Indy Racing League must go international to survive

July 13, 2009

Tony George did some great things with regard to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and his tenure, while controversial, was impactful. The Speedway itself is a gorgeous, modern facility and it was Tony George’s vision that made it so. He brought NASCAR, Moto-GP and Formula One to Indianapolis, with great economic impact for the Speedway and the region.

The Indy Racing League is another story. The fact that it is still alive is a testament to the will and fortitude of Tony George. However, it seems the IRL is still struggling for an identity. The same quality of vision that made IMS the true “Capital of Racing” has not been present for the IRL.

Some want the IRL to be an oval-only, American-only series. This assumes that the IRL can capture both a TV audience and crowds at the various ovals. This was the original vision of the IRL and it did not work. Going “NASCAR-light” is not a vision, either. The IRL already has a limited international presence with races in Canada, Japan and, next year, in Brazil. It just walked away from a well-attended event in Australia. It appears that China is in the cards in the next four or five years.

Like it or not, it is becoming an international series, with American drivers like Patrick, Andretti and Rahal and internationally known drivers such as Castroneves, Kanaan, Mutoh and Meira. It is only natural to market to and race in places across the world where there will be a following for native-born drivers.

Going international makes economic sense as well. Suppose the IRL’s vision is to provide the “closest open-wheel racing in the world with the fastest, most versatile drivers in the world racing on ovals, road courses and street courses throughout the world.”

Right now, the IRL needs sponsorship. Competing domestically with NASCAR has not worked. F-1 is ripe for the taking and, long-term, global companies will want a presence in a global racing series that has the right cars, the right racers and the right business model.

Whether it is the vision I outline above or not, the time is now to establish a vision with a business model that dovetails with it and go at it.

John L. Sorg

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