“There’s Another Race in May!”

With the advent of the month of May has come much rejoicing among my IndyCar Twitter friends.  I have wholeheartedly joined in as I eagerly anticipate my May 23 touchdown in Indianapolis.  Among that rejoicing, several voices have been heard reminding us all that there is another race this weekend–the Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300, which will take place this Sunday, May 5, at 11 AM EDT.  Those voices usually argue that the Indy 500 is already the biggest and best-known IndyCar race on the schedule, and efforts should be directed away from things like the #Indy500orBust campaign and toward the less-popular races.  I can see both sides, and here are my thoughts.

Before I dive in, please allow me to pause and thank everyone for the amazing response to my last blog post.  Everyone who contacted me on Twitter, facebook, or through the comments here, along with everyone who shared the post, added almost 300 hits to this blog almost overnight.  I especially appreciated those who contacted me to say, while they aren’t fans of Marco, they enjoyed reading the post.  I write because I enjoy it and it’s always great to hear from readers.  So thank you.

Now, back to May.  I admit to being extremely excited for the Indy 500.  Indy is the race my father used to introduce me to the sport of IndyCar racing.  When I was very young the race wasn’t shown live on TV back home in New Jersey, and I remember many a Sunday spent sitting in the driveway with my father, either washing one of the family cars or just relaxing with the radio broadcast of the race.  Even after it was televised live, we would sit out in the driveway with a long extension cord coming out of the garage and a little black and white TV bringing us all the action.  I wouldn’t trade those memories for the world.

The 2012 Indy 500 was the first race I attended as an adult and every minute of the time I spent at IMS was all I dreamed it would be and more.  The only thing that could have made the weekend better for me would have been if Marco had managed to win.  The Greatest Spectacle in Racing lived up to its name and then some.  So I am definitely excited to go back this year.

That said, I am also very excited for Sao Paulo.  It’s been one of my favorite races since it joined the schedule three years ago.  It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since three-time-defending Sao Paulo winner Will Power last won a race, and that alone would create intrigue and excitement to suck in any fan.  And that’s not all.  We’ve had two first-time winners in three races this season so far.  The championship standings don’t reflect what most people expected at this point of the season, and each of the first three races has been awesome in its own way.

I’m excited to see what Marco is going to do to follow up on the great start he’s had in 2013.  I’m hoping to see Hinch shake the monkey that’s been on his back since his season-opening win.  I’m curious to see which Dario will show up at the track this week.  I’m excited to see what the hometown drivers–Helio, Bia, and TK–do on their home turf, especially in the case of TK with the hand injuries he sustained in Long Beach.

So while my first tweet yesterday may have been “HAPPY MAY 1!! #Indy500orBust,” the Indy 500 is far from the only race on my radar this week.  And while I understand and respect the opinion of those who believe too much attention is being paid to the race that is already a success, I respectfully disagree.

IndyCar needs more fans.  None of us deny that.  It’s the whole reason I started this blog.  There are a lot of awesome blogs out there that cover the sport fully inside and out.  They reach a lot of people, but one group they don’t reach is my small group of real-life friends.  Even my friend who went with me to Indy and Baltimore last year (and will go again this year) is more of a fan of another type of “racing” that shall remain nameless.  So I guess this is my attempt to introduce my friends to the sport I love.  And I view the “#Indy500orBust” campaign in the same light.

Yes, hundreds of thousands of people attend the Indy 500 every year and in 2012 6.9 million watched ABC’s broadcast of the race.  So why spend all that effort promoting the one race that actually attracts viewers?  Because I believe it is that group of fans who will be the beginning of an influx of new fans to other races.  NBC Sports Network is doing a great job promoting IndyCar this year, though I am still scratching my head over their decisions on airing qualifying.  But that’s another blog post for another day.  But the fact remains that a painfully small number of people are even able to get NBC Sports Network on their TVs, and many of those have no idea where to find it if they do have it.  So the races on ABC must be used as a basis to start attracting new fans to IndyCar.

I’m sure I’m not alone in having seen an unfamiliar hashtag on Twitter and searching to find out what it’s about.  Through the #Indy500orBust campaign, IMS and IndyCar have created something that has the potential to draw Twitter users who are unfamiliar with IndyCar to the Indy 500.  And all those people have the potential to tune in, fall in love with the sport, and introduce their friends and family to it.

What if they did that for this week’s race?  Sure, we have the #IndySaoPaulo hashtag for this week’s race, but if someone researches that they’ll find out the first chance they have to see anything race-related on TV is 1 AM EDT Sunday on a channel they may not get, or may not know how to find if they do get it.  The cultivation of new fans must start with a race most people have heard of that will air on a TV network they not only have access to, but know how to find.  Only when interest is generated that way will we get new fans hooked and convince them the other races are worth checking out.  Who is going to make the effort to find a sport they’ve never seen before on an obscure channel that exists in the nosebleed region of the cable lineup?

I’m excited to see Sunday’s race in Sao Paulo.  There are so many interesting storylines and possibilities and I can’t wait to see how it shakes out.  And that’s not diminished at all by the fact that my first tweet yesterday contained the #Indy500orBust hashtag.

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