A yearslong IndyCar search for partners on an unscripted behind-the-scenes docuseries, involving multiple phases and numerous suitors that stretched through two ownership groups, has reached its end.
And Mark Miles couldn’t be happier.
On Thursday, Penske Entertainment Corp. announced IndyCar’s partnership with The CW Network and VICE Media Group for a six-episode, in-season broadcast series to be called ‘100 Days to Indy’, with the final episode culminating with the high-speed drama around the 107th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 28. Both sides have yet to finalize an episode schedule, beyond noting the series will premiere this spring, though Miles, the president and CEO of Penske Entertainment, told IndyStar in an exclusive interview the finale will air the week following the 500.
VICE, the global multi-platform media company, will produce six 60-minute episodes alongside Penske Entertainment to be directed by Patrick Dimon, who most recently directed the PGA Tour’s eight-part Netflix series on the 2022 season, won three Emmys in 2020 for his work on ‘24/7 Kelly Slater’ and has worked on HBO’s ‘Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.’ The CW, the country’s fifth-largest broadcast network, will air the episodes in a primetime slot with re-air on VICE TV with various streaming options to access The CW’s live and on-demand content also available to cord-cutters.
“We have over the years had discussions with serious players in almost every genre of entertainment media for this, and sitting here today, I’m glad we didn’t pull the trigger until now,” Miles told IndyStar. “This approach gives us an immediacy that will give us a benefit in the first half of the 2023 championship season, which we care a lot about, rather than shooting and editing and taking months to get a final product in front of people.
“And NBC’s delighted because it gets us in front of a younger, different audience than we have today, and it gives them a chance to not only appreciate IndyCar, but a chance to hopefully watch us with our existing linear and streaming partner.”
In recent months, Nexstar Media Group purchased a 75% ownership stake in The CW to acquire the broadcast network and add it alongside its array of 200 local broadcast stations that reach nearly 70% of US households. Sean Compton, Nexstar’s president of Networks, is an Indianapolis native who told Miles he’s attended more than 30 Indy 500s himself.
“(The CW) would be the first to tell you they’re not as big as the other four (networks of ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox), but they’re going to be aggressive in trying to grow their audiences through their programming,” Miles said. “Sean would tell you that this is one of their first forays into something new in their regular entertainment programming, and they expect to put a lot of promotional effort into it.”
Above all in the search process, Miles said, it was important ‘100 Days to Indy’ could differentiate itself from Formula 1’s viral ‘Drive to Survive’ show that airs at the end of each season and tells the story of the latest championship fight while bringing to light the personalities, successes and spats behind the scenes that make it the pinnacle of motorsports across the world. In the same vein, Penske Entertainment wanted to be certain it was equally different from NASCAR’s ‘Race for the Championship’, a 10-episode unscripted series that followed the stock car series through this year’s 10-round playoff fight through a partnership with one of the series’ broadcast partners NBC.
With this method by not being weekly and also airing as the season progresses, Miles and Jonathan Gibson, Penske Corp.’s vice president of marketing and business development, told IndyStar episodes of ‘100 Days to Indy’ can dive into, while not being solely focused on the on-track action, the lives of drivers and team members and allow the ebb and flow of the early season and prep for the 500 and chart the course for how the series unfolds.
“From a time perspective, we wanted the relevancy of being in the moment, when the season was happening,” Gibson said. “And we wanted it to be uniquely about the road to the greatest sporting event in the world, the Indy 500. That gives us a chance to tell that story and the build-up to it, through the first five races, spring training and qualifying, as well as all the time and effort away from the track that the drivers and teams put in.”
Thursday’s announcement caps a search that has lasted through a significant portion of Miles’ tenure as IndyCar’s top executive, including while he served during the end of the Hulman George family’s ownership. Though talks with various companies took place well before Roger Penske came into the fold as IndyCar’s newest owner, the deal with VICE and The CW marks a major victory for a Penske Entertainment Corp. that has come under fire of late for, among other things, its lack of marketing energy and investment. Outside renewals with series partners that existed before Penske’s takeover (NTT, Gainbridge and NBC), the revival of a race weekend that had long been an IndyCar staple (Iowa) and inking a deal for a new street race in 2020 that had been in talks for years (Nashville), ‘100 Days to Indy’ marks, arguably, Penske’s biggest IndyCar deal to date solely driven by his new ownership.
“We’ll make additional investments we aren’t talking about today in increasing our investment in marketing next year, but this is new and a real success in something we’ve worked on for a long time,” Miles said. “To get it announced is a really important day for us. We’re going to execute and promote the hell out of it and make it everything it can be, but I’d say we’re about 98% focused on everything else we’re going to do next year."
Though saying ‘100 Days to Indy’ isn’t guaranteed to be a multi-season series, Miles did note there’s a chance episodes could continue this year past the action around the Greatest Spectacle in Racing if it proves a success. “Or they could come up with another idea,” he continued. “There’s no silver bullets about these things. Not all shows are home runs, but these guys have a great track record, and we want to see what they can do and what they put into it, promotionally.
“They’ve told us, ‘If a driver wants to know how to become a star on this show, tell them to win the first three races of the year.’”
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: IndyCar lands deal for docuseries on 2023 Indy 500 with CW, Vice