Critics of Mark Miles urge IndyCar to focus on driver development

Jamie Squire

Mario Andretti and Derek Daly are amongst those in the Indy car community that believe American open-wheel racing needs to place a higher emphasis on driver development and marketing.

According to an all-encompassing report in the Indianapolis Business Journal, critics of Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, including Mario Andretti and Derek Daly, would prefer to see the IndyCar marketing arm focus on driver development rather than aesthetic improvements.

In his first year at the helm of IndyCar, Miles has secured $100 million in tax revenue over the next 20 years to restore and overhaul the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He's also unveiled a variety of changes to the traditional month of May and festivities surrounding the Indianapolis 500.

As the report notes, there is an ever-increasing amount of concern that Miles is failing to focus on driver development and encouraging talented Americans to enter the sport.

"[IndyCar officials] are focusing on the symptoms and not the problems," Daly, a former F1 driver who now lives in Indianapolis told the IBJ. "The symptoms are, nobody shows up at the races and no one watches on television.

"The problem is (that) no one cares. So why does no one care? Because there's nothing to engage them. The drivers are the key components to engaging fans."

Andretti has been critical of Miles decision to schedule the IndyCar Series around the National Football League and college football, creating a shorter and more compact schedule that Andretti has called "not plausible."

In a June interview with SB Nation, Andretti said that IndyCar has to focus on their wealth of second and third generation drivers with familiar last names, including Graham Rahal and Mario's grandson, Marco.

"You have to start with the third generation drivers," Andretti said. "They bring a strong lineage and sense of history. Marco (Andretti) and Graham (Rahal) bring that classic family rivalry to the current days. (James) Hinchcliffe is so entertaining and is part of a strong international field.

"We have strong Americans and great diversity. You're not going to fix things overnight, but things are starting to fall into place and we're in a good position to get people's attention."

"We had to get the building blocks in place," he said. "We felt we had to get the organization aligned."

Miles urges his critics to have patience and is moving ahead with his plans to focus on marketing and driver promotion. That begins with his desire to have a new title sponsor in place to replace IZOD prior to the March 30 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Fla.)

"We're having serious conversations with more than one prospect," he said. "Any of the organizations we're talking to would be instantly recognizable and have substantial advertising budgets."

Though Miles would not comment on possible terms of a sponsorship deal, any agreement is likely to require promoting the series and its drivers.

"[Sponsors'] ability to help us grow the sport, project the brand and enhance our fan experience is the highest priority," he said. "The rights fee is secondary to that."

Despite the concerns of such industry experts, Miles has accomplished much in his first year in the IndyCar cockpit. In addition to securing funds for IMS, he also revamped the IndyCar front office with the hiring of Derrick Walker, CJ O'Donnell and Jay Frye to lead the competition and marketing/revenue departments respectively.

In short, these are moves that will play dividends over the next couple of years, even if the impact isn't seen overnight, thus the call for patience from Miles to his fanbase.

"We had to get the building blocks in place," Miles said. "We felt we had to get the organization aligned."

Read the IBJ report in its entirety here.

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