The Frontstretch: Open-Wheel Wednesday: And I'm Feeling Good by Huston Ladner -- Wednesday July 24, 2013

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Open-Wheel Wednesday: And I'm Feeling Good

Huston Ladner · Wednesday July 24, 2013

 

It’s been a good week for IndyCars. Stop and drink in that one for a moment.

Aside from Tony Kanaan’s memorable win at Indianapolis this year, there’s been little to get more widespread audiences interested in the sport. Fans, of course, don’t always care whether the rest of the world takes interest, but those extra eyes are what help to pay the bills and ensure that IndyCars continue to run.

So what was it that happened this week to reverse that trend?

For current fans, there’s reason to be happy with Ryan Hunter-Reay winning the ESPN ESPY award for Best Driver. Sure, the idea for handing out awards for sports is a little contrived and seems a bit self-aggrandizing, but that point can be ignored. Furthermore, aren’t the trophies presented to winners an indication of their status? But no biggie, the Best Driver award has been handed out since 1993. During those years, the award has typically been given to either a Formula 1 driver or more commonly, someone in NASCAR.

Therefore, for Hunter-Reay to win should be considered something of an upset, and while it’s great to celebrate the award for the driver, it may mean more to IndyCar as a whole, as even having just a few people curious as to why he won might get them to tune in. The award also offers an air of legitimacy, if you want to believe that. Fans may clamor about the spec nature of the racing, and those who don’t really follow IndyCar may see it as third-rate racing. But Hunter-Reay’s win vindicates the series and illustrates that these drivers are every much the same as those in NASCAR.

But wait, there’s more.

Not sure if it was long-awaited or highly anticipated but the Dreamworks Animation film Turbo came out a week ago. Dario Franchitti is one of the big names attached to the project and even Will Power makes a cameo in the movie. The film debuted on July 17, and has attracted decent interest (though nothing like the earlier animated films of the summer).

The reviews for the film have been largely positive, which, in a way, helps IndyCar. Think of it this way: first, it is a little bit surprising that a big studio decided to make a film that relies on IndyCar. NASCAR has long held the greater public’s attention with regards to the cinema, something that stretches back to The Last American Hero in 1972. More recently, Talladega Nights and both Cars films, all of which take cues from NASCAR, have been produced with financial success. To go against the trend and focus on American open wheel cars shows that the industry sees a potential market, because Big Bucks Hollywood does nothing without aiming for a market anymore.

The second thing to take away from the film is that it might be able to reach a group that the sport has a problem relating to: kids. From one point of view, kids are nothing if not potential fans. Get them hooked now and you’ve got them always (hey, it’s worked for McDonald’s). By opening up the sport to this age bracket, the sport may see a boost in interest – perhaps not today or tomorrow, but something that translates to a few years from now.

What these things seem to signify is that IndyCar, in contemporary lingo, is trending up. Though there were a few hiccups at the races in Toronto a couple weeks ago, the product has been a solid one, and overall the racing has been rather good this year. Add in the pop culture positives and fans might actually be able to feel good about the sport for a change.

It seems almost anathema not to have the sky-is-falling feeling with IndyCar. So much has gone wrong for so long that any sort of positive is regards with jaundiced eyes and cynical harrumphs. But if ever there were a year to start feeling good about things, this one would be it. Even the move to hire the new Director of Competition, Derrick Walker, smacks of a good move, one that is forward thinking and should firm up some of the technical concerns in the series.

Of course, it wouldn’t be IndyCar if it weren’t for some kind of goofy factor. Here – and it’s been the cause of continual criticism – it’s the schedule. The sport couldn’t dictate that the film comes out close to the Indy 500, which may have a been a win for all parties. The thing here is that NASCAR and F1 didn’t race last weekend, which would have been a prime time to generate some interest. It would have worked well for getting people to see the newly minted Best Driver.

In addition, IndyCar’s three week break here just seems a bit long, though the month-long break that comes up in a little bit is even more baffling. The series doesn’t have the built-in cache that F1 does, which allows them to take a long break and not lose interest. But if IndyCar has gotten to a point where one of the biggest issues it now has is revamping the schedule, then it has moved in the right direction.

It’s about time that fans that have stuck with the series were able to feel good about things. Whether or not IndyCar can maintain this pseudo-euphoric feeling will be left to them. But the tight championship battle won’t hurt.

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NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
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