Car trouble on my home from the race meant that I've had to spend the last two evenings crawling on my garage floor looking up into a rain of dirt, rust, and gasoline. Most of it is out of my eyes now. Oh, and the neighbors have a decaying elephant or something on their back patio, which adds a certain pungence to the night air. Come to think of it, maybe those gasoline vapors aren't so bad...
Anyway, that was time that couldn't be spent reading about the race, rewatching the race, blogging about the race, reminiscing about the race, sorting photos of the race, boring family members with details of the race, accomplishing work around the house, or spending time with the wife and kids.
To make amends, I’ll just pick a topic of recent interest and jump in.
Word on the street is that Danica Patrick is on her way to NASCAR (talk about the Galactic Empire…). Reactions, as might be expected, run from “good riddance, she’s an awful driver who torments America with exploitative lowest common denominator commercials and hates puppies” to “Indycar is over! It will never recover from losing the only star it’s ever had and we might as well shut the lights out now!!!”
While all speculation, it sounds as if she hasn’t yet made a decision. Those whose minds lead them to shadowy corners will note that ESPN (who "broke" the "story") has an interest in promoting a new superstar coming to a property they broadcast a couple dozen times a year. Otherwise, Danica is just another star in another sport that might get a mention on SportsCenter.
My opinion is that she’s headed for stock cars next year. Aside from the Indy 500, I’ve heard nothing from her about love for the sport, appreciation of heritage, building for future seasons, or trying out the 2012 cars. Without an apparent interest and a fan backlash in progress (Bertrand Baguette received as big a cheer for taking the lead from her as she did taking the lead herself), I would speculate that she’ll take her services to NASCAR’s GoDaddy-green fields and cash the checks.
Her departure would be a loss to Indycar. First, GoDaddy would presumably not return to the Indycar series. Insufferable commercials aside, any sponsor is a good sponsor. When times are tough and your series is nigh invisible, anyone who wants to write you a check so you can continue to pursue your chosen profession should be welcomed.
Second, she’s a mid-to-upper level driver running for the organization that is still the third best team in the paddock. In 2009 she finished best-in-class, scoring more points than any other non-Penske/non-Ganassi team. She also had two second place finishes last season and is always a contender at Indy, leading a number of laps late this year.
More importantly (sadly) is that she has become the most (only?) recognizable name to a series that runs under the layman’s radar. I suspect that few outside of the hardcore fan base gave much thought to the Indy 500 in the years prior to her breakthrough 2005 year. She is still probably the only recognizable name in the series-in fact, I don't doubt that she has more name recognition than "Indy car racing." Resentment of her off-track celebrity is understandable, but she is still the most powerful marketing weapon the series has. She attracts the most attention and, despite Izod's best efforts, could probably do more to sell tickets than anyone else. Would it take more than a few "Danica Patick is coming to town" billboards or local news reports to bump ticket sales? Should the series rely on a single driver for attracting fans? Of course not. If a single driver, however, can attract huge numbers of fans, the series should absolutely use her to do so. Not using her or choosing a less effective marketing tool would have the same result: lower ticket sales, lower TV ratings, and fewer fans.
Danica Patrick is neither my favorite nor my least favorite driver, but I hope she stays in Indycar.