IRL: Barnhart, Reif predict more growth, success in 2001

INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2000 -- The Indy Racing Northern Light Series has set a goal of selling out at least three of its races other than the Indianapolis 500 next year. Bob Reif, completing his first year as senior vice ...

INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2000 -- The Indy Racing Northern Light Series has set a goal of selling out at least three of its races other than the Indianapolis 500 next year. Bob Reif, completing his first year as senior vice president, sales and marketing and chief marketing officer, believes this can happen. And Brian Barnhart, vice president of operations for the Indy Racing League, said "the racing is so good" that it is providing the kind of action-packed entertainment on the track that fans want to see. Add the superb racing to the increased marketing of the series, and the sellout goal has a good chance of becoming reality in 2001. "I really believe we're in the position to sell out Kansas City and Joliet (Ill.) and one of the new venues we're going to," said Reif, who joined Barnhart in a national teleconference Nov. 7 to inform the media about the Indy Racing League's immediate and future plans for success. There are other indications that the Northern Light Series is poised for unprecedented growth in 2001 In June of this year, a 13-race schedule contested over six months was released. This is a big improvement over the nine-event schedule contested over nine months in 2000. Other big positives are the five-year, $50 million contract with series sponsor Northern Light and a strong television package that places all races on either ABC or the ESPN networks. "This shows Tony George's commitment to the future," Reif said. "When we clearly said we would never be part of a public company (by merging with CART), it showed we are committed. Tony George stayed focused the last five years. He was never distracted. Now it is our job to market it." The league will conduct 13 races between the opener at Phoenix in mid-March and the finale at Texas in mid-September. Included are three brand-new tracks - Kansas Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway and Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway - and other new venues for the Northern Light Series at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Richmond (Va.) International Raceway and Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis. There are reasons why fans will want to fill the seats at these and the other Northern Light Series tracks, Reif said. "The Indy Racing League is not going to charge $100 a ticket," he said. "Once they come in, we're going to convert them (with the fast, close competition)." The Indy Racing League did marketing research during the past season and learned what attracts fans, Reif said. For example, at Texas Motor Speedway a program was conducted where for $79 a fan could buy four tickets and receive four hotdogs and four soft drinks for the Indy Racing season finale on Oct. 15. It proved to be quite successful. But Reif noted that the league has learned that different marketing approaches work in different racing areas. Besides selling out the trio of events (reserved seats for the 2001 Indianapolis 500 already are sold out), Reif said the marketing goal is to increase sponsorships and hike ticket sales in general by 15 percent. Research, he added, has revealed that fans in the Midwest will drive several hours to attend a race. From Indianapolis, for instance, there are least five tracks within reasonable driving distance. And those fans will see a stable series with a core of established, skilled drivers. The first five years of the league, which started in 1996, have seen it evolve into one of stability, Barnhart said. Excellent drivers such as Buddy Lazier, who will be saluted as the 2000 Northern Light Cup champion at the annual Awards Ceremony in Indianapolis on Nov. 11, and 1999 champion Greg Ray have chosen to stay in the Northern Light Series. "We want to make it a destination series," Barnhart said, "and not a springboard to another series. We've improved to where (the drivers) are getting there and staying there." Said Reif, "It's about developing the drivers we have." Barnhart thinks two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Al Unser Jr.'s shift to the series provided it with a superstar name. Unser won the Las Vegas race and was third in laps led in 2000. Lazier also is a driver who deserves plenty of credit, Barnhart said. "Lazier is getting what he is due," Barnhart said. Barnhart listed a number of other drivers, including Scott Goodyear, Eddie Cheever Jr., Robbie Buhl, Jeff Ward and Billy Boat, as a solid corps of veterans for 2001. Barnhart added the names of 2000 rookies Airton Dare, Jeret Schroeder, Sam Hornish Jr. and Sarah Fisher as newcomers with potential to be winners next season. "We've got a good, solid base for the future," he said. Barnhart saw the league take on a new life of strength and competitiveness at the Indianapolis 500 last May with the quality of teams that competed. That opened the door to what occurred next in the Casino Magic 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. In that early June race, cars ran side-by-side in packs of 12 at 215 mph for almost the entire 208 laps around the 1.5-mile track, with Scott Sharp edging out Robby McGehee in a breathtaking finish. This opened the eyes of the racing world, showing that the Indy Racing Northern Light Series was truly one of the most competitive series in the world. "Texas made a very defining season," Barnhart said. "From Indy on throughout the season, our racing was extremely exciting, and it was consistent."


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Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby McGehee , Sarah Fisher , Al Unser Jr. , Robbie Buhl , Jeff Ward , Scott Sharp , Billy Boat , Airton Daré , Scott Goodyear , Jeret Schroeder , Tony George , Brian Barnhart , Sam Hornish Jr.