Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

Interview with Joie Chitwood III: President, COO, Indianapolis Motor Speedway LLC

Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

Interview with Joie Chitwood III: President, COO, Indianapolis Motor Speedway LLC

Article excerpt

After eight consecutive Formula One Grand Prix races between 2000 and 2007, the Indianapolis event was dropped from the Formula One calendar. This interview explores some of the reasons why Formula One has struggled to make an impact in America and examines what could be done to make the sport attractive to US motor racing fans.

Joie Chitwood III joined the staff of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as senior vice-president, business affairs, in October 2002. In December 2004 he was promoted to president and chief operating officer and he now oversees daily operations for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, including the Hall of Fame Museum and the Brickyard Crossing Inn and Golf Course. Chitwood's connection to the IMS family of companies runs much deeper than his present position. He was one of the first staff members of the Indy Racing League, as the liaison officer to its teams, and in 2002 he had the honour of serving as pace car driver for the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race. Previously he served as vice-president and general manager of Raceway Associates LLC, which oversees the operation of Chicagoland Speedway. During Chitwood's tenure at Chicagoland Speedway, which is partly owned by IMS, he oversaw the construction of the 1.5-mile oval, negotiated contracts with both the Indy Racing League and NASCAR for successful events, and the operation of the Route 66 Raceway. He was one of the first employees of the Indy Racing League, which had its inaugural race in 1996 in Orlando, Florida. His family connection dates to the late 1930s, when his grandfather began competing in the Indianapolis 500. From the age of five Chitwood was an integral part of his family's entertainment business, the renowned Chitwood Thrill Show. He began his career as a stuntman and later specialised in precision driving.

HD/SOD: Formula One started in Indianapolis with a very successful inaugural event in 2000. Given its competition with other sports, how is Formula One viewed by its fans in the United States today?

JC: You could argue that, along with soccer, Formula One is the most popular international sport. Formula One would probably make the argument due to the investment in the sport in terms of sponsorship income and such achievements as racing in China and around the world every season. But in America, the TV coverage and interest in Formula One today is minimal at best. It is interesting to understand why, and what the challenges are. It is not just about not having Americans participating: it is the overall Formula One approach. It is a very exclusive sport in terms of access, and getting close to the stars is very limited.

HD/SOD: What are the challenges that need to be met to break through the barriers to create relevance for Formula One in America?

JC: One of the challenges for creating new fans in America is generating more awareness of Formula One. To achieve this, consistent American TV exposure is important. I think Speed TV has always done a great job, and we have had network TV coverage from year to year. But when you consider Formula One as a whole, then you need consistent TV coverage of all races in a season, just as other major sports receive. There are also other factors, such as having a title sponsor for the US Grand Prix. For a while SAP was such a sponsor and then this was lost.

In 2005 both Michelin and Bridgestone provided tyres to the Formula One teams. The majority of teams ran on Michelin, including many of the leading contenders. Michelin could not guarantee the safety of its tyre at the race, so those teams withdrew after the formation lap. This left just six cars out of a total of 20 competing, rendering the race meaningless. Ferrari, Mindardi and Jordan, all using Bridgestone tyres, were the only teams completed *.

HD/SOD: Did the debacle concerning tyres in 2005 at Indianapolis influence the attraction of Formula One?

JC: Yes, I can definitely see a change in attendance from the 2005 debacle. …

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