A perfect storm has arrived in IndyCar.
By definition, it means “a critical situation created by a powerful concurrence of factors”. In the IndyCar world, that “powerful concurrence of factors” occurred Sunday at the INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Tex. with the official arrival on the scene of young drivers Colton Herta and Patricio O’Ward.
As we all know, Herta became the youngest winner in IndyCar history Sunday, with O’Ward driving an impressive race while finishing eighth. Herta accomplished that feat in just his third race in the big leagues while scoring the first win for Harding Steinbrenner Racing, while O’Ward scored a Top 10 finish in his second race after debuting with a 6th-place run last fall at Sonoma.
The story doesn’t end there, and it won’t, because the arrival of these two young stars comes at the perfect time for IndyCar, and I think will have an immediate impact on the future growth of the sport.
In Herta you have a 19-year-old (as of tomorrow) American driver who has talent, an outgoing personality, and a true desire to expand and promote his own personal brand. He also already has an IndyCar legacy thanks to his father, Bryan, who won four IndyCar races as a driver and has won the Indianapolis 500 twice as an owner.
Along with that, his team is co-owned by George Steinbrenner IV, who is only 22 years old and wants to build a team — preferably around Herta I imagine — that will someday be on par with Penske Racing.
O’Ward possesses the same qualities as Herta on the track, although he comes from a bit of a different background. O’Ward, who turns 20 on May 6, was born in Mexico and moved to Texas when he was 12. He’s also bilingual, which represents a huge opportunity for IndyCar to expand its popularity into Mexico and other Latin American countries.
I know what you are probably saying: “Yeah, yeah, where have we heard this before? How will this time be different?”
I hear you, most definitely. Over the years there have been plenty of criticisms about how stars and champions in this sport have been marketed. At times, I think some criticism of the process has been warranted. I think another factor was just timing.
Why is this different? Because IndyCar is in a much different place now. It’s popularity is the highest its been in the last 20 years, and will continue to grow thanks to the efforts of people like Mark Miles and Jay Frye. Sponsors are coming into the sport and some, like Arrow, Speedway and NTT, have made long-term commitments. Attendance is improving at races.
What that means is that IndyCar is beginning to appear on the radar. While maybe the blip is a long way from the center, it’s still an improvement.
I also hope that maybe Herta and O’Ward will appeal to younger fans as well. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I followed a lot of things that were in my age group. During that time, I was huge college basketball fan, and all of the teams and players I rooted for were close to my age. I became a fan of Paul Tracy because he is six months older than I am.
In my own two kids, who are 23 and 18, I see the same thing, and I doubt that they are different. Having two young stars like this appeals to them, and opens up avenues that weren’t there even just a few years ago, such as in eSports. There are things out there that can be used to push Herta and O’Ward to the public that wouldn’t have worked for other drivers in the past.
It’s all starting to come together…is everybody ready? Our sport has been handled a really special opportunity, and it’s time to run with it.
The Latest From Pit Lane Parley
It’s Friday, which means it’s also PLP podcast drop day!
This week Host Mike, Jess and Matt talk about:
-Yellow flag rules
You can check it out on any of your favorite platforms, and can hear it on iTunes.
Mike and I will be at Barber Motorsports Park next week for Round 3 of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series. Hope to see you there.