be fans. Wgho are those goof balls that sit near gasoline alley with their cases of Keystone Light and bad tattoos weighing in at more LBS than the Colts front line? Oh, I forget their name - "AlleyCats" maybe? But you get the point, everything they have tried from "Mindy" to dragging poor Mario out of retirment - has just not worked. You need to deep six the thing, surrender the I500 date to the Frances and let some smarter folks take over.
    • Over Da Hooey's head
      Da Hooey is no Einstein, that is certain. But even a marginally intelligent person would have gotten my point. But Da Hooey, no. Limited as he is, he goes in the direction of well, the limited.

      Most of the Indy stars of yesteryear were scum. I know that. Who cares? I'll help you through this Da Hooey. Jet-Set race car drivers appeal to Euros. Blue Collar race car drivers appeal to Americans. Except, of course, for the tassle-loafered faux-sophisticate set with their pink Ralph Lauren sweaters swept over their shoulders at Long Beach, sipping mineral water and ragin on about how great Bourdais was. Where did get them? Little E does commercials for Wrangler jeans you can buy at WalMart. Where does he stack up on the popularity-meter with Bourdais, Franchitti, Wheldon? MMMMMMhhhmmmm. Thought so. Fat Tony at Burger King has more fans than the entirety of the Izod Car Indy thingy. Power-Mania! How's that one working out? Awhile ago we were treated to how irreverent and funny he is, banging on the drums. MMMMMHmmmmm. How did that work out? Power who?
    • Burl's Conundrum
      Fruity cuppers, wine and cheezers made this sport because it was SEXY and SOPHISTICATED. The PUSH to urban racing drew in the whole URBAN crowd. They had MONEY and HUGE crowds!

      The IRL took it to the Murrican roots in 1996 and it has crapped the bed ever since.

      Burl, quite a conundrum you and IRL has. you can't move the 800LB Gorilla (NASCAR) and you turned off BOTH the oval dirt crowds AND the SOPHISTICATED people with money.

      Now you want to back the dirt crowds where Joe Sixpack can connect with Milka Duno and Baron Draconi? It sucks and the IRL is at fault.

      IRL should force owners to have only Joe Goesek's and Steve Kinser's ONLY.....OH I forgot, they blew that too. IRL best keep the CART/CCWS slag they're running now unless they choose to start running front engined roadsters again. Hey, what a great idea! NOT.
    • Odd That Indy Car Has Been Failing for 15 Years
      Given all the doomsday pessimism expressed by those with questionable comprehension and maturity skills, one might think its collapse is imminent. Yet it keeps on going every year. If nothing else, the chicken little act is occasionally amusing.
    • an idea
      Wouldn't it work if you had a few racers in there with grease under their finger nails to challenge the Izod pretty boy bunch. Maybe that would add some much-needed drama and rivalry element that this series needs.
    • Chief's lack of understanding
      CART-Champ Car-OWRS whatever you want to call it apparently wasn't good enough for the tassle-loafer either. And they didn't make the sport. ESPN did. Off the names of the past. The Unsers (New Mexico), Rutherford (Texas), Foyt (Texas), Mears(Bakersfield for crimony sakes), Sneva (Washington), and Johncock (Michigan). Not a tassle-loafer on a single foot. Grease and guts and nuts. The urban crowd came for the party. They could care less about racing. Indy Cars were a curiosity. When the party fun got dull, they went to the next party, NASCAR. When that got dull, they left altogether. Urban racing is what killed the sport. Look at Indy circa say 1982, all pre-Long Beach and urbane. Johncock and Mears. Sneva. Ziggy Sinder and Tom Bigelow. Danny Freakin' Ongais! Sun, sweat, BBQ, and beer. All America. Look at the crowds. As soon as the faux-sophisticates got all road racy and urbane, well, once the party was getting long ' the tooth, buh-bye now. Urban sophisticates made nothing. Nothing. Nuts and guts, testosterone-laden, methanol exhaling, muscle popping, All-American throttle jockey's and the occasional world-class F1 Fire-breathing dragon and blue collar, All-American fans from Terre Haute, Tulare, and Texas made this sport.
    • What are you smoking Burl?
      You simply cannot have it both ways. first off, you talk about the wine and cheese and ralph lauren crowd. Really? They really made the sport? Or they killed it, which is it? You simply cannot have it both ways. And also - when did the "faux-sophicticate" crowd ever embrace NASCAR?! That is laughable. you are living in some altered state my friend, one where reality is rarely seen. Nascar appeals to the billys and the bettys, those people who like their sports served up simple and easy to understand. Dale in a chevy with "Bud" on the hood - gee what booger eatin moron can't get that!?

      This sport needs money, and the hicks that bleed NASCAR blood aren't giving you any. The IndyCar/CART fan of yore did NOT go to NASCAR - he went home.

      And Super D? - 675million dollars of Hulman Geoerge money has kept IRL afloat for 15 years. Ask Fred Nation about that number. you need his direct line? Or do you finally beleieve me?
    • 675 million = Idiot
      I talk to Fred often. He enjoys screwing with idiots almost as much as I do. Oh, and the word 'believe?' 'I before E except after C.' The nuns beat that quasi-rule into me at a young age. Correct spelling and grammar helps a person get further in life.
    • Known Internet Liar
      Remember when IRl brass used to share "insider" TV contract info with a certain pompous Tony George boot-shiner? "North of $20 million" were the claims for an ABC/ESPN contract tp cover the hapless IRL series.

      How'd that turn out? (cough cough $7M for indy, $3 million for the rest of the hapless IRL series schedule....or is it $3 m for indy and $7 M for the Sonoma-esque rest)
    • Reality
      Burl - there is an option. F1. motoGP, ALMS, hell, there's lotsa options where there are real cars and real racers. Maybe unca Gerra will start something?

      Super D: you don't want to know what happened to me and the nuns.
      • Racing declines
        Burl does have a point that overall numbers for all racing are declining as the youth market isn't replacing the older demographic. Other than growing international interest in F1, all other racing series have declined precipitously over the past 4 years. Today's younger audience doesn't relate to OW, NASCAR, NHRA racing. They drive "tuners", tricked out rice burners with hot computer chips and lots of neon light accents and spend their leisure time watching MMA or X Games. Don't know how racing will ever attract this younger audience, today or tomorrow.
      • SteveRight
        Young people today could care less about auto racing. A certain small percentage, yes. But tiny. Back to niche status ahwile, then extinction. It'll still take a decade to so, but it will happen. Big time racing had its run.
      • Burl...
        "Big time racing had its run". What do you mean? What caused it go extinct? Couldn't be the IZOD clad limp-wristers the IRL demographic has become, could it?

        IRL is the gang that couldn't ever shoot straight...first they're "ya had to be there", now their "race to the party". Im' confused...I ain't Mindy anymore. What happened with that Speedway PR spew? FAIL? Bwahahahhaha....
      • Who was Mario
        before they turned him into Mario?
      • Duhfender is right
        The irl hasn't turned a profit since it's infection (I meant inception easy mistake), thanks to Toney's itchy spending finger they've been kept afloat their entire existence. Now the sole purpose of the irl is to make sure the Mindy 500 has entrants and the hole-man Jorge family has money. The original tenets of the 500, the National championship and the spirit of Champ car racing are all gone and with them race fans, sponsors, pop culture relevance, passion and soul. Nobody is gonna care about this garbage they try to pass off as Championship racing ever again, hope you like being a niche sport.
        • Offender
          Those are big words, Off fender. You say nobody is going to care? Seems funny inspite of the crowds that keep showing up for the events. But, hey, you are your ilk always have all the answers.

          Why not just call yourself Mr. Negatory. Why do you keep beating the drum of the past? Perhaps you should find something else to spend your time with so you don't have to get your panties in a wad all the time about the IICS.

          Sucks to be you........
        • Word today from Reality
          Truth is, Indy Car racing is a third-tier, niche sport with a small, cult-like following. The exception is the one
          big annual event that draws those cult fans along with enough curiosity seekers and tradionalists to garner a large crowd. The Indy 500 is still a notable event on the American sporting landscape, albeit diminished in stature. But beyond that, there is no doubt the sport barely registers in the concious of the typical American sports fan, to include mainstream media. Even die-hard auto racing fans seldom follow the sport. Think about it. How often, when you come across a motor racing fan in this country just out in public somehwere, do you end up discussing Indy Car racing? Usually it is NASCAR, the local short tracks, or NHRA. Maybe some F1. Indy Car racing might make it into the conversation if you introduce it. If not, it is usually something about Danica and now it is something about Danica in NASCAR. At most, and I mean at most, there may be mention of Helio. And that is a stretch. The "crowds" that show up at Izod races these days are about all the fans that are out there and I would venture to say a good ten percent of those are not really fans, rather people who got a freebie pass, a friend invited, or an auto racing fan who has just come out to see a race and wouldn't know Ryan Hunter-Reay from Simona de Silvestro. TV ratings tell the story. So does aluminum. The Izod series is a mess. The product is dull. The drivers fail to capture the imagination of potential fans. The marketing of those drivers is all off the mark. The cars, races, and officials are bad. The whole entire image of the sport is one of something dying. And the truth was mentioned here in an earlier post: The whole thing exists to keep the Indy 500 going for the Hulman-George fortune. Now that a portion of that fortune has been eroded due to this travesty, the powers-that-be would best be served to get that 2011 Indy 500 in for historical purposes, I mean 100 years is a big deal and all, and then get the place sold, close out the Speedway, and call it clever. The land is far to valuable for a dinosaur of a race that is fading fast in a sport that is going away little by little over the next decade.
        • Pesky Facts
          Indy Car races are attended by between 1.1 and 1.4 million fans every year. Television revenue requires use of eight numbers to the left of decimal. Sponsorship revenue is rising, and the IZOD title sponsor has been more busy than any other sponsor of racing activating the brand. If I were a cartroach hater-type, I might be dismayed because Indy car is certain to be around for a long time. Fortunately I am a mature fan with a realistic viewpoint, and I am preparing to travel north this weekend and south the next to see the series in action.
        • Pesky Reality
          Defender, you are not the guy who wrote the introduction on "Driven" are you? You are!I bet you are! Can I have your autograph? I already have the one from the guy who said NASCAR has 75 million fans. Truth is this: You are right. The numbers don't lie. And the numbers are pathetic for what is said to be a "major league sport." "Activating the brand". That is a classic! You have been talkin' to Talkin' Terry too much!
          • Word out of Indy today
            The 2010 Indy 500 TV ratings have dropped to it's lowest since televised broadcast began.

            The 2010 Indy 500 attendance is at it lowest in the modern era (1979 - 2010).

            Overall 2010 IRL TV ratings are at all time lowest levels since 1996. And, thats with Versus on Direct TV.

            Defender needs to differentiate between SPONSORSHIPS and SPONSORSHIP DOLLARS.

            IRL is a lame duck in 2010 and 2011. Put it out of it's misery.
          • REALity
            Hey Barrel,

            You need to decide which side of the fence you're going to camp on. Sure can't tell with your spin; makes you sound like a politician.
          • Word Out of Burl
            Let me be perfectly clear: The Izod Car Indy Series is a poor product, followed by a small, niche group of diehards who are unwittingly watching its demise. The sport will cease to exist in the near-term, perhaps after the 2011 Indy 500, maybe a bit longer. But the end is near. Cited reason at the time will be: People are nolonger interested in the sport and it is not cost-effective to continue it. The myriad reasons leading up to demise will be dissected and studied, written and jawed about for several years henceforth, then forgotten altogether into the ash heap of American sporting and popular culture. Historical signage at w.16th and Georgetown Rd. will point to what once was in subsequent decades. Nothing lasts forever. You are alive today to bare witness to the end days of a sport. Clear?
          • Really?
            Directly @ Anthony - why nothing on MotoGP?

            does it not count?

          • Word out of Indy TODAY

            Robin Miller reported such at SPeedTV. WOW, just when you thought the IRL was gonna get their breakout year 15 years later...now this.

            Looks like Bernard's "ICOLONIC COMMITTEE" was a grade F failure after all. Prediction comes true....bwahahahahha!
          • Crickets
            I expected more from you Anthony - more than the typical Gomer bootlickers.
          • Da Hooey Dumps More Pooey
            Give Anthony a break, Da Hooey. Anthony keeps it interesting, entertaining, stays basically objective, isn't all Miller-like, puts up with us, and stays above the fray. What you expected, Da Hooey, was for Anthony to get all Da Hooey-like for you. Leave it to us to give the Gomertons their proper beating.
          • Signed, sealed and DELIVERED
            Apparently Randy Bernard has told the owners it's too late to "go back", all contracts with Honda and Dallara have been signed and state tax breaks are in the delivery phase.

            NICE work there IRL! your owners have no information about the car EXCEPT the ICOLONIC COMMITTEE hologram, and a future $$$ bill for a new car they are being required to buy...which they have has NO INPUT in the design construction of development of!

            Now, that's how you run a business! IRL is in full control baby! HEY, DEFENDER, looks like the HULMAN-GEORGES gonna hafta open the old pocketbook to keep this wrecking like the IRL is used to. Bwahahahhhahahaha!
          • Lipstick on a pig
            When drivers like Mario and A.J. were at their peak,penny candy was a penny AND wife-beating was legal! This series and those drivers are just about as relevant, unfortunately.
            Formula-one in America will soon be the standard after Austin Tx. 2011.
            This series will need a desperate makeover!

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