This weekend at Watkins Glen International, Verizon will host another of its “Lunch with Legends” series – which have also occurred at a couple other events this year, notably at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Road America.
The Verizon IndyCar Series’ title sponsor works to bring fans access while also bringing together legends of the sport for a panel Q&A discussion, hosted by NBCSN contributor Robin Miller.
This week, it’ll be Bobby Rahal, Dario Franchitti and Helio Castroneves having the discussion from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. ET. Castroneves will be checking in after first practice; Franchitti serves as Chip Ganassi Racing’s driver advisor and coach while Rahal fields a singleton entry for Graham Rahal, the Texas race winner.
And while it’s usually members of the paddock that check this out, Verizon is also opening this up to fans. A note on how is below:
As part of the Verizon Inside Indy program that gives fans incredible access to the sport, we’re letting 10 Verizon customers (plus a guest) join us for the Lunch with Legends. We’ll be looking for the fans on Friday and upgrade them on the spot, similar to how we provide fans access to Verizon Pit View.
The event takes place in the Watkins Glen Media Center, on the Great Room, Second Floor.
Four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti has revealed that a concussion sustained during a testing crash at Homestead in 2000 “completely changed” his personality.
During a CART test for Team KOOL Green at Homestead in February 2000, Franchitti suffered a high-speed crash at Turn 3 that left him with a fractured hip and pelvis as well as concussion.
In an interview with BBC Scotland, Franchitti spoke openly about his concussion, revealing that it was not until many years later that he discussed the impact of the crash.
“The first big one in 2000, my personality, I felt completely changed afterwards, which I brought up to my brother years later,” Franchitti said.
“I never actually said [anything] to anybody. I said to my brother: ‘Marino, I think this happened.’ He said: ‘I never noticed,’ but from the inside it felt different.
“I just think I was a lot more serious. Not as easygoing. I was more easygoing beforehand and I became more serious.
“I was lucky in that I had a goal and my goal was to get back in a car as soon as possible – to the point I got back in the car way, way too early.
“I think it took two years to be right and I was back driving after five weeks.”
Performances may have proven that out. After winning three races each of 1998 and 1999 and finishing third and second in points, Franchitti won only once in the next two years and ended 13th and seventh in the 2000 and 2001 seasons. He resumed winning multiple races in 2002.
Franchitti said that the situation was completely different after his career-ending crash at Houston in 2013, after which he had no desire to get back racing.
“After the last one, it was kind of the exact opposite.
“Having that last [crash], I finished and I was so thankful for what I got to do – the fact I survived that crash and the fact what I’d got to do in my life that I was looking at it from that way.
“It was never ‘I don’t get to drive a car anymore’, it was ‘what will the rest of my life bring?’
“We didn’t know any better, but you can do permanent damage. The one thing that I found scary, fascinating but scary is that damage is cumulative.
“You have one concussion, it takes X amount of energy to cause damage. The next concussion it takes less energy. The next one again, and the symptoms can be worse. And it’s not an exact science.”
Franchitti spoke about his life after racing, discussing his roles with Chip Ganassi Racing and Formula E, as well as revealing for the first time in a public interview that he has re-married following his split with Ashley Judd in 2013 and has a baby.
“I’ve spent a lot of time back home since the end of 2013,” Franchitti said.
“In fact, when I went to Miami and had my diagnosis about how bad things were, the next thing my Mum was with me, we jumped on a plane up to Newark and a plane back to Edinburgh, and that was me home. I wanted to go home.
“I’ve been home-sick for 15 years! I had the most wonderful life living in America, but I was homesick. The fact I get to spend more time here is great for me.
“My wife [Eleanor] and I got re-married. We spend time [in Scotland], we spend time in London. Bit of a balance of both.
“[I’m] working for the Ganassi team still that I raced my last six years with, advise them on all parts of the performance of the team really which is really good fun.
“Working in Formula E, do the commentary for the world feed. Goodwood TV so I get to make shows about classic cars which is right up my street. And then little things like the new Honda NSX which is coming out, I did all the development on that.
“And then somewhere in-between that, getting to spend time with my wife and baby.”
It also gives Daly an opportunity to join the list of those drivers who for one reason or another have made recent temporary number swaps in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Here’s a quick look at those who have done it in the last several years:
Charlie Kimball, 2016 Indianapolis 500. Kimball’s usual No. 83 Tresiba Chevrolet switched to No. 42 for this year’s 100th Indianapolis 500, as his sponsor Tresiba lasts at least 42 hours after first use, and also will honor 42 pioneers within the diabetes community. Kimball started 16th and finished fifth, following a chaotic day of racing when his car was hit by debris but he soldiered on, actually running the same fuel strategy to the finish as race winner Alexander Rossi did.
Josef Newgarden, 2013 Indianapolis 500, 2015 Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis & Indianapolis 500. Before Newgarden’s No. 67 switched to No. 21 full-time for 2016, Newgarden made the one-off switcheroo on two occasions when driving for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and CFH Racing, owing to one-off sponsor Century 21. But he needed better realtor advice apparently in those three races, because they all ended with nondescript performances. The 2013 ‘500, he started 25th and ended 28th. In 2015, he started 12th and finished 20th in the Grand Prix after getting caught up in the Turn 1 mess, and at the ‘500, he started and finished ninth. Things have gone better with the No. 21 solely this year, but they didn’t when it was a one-off.
Dario Franchitti, 2012 Indianapolis 500. Franchitti went from the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda to No. 50 for the 2012 Indy 500 owing to Target’s 50th anniversary (above). And for the inevitable cliche line that follows next, he hit the bullseye. Franchitti won the race despite starting 16th, and held off Takuma Sato’s last-lap pass attempt to do so. It marked the only time in Franchitti’s Ganassi IndyCar career he ran a number other than 10, and also his final victory of his career.
Alex Lloyd, 2009 Firestone Indy 300 at Homestead. The driver who’s developed quite a sense of humor and has made a career in writing about cars after not racing them full-time anymore is the answer to an obscure trivia question – who was the first driver to drive a car with five numbers in IndyCar? Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing turned to Lloyd for a one-off start at the 2009 season finale and the team’s usual No. 06 car, then driven by Robert Doornbos or Oriol Servia, adopted the No. 40202 owing to a breast cancer awareness promotion – and Lloyd has the tweet from 2009 to prove it. The driver who earlier that year was known as “Pink Lloyd” when he drove the No. 99 HER Energy Drink pink Honda in a Sam Schmidt/Chip Ganassi mashup effort at the Indianapolis 500 took the then-white-and-pink No. 40202 car to fifth on the grid, and eighth in the race. In a more conventional No. 19 car for Dale Coyne Racing, he was fourth in the Indianapolis 500 and series rookie-of-the-year the next year.
In the era of opulence in North American open-wheel racing, when activation was everywhere from retail companies, to cigarettes, to car manufacturers, it was as much a battle off track as it was on track.
You didn’t just have to have a superior product on-track, and that often depended on whether you had the right “package” of chassis, engines and tires.
No, you also had to showcase your drivers in commercials, stores or print advertisements in any way you could.
And for about a four-year period from 1996 (the year of Ganassi’s first title and the split) through 1999 – my formative years as a racing fan that eventually helped lead me into the role I have today – no company did that better than Target.
Yes, there were the Andrettis selling you Texaco and Havoline for your car, but when you’re 6 or 7 years old, you’re not exactly thinking about oil changes. Yet, anyway. Same with Shell (Team Rahal) and Pennzoil (Jim Hall Racing).
Cigarettes? I knew the Marlboro Team Penske cars looked cool, but I also knew I never wanted to have anything to do with smoking one of those bad boys. Same goes for Player’s despite their cool blue cars, Hollywood and its eye-popping multicolor scheme featuring Brazilian drivers, and eventually, the Team KOOL Green cars.
Beer? Despite being a connoisseur now, again, when you’re 6 or 7, you’re not thinking about chugging Miller Lite or Budweiser. And as an informed beer drinker who prefers craft and microbreweries anyway, you’re still not thinking about drinking either product. I do miss the old Budweiser frogs and lizards, though…
Telecommunications? LCI and MCI were on cars before cell phones had even taken off.
Other B2B-type sponsorships – the Hogan Truck Leasing, Alumax Aluminum and the like – didn’t make sense to me at the time although those type sponsorships are the ones that are commonplace today.
So almost by process of elimination but also through the series of engaging, often humorous and mega TV spots, I discovered Target – by way of Jimmy Vasser and Alex Zanardi.
It was engaging. It was relatable. And it was reliable.
The banter these two had – whether it was joking about picture sizes, racing motorhomes around Gateway, introducing flags or Zanardi explaining how he “passed” his driver’s test – was unparalleled and served as a perfect compendium to the races I was watching.
“Look,” younger me thought as I’m watching the CART race from wherever it was that weekend, say a Detroit, Portland, Cleveland, Toronto or Road America. “Here’s the guys I’m watching on the TV, and now they’re joking with each other in the commercials breaks. I like these guys!”
As my Dad and I headed to races on the West Coast like Fontana (now Auto Club Speedway) and Long Beach, the goal was simple: buy Target-branded merchandise and root for the Target cars during the race.
That made it a damn sight unfortunate when after Zanardi had clinched his 1997 CART title, his first of two in a row, my Dad had purchased a “Donuts, not just for breakfast!” T-shirt that weekend to pay tribute to Zanardi’s winning trademark. Except Zanardi got hurt during the weekend in a practice crash and didn’t even get to race!
Arie Luyendyk got drafted in last-minute and the “flying Dutchman,” the two-time Indianapolis 500 champion and current INDYCAR Race Steward, got taken out by Arnd Meier in the race.
But my quest to meet Zanardi would not go unfulfilled. At Long Beach, 1998, I’m now 8 and I’ve staked out the Target paddock – autograph achieved. Zanardi then promptly delivered one of his best wins ever, coming back from a lap down to win the race, after making another move on the guy he always seemed to make incredible moves on – Bryan Herta. A then-unheralded Dario Franchitti scored his first career podium that day too, in second…
That day, I saw my favorite driver growing up finally do those donuts.
When Juan Pablo Montoya entered in 1999, the change was notable. And Montoya – who I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know much better now in covering the series full-time – was a different force then.
He was – and still is – a ridiculously focused driver with surreal car control. But he wasn’t the same as Zanardi outside of the cockpit, and despite the infamous/famous Vasser and Montoya “snipe!” ad they put together, there never felt the same bonding to me growing up.
The Target drawdown in TV ads began about 2000, when Ganassi’s fortunes began to shift as a team.
The previously dominant Reynard/Honda/Firestone package was tossed aside for Lolas and Toyotas. Gone were Vasser and Montoya, and in were the then unknown Bruno Junqueira, Nicolas Minassian and Memo Gidley. Kenny Brack and Scott Dixon joined in 2002. The team switched series in 2003, and despite Dixon winning the 2003 Indy Racing League title, there was never the feel that Target had the same motivation for activation.
Yet even through those rough Toyota years of 2004 and 2005 – Dixon recently recalled to me at Iowa that in 2005 at Milwaukee, they wrote off several cars and driver Darren Manning got canned – Target endured.
Target has continued with Ganassi through open-wheel’s rough patches, as noted above. They were always on par with Marlboro as one of the two most well-known sponsors in the sport through the needed open-wheel merger of 2008, and became the pre-eminent sponsor in the sport when new tobacco restrictions forced Marlboro colors off the Team Penske cars at the end of 2009.
Target continued. Still. And from 2008 to 2011, they won four titles in a row – again – a feat they did together from 1996 to 1999.
And yet now, when it feels as though IndyCar racing is back on something of an upswing, with Dixon and Ganassi serving as ambassadors for the company because you know every single race that Dixon is a threat to win as one of the greatest drivers of his generation, is when Target pulls the plug, owing to a change at the top of the company.
Signs have been evident and building, though, that this day would eventually come.
Target scaled back from two cars to one in the last couple years, and then this year they brought back the famous “lightning bolt” at the start of this year. Yes, it pays tribute to the past but in hindsight, it felt like a move that signaled the beginning of the end.
The departure comes because the new people in charge of overseeing the marketing programs don’t see the ROI and value in IndyCar racing today, plain and simple.
And despite recent small upticks in TV numbers the last two or three years, this is a legacy departure that comes as a result of the 12-year split through 2008 and the lack of value that has persisted in the interim years, especially in comparison to NASCAR.
The NASCAR sponsorship continues for one more year at least anyway because even though Kyle Larson usually finishes in the teens and 20s, he’s being seen by 5 million people – as was witnessed with Sunday’s Brickyard 400 – whereas IndyCar fans are pleased if a cable broadcast today can reach 500,000-plus. Dixon wins races, Larson wins eyeballs.
Here’s where this really stings: in appealing to my generation – the 20- or 30-somethings who maybe got hooked on racing, like me, in the 1990s, who have only known IndyCar racing with Target Ganassi entries.
We grew up with Target Ganassi cars as part of our identity, as something to root for, as something to get behind.
We knew that through thick and thin, whatever construct North American open-wheel racing would be, we knew there’d be at least one, but usually two, Target Chip Ganassi Racing entries.
Dixon and Ganassi will continue but without the company that’s served them both the longest.
It’s more than just a void on the sidepods that needs to be filled.
Speed now races for Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross in the Red Bull Global Rallycross, where he won the 2015 championship.
“I’m really excited about this opportunity and I think it will be a fun experience to see things from the other side of the camera,” Speed said in a series release. “I think Formula E is a great championship, which produces really exciting races, and I can’t wait to get involved in the build-up to the race in Mexico City!”
Franchitti is expected to be back behind the microphone for the Formula E race in Long Beach on April 2, the only race in the series on U.S. soil with Miami’s departure from the calendar.