The Hunter-Reay conundrum

Posted by Iannucci | 3/10/2009 | 13 comments »
Bookmark and Share

As I noted a few days ago at Silent Pagoda, every year there is a driver who lays claim to the Throne of Injustice, being the obvious recipient of innumerable exclamations of "Why doesn't HE (or SHE) have a ride?" This year that person is Ryan Hunter-Reay, who in addition to his obvious skills has the distinction of being (1) American, (2) personable, and (3) the only driver to have won a race in CART, Champ Car and the IndyCar series. And if Justin Wilson is all set in stone with Dale Coyne, Ryan is also is the only race winner from last year to remain unemployed.

So there is no shortage of reasons to lament his omission from scheduled list of drivers, but none of which really requires that someone *cough*TonyGeorge*cough* step up and open the pocket book to buy the man a ride. Logic dictates if a driver is worth the six meeeeeeellion dollars (or whatever it takes to fund a full season ride) then certainly someone somewhere would see that value any pony up the cash. Consequently, if no one is stepping up then the value for Ryan - or any other unemployed hotshoe - just ain't there.

But perhaps Ryan is a different story. Let's let Robin, no stranger to pounding the podium with his shoe in shock and outrage, make the case for why Ryan may in fact be worth six million.

IZOD is poised to launch one of the largest advertising and promotional campaigns in the Indy Racing League's 14-year history.

Beginning in a few weeks there will be a national television spot, promo trailers in movie theaters, ads in major magazines and newspapers and in-store promotions at Macy's stores across the country that will also include a special Indy 500 clothing line.

It's estimated several million dollars in media value has been budgeted for this project. But there is a little snag in clothing line's plan to take Indy-car racing to the mainstream. No, make that a big snag. The guy they put all the promotion behind, the guy in the TV commercial, the guy in the print ads and the guy on the 90-foot billboard in Times Square doesn't have a ride for the 2009 season.
That guy, as you may have guessed, is Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Now personally, I haven't bought any IZOD products since they closed the Miller's Outpost at the mall back around '89, so my first impression is that this company signed on with Ryan without understanding that his Ethanol-related contract was not renewed for 2009. I believe political wonks call that a failure in vetting.

But, of course, there's still more. A recent interview with Ryan at Desoto Champ Cart Series revealed that this IZOD deal is actually for three years which means someone is seriously committed to putting an IndyCar driver out front and center to the world to see. In trying to recall the last time a driver not named "Danica" was featured in a National ad campaign of any kind I remembered Sarah Fisher in a AAMCO commercial for a year, and before that Tony Kanaan in a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup ad for less than that, and...well, suffice it to say three year-campaigns with IndyCar drivers just don't grow on trees.

And that may prove to be the difference here in whether or not Ryan gets a seat. I don't know where a second car magically appears - the usual suspects are HVM, KV, and of course, Vision Racing - but given all this it certainly appears Hunter-Reay stands an above average chance of racing at St Pete in a few weeks. Then again, if he doesn't make the field, those IZOD people are going to feel more than a little ill.

Photo courtesy of


  1. Anonymous // March 11, 2009 6:35 AM  


  2. The American Mutt // March 11, 2009 1:53 PM  

    Just for shits and giggles I did a comparison of Milka and Sarahs driving averages. I compared Sarahs 07 run with D&R to Dunos 08 run with them, and this is what I came up with. I didn't factor crashes into the averaging for the record. Sarah had three Milka had four--and in Sarahs defense that's three crashes in much more races. FOR THE RECORD I LOVE SARAH FISHER. She's the reason i got back into Indy racing, but are the facts on the ground. I compared the averages of the same six races that both Sarah and Milka did in the same car, where they didn't crash. Sarah had an average finish of 13.6 and Milka had an average finish of 17.6. However, Milka ran against a 26-28 car field and Sarah ran against an 18 car field. Just sayin'. Pressdog, feel free to beat me now.

    For the record I know Sarahs a better driver, but I'm making a case that Milka isn't as bad as everyone makes her out to be.

  3. The American Mutt // March 11, 2009 1:55 PM  

    Oh, and for the record Sarahs average was greatly helped by finishing seventh at Iowa, but she was still the last car running.

  4. pressdog // March 11, 2009 2:39 PM  

    One of the problems here is the IRL has many sponsors. So if they bend over for IZOD, then maybe some of the other sponsors are, "Hey, I think we'll just do a motorola campaign that has Danica in her fire suit and shows her car all over the place. And we'll use the money we put into her team to fund that marketing campaign. So we'll be expecting the IRL to pony up to keep Danica on the track." RHR is a great guy and all, but seems to me the issue of fairness to other sponsors has a place here. Also don't forget the possibility that IZOD speed-dialed Robin to put pressure on the IRL. That's call the "Kanaan Move."

  5. Seth // March 11, 2009 5:09 PM  

    How is the IRL bending?

    There is a difference here, Pressdog. It appears that IZOD plans on centering a major marketing campaign around IndyCar and using IndyCar heavily in their advertising. In your argument, what other major companies are doing the same thing? Other than showing Danica, who is typically just in a driver's suit, what other major company is featuring IndyCar in the marketing? Ever walk into Target and see Scott Dixon? Have fun finding anything about IndyCar on their website without using the search function. I've never walked into the 7-11 down the street and seen Tony Kanaan.

    Point is...if Target wanted to put a major push on IndyCar and Scott Dixon needed a ride, you don't think they'd help find him one?

    The problem is IZOD should have just sponsored the damn car.

  6. Anonymous // March 11, 2009 6:52 PM  

    Since when did Hunter-Reay turn into Wayne from "Wonder Years?" Has he ALWAYS looked like that?

  7. pressdog // March 11, 2009 6:58 PM  

    Seth, so if Target says we're pulling our sponsorship money out and instead are going to use it to "center a major marketing campaign around IndyCar and using IndyCar heavily in their advertising" then IndyCar would be expected to find Dixon and Dario rides too? You have to worry about what companies WILL do in reaction to your decision, not just what they have done or currently propose to do.

  8. The American Mutt // March 11, 2009 7:21 PM  


    Good point, but one has to wonder if this were in the works all along. They've expected RHR to be in a car all along. Why would they have any idea that Ethanol would pull their sponsorship?

  9. The American Mutt // March 11, 2009 7:24 PM  


    They don't sponsor a car because they want to market to non indy fans. Why exactly they see that as a good business strategy is beyond me, but through working retail I've come to realize that most corporations don't actually seem to know how to run their businesses well.

  10. Carrie // March 11, 2009 8:09 PM  

    P-dog: In any normal league sponsorship, if such a thing exists, I'd agree with you 100%. The problem lies in the fact that, by most accounts, it was the IRL that pushed Ryan on IZOD in the first place as the guy to hang their promotion on.

    Because of those circumstances, I think it is reasonable to expect the league to take much more of a responsibility in making sure Ryan has a viable ride.

  11. Anonymous // March 12, 2009 5:38 AM  

    I remember that last year in March when Target said they were going to "limit the IRL sponorship program" they were told stay since you are a US company and you will be rewarded.
    I am willing to bet anyone $100 Dixon and Target does not have 1/2 the year he had last year.

  12. Anonymous // March 12, 2009 7:15 AM  

    And to think, we all could have avoided this wringing of the hands and Miller's bi-weekly airing of the grievances with a more synergistic Ed Carpenter/Carthart deal.

    Hey Terry Angstadt, need some p/t help?

  13. Anonymous // March 12, 2009 7:15 AM  

    * Carhartt