Monday, September 27, 2010

Pulling for The Fairytale Ending

The Izod IndyCar championship will be determined this weekend at Homestead and I need to pick a side. None of my Fav’s are in the hunt: JR Hildebrand is Home in Sausalito eating copious amounts of Italian food, hunting for funding for his big chance; Vitor Meira drives for Foyt – enough said; Ryan Hunter Reay has had a solid first season with Andretti Autosport – but not championship quality. I have no chips on the felt. So I resort to plan B in picking a favorite and that plan is rooting for the outcome that I see as the best bet to move the needle for the league. But who would that be, Will Power or Dario Franchitti?

This year my nod goes to Will Power.

The Versus promo spot for Homestead says it all. The replay of the horrendous accident at Infineon last year, the images of Will in traction being loaded into the Evac chopper with the voice over from Bob Jenkins summarizing the list of broken vertebrae in Will’s back. During the chopper flight, the tears and fears of potentially ending Nelson Phillipe’s life during the accident’s impact. The doubts about ever racing ever again. The long difficult Rehab. The commitment of a class organization to keep a seat open for his return. All followed by the general beat down that Will has dealt out to the rest of field on the road and street circuits this year.

Indeed, compared to where Will was a year ago, this would be the top feel good, fairytail story in racing since Alex Zanardi got back into a car for the first time after losing both legs. This storyline is why we love the personalities in racing and in sports in general. It is the reason athletes become our heroes. We love athletes with the “will power” to overcome difficulties and adversities to climb to the top in the competitive endeavor.

Many are counting Will out. He’s never won on an Oval. He has one of the greats of his generation in the rear view mirrors. His team has had hiccups in the pits and has been outsmarted by the TCG boys more than once.

But, never has does not imply Never will, and Will has been very close to that first oval win multiple times this year. But on three occasions, it was bobbled away in the pits. With a championship close at hand, Team Penske has begun to shift pit crew members around. The group that will sport Verizon fire suits this Sunday will be an all star crew. The story only gets better if Will seals the deal by winning at Homestead on Saturday.

So why is a Will Power championship the best outcome for the league? Simple, the story is great and it will get legs. But some promotion wouldn’t hurt either. I would hope that Randy Bernard would be on the phone to Bristol, CT Monday selling a story, looking for commitment from his broadcast partner. What might this entail? As the Versus promos show, the story is great copy and would be strong support material for ABC’s promo activity next year.

Then there are those things called the ESPY’s, ESPN’s own little awards ceremony. Aired on the slowest day of the year, the day after the MLB All Star Game. The event draws the eyes of the entire sports world. Two awards nominations for a Power championship would seem logical: Top Racing Performance and Best Comeback Athlete. Fan voting determines the winners, and after Sunday momentum is rolling on a fifth Cup championship for Jimmie Johnson. The racing prize probably goes there. BUT the comeback award is a bigger deal in the show’s program and the Will Power story will be a tough one to beat. This is the kind of exposure the league needs from a source is sorely needs it from.

Another likely outcome from a Power championship is the likelihood that Power’s sponsor, Verizon will want to brag a little. This could mean full page ads in prominent national papers. It could mean television spots during other sporting events. But most of all it would be a favorable coincidence for a sponsor who has begun to step up their involvement from a single car to a wider association with the league as a whole. Activation friends, activation.

I respect and admire Dario Franchitti. His 2009 championship was about redemption, for himself and in some larger sense the league. His second 500 victory was about legacy. But the sport has enough legacy and history, it now needs new heroes to sell to a new generation. A Hero that stars in a Fairytale ending is a good place to start.

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