Exclusive INDYCAR Nation News

Puttin' on a show

Chris Estrada
| Aug 16, 2011


With all the anger and frustration borne out of Sunday's finish for the MoveThatBlock.com Indy 225, you wouldn't be blamed for thinking the only happy person in the paddock was the winner, Ryan Hunter-Reay. But there was one other person that was pleased with the way things turned out at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Jerry Gappens, track general manager and native Hoosier, had fought for years to get his track on the IZOD IndyCar Series circuit. His hopes finally became reality Sunday as a crowd of around 30,000 witnessed a bizarre and entertaining return of major open-wheel racing to New England.

Not that everything was perfect. In addition to helping cause the anarchy that ensued in the closing laps, the rain also undermined walk-up ticket sales on race day, keeping attendance from growing further. But as a promoter, Gappens sounded quite pleased with the memorable ending – and even more so with Will Power’s middle-finger salute to Race Control, which was captured by ABC cameras and went viral amongst the online citizens of the INDYCAR fan base.

“I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Now what if a driver in NASCAR got on pit road and gave the double-bird to Mike Helton and the boys in the booth?’,” he said. “I’d sell tickets to the big yellow trailer for people to sit in on that conversation. But you know what? Will Power had a passion about what he was doing. He had an emotion and this is how he makes his livelihood, so I don’t criticize him.

“[A reporter] showed me a picture of it and I’d love to put it on our ticket brochure for next year. Front cover.”

Perhaps that could be worth a few more tickets for next year’s running if NHMS and its owner, Speedway Motorsports, Inc., decide to keep going forward with hosting the series in years to come. INDYCAR’s deal with the “Magic Mile” was a one-year pact, but considering series CEO Randy Bernard’s comments earlier on Sunday, one wonders if there’s already a plan on the table for 2012.

“I think that we knew from day one that it was an area we were going to have to work on, but it’s an area that we like and a track that we really like,’’ Bernard said. “And, I think that sometimes you have to invest in your future, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Indeed, New Hampshire, with its proximity to the Boston market, as well as the upcoming Baltimore Grand Prix, which stands to pull fans from all-over the Mid-Atlantic, represent a pair of ambitious expansion attempts by INDYCAR.

If the sport is to grow, it’s not only going to have to regain some of the fans lost in the open-wheel schism of 1996-2008, but also make new ones in new places. The Northeast had been underserved following the loss of the Watkins Glen (N.Y.) round, but now, the series aims to build itself up in a densely populated and lucrative part of the United States.

New Hampshire now has a baseline to improve upon. While 30,000 fans is not bad for a sport that hasn’t been seen in the region since 1998, the Magic Mile seats 95,000. Suffice to say, there’s still a lot of work to be done and Gappens knows it.

“I’m an optimistic guy, so you can say, ‘Well, it was a third full or it was two-thirds empty,’” he said. “I say it was a third full and I don’t apologize for any event that attracts 30,000 people to it…Having said that, there’s room for improvement. We need to do better than that and at the end of the day, I’m responsible for selling tickets to New Hampshire Motor Speedway with the team we have in place to do that.”

Luckily for him, he and his team now have plenty of stuff to push to their neighbors if a return engagement for INDYCAR is in the offing for 2012 at Loudon.

Following a rough start on cold tires, the drivers showed that they could certainly produce side-by-side racing at this track. There was a shake-up in the championship. And at the end, of course, there was the restart that triggered so much controversy, even turning Power, his “angry birds,” and even INDYCAR president of competition/chief steward Brian Barnhart into trending topics on Twitter in the United States.

No, this race certainly won’t be remembered for all the right reasons. But it was still quite an afternoon – which was what Gappens was hoping for.

“As a promoter, I love the controversy,” he said. “I like the storyline changes, the drama, the entertainment. We had that today…There’s so many personalities and storylines in the IZOD IndyCar Series and that’s one of the reasons why we wanted to get them here and have them put on a show for the fans.”



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  17. 17 Julie 18 Aug

    mike n - Also not sure what point you are trying to make by calling him Mr. Judd...seems a bit silly to me.

    I agree that Dario has done a bit more whining then I would like to see...but he is not alone. Early in the season Will Power was whining every time something went wrong during a race...usually about his pit crew or race strategy. I understand that he was having issues in the pit but throwing his crew under the bus everytime things went wrong was not exactly building team spirit.

  18. 18 Julie 18 Aug
    Mike n - I am actually a fan of both drivers as I stated in my comments in a different article. In my comments for this article, I was pointing out that maybe we should not be so quick to applaud Will Power for his inappropriate hand gesture considering the audience was not adults only. There are other drivers that have been in similar or more frustrating positions, Graham Rahal has been knocked out of the last 4 races, and have acted in a more mature and appropriate manner.
  19. 19 miken 18 Aug
    Julie- It's obvious you are not a Will Power fan. But I am surprised that with as much whinning that Mr. Judd did after he took himself and Mr. Sato out of the race, and the power he has over the officials( Little Al) included, that race control did not annouce Mr. Judd  a.k.a. Dario the winner. 
  20. 20 Julie 18 Aug

    While I have seen a lot of comment from reporters, drivers and fans commending Will Power on his "double-bird", I thought it was shameful. I understand that he was frustrated and upset with what took place but there were more mature ways to handle the situation. I am pretty positive that is not what Izod or Verizon had in mind for their brand. Will Power is a resprentative of the Izod and Verizon brand as well as a championship contender and at Sunday's race his behavior did not reflect positively on any of them.

    While a lot of adults thought the gesture was funny and appropriate, I am sure there were a lot of parents that did not and would not find it funny if it was their child giving the double-bird at the next little league game.  There are a lot of kids at the races or watching on TV that look up to these drivers. They need to remember that there actions, both positive and negative, make an impression on the kids that might be watching. I remember at the Indy 500 when Dario ran out of gas during qualifying...he kept his helmet on and walked back to his trailor to calm down. He was mad and knew that he might do or say something not appropriate if he didn't. I think that would have been a more appropriate response from Will and would also have set a much better example for any kids that were watching.

    While people think Dario whines too much...at least he has not done anything that would normally be bleeped or blurred on national TV.

  21. 21 dave g. 18 Aug
    Bring back michigan.
  22. 22 open wheeler 17 Aug
    First of all I would like to respond to Doug. You are basing your opinion on just being there on Sunday. You needed to be there the whole weekend. The garage area was a hub of activity and drivers and others were readily available all weekend. Did you go to the fan zone for drivers autographs or Q and A sessions? There were plenty of them and activities for the fans. I'll give you the fact that it may not have had the hoopala that the NASCAR weekends bring but, as far as being fan friendly as compared to NASCAR it had them beat hands down. Now having said that can some improvements be made? Yes, but some are controllable, others not. All in all, given the hurdles that had to be overcome to bring the series to New England and the hurdles of race day I felt it was a huge success and alot of new fans were made including families with children. That is what this series is supposed to be about. My wife and I had a blast and that seems to be the prominent opinion. We will go back in a heartbeat. Thank you NHMS and specifically Jerry Gappens for bringing the IICS back and I hope it is the beginning of a beautiful long lasting relationship.   
  23. 23 Doug Dreibelbis 16 Aug
    My wife and I attended the 8/14 race at Loudon and came away with some observations that might be of interest to you.
    In the Champ/CART years, this series was my preferred race series to watch.  It fell off my 'must' list during the IRL years.  I've started watching IndyCar on TV, now that it's in its resurrected form, sandwiching it in between my viewing of NASCAR, ALMS, and Grand-AM.  I was VERY much looking forward to attending this race in person, since all of my previous exposure to open wheel racing was on TV.
    I attend (ideally) two NASCAR races each year, the early race at Loudon and one other (e.g., Talledega, Charlotte, Darlington, Richmond).  I've also attended and ALMS race on the "roval" at Texas Motor Speedway, so all day Sunday I was making comparisons between other races that I've seen and the IndyCar event at Loudon.
    The event:
    Both of us were very surprised and disappointed by the apparent lack of effort put into making race day an event.  Quite noticeable was the lack of any driver-based promotion activity and only a minimal effort from any of the associated sponsors, Honda and Izod notwithstanding.  I don't know whether this is typical at all IndyCar events (except, perhaps, Indianapolis) or just unique to this initial return to Loudon, but it made a huge difference in our perception of the importance of the race...or lack thereof.
    I did a check at the IndyCar WEBsite this a.m. to see if there was a marketing engine at work there to promote the sport, the associated sponsors, and the drivers/teams and found very little.  There were only three drivers featured (Danica, Dario, and Scott) with a minor mention of Tony K.
    The Loudon track support team did there usual exemplary job of traffic management, grounds' cleaning, and customer transportation.  I missed the variety of food items that we had at the July NASCAR race, but what was offered was adequate for the attending population.
    There's clearly work that can/should be done here from a marketing perspective if IndyCar endeavors to make it's assorted events feel special.
    The race:
    We watched both the IndyLights and IndyCar races.  Given that, for this year, all drivers are in identical equipment, I was stunned to see the large disparity of delivered results on the track.  In each race, there were 3-4 drivers who were very much faster than any of the others on the track, leading to the field getting widely spread out in very short order.  For the greater part of both races, the only passing that was done was by these fast leaders lapping the rest of the field.  Since that's not what I've seen in the road courses (e.g., the previous week's mid-Ohio race or any of the street races), I'm going to have to watch some of the oval races on TV to see if this is another Loudon anomaly.
    With this disparity, the race was not particularly interesting to watch.  I'd rather my excitement came from close racing than from crashes.
    What was that final call about?  That would NEVER have happened at a NASCAR race.  For a series that's still trying to gather its finanical "legs", this was a pitiful waste of expensive equipment and an irresponsible risk to the drivers.  Someone should be fired.  While it may not have been good for IndyCar's TV image, I praise Will Power for showing what everyone else was thinking.
    This was NOT a very professional call by the officials and compromises the integrity of the sport for both the fans and for the sponsors.
    My wife has already declared disinterest in attending next year's race.  
    I'm inclined to give it another chance, even if it means that I attend on my own, if IndyCar was to return to Loudon.
    BTW...my preferred driver is DeSilvestro.  You did her a disservice by having her on the Honda stage during the IndyLights race.  

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