Went to my first Indy car race last weekend at Mid-Ohio just north of Columbus–and I admit, I am hooked. I also saw a lot of things there that I wish horse racing could incorporate into itself.
It actually wasn’t my first exposure to Indy racing, as we have been watching the Indy 500 for the last few years, and got pretty into it after Brian went in 2008 and brought Danny home a toy Helio Castronevez car. I picked Dario Franchitti to root for that year–and he won–so I was feeling pretty vested. Since then we have watched several races on TV, each picking a driver for whom to root–Danny has Helio, I have Dario and Brian has Tony Kanaan (I am ahead, in case you were wondering!).
But I was sure this sport could never compete with my beloved horse racing for sheer entertainment or excitement–and I was wrong.
Here is what I learned from our experience at Mid-Ohio:
1. Show off your drivers: Indy is lucky that is has a lot of good-looking drivers–men and women. But it also knows how to show case them. Before the race, there is an introduction ceremony, where the drivers go up on this portable display trailer, and wave to the crowd. It’s a great photo op and the crowd can’t help but cheer. Think of it as a post-parade for drivers. Imagine if you did that with harness drivers before a big race (and horse racing has its share of lookers). Imagine if a fan could win the chance to walk in front of the crowd with their favorite driver. Imagine if each one was interviewed for a moment before the race.
2. 2:00 isn’t long enough: The Mid-Ohio race is 85 laps–and that is a short one by Indy car standards. Having the horses go around once makes it hard to get invested in them. I know trainers are against long races, but having seen the 5-mile harness race in Quebec, I can tell you it was one of the most exciting events I have ever seen. My son, Danny, suggested a relay with a horses being traded mid-race in pit-stops. Might work!
3. Marketing, marketing, marketing: It took all of my self control not to buy a Dario shirt because it was there, I was there and he was there. Would I wear it again? That’s not the point–I wanted to show support for “my” driver!
4. It really is the drivers: I respect efforts to keep horses on the track as our stars, and they can be our stars to a degree. But drivers are the ones who stick around year after year, who can really make a connection with the fans. They need to not be so stiff, and embrace their celebrity and the people who can make them celebrities.
5. Less is more: There is no way to stay compelled by racing five days a week, 300 days a year. Special events are the key–even in a several-month season like auto racing. I know having racing a few days a month is not conducive to it being a career choice for many, but making it feel special will make people believe racing is special.
I know everyone has an idea for fixing racing, and the chances that any of these things will get done may be slim, but it couldn’t hurt to try something.
Anyone have any thoughts?