INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2004 -- Dennis Wood is an automobile racing philosopher. His answers to questions about the sport may be long or short, but they'll always be passionate. Wood, whose longtime involvement in motorsports has ...
INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2004 -- Dennis Wood is an automobile racing philosopher. His answers to questions about the sport may be long or short, but they'll always be passionate.
Wood, whose longtime involvement in motorsports has included owning Phoenix International Raceway, summed up his view of successful auto racing: "To have a successful race, everyone must win. The fans have to get a good show. The promoter has to make money. The sanctioning body must make money. Drivers and car owners must make money. Sponsors must get exposure value. TV has to have a good race to show for value. Everyone must win."
It's a tall order and delicate balance.
The first founding principle of the Indy Racing League, announced by Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George in 1994, is "to establish and maintain a governing structure that represents all constituencies in the sport fairly and equitably."
Ken Ungar, the Indy Racing League's senior vice president of business affairs, is among those in charge of the scales.
"The IRL system took the bias out of racing," Ungar said. "All the constituencies that make up racing must be benefited. When you have one entity, namely the league, making the decision and there is no vested interest in the outcome, except to benefit everyone, we think there's a strong system in place to make decisions benefiting everyone's future."
It is this atmosphere and charge that keeps everyone rowing in sync.
"Every day, I talk to promoters, sponsors, teams and drivers," Ungar said. "And that's the only way we can keep our pulse on what's happening. Are our plans succeeding, or do our plans need re-adjustment? The business plans for the league are like testing for a race. The art is in the setup.
"We're an independent entity subject to constant change in an economy subject to constant change. There have been bumps in the road and we seek advice from our constituencies as to how to deal with them. The challenge (in 2004) will be to maintain the growth and momentum of the IndyCar Series and grow the Menard's Infiniti Pro Series into a mature racing series."
The influx of major sponsors and new teams to both open-wheel series raises the bar for everyone, according to Ungar.
"As we succeed, what we have found this year in having a large number of blue-chip sponsors, having terrific drivers, having high-caliber, professional teams, it just makes the balance more difficult because everyone's goals are higher," he said.
"Continuing to achieve that balance, as we grow, will be the No. 1 issue facing the Indy Racing League in the future. We spend every day getting ready for that challenge. What we do at the league is not unlike race teams and drivers do. It's being the best we can be in a hyper-competitive market."
Eddie Cheever Jr. has been in the league since its beginning, first as a driver who won the 1998 Indianapolis 500 and more recently as a car owner fielding machines for Alex Barron and Ed Carpenter for the 16-race 2004 season. He's seen the on-track and business side of the IRL mission.
"As I see the pieces," Cheever said, "its team, driver, manufacturer, sponsor and promoter. For anything to be successful, all of those items have to be looked after. It's next to impossible to have everybody happy all the time. With the IRL, they are willing to listen and are talking to those constituencies all the time.
"I think the IRL is very responsive in all those areas. They have to make decisions and they aren't going to always make everyone happy. I would much rather be involved in a series with a benevolent dictator instead of a gaggle of geese. I'm very happy to be involved in the series as a businessman."
Cheever said the IRL's approach has made its way to the competition side as well.
"They have created and continued to evolve a series that has allowed a lot of drivers to compete for a win," he said. "Some of the better teams will always come to the forefront because they're better prepared. But if some others have a good day, they can win a race."
Al Speyer, executive director of motorsports for Bridgestone/Firestone, which has a myriad of interests across the board of racing constituencies in the IRL, said he's pleased with the mutual respect and success of the IRL IndyCar Series and Menards Infiniti Pro Series.
"We're in a unique position because with the IRL we're a tire supplier, a promotional partner, an advertiser, do hospitality at the tracks and we're a technological partner with the teams," Speyer said. "We probably fill as many shoes as any other entity out there.
"We have different people in our departments that act with just about every department at IRL (and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway). I can say that they (the league) have definitely achieved that balance. Our relationship couldn't be better."
Rick Klein, chairman and CEO of Klein Tools that in 2003 completed its first IRL season as a sponsor of Andretti Green Racing, said the system works because of effort by the organization.
"In general, it seems to be in balance to me," Klein said. "The IRL makes an effort to make sure the sponsor gets value out of the sport. The big picture is that they do a good job with the balance. One thing I've noticed that's very positive. Besides people from the IRL telling us they want us to be happy is that they follow up with actions, and that's something difficult to find in the business world of today."
Klein Tools sponsored air shows at selected IRL sites in 2003, working directly with league personnel.
"It's a lot of work to do, but it's a win-win-win situation," Klein said. "It's a win for the IRL so the fans get a full day of entertainment. It's a win for the track for the same reason. And it's a win for us because it's our airplane doing the air show. We expect to do that again this year."
This is the first principle in a six-part series on the founding principles of the Indy Racing League. Upcoming features will examine individual principles based on the following schedule:
2. Control costs associated with racing with a concern for safety and competitive parity (Jan. 26).
3. Preserve and nurture the heritage of oval-track racing (Jan. 27).
4. Provide opportunities for new sponsors, teams and drivers to enter the sport at its highest level (Feb. 3).
5. Bring Indy-style racing to new markets for both sponsors and fans (Feb. 5).
For additional information on the IRL and its founding principles, visit www.indyracing.com
The 2004 IRL IndyCar Series season opens with the Toyota Indy 300 on Feb. 29 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be broadcast live on ESPN.