Indy 500 Impressions: Thursday

My typical beat is NASCAR, but this week I’m at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to experience the Indy 500. I’ll be posting daily updates on some differences I see between NASCAR and IndyCar.

Today was Indianapolis 500 Media Day, and they have a very different format here than we get in NASCAR.

This isn’t to judge NASCAR or throw shade on NASCAR drivers — because let’s face it, NASCAR in general is bigger than IndyCar — but there was a lot to like about how Indy did things from a media perspective.

First, some background: NASCAR currently has four main “media days” per year — the preseason Media Tour, Daytona 500 Media Day, Playoff Media Day and Championship Media Day (for Homestead). What typically happens is NASCAR rotates the drivers through booths (two at a time, for example) and they’re available for 10 minutes — maybe 15 in some cases. The NASCAR media corps has occasionally gotten upset at the lack of time we get with drivers on these days.

But at Indy 500 media day, the entire field was available for ONE HOUR. The session was split into two groups, but every driver had to sit there and answer questions for a solid 60 minutes — even Fernando Alonso, who was surrounded by a huge group the whole time.

This sort of blew me away, because I don’t think NASCAR drivers would ever stand for that. They would raise hell if NASCAR tried to make them sit there for an hour. In general, NASCAR guys want to do their 10-15 minute obligation and are looking to bolt.

Honestly, the drivers council would probably get involved if NASCAR said, “You will do an hour of print/TV media today.” The IndyCar drivers didn’t seem too bothered by it, though — I assume because they’re used to it? Also, they realize this is the best time to promote themselves and their sport, so I suppose they just embrace it.

Another thing that caught my eye today was the hospitality tents. I’ve covered some IndyCar events before, so I remembered these hospitality tents existed, but I forgot the details of them. Team Penske had a media luncheon at its big hospitality tent, where all the drivers were present as well as Roger Penske. It had to be quite expensive, because the food was quite good (and the media loves food!).

I bring this up because that sort of event typically would not happen at a NASCAR race. For one thing, these mobile hospitality centers more of an open-wheel thing for whatever reason. And second, I’d argue the drivers’ extra time in NASCAR is typically spent fulfilling sponsor obligations, not hanging with the media at a luncheon.

Again, I’m not passing judgment (for anyone who wants to get defensive in NASCAR), I’m just making observations.

One last thought for today: Wow, who are all these media people? I feel like after covering NASCAR for more than a decade, I have a pretty good idea of who the American racing journalists are. But I didn’t recognize maybe 80% of the media today. Some of them are foreign (the guy sitting next to me is from France), but not everyone. It’s just kind of crazy how the media corps in the two major forms of motorsports in the United States could have so many different people without that much crossover.

11 Replies to “Indy 500 Impressions: Thursday”

  1. I look forward to your articles this weekend and hope you can nail down Matt Weaver to do a post race pod. Or even Jenna Fryer. Hopefully if you get enough traction you’ll consider covering a few Indycar races through the year other than the Indy 500

  2. Glad you are having a great time. I guess it would be best to compare the Indy 500 to Daytona 500 since both are their biggest races/events.

  3. Great idea to do this Jeff. Drivers giving more of there time could be a good idea for Nascar. Value of more promotion of there brand and the sport in general can only help everyone. Would also love to hear the perspective of some of the forgien journalists.

  4. I’m loving seeing you doing this. What’s the chance of getting you to the US F1 Grand Prix later in the year. Maybe Fernando can fix it for you?!

  5. What is really sad is that the media in the U.S. only pays attention to this series during the 500 and when there is some horrendous crash. If you watch this series all season, you will see arguably the best racing in North America. The races are allowed to play out under their own terms, insanely high speeds, the majority of the races are not finalized until the closing laps as to who will win, and the championship typically comes down to the last couple of races. Not to mention these drivers have huge balls to do what they do.

    I did some math and since reunification in 2008 around 60% of their races have been won by a different driver. This year has seen a different winner each race with two of the winners coming from lesser funded teams. The coverage is Grade A Pathetic.

  6. Jeff,

    Re the media …. seems to me this race is the one that non racing fans know about. Monaco, LeMans and Indy are bigger than the part of the sport they represent.

  7. I like this idea of comparing your day-to-day experience between the two forms of racing (and the surrounding elements such as what you experienced today.) Excellent way to continue to give NASCAR related commentary and still have the 600 covered by well by another respected writer–well done!

  8. Okay, my question’s to you? How many Media Day’s does IndyCar have? You say “all” the drivers have to sit for a full hour, which is how many? 33? Divided by 2? That would be about 15 drivers per group, right? And how many reporters are there? Did you even have a chance to ask a question? It sounds like a long time but in the long run it seems to me (and no I’ve never even been close to a media event) that you could get a lot more out of 2 drivers for 10-15 min. than you could ever get with 15 for 60 min.

    But I’m a big fan of IndyCar (not as big as NASCAR though) and I’m glad you have the opportunity to be there. Can’t wait to see your perspective of IndyCar and the Indy 500.

    1. Jeff,

      Re the many Media faces that were unfamiliar to you. I just read that the Speedway has credentialed 1200 members of the media for the race.

  9. The Chris Economaki press room at IMS is the most impressive one i’ve seen at any racing facilities (over 35).

    Enjoy the Indy 500 weekend,i hope you will cover Pocono,MidOhio & Sonoma the season finale.

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