Outrageous outrage

Posted by Iannucci | 12/01/2008 | 5 comments »
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This morning on the way to work I noticed the big sign in front of the shopping center across the street. “SHAME ON MACY’S”. There were three people standing by the sign, all wearing walkmans, protesting a company that doesn’t employ them. I know this because I’ve seen these same happy few standing behind a “SHAME ON (some construction company)” sign on the opposite corner a few weeks ago, and countless other previous to that. Nice work if you can get it I suppose.

In recent days I’m told there is a similar “SHAME ON THE IRL” type of campaign going on the airwaves of Indianapolis. It seems the people involved with the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC) have taken offense that the Indy Racing League has decided to take sponsorship money from APEX-Brasil, a Brazilian-based ethanol production firm. Well, maybe not EPIC per se, but at least someone under the name “American Future Fund”.

"Unbelievable. The Brickyard will be fueled by foreign energy." As if all of the gasoline used years ago was pumped exclusively from American soil. Right.

It’s important to note here that there are other groups in various stages of wigging out. There is the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) which is also urging people to contact that league with their outrage, as well as the Iowa Corn Growers Association, who are responsible for sponsoring the race at Iowa Speedway. It’s also important to note that EPIC is dissolving, due in part to the consolidation in the industry. And by consolidation I mean this (courtesy of TrackSide Online):

The main backers of EPIC were POET, ICM and Fagen. These companies design and build ethanol plants and it appears they are now moving at least some of their backing to a new group called Growth Energy. It is also our understanding that to some degree EPIC itself is being absorbed by the Growth Energy coalition - who is planning to focus a lot of their attention at the legislative level. (On the internet, we found the following listing of companies supporting Growth Energy: POET, ICM, Western Plains Energy, Amaizing Energy, Hawkeye Renewables, Green Plains Renewable Energy.)
Did ya get all of that? Good, me neither. I know I’m going to read it about 10 more times just in case I get quizzed.

Soon after this ad started airing the IRL released a statement regarding how EPIC was paying the league for promotion rights just like any other sponsor, and now they aren’t so they took the next check.

The ethanol producers recently notified the IndyCar Series that it would not be renewing the agreement for 2009 and beyond and EPIC is ceasing operation. No one from any other part of the American-based ethanol community stepped forward with a substantial proposal. Soon after, the IndyCar Series and APEX-Brasil reached a preliminary agreement. As part of that agreement, we plan on starting our 2009 season with American-produced ethanol. Opportunities still exist for American ethanol companies and organizations to continue involvement in the IndyCar Series.

It’s true that EPIC helped support the IRL while other companies were leaving the series, but it’s not like they saved the series in any way. If anything they gave the IndyCar series a chance to make a technological claim, which is supposed to be a hallmark of this type of racing. Since everyone is running spec cars with the same engines, chassis and tires, the concept of innovation has been blunted. There haven’t been any turbines engines or six-wheeled cars or dual-motor vehicles lately, but check out these awesome SAFER barriers!

But even as a technological spin ethanol isn’t exactly a strong idea. In an effort to reduce the usual brown cloud over downtown Phoenix we’ve been running on state-mandated E10 here in Arizona for a while now. I can’t see much of a difference in the sky – maybe the cloud is beige or taupe – but I also haven’t noticed any difference in the way it affects my vehicle. (Full disclosure: your humble host is currently powered by Nissan.)

And speaking of the spec issue, as our buddy pressdog noted this entire issue has some built-in bad feelings for some since there isn’t a lot of domestic partnership currently in the series’ hardware. The Dallara chassis is Italian, the Honda motor is produced by England’s Ilmor, and the tires are by Firestone – a subsidiary of Japanese-owned Bridgestone. So if the fuel is supplied by Brazil, well, try to act surprised.

However, his point leads me to ask: Was anyone here outraged when American-made Panoz chassis were not longer used in the series? Saddened, disappointed, concerned – sure, all of those. But “outraged” to the point of calling Tony George and demanding a reversal of action? Come on. We all want to see American companies succeed, but this call to action is over the top. It’s not like US ethanol industry is going to collapse simply because the IRL isn’t actively promoting them in 2009. Besides, as Chris Estrada at Indy Racing Revolution finds in the original press release from the IRL, it appears that in spite of this animosity (or perhaps because of it) the league is trying to help American firms in some capacity.

"The multi-year deal includes cooperation from UNICA (the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association) to identify those interested in supplying ethanol to the series. Initially, UNICA will look to partner with a U.S.-based ethanol company to supply the IndyCar Series with corn-based ethanol."
I’m sure the AFF, RFA, ICGA and a few other acronyms are going to continue to grind this axe, mostly because as promotional groups it’s their jobs, but unless I’m missing something here it sounds to me like the expectation is that the IRL would keep powering it’s cars with US corn-based ethanol even though EPIC isn’t going to be sponsoring anything. Why would that be expected? Unless there’s some backroom deal here this is, as the kids today like to say, strictly bid-ness, and since the IRL is a bid-ness I would expect them to take the only check that was offered.

Maybe there are a few folks sitting with walkmans behind a big “SHAME ON THE IRL” sign on Georgetown right now, but if there are I wouldn’t pay them much attention. At least no more additionally to that which I just did.


  1. Anonymous // December 02, 2008 6:20 AM  

    Wow! Nice job of informing and analyzing a "knee jerk" topic. Thanks for keeping it real. OFishzzzzz

  2. Anonymous // December 02, 2008 2:19 PM  

    "Was anyone here outraged when American-made Panoz chassis were not longer used in the series? Saddened, disappointed, concerned – sure, all of those."

    One point, there is nothing keeping anyone from entering a Panoz chassis. The reason no one is entering it is because Panoz is not supporting it anymore and a perceived lack of competitiveness, which is the same reason Riley & Scott chassis no longer ran in the IRL, circa 1999-2000 timeframe.

    (not to mention that the IRL Panoz chassis was a creation of British engineering firm a la the Penske chassis campaigned by Team Penske in CART for a long time. The Panoz was originally called a G-Force, a British car, and G-Force got bought by Don Panoz's group. So it was never really American to begin with. The only American part about it was the badge.

    I was visiting Indianapolis this past Thanksgiving and heard one of the ads from the Ethanol Council on the radio. And yes, it sounds stupid.

  3. Justin // December 03, 2008 7:04 AM  
    This comment has been removed by the author.
  4. Justin // December 03, 2008 7:08 AM  

    Hey has anyone contacted the League office to see exactly how many calls they are getting?? Also I don't see how this group considers themselves Conservative, they would support free enterprise if they truly were and understand that this is business decision to do more with money than anything else. What they want the IRL to subsidize ethanol by providing free exposure just like the government...Maybe I need a bailout from all this B.S.

  5. Anonymous // December 04, 2008 7:23 AM  

    I was wondering if anyone was going to contact the person behind that radio ad and ask what they thought of our Non American Engines/Chassis and our 95% Non American Drivers?? If we had to stop using all of those we would be left with... RHR, Buddy Rice, Danica, Sarah, Marco....hmmmm interresting :)

    - Christy