IndyCar showed us two summers ago that they are really good at doing a pep rally on steroids when the ICONIC committee unveiled the new Dallara race car that comes in to use next month in St. Petersburg. Monday, they were at it again with hastily-announced "State of the Sport" address in downtown Indianapolis.
Drivers, sponsors, fans, teams and media were all in-house at the Hilbert Circle Theater for the show that led off with a photo of drivers Tony Kanaan as a caveman and Helio Castroneves' ESPN: The Magazine photo depicting him naked with only a tire swing to block the essential pieces. It was also streamed online.
But aside from the expected fluff — and smoke, dramatic music, lights, holograms and an ill-advised use of some Nickelback — the event put forward some very encouraging news for the series that could certainly use some.
First, and likely most important, IndyCar won't be searching for a new tire supplier amid this first season of the Dallara DW12's use. Firestone will retain the role through at least the 2014 season — a nice shot in the arm after the two briefly looked to separate during the 2010-11 offseason. Firestone has been the sole tire supplier since 2000, and it also means that the helmeted, t-shirt-shooting Firehawk mascot will remain a track staple.
In an irreverent moment, emcee Vinch Welch questioned driver Oriol Servia about any future plans of having children as part of a strange offshoot of regarding mini-vans and the new engine suppliers. Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus will power IndyCar teams this season, news that preceded Welch's insistence that Servia should "practice, practice, practice."
Awkard laughs aside, other announcements were made including a new series sponsorships with Discover Card, Lids and Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka — all good news for a sport that could grow in every way possible.
The event also doubled as a celebration of sorts of the 2011 season after Dan Wheldon's death in the season's final race at Las Vegas led to the cancellation of the postseason championship banquet. Dario Franchitti was awarded his fourth IndyCar championship trophy with a beaming Chip Ganassi looking on amid several other series, sponsor and contingency awards handed out.
Randy Bernard's ending speech, however, may have been the most telling of the evening. The league CEO, who came aboard as a racing novice in 2010, delivered some stirring words that attempted to silence doubters and encourage the sport to keep pressing forward.
Bernard scoffed at those who thought the league wouldn't exist at this point in time, and took issue with those who doubted whether the series could actually attract new engine suppliers. You could almost bet the rough draft was titled "I Told You So".
But it wasn't all huff and puff for Bernard. The CEO acknowledged the sport had some mistakes during his rather bold tenure, but pledged to keep pushing forward. He also reaffirmed his commitment to staying as IndyCar CEO despite regular rumors of his departure.
"I will be with IndyCar for as long as the Board and the Hulman-George Family want me," Bernard said.
And that seems like a good thing for the sport. Television partner ABC picked up a sixth race to cover this season (up one from 2011) and the newly-revamped NBC Sports Network has added a new lifestyle show, "IndyCar 36", that will follow the lives of multiple people in the sport in a weekly series that accompanies their coverage of the ten other racing events. That news follows Bernard's announcement that IndyCar drew a 28 percent jump in television viewership in 2011, combined with a 9.8 percent gain in track attendance.
Bernard anticipates that growth to continue in 2012, despite the awful ending to the 2011 campaign that claimed the life of one of the sport's most recognizable and favorite stars.
"Let's sit back, buckle up and hold on tight," Bernard said, ending the 90-minute fluff-and-news spectacular. "2012 promises to be one hell of a ride."
IndyCar's first race, the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, is March 25.