Wednesday, February 23, 2011

You Never Walk Away From The Table When You Are On A Heater

Which is why Randy Bernard choose to officially announce the season-ending Vegas race while in Las Vegas yesterday.

Yes, I know that race announcements take place in the city in which it will be held, but the point is that Bernard has been on such a hot streak that it made it all that more appropriate. While setting the date of Oct. 16 was a bit anticlamactic given we all knew about that, Bernard threw a couple more items out there that are sure to pique more interest.

Is there ANYTHING bad about being a race car driver?/
The first was to offer a free ticket to the Vegas race to anyone who attends another IndyCar race during the season. That's just an outstanding deal and continues the series' emphasis with focusing on the fans. I've seen posts in various online medias where many people are already talking of cashing in, and I'm planning on doing the same. I think it will boost attendance for the race (then again, anything over the putrid turnout in Homestead is an improvement) and along with the venue gives fans the chance to celebrate the end of the season. And if past history holds, the points champion will be crowned there and that's a reason to get excited too.

One thing I like about Vegas is that along with Indy, it has the potential to become a "destination" race for people. As in, the stuff surrounding the race will be just as good as the race itself, and people want to be a part of it. I've made lots of virtual friends through various social media, and look forward to the opportunity to meet them in person. 

I have run the Chicago Marathon five times, and have covered it on several other occasions. The one thing I have noticed is that the race itself culminates several days' worth of activity and interaction between the participants. People don't come from around the world to just run the race, it's also about the community and cameraderie that is developed and the energy that it builds through the course of the weekend. That is what makes the experience memorable and is why people come back year after year to run it.

I think if done correctly, this could be the same thing. IndyCar might do well to follow a similar model, to have an "expo" of sorts where people can spend the prior 2-3 days buying merchandise, listening to speakers, meeting drivers or folks from other races, and getting together. I think that's an area the series should try to focus on, getting fans together. Looking at their interest level in social media, that will probably happen, and Vegas is the perfect place for that to happen.

The other interesting angle was to throw out a $5 million bonus to any non-IndyCar driver who can show up and win the race. The series will hold five spots open for anyone who wants to give it a shot. The series is basically saying -- if you want to boast about having the best drivers in the world, come to Vegas and prove it.

With NASCAR racing in Charlotte the previous night, it presents an interesting scenario that perhaps a driver or two will hop on a plane and head over to run the race. As I posted earlier here I just don't see a Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart or Juan Pablo Montoya showing up. I do however, think a guy like Robby Gordon or Sam Hornish Jr. might be talked into it if the ride is right.

One thing to remember, this is an "all in" race. With the new cars coming in 2012, the 2011 finale is the current car's swan song. You can do whatever you want to the equipment, you can crash it, burn it, run it into the ground. It doesn't matter because you won't need it the next day, when the checkered flag drops they become museum pieces and show cars. I think that lends itself to risk-taking and excitement to those who want to get involved.

There is the possibility that maybe one or two drivers might take the series up on its offer. But even if they don't, that's not the point. Bernard understands the idea of creating buzz, and getting people to talk about things.

When in the past was anyone talking about IndyCar a full month before the season even started? This past winter has been full of good news (and some bad, to be fair) and the series has been in the spotlight more than in recent memory. A lap hasn't been turned in competition this year, but already people are talking. The further we go, the more that is going to multiply.

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