Open-Wheel Wednesday · Toni Montgomery · Wednesday March 6, 2013
The offseason. That time when we at first breathe a collective sigh of relief and take a break from devoting our Saturdays or Sundays to races. We all plan things around races on occasion, don’t we? Especially on a certain Sunday in May. No, the winter months are for getting away from that and spending time with our families and friends, especially those poor souls who don’t get the attraction of fast cars and non-stop action.
At least the early part of the offseason is like that; toward the end we all get a little bit antsy—just a little anxious. For pity’s sake, can’t we start racing yet? NASCAR types don’t have to endure quite the wait the IndyCar crowd does. They race until mid-November and they are back on track in earnest by February. Well, we last saw cars turn laps in anger in September and we won’t see it again for another three weeks. That’s the end of March, for crying out loud! I’m going to forget what the drivers look like by then!
Ah, but INDYCAR had your back on that front this year. No, there isn’t any racing, but thanks to The Offseason, there was a chance to enjoy some of our favorite drivers this year. For those who have not been following, INDYCAR has been running a series of short videos called The Offseason featuring Will Power, James Hinchcliffe, Charlie Kimball and Josef Newgarden that depicts the quartet of bored drivers running amok around INDYCAR headquarters.
Sure, it’s fluff, but it’s just the right amount of fluff to give us a “fix” when we don’t have racing to enjoy. It’s also a great move on the part of INDYCAR. The clips range from a few seconds to a couple of minutes long. They probably filmed these in a day or two, but they’ve gotten several months of fresh content to keep their drivers in front of fans. They dole them out one by one each week, right in that period of winter doldrums when fans start itching for the season to start. I’d call that a great return on a minimum investment.
They are posted on YouTube so fans can find any clips they missed simply by searching “The Offseason IndyCar” and can enjoy their favorites as many times as they want. And I don’t know about anyone else — maybe I’m just some sort of geek — but I’ve lately found myself eagerly looking forward to the arrival of the newest clip every week. A minimum of effort was needed to keep fans engaged and showcase driver personalities, but it gave them something to follow all winter.
Why doesn’t NASCAR do something like this concept? Maybe they just haven’t thought of it. Maybe they don’t think the offseason is long enough to need something fluffy to engage fans, especially since they are back on TV by mid-January with preseason testing. I can think of one other reason but I don’t think putting it out there is going to make me very popular in stock car circles. NASCAR fans would hate it.
They don’t want fluff. They don’t want drivers doing silly skits or engaging in staged antics. They make that clear every time one of the networks airs something of this variety. It’s undignified. NASCAR drivers are not clowns, they are here for business and we don’t want silly stuff going on instead. To put it bluntly, they can be sticks in the mud and sometimes take this whole racing thing too seriously.
Whatever. Do I really think Will Power chair races in the halls of INDYCAR headquarters? OK, scratch that one. That might be a bad example because he might do that if given a chance. Do I really think Will Power listens to Justin Bieber on his computer in his cubicle at headquarters? Good Lord, I hope not.
My point is, I realize these guys are just goofing around and I don’t think they really spend the winter months running around the office doing silly things while wearing their driver suits. I realize someone put these skits together solely for publicity purposes. I also think it was a great idea because when I can’t watch real racing and be serious, it’s just fun to cut up and watch them act silly when there’s nothing better to do. And it gets fans to engage and look for content when they might not normally even be thinking about INDYCAR.
Additionally, serious news is also beginning to flow again. The league has announced a few rule changes for this year aimed at allowing team strategies to become a bigger part of the game. Teams will be able to start the race with any amount of fuel in the tank they choose instead of being required to have it full. Distances in a handful of races have also been changed, and it’s all in an effort to allow for more varied fuel strategy and take mileage races out of the equation.
Teams will also have more tire strategy at their disposal. Previously, only one set of new tires was allowed during each of the three segments of road/street course qualifying, but now teams will be limited only by their allotment of tires. That means they can decide if they want to use fresh rubber to get a better starting spot, or choose to save it for the race. They will still be required to use both the primary and the alternate tires for at least two laps during each road/street course. For the double-headers, one set of each must be used during each of the two races.
Teams have been testing, although Hildebrand’s pink Caddy provided some light moments there. Driver and car combos have been coming together, some of them harmoniously, some of them dubiously, and some of them contentious on at least some fronts. Katherine Legge isn’t done having her say about Dragon Racing releasing her in favor of Sebastian Saavedra and keeping her sponsor True Car.
Either way, the long offseason is almost over with one perk, perhaps; the offseason next year won’t be quite as long because we’ll be racing until October this year. In the meantime, thanks INDYCAR for coming up with an idea to keep some of our favorite drivers in front of us until the real action begins. I think fluff is fun. Racing is supposed to be a sport. It’s supposed to be fun and I think sometimes fans and participants forget that. The Offseason was a good reminder. And if we’re honest, who doesn’t want to have chair races in the hallway?
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