I thought we knew better. I thought, after Vegas, everyone sane agreed that we couldn’t pack race anymore. I remember Robin Miller’s articles on Speed.com and how after every 1.5 mile race in the old Dallara’s, the general feeling from the racers and teams was that bullets were dodged. I remember reading those articles prior to Dan Wheldon’s death and thinking, “what are they talking about? This is wild and exciting!” And then Vegas 2011 happens and as a fan and spectator, my entire mindset changed.

Photo by Mac Harris

Photo by Mac Harris

Watching Fontana wasn’t fun; it was terrifying. Every juke and dive and swerve made me gasp and flinch, out of fear. A fear that the wrong juke, or the wrong dive, or the wrong swerve might put someone into a wall, or might get a car turned and flipped in front of half a field of cars. I can’t watch Indycar racing like that. I’ve watched and cheered for these drivers too long, and grown too attached, to watch this style of racing and enjoy it. This isn’t skilled oval racing; this is crisis aversion at 210mph and above. It’s insane. Will Power said it. Tim Cindric said it. Hunter-Reay said it. Montoya said it. We don’t need this. We don’t need this sort of reckless racing.

We all know the cliches at this point: We all know racing is dangerous. And we all know that ‘this is what they sign up for’. Except it isn’t. Racing stopped being about mortal survival in the 60s and 70s. We’re beyond that. Drivers don’t sign up to play roulette on a race track. This was a gruesome, horrific accident waiting to happen. We don’t need to keep doing this until it does. We should be smarter than that, post October, 2011.


On this blog is a post about the America’s Cup, contrasting the boat-racing series to the lack of new, substantial blood within the ownership ranks of the Verizon Indycar Series. Since then, a new racing series has joined the motorsports landscape in the form of the FIA Formula E Championship that has had this author asking the same questions again. Formula E just had their first race on United States soil, and it seemed to go off quite well. Roger Penske even paid a visit to the Formula E paddock to take in what the fuss is all about. Roger’s son, Jay, made the switch from Indycar racing to Formula E this year — selling all of his Indycar-specific equipment, cars, and spares to turn his interests (sporting and financial) to the international world of all-electric racing.

Joining Jay in Formula E was a dynastic name and team owner nearly synonymous with Indycar racing and the Indianapolis 500 — Michael Andretti and Andretti Autosport. Penske and Andretti (even though it’s the lesser Penske) have looked into and found Formula E to be a worthwhile investment and have fielded teams for, what was, an unproven concept. No one had ever raced fully electric cars before, on a world stage. And the series certainly had its skeptics and detractors leading up to and even after the season started. Drivers pitting to jump into a second car? Top speeds of only 120mph? Tiny tires? Again, entirely unproven, but there was something there that excited the money players to jump in: potential.

2015 Formula E Long Beach

Even though the components that make up the DNA of Formula E were (and still are) doubted, the smart money sees the incredible potential in Formula E. Not Formula 1, not Indycar, not NASCAR — Formula E. One of the early investors in Formula E, on a series-level, was Boston Celtics owner, Wyc Grousbeck, who’s sports marketing company — Causeway Media Partners — invested $21m USD to jumpstart the all-electric series. At this past weekend’s Miami E-Prix (as they call it), it was announced that John Malone — American billionaire and media mogul, who owns Discovery Communications — has invested and taken the biggest stake in Formula E to date.

Without knowing what percentage of Formula E Holdings Wyc Grousbeck’s $21m seed funding purchased, we can’t know what the valuation of Formula E is, and therefore it’s difficult to even try to guess what percentage John Malone has purchased and at what cost. But series leader Alejandro Agag (no slouch in business and political circles, himself) admitted that Malone’s investment was substantial. Another boon for Formula E; the potential seemingly being realized.

The Verizon Indycar Series and the FIA Formula 1 World Championship are two established, and long-running motorsports stalwarts. The Indianapolis 500 Mile Race stands as a crown jewel in the motorsports world with a rich history as long as the American automotive industry, itself. Formula 1 is — by nearly all accounts — the pinnacle of motorsports; a series that globe trots from country to country, touting the fastest cars, the best drivers, and the brightest lights. And yet, even though it was reported a year ago that John Malone was kicking the tires to see how feasible it would be to purchase the Formula One Group (the company owning the rights to Formula 1’s commercial rights) from CVC Capital Partners (majority-owners of the Formula One Group), the deal never materialized. A year later, and John Malone has instead invested heavily into Formula E.

The financials of Formula 1, specifically, are upside-down and a mess to begin with — and are an article for another day. But the fact John Malone was considering heavily the prospect of making the purchase indicates significant potential. And trust that the potential would need to be significant for a company to purchase a billion-dollar sport like Formula 1 in today’s television world that puts an absolute premium on two things: appointment, must-see, live television; and on-demand streaming content. In addition to John Malone’s cursory interest, on the team ownership level there has been movement within the publicly floated Williams F1 team. Healthcare entrepreneur Brad Hollinger has recently purchased 10% of the legendary team, pointing to the great potential the entire sport of Formula 1 is staring at in the coming years.

1986 British Grand Prix

And yet, with all of this major financial activity in the world of international motorsports, on the surface there seems to be very little sizzle for the Verizon Indycar Series. The only rumors smart marks (intelligent, invested, hardcore fans) ever hear are of the Indycar series potentially going bankrupt; of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway tightening the financial support the series has enjoyed over the past decade and a half; that the series has finally broken even (though some reporters even refute that); a race has been cancelled; it goes on.

What the Verizon Indycar Series lacks in 2015 in that keyword: potential. The OEMs that provide the backbone of the series in the form of engines, and now aerokits (Chevrolet and Honda) spend tens of millions of dollars on development and production, and are handcuff by series mandates that they only sell their products to teams for tens of thousands of dollars, resulting in the need for each OEM to essentially subsidize the technical platform upon which the series races and competes upon. There should be no surprise, then, that there hasn’t been another OEM to enter the fray. Where’s the potential there?

Sebastian Vettel pulled a dick-move on Mark Webber in Malaysia. No two ways around it. But when you do pull a dick-move that detracts from, and over-shadows, the accomplishments of your team and draw the ire of the viewing public and paddock, you do not get to say that people need to move on. As the guilty party, you are not in a position to say that people need to move on, or shift their focus to other aspects of a race or incident. When you’re the cause of the disturbance, you no longer control the message.

Vettel was quoted recently on Autosport, saying:

“I don’t apologise for winning, I think that’s why people employed me in the first place and why I’m here. I love racing and that’s what I do.”

“I think we already had a very strong weekend in Australia but we maybe didn’t quite get the result we wanted. But in Malaysia we were racing at the top and I think we worked excellently well with the tyres and everything.

“I think that’s what people forgot. Obviously what stuck in their heads was the way the race ended, but I think there’s not much more to add than what happened.”

vettelwebber_01And you know what? I’m fine with it. He’s wrong: he was wrong to ignore team instruction; he was wrong to pass Mark Webber for a win that wasn’t his; he was wrong to lie through his teeth, saying that it wasn’t deliberate; and he’s wrong now to try and steer the conversation away from his dick-move. But, really, as a fan, I’m 100% fine with it. The same way I’m ultimately okay with how Michael Schumacher raced Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve in the 90s, or how he tried to manipulate qualifying in Monaco in 2006. I’m okay with it not because I support or tolerate dickheaded moves from racers, because I don’t. (And for the record, I think Webber was just about out of line for racing Vettel to the pit-wall as they were battling.) But I do love me some drama! And with the retirement of Formula 1’s greatest, most polarizing heel, F1 needed someone to fill that void.

For a while I thought Fernando Alonso was going to be that guy. And I’d say for a couple years, between 2007 and 2009, he was. I think for a lot of people, Alonso was the knight that slayed Schumacher as the legend was at the tail-end of the peak of his powers. Alonso was the next Formula 1 legend, as he was two-times World Drivers Champion and by all accounts, the series’ most shining baby-face. Then Alonso v Hamilton at McLaren happened. With a young upstart ruffling his feathers, Alonso transitioned himself from face to heel by outing his own team as smugglers of technical information, gleaned from a rival team, and then hitting the eject button on the McLaren experiment. And while all that was happening, he damn near won the 2007 Drivers Championship again.

Since then, Alonso’s been able to rehabilitate his image – in large part, I feel, because he’s been such a valiant contender, year in and year out, but ultimately failing to retake the F1 championship crown. In 2013, many consider Fernando to be the best all-around driver in the paddock, and the ‘hero’ that fans can attach themselves to when combating the mighty Red Bulls and Sebastian Vettel.

So with Alonso back as a baby-face, who would play the heel? Enter Sebastian Vettel. Malaysian Grand Prix. 2013.

As the reigning champion, three times on the trot, Vettel was marginally polarizing, but only due to his success. It wasn’t personal. You respected his ability as a driver – regretted his success, but you couldn’t hold it against the man for being good, right? Now it’s personal. In one of the best face-to-heel turns since Shawn Michaels put Marty Jannetty through a fake barber shop window, Vettel’s now derided not just for being damn good, but for being the guy who double-crossed his team, and his square-jawed, sportsman’s sportsman of a teammate for that sweet, sweet taste of victory nectar. Or maybe it’s more akin to when Shawn Michaels pulled the infamous Montreal Screwjob on Bret Hart? Maybe Sebastian didn’t screw Mark Webber. Maybe ‘Mark screwed Mark’.

You can respect a man for fighting for every position and every point. You can respect a man for being willing to do just about anything to get that win – as only so many people in the history of motorsports can say they’ve won a Formula 1 grand prix, let alone 27 of them (good enough for a tied 6th-place all time). But to go for glory at the expense of your teammate? To superkick your own teammate and then throw him through the barber shop window, in front of the millions that made of the Formula 1 global audience?

We know the story of where Shawn Michaels was able to go with his career once he turned heel and put his teammate through a window. But I’m curious to see where Vettel can go with this, and if we’ll see him begin to crack and perhaps show us his ethics. But I think we’ve got something good on our hands, as fans: We’ve got ourselves a heel, folks. Formula 1 now has its own heartbreak kid.


APR 2 – Not car design, but graphic design. In a previous post I mentioned branding and where Formula 1 succeeded and Indycar seemed to fail. As a graphic designer, I do my best to keep my thumb on where design is going, who’s doing the best work; and where I can, I look for where great design is being applied to the automotive or motorsports industries.

Interstate is a design firm that has had a hand in a lot of motorsports, and motorsports-related creative work and direction. Their list of clients ranges from Porsche to the Formula One Group, to race tracks, to race teams, to sponsors. Needless to say, their work is hugely impressive. But one case study they’ve posted sticks out to me: this case study showcases the process that went into creating a book to show that in the depths of the financial crisis, there was still value in Formula 1; there’s still a profound emotional and alluring value to being a part of Formula 1, as well as a financial and marketing value.

I could easily see Indianapolis Motor Speedway doing something like this for the Indianapolis 500 and the Indycar series that showcases the rich history and pageantry of Indy car racing. When I talk about how the Indycar series presents itself to the world, and compare it to Formula 1, this is an example of where Indy car racing can be deficient and where Formula 1 knows that a lot of good can be done with a little polish in your presentation.

The Power of Formula 1

“In 2009, as Formula 1™ headed towards its diamond anniversary the global economy was in free-fall and with it, the entire value chain of what big companies invested their money in and considered critical to success.

“F1’s usual diet of global brand partners and glamourous locations was running well but there was a growing feeling that the sport was not communicating its quality and value.

“Unsurprisingly Formula 1 was not immune and sensing he could better leverage its strengths, Mr Ecclestone asked us to develop something that would capture the sport’s unique heritage and leverage its value and relevance to current and future business leaders around the world.”

poweroff1_006 poweroff1_013 poweroff1_011-1 poweroff1_010-1 poweroff1_009 poweroff1_001_1

MAR 29 – Bill “Pressdog” Zahren had a really interesting post recently on his blog (read it, it’s really good) that talks about public relations. He dives into what the hell “PR” really is and how it pertains to sports and racing; who does what, and for whom, and why they do it; and why it’s important and so damn hard for a series like Indycar to get really great traction on a really good story, and get it out to the public.

“The main thing media people want is readers/viewers (i.e. customers). News organizations want more people to read/view/listen to their stuff than any other news organization’s stuff. Media outlets are businesses so that means success is all about attracting and retaining customers. Traffic (customers consuming the media product) makes them more attractive to advertisers, and fees charged for advertising are what drive media company revenue.”

If you want to learn a thing or two about how public relations actually functions, and how it functions specifically in racing and Indycar, give that a read. There are a lot of universally misunderstood misnomers about the goings-on in Indycar, and this goes a ways toward dispelling a lot of ignorance on the topic.

This isn’t going to be much of a post. I just want to say how happy I am that Indycar racing has commenced. The weather here in SF is sunny, and warm, and I know somewhere in the world (St Petersburg, Florida, to be exact), there are Indy-style cars in motion.

I’m a happy boy.

MAR 19 – There are a lot of drivers that can feel snubbed and slighted by the fact that they aren’t in an Indycar seat this year. But I’ve always felt like Alex Lloyd and Rafa Matos were the top of the crop who’ve washed out.

Three what-if’s:

What if: Rafa Matos took the $2m 2007 Atlantics scholarship, signed with a Champ Car team, and then raced in the unified Indycar series in 2008 – instead of forfeiting that money and racing in Indy Lights (eventually winning that title as well)? I wonder if the money for winning the Atlantics title was no longer on offer because of the pending merger between Champ Car and Indycar?

What if: HER Energy Drinks had stayed with Alex Lloyd in 2009 and beyond? Granted, if you Google the product, HER Energy Drinks doesn’t come up with very positive results. So many Alex was able to dodge a bullet being associated with that sort of brand. But had they stayed, would Alex still be in the series today? Would Alex have been the catalyst for the Ganassi B-Team that is now filled by Charlie Kimball, and formerly Graham Rahal?

I feel like Alex Lloyd was the prototype for that secondary Ganassi program, but was never able to find the backers Graham and Charlie did in order to make the deal happen. As we know now, he decided to end ties with Ganassi in any effort to get seat time elsewhere.

What if: Instead of racing in Indy Lights and Formula Atlantics, respectively, Matos had raced in Lights a year early, or Lloyd raced in Atlantics instead of Lights? Very much a dream scenario (similar to how in 2006, I wished Dan Wheldon and Sebastien Bourdais could’ve raced against each other, as they were both so dominant) but I feel like it would’ve been a treat to see Feeder talents like Raphael Matos and Alex Lloyd doing battle in the same series.

Due to the nature of feeder series’ not being destination series’, we often times miss opportunities to see fantastic, young talent go head to head unless they both make it into Indycar. That’s something we miss today with no Formula Atlantics and a largely diminished Indy Lights series – the futures best and brightest getting the chance to duke it out before reaching the big leagues.

MAR 12 – As a designer, I often find myself analyzing the ways in which companies visually communicate. Visual communication might seem like a broad term, but to me it encompasses the way in which your favorite brand presents itself to the world, to its stakeholders, and to its consumers and fans. I also feel that the way an entity presents itself to the world is a reflect of the way the company sees itself.

“You promote what you permit.” ~ Some guy, I’m sure.

Indycar is having its official Open Test this week in Birmingham, Alabama, at the Barber Motorsports Park. It’s two days of testing that started with a Media Day on Monday. Given that this is the first time in six months that the series will be somewhere, in front of people, in an official capacity, I just can’t help but feel like you’d want that ever-important first impression (of the year) to be a good one. With the assembled press there, with teams and drivers on hand, you’d want your presence to be felt as a series. That’s not even taking into account the six months of turmoil the Indycar series, its management, and us fans have endured with the firings, non-firings, rumors, leaks, hirings, interims that’ve been a staple of this seasons winter months.

With all that’s happened, you would think that Indycar would put on its Sunday-bests for the world to see that things aren’t as tumultuous as maybe we thought. That doesn’t seem to be the case at Barber. With an off-season of more questions than answers, Indycar (the company) threw up a big, fat zero. A donut. An ‘L’. Jenna Fryer wrote a piece on this very subject. Instead, drivers were left to their own devices when the subject of management, or the direction of the series, or how to make things better comes up. The bus, effectively, had no driver.

But, fine. No one from Indycar management addressed the assembled media. I’m sure there’s a good reason. But back to the topic of visual communication: I’ve had the belief that it’s not expensive to do things the right way. It’s not inherently expensive to design things well, or have a cohesive brand. It costs no more to have a cohesive, well-thought-out brand than it does to hire someone to do a bad job. In the world of design, a bad job can cost as much – if not more – than a job well done. And I’ve always lived by the idea that you can buy nice (once), or end up having to buy twice (nice the second time). Start-ups and small businesses manage to cultivate their brand and present it to the world in effective, evocative, and inexpensive ways. Indycar should be able to do the same.

What inspired me to mention this? It started with the Indycar mini-series, #theoffseason – the series in which four of Indycars biggest personalities pull off some decent comedy in the form of 12 separate videos. The problem with that is the fact that it looks like it was made by high school students. But I plan to talk about that in another post. Specifically, what sparked this post is that I saw a picture on Kevin Lee‘s twitter feed of Will Power speaking with the press at Barber media day.

BFMHAOqCcAA9uzc.jpg-largeI just can’t help but feel like the series could do so much better than this. I’m going to be a bit harsh here, but it’s actually kind of embarrassing that this is how Indycar presents itself. This is how the series communicates with the world visually: a wrinkled vinyl backdrop and an office table. To me it screams high school football advertisements.

Maybe it’s unfair to compare, but this is how Formula 1 presents itself:

l__q0c8603-4l__79p4722-4I’m not saying you have to build a small set to present yourself to the world properly, but perhaps something in between would suffice for Indycar – something a bit more concrete and alluring and sexy. Not necessarily expensive – just something that looks like you put forth an effort.

This is a long “Warm-Up” post but it’s a subject somewhat close to my heart. If Indycar is looking for someone to help put together an inexpensive, cohesive, aesthetically pleasing platform in which to showcase itself, I’m available.