Cohesion, brand messaging improvement key for Hulman’s new hires

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Consider Mark Miles the head coach of the Hulman & Co. organization, and this football analogy describing IndyCar’s future strategy will work.

Miles, the head of IndyCar’s parent company, finalized his leadership team on Thursday with the hires of C.J. O’Donnell as Hulman Motorsports chief marketing officer, and Jay Frye as chief revenue officer. So consider these two part of the coaching staff: maybe your offensive (pushing the product) and defensive (protecting the financial bottom line) coordinators.

The rest of the coaching staff, as it were, are Derrick Walker (INDYCAR president of competition and operations), Doug Boles (president, Indianapolis Motor Speedway), Robby Greene (president, IMS Productions) Gretchen Snelling (general counsel) and Jeff Belskus (president, Hulman & Co.).

“We believe that that separateness led to a less than effective, than maximally effective way to deal with our stakeholders,” Miles explained during a teleconference on Thursday. “It doesn’t make sense to us optimally to segregate based on kind of the location. Really the businesses are part of the same industry, same ownership, and largely the same stakeholders and customers.”

Collectively, they’re the new administration working together for the first time as a group, to bring about change to a struggling organization.

IndyCar is the opposite of a bad football team, for example. It has a great product, but remains largely invisible to the general public. Whereas a bad football team, i.e. the Jacksonville Jaguars this year, puts out a bad product but still gets a decent ratings number both on local and national levels.

The task for Frye and O’Donnell, who have each turned around organizations and brands in the past, is to do likewise for IndyCar. You might be thinking, “Well, aren’t these two just the latest to try?” The initial message from the conference call was positive that changes seem legitimate in coming.

“It’s been really kind of unique since this was announced today, my phone has been blowing up, and a lot of them have been from friends of mine who are prospective sponsors,” Frye said. “So I think the opportunity is definitely there to do some really good things actually relatively quickly.”

The biggest task on the sponsor standpoint is finding a replacement for departed title sponsor IZOD.

“Once that partner is identified, that actually helps address a lot of the things we’ve talked about,” Frye explained. “One is activating the sport, one is promoting the sport, one is getting the fan engagement together, which is very important to the overall health of the sport. Really the first week we’re going to kind of figure out where we’re at, try to get the groups blended together, get a nice plan and goals and direction, and then once that’s done we’re going to hit it hard to go out and find a great title sponsor partner.”

O’Donnell added that beyond the partner activation, an the PR and marketing effort will be improved and enhanced.

“I’ve got definitive assurances of that,” he said. “In fact Mark and I have had several conversations about adding capacity to the organization to really develop it into a world‑class marketing and PR team.”

For O’Donnell, the chance to come full circle to Indianapolis is a dream come true after 20 years with Ford and associated brands.

“I have to add a passionate sort of personal note to this,” he said. “At one point in time in my life I had an aspiration of actually driving at Indianapolis, and I knew someday somewhere I’d get a chance to participate in the business.”

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.