It's been said, "To make a small fortune in racing, you must start with a large one.” During last week’s Scottsdale Auction Week, this was never more apparent as the biggest name in American open-wheel racing came begging at the Gooding & Company Auction and went away with less than he started.
In what might have been the most creative “sponsorship scheme” in the history of motorsport (next to the Caterham Formula One team’s “crowdfunding” at the end of the 2014 season), Michael Andretti and his team, Andretti Autosport, put their 2014 Indianapolis 500-winning Dallara chassis on the auction block. But the auction came with a hook.
You buy it today and Andretti gets to keep it—and enter it in races—for two more years. He then gives you a fully “restored version”, sans the leased and sealed Honda motor, in the 2014 Indy 500 trim. In other words, you buy the car in 2016 and take delivery in late-2018—left with something you can hang on your living room wall—if the studs are strong enough.
Naturally there are benefits: Andretti said, “Your company name can appear on the car; you are entitled to passes to each race—including hospitality; and you have the ‘ownership experience’ within the team”—whatever that is….
Cars with provenance from the Indianapolis 500 definitely have value. At least during the years that the world’s biggest race was a place where innovation ruled the day. Who can forget the Cooper Climax, a rear-engined European racer, going up against the roadsters in 1960? It changed the game. How about the Andy Granatelli Turbine cars? Or the Parnell Jones-driven Willard Battery Special, the Jim Clark winning Lotus, or a host of other interesting cars that graced the yard of bricks?
Even so, few Indy Cars, even with provenance, can claim the minimum $600,000 that Andretti Autosport sought for the bright yellow open-wheeler. Generally a used CART or IndyCar rolling chassis are bought and sold for around $30-50K. IndyCar Racing is currently a “Spec” series. The cars are cookie cutter, winner or not.
Friday’s and the result—a “no-sale”—certainly put the state of IndyCar Racing out there in public for everyone to see: The series is showing signs of an abysmal failure with little or no future. It becomes obvious as attendance at events other than Indy and Long Beach is almost an anomaly.
All in all, it is hard to blame Michael Andretti. He comes from the most prolific family in American racing and has spent a great deal of his life in the shadow of his father, Mario, who has literally won everything on four wheels. He came up in a team that was better than anyone in garnering sponsorship—Newman Haas. Having the Andretti name and Paul Newman associated had a bolstering effect, however the marketplace and its fans have changed drastically.
There were many “planning failures” that led to the embarrassment that was the Andretti-Gooding sale. Worst of all was the venue for such a “sale”: Gooding & Company has a smart, ultra-rich clientele that can sniff out bullshit and seemed to be too busy watching the stock market. Gooding are there for world class collector cars that they will one day see appreciation. A win for them was representing three of Jerry Seinfeld’s many cherished Porsche’s in the upcoming Amelia Island Auctions.
The proper venue for this “celebrity” appearance would have been Barrett-Jackson, a more lifestyle-oriented event that still appreciates racing and star-power. Consider an appearance by Burt the "Bandit” Reynolds, brought over $500,000 for a 1977 Pontiac Trans-Am movie promotional car.
The $600,000-$750,000 estimate on the Andretti-we-need-a sponsor-sale might have flown there—maybe. But the top bid of $425,000 at Gooding (not even close to the reserve, and questionable at that) is a sure-fire sign that someone needs to go back to the drawing board. Probably IndyCar.