We offered RACER.com readers the chance to send in questions for IndyCar's president of operations and competition, Derrick Walker [ @DJWIndyCar ] and we're serializing his replies according to topic. Although he's not working in the marketing department of IndyCar, many of your questions – understandably – delved into this subject, and as Derrick says, it's something that everyone within the series has to have a handle on: Marketing and the TV package.
• The racing in its current spec has made for the closest competition in any major motorsports category on the planet. However, too few people are aware of this and commonly associate “racing” with NASCAR. What is the short and long-term marketing/media strategy to bring IndyCar back to the forefront?
DW: Rob can rest assured that we all realize the strategy that IndyCar currently has is not getting the job done. So with Mark Miles in charge and with his plans to expand the marketing department, I think you will see a new plan coming in the very near future. That's good because initiatives have to be taken, and soon. IndyCar offers some of the best racing, and yet we're also racing's best-kept secret, which is a bit ridiculous for everyone involved.
• Has IndyCar ever considered establishing a media/marketing campaign with outlets like "Honda Tuning" magazine or "Super Chevy"?
DW: Over the years there have been initiatives similar to that, but it's not happening at the moment. It's a good idea to build the links to our manufacturers and tap into all their outlets. We definitely need more exposure to tell people who we are, what we are and where we are, and outlets such as those could help promote the rivalries between the brands involved in IndyCar.
• How about selling the naming rights for IMS and/or the Indy 500 race? It will bring lots extra of money "for da house" and it's a very simple move for you guys. (Lucas Oil Indy 500 or the Red Bull Indianapolis Motor Speedway)
DW: Yeah, if you have anyone in mind, let us know! I think there are variations on that concept that are possible, and I don't think we'd turn away many. It's certainly something that's always looked at. I'm not in the marketing department, so such plans would have to fit their objectives, and with the Indy 500 being what it is, there would probably be some limitations in how you could add to the brand name; but if there are serious interested parties, then it would be an avenue worth exploring. IndyCar recognizes the need to be more available and accessible to all forms of marketing and in the past, we've been neither as open nor as aggressive as we should have been. Decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis, though, but ultimately I'd defer to my friends in marketing on this matter.
• Why not open up the rulebook and invite Formula 1 manufacturers and drivers to the Indianapolis 500 to see how they would fare at the Brickyard? Then, buy an insurance policy that would pay any F1 team $5 million over the existing prize money if they can win. It may be perceived as a gimmick, but everyone would watch and take great interest. It would start a wonderful rivalry that could generate a lot of new IndyCar fans.
DW: The rules as they stand don't preclude Formula 1 teams coming over to the Indy 500. It's absolutely not a closed shop and if you look where we're going with rules in the future regarding bodywork and engines, it's even more interesting for them to consider. I like the idea and I'd be very happy if an F1 team came to IndyCar. However, they're busy with their own series, and I suspect – but I don't know – it would be a situation where they employ experienced Indy 500 participants, including drivers. Bear in mind the Indy 500 usually falls on the same Sunday as the Monaco Grand Prix.
• It's no secret that IndyCar now has the best racing product many people have ever seen…but there's no one watching! What can be done when it comes to getting a better TV deal? Can the series at least move up from NBC Sports to NBC? Is it that hard to do that?
• Is it IndyCar's goal to move to network TV or at least return to the ESPN/ABC family of networks after the expiration of the current NBC TV deal? Is there potential for a change happening sooner?
DW: Apparently it is hard to move from NBC Sports to NBC. We've got a long-term deal with NBC Sports, so I don't see anything changing dramatically at the moment, but wherever the eyeballs are, that's where we need to be. If a partner wants to showcase us properly, let's talk, but we have a good relationship with NBC and we need to persuade them to use us in more prime-time situations. It's a big issue for IndyCar trying to find the right time slots, and it's a huge disadvantage that our potential audience is so restricted, but we're cautiously optimistic that situation will change in the future. In the meantime, we must work with NBC to improve our telecast schedule.
• Any plans to engage the fans through the use of iRacing? Giving fans a chance to see and feel what it's really like to experience racing an IndyCar is a great opportunity to grab more fans and iRacing has the best simulation to do it.
• I'd like to know why you are not allowing the best racing simulator in the world to laser scan the DW12 and throw your promotional weight behind it being the most accurate sim possible.
• Please do whatever you can to hasten development of the DW12 in iRacing so we can drive the same car currently being raced in the IndyCar Series. Supposedly licensing for the DW12 is in place yet development of the car in iRacing appears to be stagnant at this time.
• Would it be possible to give iRacing more resources in order to facilitate the faster development of the DW12 for online sim racing?
DW: First I've heard of it. I don't know the answer to that but I will get back to you. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
• What will you do to bring back the excitement of the good ol' days…and bring me back to the Brickyard every Memorial Day Weekend.
DW: Although I'm a traditionalist, I don't think we should treat everything from the past as a template for the future. The focus has to be on creating more history, so that one day people will look back on these as being the “good ol' days,” too. However, having stated that we can't recreate history, we can rebuild with history as our perspective. For example, some of Indy's traditions such as big speeds and the embracing of technological adventure certainly do have to be reintroduced. But we have to do that in a way that doesn't blow all but the big teams out of the game, hence the plans we announced in Detroit about bringing back variety but in a gradual way.
We then have to activate the marketing powers that we have at our disposal to make sure everyone knows that the Indy 500 is our marquee event and continues to show a side of our unique formula that retains our current fans and also draws in new fans. Get them through the gates and I think they'll be impressed; we're heading in the right direction there. It's getting the past, present and future fans through the gates that must be the priority and we have a lot of work to do in that area. But it is possible to do that because I don't believe the older fan and the potential new fan are so far apart.