It's no secret that the IZOD IndyCar Series is aiming for an increased American fanbase in 2010. And you can argue that the series should also be aiming to create a next generation of open-wheel racing followers.
With the announcement that the Boy Scouts of America, an organization that boasts 2.8 million youth members plus 1.3 million adult volunteers and nearly 50 million alumni, will sponsor the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing IndyCar in the 2010 championship, the league appears to have found something that could address those issues rather nicely.
What's more, this partnership goes far beyond a recognizable sponsor for the lone squad that bested Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing last season. The BSA, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, plans on using IndyCar as a way to show Scouts how education in math, science and technology manifests itself in the real world.
"Dale and Gail Coyne realize the need to expose youth to the excitement of racing in a more programmatic and relevant way," said BSA chief scout executive Bob Mazzuca. "...And they realize the uniqueness of this opportunity, the magic of our audience and our market and their passion for the technical aspects of the sport. And so through the discussions with the national development group and our strategic brand management people, it really became apparent that utilizing science, technology and math as an integrated education platform would directly enable young people to be exposed to these disciplines in a really fun and exciting way."
The idea of an alliance with the BSA interested the Coynes, but the "turning point" in Dale's eyes didn't come until the IndyCars made their annual visit to Texas Motor Speedway last June. While preparing for the nighttime event, they noticed a nearby scout troop by the garage area and managed to get them inside for an up-close look at the world of IndyCar racing.
"I have to tell you, the look of excitement and joy on their faces as they got up close to the Indy car and toured the transporter was as genuine as one could imagine," said Dale Coyne. "We had other guest Scouts there who had the same gleam in their eyes. One of the troop leaders said that 'Today, we wear our Scout uniforms. Good things happen when you wear your uniforms.' I bet those kids still have them all on today."
Education will be at the forefront of this concept. Eric Moore, the BSA's strategic brand manager, said that "curriculum-based opportunities" for youth to learn about math and science will come soon to DCR's Web site, dalecoyneracing.com. Mazzuca also mentioned access to the pits and the BSA IndyCar for Scouts at IZOD IndyCar Series events so they can learn more at the track as well.
Marketing will also play an important role. Developments include information kiosks at IndyCar tracks where fans can learn about local opportunities to get involved in scouting; show car possibilities at Scouting shops; and exposure at big BSA events such as the annual National Scout Jamboree.
But perhaps the biggest stroke in all of this is that there's now a potential for almost three million youth, plus adults and other people whose lives are touched by Scouting, to learn about the sport and become IndyCar fans. Even more important, they wouldn't just be rooting for the series. They'd have their own car and their own team, too.
"The potential is only limited by our imagination and our ability to be creative and use the current technology to reach out to these young people," said Mazzuca.
There's one big question, however. Who will drive the "Scoutmobile"? Dale Coyne wouldn't reveal, instead saying that driver announcements for the No. 19 and No. 18 cars (the latter expected to be backed again by Z-Line Designs) will come at the end of the month.
But regardless of who drives for him, he's hoping to improve upon a 2009 season that saw his team claim its inaugural victory after 25 years of racing.
He's also hoping that the youth involved with the Boy Scouts of America get something special out of his new effort.
"Millions of smiles," he said.
Winter meeting brings some major changes
This season, IZOD IndyCar Series pilots will have to save fuel like us normal types do: with their right foot.
The removal of the four-position fuel mixture switch on the cars tops the list of technical changes and recommendations made at the IRL's winter meeting this week in Indianapolis. The only position left on the car is the "yellow" one that can be used by drivers when the races are under caution.
"Teams and drivers can still save fuel because they can develop their own fuel strategy, but instead of having a mechanical device to achieve it they can use their right foot," Indy Racing League senior technical director Les Mactaggart said.
"It will allow the drivers more strategy during the event. If they want to save fuel they can by controlling the throttle and equally so the overtake assist will be more effective because they'll have more horsepower. The strategy really is to try to give the drivers more choice."
Other changes include a doubling of the horsepower boost on the push-to-pass overtake system, a new reverse gear for road and street course events, and a recommendation for teams to utilize a "floating back" headrest configuration that's designed to lessen G forces between the car and the driver's head in rearward crashes.
Cotman set to leave the IRL?
According to reports (including one from SPEED Channel's Robin Miller), IRL vice president of competition Tony Cotman will no longer be a full-time employee with the League. Cotman will stay on as a consultant to IndyCar and as chief steward of the Firestone Indy Lights development league, but he's now going into the track design business by creating his own company, NZR Consulting.
The IRL's losing a good guy in Cotman, who made his reputation as a tough but fair race steward in Champ Car before coming over to the IRL in 2008. However, the league won't be losing touch entirely with him and he's also been working on the street layout in Sao Paulo, Brazil that will play host to the season opener on March 14.
There's two other things to keep an eye on.
If you've been following the reports, you'll know that the league is eyeing two particular markets for events in 2011 -- Baltimore, Md. and the Boston, Mass. region. The former is expected to feature a downtown race, but the latter has been rumored to involve a stadium layout around Gillette Stadium in nearby Foxboro, home of the NFL's Patriots.
The Baltimore race has already seen a layout produced that would involve Camden Yards, and the Inner Harbor. But perhaps Cotman could be called in to tweak the Baltimore course now that he's a consultant, and even further, get the call to help create the course in Boston. The league needs to break into the Northeast beyond its sole regional outpost in Watkins Glen, N.Y., and if they're going to go the street racing route on that matter, they'll need solid layouts to ensure that the races don't turn into bombs.
After seeing plenty of street courses in Champ Car and then a few more in the IRL, you'd think Cotman would know a thing or two about how to make a decent temp track.
Just a thought.
Other cool stuff
The drivers of Team Penske have had a busy offseason so far. Helio Castroneves and girlfriend Adriana Henao are enjoying their new daughter Mikaella (born Dec. 28), Ryan Briscoe and NASCAR reporter Nicole Manske got married in Hawaii, and new full-time driver Will Power is now engaged. And oh yeah, Helio saw his face yet again on the Borg-Warner Trophy this week while claiming his third Indy 500 champion's ring.
Vitor Meira will have a familiar ally on his side as he returns to action following a season-ending crash last May at Indianapolis. Jeff Britton, who worked with Meira back at Rahal Letterman Racing in 2005, is now Meira's chief engineer on the No. 14 A.J. Foyt Racing machine backed by ABC Supply Co. Britton moves over from Vision Racing, where he worked on the No. 20 entry of Ed Carpenter.
Panther Racing's Dan Wheldon got a sore shoulder and some bruises, but he and NHRA driver Phil Burkart are OK after they got involved in a bobsled accident last weekend in Lake Placid, N.Y. Wheldon was attending the Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge and went for a sled run with Burkart as the driver. Unfortunately, the sled flipped over toward the end of the course, sending Wheldon out the back. Twitter messages from Panther said that the sled was clocked at 64 miles per hour at the time of the crash. But at least Wheldon still had a sense of humor afterwards, as he said in a Panther tweet, "I look cooler than 50 Cent right now."