Checking in with Alex Lloyd: Can IndyCar grow beyond its bubble?

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Being disconnected from the day-to-day world of IndyCar can be a positive, as Beepi head of content and past IndyCar driver Alex Lloyd related to me when we touched base last week while Lloyd was at the New York International Auto Show.

For Lloyd, who’s in a healthier and more stable post-full-time driving career now in the automotive journalism industry, he wonders how IndyCar can grow beyond its bubble to continue its recent upward trajectory of better – if not hugely better – TV ratings the last few years.

“It’s a weird one, isn’t it?” Lloyd told NBC Sports. “Because when I was in the ‘IndyCar bubble,’ you see it with rose-tinted glasses. You’re going along with the in-house media stuff.

“From an IndyCar perspective, when I walked away and did other bits around it, I started to realize there’s a ton of bitterness there. We know it’s not there on a mainstream level. You do notice outside the core fan base that it’s struggling to resonate. Some things have come in – aero kits for instance – designed to make it go further.

“The product’s still good. It’s hard to say the racing isn’t good. The fan base is just so different. The core people are always still there, watching. It’s the others, really, I’m most concerned about, because for the younger people, motorsports isn’t on the radar as much.”

Lloyd, in one of his last columns for Yahoo Autos, penned a piece called “IndyCar is broken, here’s how to fix it” and it presents Chris Beatty’s wingless concept car, with a canopy, more power and less downforce – as seems to be the de rigueur option preferred by some drivers.

With IndyCar having evolved at a more gradual pace the last 20 to 25 years or so, rather than the more drastic year-to-year advances from the 1960s into the 1970s, Lloyd is of the belief a radical change could spur greater interest.

“You have to do something quite radical, and take a big stab, and get (a younger) audience age,” Lloyd said. “Maybe it’s massive horsepower and zero downforce? You’d completely change the way it works. Technology, virtual reality, is becoming more of a thing and I think there’s some potential.

“From an IndyCar perspective – we need to do something. We’ve got excited about little bits of growth thus far. But people don’t care outside the racing bubble, and outside of them it seems one knows what the sport is anymore. A drastic or radical change could upset the core… but you have to try.”

Lloyd also reiterated his disagreement with pack racing and wants to see the cars more spread out in the future. Realistically, the only race that fell into that domain last year was at Auto Club Speedway, and that was primarily due to the temperature not being as hot as projected.

“For those of us who were around in 2011, the Vegas race is still quite raw. Honestly I think for everyone involved, from media, fan or driver perspectives, and in those conversations afterwards… you can’t forget what a lot of us went through then and what we swore we’d never do again.

“Close racing is very exciting to watch. But it starts creeping back to pack racing if something as simple as the temperature being slightly different or the slightest downforce change comes into play.

“There’s always been the fear for me something that bad might happen again. The catch fences are still as bad as they are. The new car is supposed to be safer; however you still saw the new ones tend to fly up and go airborne.

“We’ve had plenty of close calls with open cockpit cars being dangerous. Whether it’s Helio (Castroneves), with a tire bouncing across the track, or a driveshaft coming near (James) Jakes, there’s been a lot of close calls.

“And that was the big frustrating thing about 2011 for me. I wasn’t in a competitive car on ovals that season, yet I was risking life and limb with basically no one caring or watching.

“If crowds turn up in the masses, for the good of sport, we take some more chances. But if TV numbers aren’t that much bigger, and there’s no sizable gain, why are we doing it? If it’s not making any tangible gains, why keep doing it?”

Supercross: Haiden Deegan debuts in 250s at Houston, Justin Cooper graduates to 450 class for Star Yamaha

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Rising star Haiden Deegan will make his Monster Energy Supercross debut in Houston, Texas with Yamaha Star Racing while the 2021 250 West champion Justin Cooper graduates to 450s.

Deegan, the son of motocross and off-road legend Brian Deegan and brother of NASCAR Truck Series driver Hailie Deegan, made two starts in the Pro Motocross outdoors season last year. He finished 31st overall at the Ironman Nationals in Crawfordsville, Indiana and was 13th at Fox Raceway in the season-ender at Fox Raceway in Pala, California, but the overall results did not necessarily reflect how well he ran. In both events, he challenged for top-10s during portions of the week and actually finished 10th in one of the Pala motos.

Last week, Haiden finished fifth in the Supercross 250 Futures in Anaheim 2.

“We’re really excited to get the season on the East Coast started,” said Monster Energy Team Manager Jensen Hendler in a press release. “It’s also exciting to have Haiden move up to join our pro program this season and to have Justin make his debut on the 450. The guys have been working hard and are looking forward to seeing what they can do this weekend in Houston.”

After scoring a 250SX Futures podium, Talon Hawkins gets 250 East ride.

Deegan will join Nate Thrasher and Jordon Smith in the 250 East division this week.

Cooper moves into the 450 class this weekend. According to Supercross rules, after winning the 2021 championship, he had one season to defend his title and then would be required to move up a class. Cooper missed all of last year to injury.

Cooper was healthy when the outdoor season started and he earned five podiums and nine top-fives in 12 rounds. Three of these races ended in runners-up finishes, at Hangtown, in Rancho Cordova, California, Washougal, Washington and Unadilla, New York.

Cooper joins Eli Tomac and Dylan Ferrandis in the 450 class and will race select events.

Justin Cooper learned to temper aggression with speed

Cooper’s Houston attempt will be the first of an undisclosed number of races he will compete in during the 2023 season.

“It’s been about two years since I’ve lined up for a supercross, and now it’s in a new class with the best guys, so I’m excited to just get out there,” Cooper said. “I’m looking to get back under the lights and learn what I can. Overall, I’m just really excited to be in the position to be out there, so I’m going to make the most of it and enjoy it!”

Deegan and Cooper will be part of a seven-rider Supercross lineup for Yamaha Star Racing. Nick Romano will debut in the 250 East division later this year.