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March 27, 2012

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Angiewarhol

GREAT POST! I admit, I am with the hardcore fans who have been blaming TV ... but I said it yesterday in a Tweet and I'll say it again: I watched the F1 race after GP St Pete and was blown away by how engaged Speed's coverage was in comparison. And you're right, it's not about how many passes they showed ... it's about how engaged and informative the announcers/commentators are. I think Indycar the organization and their various media partners have a lot to learn from F1. F1 is the most popular motorsport in the WORLD. They are doing something right. Indycar should watch those broadcasts and take heavy notes. Twisties can be exciting if done well!

The Speedgeek

Holy hell, I enjoyed this post and I agree with basically every word. I'll comment more later when I'm not trying to type on a phone and not saddled with a work computer that only plays well with Geocities-era websites, but I just had to say "well put, 'Dog".

Brian McKay in Florida

AWESOME explanatory blog post! Several times I was highlighting 'points' to copy to quote here. Let's just say that the whole post was sensible and cogent.
I'm glad that you don't think that the 'product' is unsaleable but rather needs to be sold (storytelling).
Bravo.

DZ

Do you ever get tired saying the same thing over and over? HA! Same conversations, different date. Maybe someone important enough to instigate change is reading this time...

Even on ovals, there is much missed by TV due to how things how TV allows viewers to see the race. Someday, somehow, instead of the 'that's the way we've always covered it' craptastic production plan, we'll get something of quality, but I contend it won't be with ABC/ESPN.

I don't care what channel it falls to because, if something is in demand, people will always find a way to find it. Recent case in point - Downton Abbey. Maybe PBS can pick up Indycar coverage and transform it into something enjoyable.

Zachary

Jenna "kind" to IndyCar, Bill?

"IndyCar Opener Fails To Meet Hype Of New Season"

http://sports.yahoo.com/news/indycar-opener-fails-meet-hype-213720361--irl.html

Yes, she's a regular booster when it comes to the series, isn't she?

My quarrel is that through her articles and through Twitter, someone who is ostensibly an objective AP reporter is in practice little more than an opinion journalist. That's fine, but let's not dress up editorial print like it's an actual news story.

I've had enough of passive-aggressive criticism of IndyCar in both news and on social media. I'd prefer direct, strident, criticism to thinly veiled assaults behind some weak veneer of concern.

I'd really like to see the AP send us someone who understands the role of objective media, has some affinity or comprehension of the sport, and at least wants to be here. I'm not getting that from your latest crush.

pressdog

Review the entirety of Jenna's work since Kentucky of last year, Zachary, rather than judging her based on the latest article which I obviously read since I linked to it. First, she's under no pressure to cover IndyCar at all given it's small fan base, and yet she has anyway, despite taking shit for it from NASCAR fans and participants. She went to Kentucky primarily because she thought AP wasn't covering the sport well enough. Second, her IndyCar stories, since she's an AP reporter, appear in dozens of papers and Web sites, which dramatically increases IndyCar's exposure. Third, after Wheldon's death, she went to great lengths to get Randy to come out of hiding and generate some positive pub for the series. She most definitely inconvenienced herself because she thought it was a story worth doing. Looking over the entirety of the coverage, it's difficult to credulously say Jenna's an enemy of IndyCar, veiled or otherwise. Like all good reporters, Jenna works for her readers, not IndyCar. If you expect her to be an advocate for the sport and never have or publish any negative opinions, you are misjudging her and her role.

Patrick Head

I do agree with most of this blog entry. I do have a couple of observations regarding the TV race coverage, especially on ABC. I have been an IndyCar race fan since I was a child. I have listened to the Indy500 on radio, attended IndyCar races at many venues, watched on TV and followed along with the race control web sites, and with the radios at the tracks. This includes races under all the sanctioning bodies since the late 1970s.

I have noticed a definite deterioration of IndyCar coverage, or more accurately the production of said races. My first observation has been the seemingly lack of passion demonstrated by the announcers. I do think have all been very professional, and probably are personally excited to be covering the races, but I just don't see the Paul Page, Derek Daly, Bobby Unser type of in depth passion for the sport. A personal, in-grained love of all the aspects of IndyCar racing. At least it doesn't come across on TV. I think someone's comment was "it was like listening to the commentary of Tiger teeing off ..."

My second observation, and this would be REALLY easy to fix. I have tried to take a very objective look at this year's TV coverage of F1, NASCAR (both of the national car series) and now IndyCar. Over the past 10 years, I've heard MANY comments about how slow the IndyCars look on TV. Well, it's all about camera placement and angles. Even to the point of following an IndyCar down a long straight by adjusting the zoom of the camera. So, what we get to see on TV is a very beautiful shot of a car, but it doesn't really appear to be moving fast. This can last like 8-10 seconds sometimes. F1 and NASCAR coverage has a few fixed cameras close to the track. This arrangement ALWAYS makes these cars seem REALLY fast. And, guess what? They ARE really fast. So are IndyCars, more so than either F1 and NASCAR in some cases (ovals).

Why is this aspect of coverage of IndyCar being missed? And for SO many years? I'm baffled. I'm getting to the point where I wonder if it is intentional for some reason.

I attended the Baltimore race last year. I took a friend who was a self proclaimed NON-race fan. He owns (owned) a ROCKIN' C6 Corvette, capable of over 200MPH. I have driven this car. It was FAST. So, when we get to the track, the IndyCars were just getting ready for a practice session. My friend asked me, "do you think these cars are as fast as my Corvette?". I basically just walked him to the fence, and pointed out Ed Carpenter (he as the slowest car on that day). I said, just watch. My friend could not believe what he was seeing. He actually said, "Wow, they don't look fast on TV."

Later, he told me that he could completely understand my passion for IndyCar racing.

Two things came out of this for me. First, my observations I mentioned above, and also, I realized that as a fan, if I want my friends to be fans, it is up to ME to inform them of the all the interesting stuff that is going on. Kind of like hockey. A person could go to a hockey match, or soccer, or fill-in-the-blank-sport, and if you don't know what is happening, and who the players are, it's probably not going to be interesting.

Also, everybody that attends an auto race, really needs to at least once, just stand as close to the track as possible, and experience the shear speed, and grip that these cars have.

I know this is really long, but I too have a true passion for IndyCar, and also get frustrated with the rut that it appears to be in ...

redcar

agree Dog. except I think street racing could be more exciting as they continue to tweak the new cars and if they could tweak tracks to allow for more competition and overtaking instead of (to me anyway) the dreaded pit "strategery" and non-exciting fuel saving. street racing events obviously are better when you're there (rare in today's sporting world) but the key to success (as you've often pointed out) is improving tv ratings.

anyway, the best "gimmick" for Indycar is the different styles and types of racing on diverse tracks and however they can stress that and improve on that (let's do dirt!!!) would help to differentiate Indycar from others types of racing. I'm excited for this year and expect Indycar to get better and better.

Jay Robinson

With a telemetry feed, I could write an app that would take into account lap times, car positions, closing rates, camera positions, known passing zones, etc, and do a MUCH better job than ABC's producers. It's not rocket science. I write software for a living, but it's not boasting when I say "I could do it," because there are a lot of software geeks in the world who could do it. It's a technical sport - the broadcast needs to catch up.

GeorgeK

Most street courses are lacking the vital ingredient to create passing opportunities: long enough straights with hard turns at the end. Damned near impossible to pass through "esses" or high speed curves. The great road courses all have passing chances, sometimes multiple chances, like Road America, Laguna Seca, Portland, and The Glen.

One Street course exception is Toronto, because it has two long straights where the bold can make passes. I'm sure there are other courses as well, just too lazy to name 'em all.

rj

"Businesses don’t do what loses them money."

Unless you're a street race or an F1 Grand Prix. ;) In the former it's damn hard to make money and in the latter it's impossible because Bernie keeps all the money-making bits of an event to himself.

rj

"I’d work more with the twisty-dominated Road to Indy steps, especially Star Mazda and USF2000, to try and help them build fan bases for the racing and the drivers."

That only comes with TV coverage. Star Mazda and F2000, unless it's Speed TV doing it you're not going to and I doubt Speed TV will do so (and there's a limit to what they can do, they have NASCAR's #3 series which is a lot higher profile than Star Mazda and Trucks are in a lot of trouble).

Road racing in the U.S. as far as being a commercial vehicle has always been once you get beneath the top a tough sell. Small oval racing in contrast has always drawn in terms of the level of racing you see. Star Mazda and F2000 are the support races for USAC National Midgets at IRP at the Night Before the 500 and the midgets are a lot larger draw for the event than the Star Mazda or F2000 are. The one time Star Mazda you say could've drawn to the event was the year Conor Daly started on the pole and that's because all his high school friends that lived in the area since he's from there (about 100 out of a crowd of 5000) came to see him win. As far as getting Star Mazda to draw at say Mid-Ohio? Well, how? As far as the drivers most of them are overseas so you can't tie into being local draws as Daly was in my example. It's a nice thought but instead of just saying do it let's come up with a workable plan first, if there is one.

rj

As a followup to my immediate post above, it's not like it's just here that struggles to support lower road racing formulae and it's only due to ovals. Series right now in Europe are shuttering. British Formula Renault closed up shop in the past couple weeks. British Formula Three is rumored to be on its deathbed and they only have 12 confirmed entrants for this coming season. The reason is there's no commercial prospects tied to the series at all as everyone involved has instead revolved around extracting the most money possible from the racer and to do a British F3 season now costs $750000 for one year according to British folks that'd know on a couple racing forums I read. Why does anyone think that is a model we should embrace or that would start to create fans and such when even in a place like the UK that does not work?

So minor league road racing even in places where they don't have ovals is entirely built off the backs of ride buyers which means it's near impossible to promote them or get them fanbases (unless you're going to tell me Milka Duno is the future). I still wholeheartedly believe this transition was what killed Indycar in the early '90s as people switched to NASCAR because those are the racers they wanted to see, and the transition is best represented by Jeff Gordon. I doubt it's ever going to change back, but it's not like the route you say to go to Pressdog is going to result in prosperity either. You live in Iowa, look at the racers and racefans in your neck of the woods, why would they became fans of Esteban Guerreri instead of Donny Schatz?

Rich

pressdog, I agree with some things you're saying, but I think you're missing the primary reason these courses seem "boring" to some. It's the same issue that has plagued this series since its split from CART. They need some way to differentiate the cars and drivers among the field. Back in the CART glory days, they had 800-1000+ horsepower engines and it was up to the teams how much downforce they wanted to run (on road and street courses anyway.) This allowed the better drivers to put down more power at the risk of getting the car squirrelly. A driver being chased may panic and put down too much causing a slip and giving room for a pass. On the other side, a skilled driver or tuned car can put that extra power down and make the pass on a straight or challenge coming out of a corner. Since we're stuck with this engine for the next few years, we're out of luck here. We do have an option though.

With the return to turbo engines the series now can put in a strong push to pass that would make things a lot more interesting. I'm talking about 50+ horsepower for a total duration of 90 seconds, allowing the drivers to use that time when they saw fit. Basically the formula used in Champ Car towards the end of its life.

You'd see position passes a lot more often with this in place. F1 has DRS and KERS and you can see how helpful it is during the races to facilitate passes/action.

Dylan

I think Jenna Fryer's been great covering Indycar. Honestly her comments on the quality (or lack of quality) of the racing summed up how I felt perfectly. I was glad she wrote it because too many Indycar journalists just accept poor racing as being okay.

On the other hand I don't think it's ridiculous to expect more excitement and passing on road and street courses. Other series manage it. Both the ALMS and NASCAR manage to put on a more exciting show (sometimes, ALMS has a quality car issue, NASCAR has a yellow flag issue, they're not perfect) than the typical Indycar road and street course. The track's need a better desgin (use Sao Paolo as an example of a good street course) and better road courses are needed but it's definitly possible. The car's also need to promote good racing which it appears the 2012 car may have missed the boat on, but the chassis can be tweaked. It concerns me a bit that there's not a lot of motivation to fix the on track product out of Indycar because a bunch of tracks promised fixes (Barber, for instnance) and the car's were suppose to promote passing with a big push to pass and better power and these things aren't happening. That's why I like that Jenna was willing to call the series on the boring race, maybe it'll get some positive improvements made.

pressdog

Appreciate all the comments, especially the respectful tone of most. No one person ever has The Answer, but sharing ideas will often lead to other ideas. That's what I always want this blog to be about when it comes to this kind of "how to make it better" discussion.

S0CSeven

An excellent job Pressdog and very timely too. I do not and cannot understand why Americans have forsaken Indycars on ovals.

I do, however, differentiate among the ‘twisties’. Street courses have cement walls that absolutely/positively deter passing attempts. They also make blocking (sorry I meant defending) relatively easy. On a proper (large) road course you can mount an attack and if you mess it up only end up eating a pile of grass. On a street circuit if you mess up you’ll wall the car & cost the team mega bucks. Very few drivers would even THINK about a passing attempt at St. Petes (except for PT & he’s not racing).

However, it’s a new year with the same problems and no solutions.

Spec car racing is still spec car racing. The top gun & the slowest slug have exactly the same machinery with massive downforce and anaemic engines and we expect passing? I don’t think so. Certainly not on street courses.

If you want to eliminate the processional stuff cut the damn wings off, put giant turbos on the cars & lets go racing. If ‘twisties’ are the future, the races are going to have to be a whole lot more interesting than what we just witnessed.

Mike R

Always late to the party...
Patrick Head put it pretty much in focus up there, and kinda makes my comment redundant, though I don't think he said it quite this way:
I have strong doubts that TV can actually do a lot to bring in fans. Most of us (hardcore) really had the hook set in the jaw because at some point we went to the races. For most, that is where the blood is forever "infected" with racing, if it's going to be. My acknowledgement of Patrick's comment is to second the opinion, that camera angles do little or nothing to enhance the sense of how fast the cars are actually moving, which is the opposite of the awareness when in attendance (as his friend with the 'Vette found out). It's the spectacle of the sight and sounds, (and to some extent, the smells) that can truly 'hook' people and make them want to watch on TV. How to translate that experience to the broadcasts is gonna be tough, but the camera angles are key. As Patrick said above, when you only see a racecar in a field of black asphalt with little or nothing to gauge how fast it's actually moving, it doesn't do anything to add thrill. There has to be perspective.

Mike R

Interesting...most of you probably have seen this but thought I'd bring the link here for those who haven't:

http://auto-racing.speedtv.com/article/indycar-st-pete-rewind/

Simona Fan

I may be in the minority here, but I felt like the race in St. Pete was only missing a few key elements. In other words, it was almost what we want in our races, but not quite. It had:

1. Racing Strategy (including botched strategy)
2. Many different leaders
3. New cars and engines. (Thank God!)
4. A full field of respectable drivers.
5. Good weather
6. DNFs from top contenders (mechanical)
7. Agressive passing in turn 1 (if not elsewhere).
8. Unique onboard cameras.
9. A few full course yellows to bunch the field up once it got strung out.
10. A grateful, enthusiastic winner smiling and celebrating in the winner's circle.

But sadly it lacked a few key elemements:
1. A broadcast that could keep track of all of (or any of) the strategy, passing, and drama.
2. A broadcast crew that were excited, impressed and knowledgeable. Marty can get excited, and Goodyear is knowledgeable but neither are both, and neither are ever surprised or impressed.
3. A decent wreck. I know this is touchy in the wake of Las Vegas, and I certainly don't want to see anyone hurt, but nothing shows the sheer amount of energy in the cars and risk that these drivers are taking like when someone gets it wrong.
4. DNFed driver interviews during the race. Simona? Legge? They had Simona there on camera and never asked her a question.
5. Enough onboard cameras. They only had 6 of the 26 cars carrying cameras. No wonder they missed most of the passing.

Sadly, much of the blame falls on the broadcast. It was an interesting race, but you wouldn't have known it thanks to the poor broadcast team, and the apathetic director. Add a good broadcast and a few crunched up wings or sidepods, and we'd be singing a different song this week.

Mark

Enjoyed the post and the comments, but I'm not letting ESPN (ABC) off so easy. Once I got access to cable TV in the 90's I watched more NASCAR than I'd care to admit (and most IndyCar, except Vancouver or Houston - ZZzzzzzz) and the production back then was 100x better than any of today's race broadcasts (except F1). I really blame Fox, because when they took NASCAR away they really lowered the bar for race coverage, which everyone now strives to meet.

ESPN could have embraced CART or IRL and proved they really are taste-makers, but no, they chose to dump RPM2Night and stake out the helipad with Mike Masaro every week in hopes of a sound bite from Dick Trickle or Sterling Marlin.

One thing I don't ever want to see return though is non-stop talk about how turbulence is making it impossible to get close enough to pass, like in the later CART days...

@BrianMcKayUSA

Aside from the ALMS race, the IndyCar race in Long Beach "had:
1. Racing Strategy
2. Many different leaders
3. New cars and engines.
4. A full field of respectable drivers
5. Good weather
6. DNFs from top contenders (Dixon)
7. Aggressive passing in turn 1
8. Unique onboard cameras.
9. A few full course yellows to bunch the field up once it got strung out.
10. A grateful, enthusiastic winner smiling and celebrating in the winner's circle."

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