Friday, May 1, 2015

IndyCar History is About to be Made, IndyCar Must Promote It

Do you know what Hélio Castroneves will accomplish if he starts the Grand Prix of Indianapolis? What about Tony Kanaan should he qualify for the Indianapolis 500? Both are set to make their 300th IndyCar starts at those races respectively and the series hasn't promoted either one bit.

Three hundred IndyCar starts is no small feat. It's not like 300 starts is something Hiro Matsushita, Ross Bentley and Charlie Nearburg accomplished. Six drivers have made 300 starts in IndyCar.

Mario Andretti.
A.J. Foyt.
Al Unser, Jr.
Al Unser.
Michael Andretti.
Johnny Rutherford.

That's the list. Between them 261 victories, including 14 Indianapolis 500 victories and 19 championships. It can't get much more decorated than that.

Castroneves and Kanaan are going to add a combined four Indianapolis 500 victories to that club as well as 46 combined victories and one title. This feat doesn't happen every decade, let alone every year. They will be the first drivers to reach 300 starts since 2002. That year, Al Unser, Jr. made his 300th start at the Indianapolis 500; Michael Andretti made his 300th start at Toronto. Before those two joined the club there was a rash of drivers reaching 300 starts. Mario Andretti made his 300th start at the 1988 Indianapolis 500. Rutherford joined the 300 starts club at Portland in 1987. The year before that, Al Unser made his 300th start at Michigan. Foyt was the first to make 300th start and he did it in the 1985 Indianapolis 500. (Fun fact: Rutherford is the only driver to score a top ten finish in a 300th start. He finished seventh. In fact, none of the six drivers have finished on the lead lap in their 300th starts).

What gives me goose bumps is the fact that Kanaan could not only become the eighth driver (should Castroneves start the Grand Prix of Indianapolis) to make 300 starts but he would be the fourth driver to make his 300th start in the Indianapolis 500. What's the chance of that happening?

We are on the precipice of IndyCar history and IndyCar is not doing anything to promote it. They dropped the ball when Kanaan broke Jimmy Vasser's streak for most consecutive starts. They could have taken advantage of it happening in Baltimore, just outside the stadium in which Cal Ripken, Jr. broke Lou Gehrig's streak for most consecutive games played. They could have, nay should have taken advantage of the B&O Warehouse like the Baltimore Orioles did in 1995 and had the numbers switch from 211 to 212 when the race became official.

Promoting the little things is just as big as promoting each race. When people are going to a race, they want to know if they are going to see history. They want to be apart of something. They want to be able to say, "I was there" for years to come. We rail on IndyCar's lack of promotion and this is why. They miss the little things. If you can't promote the little things, than what are you promoting instead? There should be t-shirts commemorating Castroneves' and Kanaan's 300th starts. There should be special pins or decals for fans to purchase. There should be special features on each driver. Although, are there two drivers who have gotten more special features, especially from ESPN/ABC than Castroneves and Kanaan? Maybe we can do without the special features. Or, if you are doing special features on those, focus just on the great on-track moments and I am talking about on-track moments that happened at place not named the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Their greatest moments happened there but the meat of their careers occurred away from the corner of 16th and Georgetown. Show their first career IndyCar starts, their first interviews, their early mistakes, their first triumphs and their greatest sound bites. You have over a decade of material from each driver, there has to be plenty of things that we haven't heard or have forgotten that could be used. This is a great reason to go down memory lane.

Three hundred starts won't happen for a few years after these two hit the mark. Scott Dixon is at 242 starts, should he start all remaining 12 races he would be at 254. He would be about three seasons away from 300 and who knows if he decides to go that long. He is only 34 and turning 35 this July but he might decide at 36 he wants to retire from full-time competition and spent more time with his beautiful family. Alex Tagliani is on 202 starts but his full-time career appears to be done, same for Oriol Servià, who is on 195 starts. The next closest full-time driver is Ryan Hunter-Reay on 173 starts. Justin Wilson is on 168 starts but with him only set for the two Indianapolis races this year, he might not even break 200 starts. Marco Andretti has made 155 starts and is 28 years old. He could make it to 300 but that won't be for sometime. The only other active driver over 150 starts is Ed Carpenter and unless his stepfather decides to start his own series again with 20 oval races each year, I don't think he will hit 300.

Promoting the 300th starts for Castroneves and Kanaan won't triple television ratings or triple race attendance. It probably wouldn't even make SportsCenter. But the "messiah moments" where all of a sudden IndyCar TV ratings and attendance go up significantly that many think can happen aren't practical. The only drivers that could be IndyCar messiahs are named Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and/or Sebastian Vettel and I don't think any of those seven will become full-time IndyCar competitors anytime soon. The "messiah moments" won't happen and any growth for the series will have to be chipped away. It will be a slow process but a few ten thousand extra viewers here, a few thousand extra attendees there is all IndyCar can shoot for.