IndyCar Seeks Boost In U.S. Market From New American Champion Hunter-Reay
The Izod IndyCar Series “got the U.S. driver champion it wanted” when Ryan Hunter-Reay won the sereis title Saturday night, but the question for the racing circuit is "now what," according to Jeff Pappone of the GLOBE & MAIL. Hunter-Reay is the first U.S. driver to win the title since Sam Hornish Jr. in ‘06, and “many in the paddock think that the series can use its newly crowned homegrown champion to drum up the ‘we only cheer for our own’ American fans.” Whether that will happen “is another question altogether and the future of IndyCar may hang in the balance.” Pappone: “If it can’t attract a following and better television coverage with Hunter-Reay as its poster boy, perhaps it never will.” The lack of TV coverage for IndyCar in the U.S. and Canada is “a shame,” because “there’s no doubt the racing this season was better than anything NASCAR had to offer." The fallout from the lack of exposure is sponsors "won’t touch the series and the ones who are involved spend most of their time screaming about wanting more exposure.” Other sponsors, like Verizon, are “likely only around because they’ve been shut out of NASCAR due to its Sprint deal” (GLOBE & MAIL, 9/18). USA TODAY's Jeff Olson notes the question IndyCar faces going into the offseason is whether it has the "weight to override a virulent political battle among the series' team owners and its leader, one that threatens to unseat the boss and throw a struggling form of racing back to where its difficulties began." Bernard succeeded Tony George, who was removed in '09, but there is a "fear among some that George is planning a comeback." Rumors "persisted throughout the series finale last weekend ... that Bernard is about to be fired." Bernard on Saturday said, "I was told after I started this that (NASCAR co-founder) Bill France Sr. once said, 'You're not doing your job if at least 50% of the paddock isn't mad at you.' That really struck me. I think we've made progress, and I think we showed it with this race" (USA TODAY, 9/18).
ATTENDANCE FLAT: In L.A., Tom Hoffarth wrote, “You couldn't fault the IndyCar Racing League if it just decided to give up on trying to make Auto Club Speedway in Fontana a regular spot on the circuit.” An estimated 25,000 “showed up in the stifling heat” Saturday, watching Hunter-Reay “clinch the series title in a wreck-filled event.” That is “about the same number who came when the track had an IRL race some seven years ago.” Meanwhile, NASCAR “regularly draws 80,000-plus to the track” (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 9/17).
SMALL CHANGE: In Charlotte, Jim Utter noted there are “no major surprises” in the Sprint Cup Series schedule expected to be released to the public this week. The schedule “remains 36 points-paying races, beginning Feb. 24, 2013 at Daytona and concluding Nov. 17 at Homestead, Fla.” The only “notable change is a swap of the fall Kansas and Talladega races,” with the fall Kansas race “now Oct. 6, 2013 and the fall Talladega race on Oct. 20, 2013.” There are “no additional night races added to the schedule” (CHARLOTTEOBSERVER.com, 9/16).