How IndyCar Is Like Trump: A Study In Showmanship


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IndyCar and The Donald share a number of things in common. They’re showy, worth billions of dollars, carrying momentum into 2016 and seeking the pinnacle of American success.

“How can they compare a racing series to a celebrity presidential candidate?” you’re probably asking yourself. The answer is with a great deal of alcohol and cabin fever while on a snowy getaway to the mountains. So, we’re chalking it up to the thin, wispy air and the booze having an unhinging effect upon the brain. Yeah, that’s it. But (half) seriously, you may be surprised at just how similar the two are.


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Undeniably, IndyCar and The Donald are both big proponents of fence building – and, crucially, making other people pay for it. Trump’s will be on the border with Mexico while IndyCar’s resides at IMS, a billion-plus dollar corporation currently refurbishing the Speedway with Indiana taxpayer dollars. It’s all in preparation for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in the latter instance, and due to 50 years of mass immigration in the former. People are lining up to pay for the construction of one wall, as ticket sales for the race are moving briskly. At the other wall, too, all sorts of people are lining up, though they’re not exactly paying customers – or waiting until Memorial Day to pay a visit.


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The two share another fundamental element in common and that’s dependence upon television ratings. Without television, both Trump and IndyCar would effectively cease to exist. Then pray tell, whatever would Marco do for a living? And Trump’s sons? Unlike Andretti, Trump drives ratings whether on “The Apprentice” bellowing “You’re fired!” or in Charleston bellowing at people who are sick and tired. Metallurgically speaking, he’s pure gold.


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IndyCar is similar, minus the popularity. It retains a veneer of celebrity, though it’s easily dented and scratched off. Chip Ganassi seems to be the figure in the paddock most similar to Trump – grandiose, frank to a fault, follicly challenged – although again minus the popularity. Imagine a Chip “reality” show. Ugh.


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No doubt the historic centennial 500 will drive up viewership, with the series already coming off a season of improved ratings. As for Mr. Trump’s ratings in May, they’ll probably still be pretty high then, too. Remember five years ago when Trump, the “true fan,” ended up backing out of driving the pace car at Indy amidst some controversy?


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Television ratings are crucial not only for visibility, but also profits – the thirst for which is yet another commonality between the series and The Donald. You don’t get to be a billionaire by giving stuff away. Those running IndyCar for the first time in history sold the presenting rights for the Indy 500, a profitable little sponsorship venture worth upwards of seven million dollars.

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Trump no doubt would’ve approved. Meanwhile, the billionaire’s running his campaign on the cheap, relying on the endless free media he generates and phoning it in. If only IndyCar could deal like that, tearing down NASCAR like The Donald did Jeb! and creating a tsunami like level of excitement at the unexpected juxtapositioning.


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Marvelously, both are sometimes guilty of letting their passions run away with them, often leading to erratic, embarrassing and even downright crude outbursts. See any news outlet, @RealDonaldTrump’s Twitter timeline and political “speeches” for numerous off-color examples. “He’s a pussy” and “bomb the shit out of them” leap to mind. IndyCar’s tantrums reach far fewer people and are arguably less consequential than a Presidential candidate’s, it’s true. But they’re no less outlandish, profane, garish or entertaining than those of the real Donald – occasionally even more so.


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The series could learn some valuable lessons from the unconventional candidate, as could we all. Rewriting the rules of media manipulation, Trump has somehow turned repeated political “f-bombs” of speeches into modern day Gettysburg Addresses. Producing several punchbowl turds, he’s generated conflict and controversy to no end, which drives ratings and in turn profitability and success.

None of this has been figured out yet by IndyCar – much less other candidates – as the series instead feebly apologizes for its f-bombs and – what’s worse – sheepishly acts as though their punchbowl doesn’t stink. On second thought, sometimes IndyCar more closely resembles Dr. Carson than Mr. Trump.


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IndyCar and Trump both proclaim they desperately seek winning, aiming at making a declining power great again. For both IndyCar and Trump, 2016’s gonna be one hell of a wild ride. After every such dizzying experience, inevitably follows the hangover. Investing too much of oneself and one’s happiness into anything or anyone so fallible, so prone to disappointment, so human is perilous at best.


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Napoleon often quipped, “If you wish to be a success in the world, promise everything, deliver nothing.” It’s been two centuries since his fall and everyone still knows who he was, due in no small part to promising everything and delivering nothing (or, at least, little that’s lasting). Therein lies the essence of true showmanship.


4 thoughts on “How IndyCar Is Like Trump: A Study In Showmanship

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