Bruce Martin:IndyCar fans, it's time to start your engines. Welcome to Pit Pass Indy, a production of Evergreen Podcasts. I'm your host, Bruce Martin, a journalist who regularly covers the NTT IndyCar Series.
Our goal at Pit Pass Indy is to give racing fans an insider's view of the exciting world of the NTT IndyCar Series in a fast-paced podcast, featuring interviews with the biggest names in the sport.
I bring nearly 40 years of experience covering IndyCar and NASCAR. Working for such media brands as nbcsports.com, si.com, ESPN Sports ticker, Sports Illustrated, Autoweek, and Speed Sport.
So, let's drop the green flag on this episode of Pit Pass Indy.
Welcome to this week's edition of Pit Pass Indy. We hope everyone is enjoying some time off and having a wonderful week between Christmas and New Year's. It's a great time to spend with family and friends. It's also a great time to wrap up 2022 and look toward hopefully, a brighter year ahead in 2023.
As we close our second season at Pit Pass Indy, we thought there is no better guest for our year-end show than Penske Entertainment, CEO, Mark Miles.
IndyCar is embarking on a great project in 2023. It's teaming up with VICE Media and the CW Network with a docuseries, 100 Days to Indy. The unscripted docuseries will be aired on the CW, America's 5th network that has coverage in 99% of the United States.
In addition, it will also be re-aired on the VICE cable channel, as well as the CW App.
Miles and IndyCar are hoping 100 Days to Indy will help open IndyCar to a newer, younger audience. Similar to the way Drive to Survive on Netflix, has helped to boost interest in Formula 1.
I caught up with Miles while he was in California recently, to talk about 100 Days to Indy and other IndyCar topics for this exclusive interview for Pit Pass Indy.
The start of a new year means a lot of new hopes for the NTT IndyCar Series, and our next guest will fill us in on a lot of them. It's Penske Entertainment, CEO, Mark Miles.
Mark, you got a lot of big things happening in 2023, probably none bigger than the docuseries that'll be on the CW, produced by VICE Media, 100 Days to Indy. I know this has been a special project for you. If you could fill our listeners in on some of the details.
Mark Miles:Yeah. Well, we’re very, very excited about it and think it's going to help us get off to a really fast start for the 2023 season. And also, give us a real opportunity to bring people into the sport, make them aware of the sport, maybe get them to become fans of the sport, who aren't so today. So, very big opportunity for us, and we've got excellent partners to help us pull it off.
So, the studio, the creative partner is VICE Media Group, and they've got huge credits to their name, all kinds of this kind of content and other forms of entertainment content. They skew very young, they're kind of edgy, and we love that.
And they have brought into their team for this project, Patrick Dimon, whose credits as a director are off the charts. So, very recently working for Box to Box, which is the same firm that has done the Drive to Survive Series for Formula 1 — he's produced the episodic series on the PGA Tour.
I think that's done, I don't think it's started to air yet, but it just shows you that this industry, there's some stellar talent. One of the key positions is the director. He's basically responsible for figuring out how to tell the story and bringing in crews and shooting it, and editing it, and making the episodes. And Patrick is a sensational member of this team.
He has now, already, met with a number of our drivers, collectively and one-on-one, to begin to understand them and their stories. And his email and cell phone number are in the hands of the driver. So, he invited them if they have any ideas about stories, just to reach out.
And this isn't even primarily about what happens on the track in the first races actually from Thermal, as the first test, through the 500. It is the stories of the drivers and IndyCar off track as well.
So, I'll give you an example. He was talking to a meeting of all the drivers, and he said, “If you have ideas, just text me.” And so, immediately, somebody said, “Well, what about Rossi's bachelor party, you want to cover that?” And that got a big chuckle.
And then the Swedish drivers, both two of them were in the meeting, said, “Well, look, we're probably both going to be in Sweden over the holidays and a lot's going on there. If we've got something that we think is particularly interesting, should we tell you about that?” And he said, “We'll be there.”
And they have a substantial budget to make this show and to cover whatever they think will be compelling in bringing a new audience.
So, that's the creative side. Then distribution, you touched on; each of the six episodes will initially air in primetime on CW, which is the 5th network in this country. It's basically available in every home.
And then after it airs there and it's also made available on their app, so it's streamed everywhere for free.
Then CW, which has extensive distribution themselves — I said CW, I mean, VICE; gets it after CW. VICE has VICE TV, which is cable, a huge social digital distribution. And the series will be available and promoted on all those distribution channels as well.
So, it's got huge reach, it's very young and it gives us the opportunity to get in front of some young people who probably aren't watching IndyCar races live at the moment. It gives us a chance for them to appreciate the drivers, and our story, and ultimately, maybe to watch the races going forward.
Bruce Martin:You brought up a really good point because there's been a lot of feedback that I've read on social media and other comments, and a lot of people think this is a documentary that's going to be geared toward the entire IndyCar fan base, whereas really, you're trying to focus in on a younger crowd.
I read a comment you made recently that said, “Although everyone will be entertained by this docuseries, we are trying to reach a younger audience.” How important is it to get that message across?
Mark Miles:Well, it's a great opportunity. It'll be self-evident when people see what the series looks like, and when they go to CW and then to VICE TV and the other outlets where it'll be available, they'll see it.
And so, I don't think we have to campaign on it. It's set up to reach younger audiences, and we think that's a really exciting opportunity and we'll see how many of these younger people when they first get touched by IndyCar can be converted into being fans.
Bruce Martin:And just from a bigger perspective, how important is it to let the older fans understand and realize that a lot of marketing opportunities that IndyCar is trying, and your partners such as Hy-Vee and Iowa Speedway, that when you do a big event, it's going to come at a little bit of a cost?
Mark Miles:Well, Bruce, I'm not sure what you're asking me. In my mind, we don't have to make a choice between being appealing, and more so all the time, to our traditional fans on the one hand, and attracting younger fans on the other hand.
And I think the series being on media, being distributed on CW and VICE TV is on the one hand, while we still got our live racing on NBC and on Peacock; on the other hand, it sort of makes the case, we can do both and we hope there's crossover.
I think traditional fans may get on CW or CW’s App or even VICE cable, even if they haven't been, because they may want to watch the series there. And the young people that will see us for the first time with the series can get onto NBC.
The series, by which I mean the episodic series on CW and VICE, is free and free everywhere. So, there's just no barriers to people being able to find it and watch it, whether they're established fans or young kids.
Bruce Martin:Well, the previous question was also referring to the fact that with the Hy-Vee, IndyCar Weekend at Iowa Speedway, Hy-Vee is all in as a sponsor. In fact, they want to increase their involvement with IndyCar in the future.
But because of some of the groups that they hired, the ticket prices are going to go up a little bit, maybe double. And that's caused a lot of discussion on social media, I'll say.
But when you break it down, it's still a tremendous value. If you have a $100 ticket, that's like $33 for the pre-race concert, 33 for the race, 33 for the post-race concert, but yet, a lot of fans seem to think the ticket pricing should sell … is what they were used to paying back in the 1980s.
How do you bring some of that thinking forward into 2023?
Mark Miles:Well, we just execute. I mean, the amount of money spent, first of all, to revive and improve a great racetrack that our fans appreciate, to provide for great IndyCar short oval racing is considerable, and shouldn't be forgotten and is a real investment.
And then there's the work to make it an outstanding event. And that's cleaning the whole venue up, it's building new or bringing in new temporary suites. Which brings in corporate money, which helps us make the event work.
And then there's the music. And it's not exactly a new idea. I mean, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Race Weekend for years now, we've had Carb Day with that music. And we've had country on the Saturday on Legends Day, the day before the race. And we have the Snake Pit. And I don't think our fans are offended by that.
I understand the point about the price, personally. I believe a $100 to come to that entertainment, both races (two races by the way), and that level of music and entertainment is a steal, is a great value.
And yes, it's more expensive, but people don't want to think about what I pay for each one of my tickets for each Colts game — way over $300 a piece per game. And now, we're talking about a $100 for that package of entertainment, for two events and the music. In Iowa, I think it's a great deal.
Bruce Martin:I compared ticket prices on a story that I wrote for Forbes recently and compared them to Major League Baseball and the NFL and actually had a reader comment, laugh at me saying, “Major League Baseball, you can get a ticket for $5.” I'd like to ask that person where you can get a ticket for $5. But-
Mark Miles:Yes, exactly. I saw your article and I have no idea where you get that for five bucks.
Bruce Martin:Somebody wants to go to the Bleachers at Wrigley Field, they're going to drop about a $100.
Mark Miles:I'm sure that's true.
Mark Miles:But listen, look, we don't ever want to be out of touch with the feedback from fans, but we really should move on.
Ours is going to be a stupendous event. The ticket sales so far exceed last year, so there hasn't been any apparent actual marketplace blowback, even if there is some in social media. And maybe some people, hopefully, very few, will decide not to go.
But I think the event's going to be stupendously successful and I still think it's a really, really good value.
Bruce Martin:Now, moving back to a 100 Days to Indy, it's being an unscripted docuseries. So, does that necessarily even mean that you need to have a narrator? Because if you watch the Jimmie Johnson docuseries, Reinventing the Wheel, that was really done without a narrator.
Mark Miles:No, I don't believe there will be a narrator. This is going to be the show captured by the director and the crew, presenting drivers, their families, the Paddock, personalities as they actually occur, as things actually unveil.
The director, Patrick Dimon said to the guys, “We will never ask you to say one thing or another or ask you not to say one thing or another. We’ll be flies on the wall with a couple cameras in rooms or wherever, trying to capture what's going on and then pulling those occurrences together in a story that people will find compelling.”
So, I'm pretty sure there will not be a narrator at all. It'll be the story of the drivers and their families, and the goings on around IndyCars to our people, do what they do at the beginning of the season, all the way up through trying to get into and win the Indy 500.
Bruce Martin:Now, will IMS Productions have any role in any of this?
Mark Miles:They're not shooting it, they're helping in a couple ways. One, some shooting will be done at the races in the lead up to and through the 500. So, to do that, there's a lot of footprint coordination.
What color is the vest for that production staff versus the vest for the NBC crew? How do they avoid stepping on each other and getting in each other's way? So, sort of production coordination, our IMS Productions people will help with.
And there will be footage pulled from our archives and from the NBC broadcasts. And so, IMS Productions has a role in facilitating that process. But they're not shooting it, they're not writing it, they're not editing it or directing it.
Bruce Martin:And bringing in a new group that is well-regarded in documentaries, Advice Media; how avant-garde might we expect to see or departure of this from what a lot of people are used to seeing when it comes to IndyCar?
Mark Miles:Well, avant-garde, as much as I speak a little French and I appreciate the phrase — that may be too old a phrase to qualify and be relevant to VICE. It's very edgy, it's very young. It's really out there and very different than what we're used to.
So, again, it's not primarily aimed at our fans today. Our fans can get it and watch it, and I think they're going to be entertained by it. But it is aimed at capturing the attention of people who may not watch any motor sports at all or care about any motor sports. They're young people who are on different media.
But we think our drivers and our story can translate to some of them, and this is a chance to get in front of them and see if we can bring them over into the fold of IndyCar fans.
Bruce Martin:We'll be right back to Pit Pass Indy after this short break.
Welcome back to Pit Pass Indy. And now, here's the rest of my exclusive interview with Penske Entertainment, CEO, Mark Miles for Pit Pass Indy.
Bringing in a different network like the CW, does that open up possibilities in the future of maybe having some other type of IndyCar programming or even sports events on the CW?
Mark Miles:Yes, it does. And I'm not saying it's going to happen, but CW is a major national network that has been recently acquired by Nexstar, which is a very major national media player in this country and internationally.
And they're working on strategies to move from what is primarily an entertainment-based network to other genres to increase their audience and to grow.
And so, I suspect that eventually, they'll look at live sports, and other non-live sport programming related to sport along the lines of this series and others.
So, they're a great entrant. And it's important to note that Sean Compton, who's the president of Nexstar, grew up, I think, in Richmond, Indiana, and he's either seen or been to about 30 Indy 500s. He's a huge advocate for this program, and I think he's going to be a great partner to work with.
In addition to just the airing of this on CW in their app, Nexstar, the parent here, owns a couple hundred affiliates. I think they have something like 30 NBC affiliates around the country. They're not all CW outlets.
And so, imagine that in addition to the normal partnership that our race promoters have in their markets with NBC affiliates, some of them will be NBC affiliates owned by Nexstar, and now, we have Sean and that whole group very interested in the growth of IndyCar.
And so, I think in lots of ways around the country, it's a great opportunity to have more promotional partners and we're excited about CW and VICE in that regard.
Bruce Martin:You also have two major channels in the Indianapolis area that are Nexstar-owned with Fox 59, the Fox affiliate in Indianapolis, and also, the longstanding WTTV, CBS 4 in Indianapolis.
But nationally, WGN-TV is a CW affiliate, and we've all heard of WGN-TV going all the way back to the days when it was one of the original super stations. So, to get that type of horsepower behind a project like this, people in Chicago are going to be able to turn on WGN-TV and see 150 days to the Indy 500.
Mark Miles:Yeah. And those are perfect examples. WGN is a great example, but they're like that around the country. We actually asked and ultimately sent Helio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden out to LA on the day that we made the announcement about the new series. And that was at KTLA, which is the biggest affiliate in Los Angeles.
So, hugely important that we have these new partners that are really dialed in and can help us.
Bruce Martin:I know this has been a labor of love for you for the past season or maybe even the last two seasons to get a docuseries. How do you explain to the listeners how time consuming it was to really put the right package together?
Mark Miles:Well, first of all, I think we've been working on this for many years. We have had so-called shopping agreements with other major studios that really wanted to see what they could do in telling our story in one format or another, both scripted series formats and unscripted series.
And these were potent players in LA and in this space, but never really got it over the finish line. And they were more traditional approaches for sure.
So, I think the fact that it happened when it happened with the partners that we've been able to make arrangements with, ends up being a really positive thing and makes it worth the wait because we're going to …
I mean, in addition to it being young, another key element is that six episodes will run by the week following the 500. So, it'll have a whatever initial beneficial effect it's going to have. Some of that'll show up really, in the first less than half of the 2023 IndyCar season and for the 500.
So, I think that immediate impact is another great benefit as opposed to some other series where they shoot for however many months and then many months later, and way after the actual competition, the series runs. It's not as tied to the actual competition as I think a 100 Days to Indy is likely to be.
So, I think it's got the potential to have a more direct benefit to the live racing and the NBC broadcast than some of the other approaches might, and we're very excited about that.
Bruce Martin:In addition to it being on the CW, will also be on VICE TV so people can watch it. How important is that?
Mark Miles:It's great. I mean, it's streamed on two different platforms. VICE TV is cable, so there's a whole nother outlet. All of it's free.
Basically, if you can get on the internet and you are a human being on the planet, you can get this. It is, by internet at least, free, and available everywhere. And that's just tremendous. It presents great opportunities for us.
Bruce Martin:Now, moving along, you have a very healthy entry list for the 2023 season. I believe most races are going to have between 25 to 28 cars on the grid. How important is that to see that growth?
And how does that factor into the decision that was made on December 4th that you were going to stick with the 2.2-liter engine with the hybrid assist component beginning in 2024?
Mark Miles:Well, for me, the car count is a really healthy sign. It's an indicator of the health of the series and the health of the teams because there's really, frankly, more demand now than there is supply and availability of space on pit lane and engines.
So, I think it's a great indicator, it's a great statement about where we are with the sport. But I don't think the objective of having more cars in and of itself is important to us.
Now, some fans see that differently and probably some in the Paddock do too, but I think we have great racing. It's not necessarily going to be greater because it's 27 cars as opposed to 25 at the start of the race on the grid. What we want is that there's demand by international drivers and U.S. drivers and team owners to get into the series.
But it's okay with me if there's more demand than there is supply. There are plenty of models where at some point, one could consider limiting the number of cars that can get in, or at least that are directly in. And I think that would be a very healthy thing for this series.
So, I don't really keep score by the year-to-year match to see if we can get more cars on the grid, although I think we're in a very healthy place. And the demand that this signifies is a great indicator of that.
Bruce Martin:But by having more cars on the grid, doesn't it also bring in new companies and sponsors that are on those cars that are involved in IndyCar?
Mark Miles:It does. You could also argue that it dilutes some of the ones that are already out there. But look, it's just not at this point, our objective to see if we can get routinely to 27 or 28 cars for every race.
I think we're in a really good place and obviously, we want to see 33 or 4, 5 cars trying to get into 500 so that the field is full and there's some bumping, if that's possible.
And the bigger grid number for the regular season does kind of help with that. But it's all good. It's a very good statement about the health of IndyCar.
Bruce Martin:Now, with the 2.2-liter engine, can they still be tuned up to the point provided that Honda and Chevrolet agrees? Because the more horsepower you produce, probably the shorter life spot cycle for the engine.
But can these engines still get back up to that 900 to 1,000 horsepower range that the series had hoped that the 2.4-liter engine with the hybrid assist was going to be able to provide?
Mark Miles:Yeah, we'll see exactly what it looks like as the development comes to fruition. But clearly, you've touched on it; the hybrid will provide more horsepower. And how much for how long remains to be seen as the development continues. But both Honda and Chevy are very engaged in this and very, very helpful to it.
So, I think everybody's on the same page, and we want to make sure we more than offset if we can, any increase in weight on the cars and that we provide more horsepower for even better racing.
Bruce Martin:Wrapping up here with Mark Miles, Penske Entertainment, CEO, I'm going to circle back to a question about Hy-Vee.
Talking to Randy Edeker about a week or two ago, he even expressed interest in getting more involved with IndyCar, maybe being a sponsor for the Indianapolis 500 or the Nashville race.
When you have a guy that interested and a company that interested to be involved with IndyCar, that shows that there's a lot of interest to brand value in the series.
Mark Miles:First of all, let me just say, Randy and his team are sensational. Hy-Vee is a great company that's growing, and as they grow, I sure hope that we can find additional opportunities for them to be more involved in the series, including Indianapolis.
So, that's just a fantastic relationship, and I do think it's a good indicator of how the series offers value to consumer-facing brands. And that's more all the time. I think we've added nine new sponsors in IndyCar over the last couple years. And that's just great. It's more investment, it's more promotion. It's really a very healthy sign for IndyCar.
Bruce Martin:And have there been discussions with Hy-Vee about the possibility of being more involved on a season basis?
Mark Miles:I think more may happen, but that'll happen at its own pace. We have a great relationship. They have, I think, inspired leadership and they like IndyCar. So, we're delighted with the shape of the relationship so far, and if it grows, that's all the better.
Bruce Martin:And finally, 2023 is here. First week of the year for the new year; how excited are you to really … not saying you didn't work over the holidays, but now, the work season really continues again.
How excited are you that we're in January and that there's going to be testing at the end of the month out at The Thermal Club and from then on in short order the season will start?
Mark Miles:Yeah. Well, there's been zero let down, frankly, from the middle of September through today. I'm on the West Coast and I just got off of a two-hour call on a number of marketing initiatives. So, people are still on the throttle.
But we're really, really excited about next year. There's so many good things going on. Can't wait to see the new Detroit, the relaunch there, that's going to be great. It's just too long a list, you're fully aware of it, but we're all very excited about it.
Thermal’s going to be new and different and get us off to a start that will get a lot of people paying attention. And we'll see how high is up, but I'm sure next year we'll be up.
Bruce Martin:Well, at the Penske Corporation, they always say, “Effort equals results.” And Mark Miles certainly puts in the effort. And hopefully, we'll see the results here soon.
Penske Entertainment, CEO, Mark Miles, good luck in the 2023 season, and thank you for joining us today on Pit Pass Indy.
Mark Miles:Thanks to you, Bruce. Have a great holiday. To all the fans, thanks for your support. Hope everybody has a great holiday, and we'll look forward to reconnecting for the 2023 season.
Bruce Martin:And that puts a checkered flag on this edition of Pit Pass Indy. We want to thank our guest, Penske Entertainment, CEO, Mark Miles, for joining us on today's podcast. Along with loyal listeners like you, our guests help make Pit Pass Indy your path to victory lane for all-things IndyCar.
For more IndyCar coverage, follow me at Twitter @BruceMartin (one-word, uppercase B, uppercase M) _500.
And to all our listeners, we want to wish everyone a very happy New Year from all of us at Pit Pass Indy.
This has been a production of Evergreen Podcasts. A special thanks to our production team. Executive producers are Brigid Coyne and Gerardo Orlando. Recordings and edits were done by me, Bruce Martin. And final mixing was done by Dave Douglas.
Learn more at evergreenpodcasts.com. Until next time, be sure to keep it out of the wall.