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The NTT IndyCar Series field heads for the green flag at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. (IndyCar photo)

IndyCar Looks To Harvest Younger Audience

Indy car racing rode a wave of momentum in 2022 as the NTT IndyCar Series returned to the masses with an exciting on-track product. Heading into the new year, it is important for the series to harvest that momentum and continue to grow – while also working to attract a much younger audience.

By most metrics, IndyCar enjoyed a successful season last year as attendance was up at most of its races and television ratings continued to tick upward. Eight of the races on NBC drew more than 1 million viewers. The starting grid climbed to 25-26 cars for many of the races, the most since the 1990s.

For the 17th straight season, the series championship went down to the final race of the year.

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IndyCar hopes young stars such as Alexander Rossi (left) and Colton Herta will help attract younger fans. (IndyCar photo)

It was the first season that Penske Entertainment operated without any COVID-19 restrictions since the company purchased Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar in 2019.

“It’s great to have the anchor off,” Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles told SPEED SPORT. “Working with Roger Penske is a phenomenal experience. He is an ideal owner of these racing enterprises. He continued to invest in the series during the COVID years and now we can move that forward.

“He is very, very focused and doesn’t like to be distracted by things that aren’t the right priorities at that moment, but he is committed to growth. He is very forward thinking. We are looking farther ahead, and we are even looking at 2024. We are reviewing about how we spend our money. Can we be smarter about that? Can we take costs out so that we can invest more? What are we going to do promotionally?

“Roger’s stewardship and the movement to have 14 races on NBC have been the most impactful to our benefit.”

IndyCar experienced some of the benefits of Penske’s leadership in 2022 and how that can improve the stature of the series.

“Another thing that is huge is the television audience,” Miles said. “We ended up with a five percent average audience increase over last year at a time when you look at all the metrics in the industry and for the most part, it’s flat.

“Jon Miller (NBC Sports Group executive) not too long ago said, ‘At a time when flat is the new normal, up five percent is pretty good.’

“It is happening with linear television and we are also growing with streaming on Peacock,” Miles added. “Our social and digital metrics are all positive. We don’t have great, auditable numbers for our events, but it sure felt like to a great extent they were strong. They felt vibrant and in-demand and people wanted to be back and were knowledgeable and enthusiastic. The promoters did a good job for us in 2022.”

New partners also joined IndyCar and perhaps none made a bigger impact than Hy-Vee, a supermarket chain based in Des Moines, Iowa, that has more than 300 stores in the Midwest and Southeast. Hy-Vee revived the dormant Iowa Speedway and created a weekend-long celebration of speed and big-time entertainment — the Hy-Vee IndyCar Weekend on July 23-24.

Tim McGraw performed before the 250 and Florida Georgia Line took the stage after the race on July 23. The following day, Gwen Stefani performed before the Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300 with Blake Shelton entertaining fans afterward.

Iowa Speedway never looked better with capacity crowds jamming the facility despite temperatures topping100 degrees.

Penske Entertainment officials said the crowd for the weekend was well over 60,000 fans — much larger than any crowd that had ever attended IndyCar races at Iowa Speedway since the track opened in 2007.

“They are a fabulous partner and the tip of the sword was the Iowa doubleheader at Newton, Iowa,” Miles said of Hy-Vee. “They got involved first with a team at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and they are looking for other ways to be involved with IMS (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) and the series. A broader way to think about that is a year ago, we introduced the Grand Prix in Nashville. It was a phenomenal success, great market, big impact.

“This year, we added Iowa. If we can keep adding events with impact, I think that is helpful.”

Hy-Vee announced toward the end of 2022 an even bigger lineup of entertainment for this year’s Hy-Vee IndyCar Weekend.

Carrie Underwood will perform a one-hour pre-race show before the IndyCar event on July 21. After the race, Kenny Chesney will take the stage for 90 minutes. On July 22, Zac Brown Band is the one-hour pre-race concert and British star Ed Sheeran will perform for 90 minutes after the race.

Even with an increase in ticket prices, Hy-Vee and Penske Entertainment believe the festival-like atmosphere is a great way to promote IndyCar and bring new fans to the track.