Fixing IndyCar, part 3: Healing from within

IndyCar, IndyCar commentary — By on December 10, 2012 11:56 am
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Fixing IndyCar: An introduction

Fixing IndyCar, part 1: Defining the sport

Fixing IndyCar, part 2: Creating heroes

*

In the suburban high school where I spent my teen years, our sports teams were known as the Trojans.

(Yes, the Trojans. I’ll let you get the jokes out of the way. …All done? Great. Let’s move on.)

We had a somewhat bizarre mascot who rarely made appearances (likely due to the aforementioned inevitable humor at his expense), and Classical influences could be found in design and imagery here and there.

But one thing that’s stayed with me from those years was the school’s ubiquitous Troy-inspired motto:

One ship, rowing together.

It was a simple phrase, but it was effective. We all had our own priorities and goals, of course, but that motto was a reminder that we would all get further faster if we worked as a team and gave priority to improvements and accomplishments that would benefit the entire school community.

IndyCar could use a little Trojan pride.

For the last 30 years, there have been far too many people in open-wheel paddocks who see things only in black and white — the type of person who believes his vision is the One True Way, who prioritizes his team’s bottom line over what’s best for the sport as a whole, and who will cut off IndyCar’s nose to spite its face if it advances his own agenda.

(And no, I’m not referring to any one person here. If you immediately assumed I was upon reading that description, take a step back and look in the mirror — you may be one of the people I’m talking about.)

Many other causes can be named for both of the splits that devastated open-wheel racing in North America, but this cutthroat, me-first mentality was at the very bottom of it all. It’s driven long-time fans away, prevented new fans from sticking around, and repeatedly been the near demise of this sport that all culpable parties claim to live for.

It’s time to put a stop to it once and for all.

Doing so will require different tactics from different factions.

For the team owners and other participants:

- If you’ve got gripes with IndyCar or other participants, stop taking them to the media and stop trying to make the fan base take sides. No matter what your internal squabbles may be, presenting IndyCar to the world as a unified front must be the top priority of everyone in the paddock. It creates a foundation of stability, allows fans to focus their attention where it should be (the drivers and the racing, for example), and creates the best impression possible for potential sponsors. Stop dragging the sport through the mud and solve your problems behind closed doors like grown-ups and professionals should. (Note that I’m not talking about drivers calling each other out about what happens on a racetrack here. As mentioned in part 2, that kind of discussion is actually good for the sport because it allows fans to be swept up in the drama of the racing experience itself, which is one of the main reasons fans get invested in the first place. That’s different from sweeping them up in boardroom drama, which accomplishes the exact opposite.)

- Stop making decisions based on what’s best for you alone and look more often toward what benefits the sport as a whole. All team owners are running businesses, and there are bills to be paid. No one questions or begrudges that. But if every decision and every vote is based on what benefits your business alone, you could be putting your competitors or the Series out of business. That would leave you with no series to race in and no one to race against, and that kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? Every corner of this sport is connected, and your team is a single oar in the larger ship that is IndyCar. Everyone needs to work together to keep it moving in the same direction.

To the decision-makers within IndyCar:

- Stop letting others control the messages the public receives. There are massive information leaks within your organization. Some of them are among your participants, and some of them are within the sanctioning body itself. There’s not a single announcement made relating to the sport that isn’t public knowledge long before it’s unveiled, and there’s a ton of information that makes it to the public that should never be disseminated at all. Find those leaks and plug them. If they’re internal, discipline or fire people if that’s what it takes. If they’re participants, use fines and suspensions, and pull hard cards if necessary. If they kick and scream and threaten to leave the series to start their own, let them. (After all, as the saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.) The people who do this don’t have the best interests of the sport at heart — they put their own agendas and loyalties first, the rest be damned. Be just as hard-nosed and make examples of them. Stop letting grown men and women who insist on acting like toddlers control the messages the public receives about your sport.

- Foster an environment that makes everyone want to toe the line. Demonstrate that you’ve learned some lessons from Randy Bernard’s tenure. Put strong leadership in place at the top of the organization that’s capable of functioning unwaveringly on its own. And never lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of people would keep their mouths shut and focus on forward momentum if benefits were being realized from doing so. Once the changes outlined above are in place, make it known that everyone within the sanctioning body will be putting every ounce of energy and attention into growing the sport, and make it clear and demonstrable why it would be in the best interests of the dissenters to follow along. Once these changes are clearly resulting in growth and profits, it will be shocking how quickly all those mouths will snap shut.

If these changes can be implemented, perhaps everyone within IndyCar will finally be able to put the distractions of these age-old feuds in the past and focus on being One ship, rowing together — working as a team to grow and develop the sport going forward.

*

In part 4 of Fixing IndyCar, we’ll examine some of the ways that IndyCar can change the way it treats and interacts with fans to give everyone on all sides the best experience possible.

In the meantime, please contribute to the discussion. Is there more that IndyCar or its participants should be doing to quell politics that have been dragging the sport down for so long, or is it simply a lost cause? Does all this infighting add to the intrigue of the sport for you or take away from it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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