Time for Nascar to look to small track America!

 

We all know that for roughly the last 8 years, Nascar has been the 2-gazillion pound gorilla of auto racing in the United States. There is no denying the dominance of the series on television, radio, newspaper/magazine coverage, and fan support.  However, the times they are a changin’.  (Apologies to Bob Dylan.)

 

Attendance started slipping at Nascar venues in 2007.  2008 saw empty seats on a regular basis every weekend.  Most pointed to the price of gasoline, which was over $4 a gallon.  Some pointed to the economy.  Some (and possibly rightly so) at the prevalence of HD plasma screens across America with surround sound that allowed fans to sit in their favorite chair and enjoy the same experience (minus the cost) to stay at home.

 

All of that probably contributed to the attendance decline.  One should also add in that the racing, especially on the Nascar Sprint Cup side, didn’t seem to be as exciting as it once was. (Can you say Brickyard 400?)

 

So what’s the answer “Mr. Know-it-all??  Simple, just look at short track America!

 

Why do I say that?  It’s because local small track promoters have had to fight Nascar for years.  If that wasn’t enough, the Big Kahuna of American auto racing decided racing on Saturday night under the lights would be a great thing.  (Especially to grab more television viewers.)  Of course Saturday night is the money night for many small tracks across this great land.

 

Instead of crying foul, which they had every right to do, small track promoters got creative.

Already as fan-friendly as a racetrack will ever be, small track promoters realized they were not in the racing business per se, but the entertainment business.  Racing was the big draw, but people expected more, they expected an experience.

 

This brought about more and more giveaways tied in with sponsors.  They came up with school bus figure 8 races, “Faster Pastor,” “Toilet races,” (nothing like seeing a motorized “throne” being raced!) and much more.  They also keep ticket prices low along with concessions.  Drivers come into the stands between races and talk with the people.

 

Most importantly, local track promoters try and get their programs over at a decent hour 10PM local time if possible, but no later than 11PM.  Parents, and those with a long drive appreciate that.  (Does a Nascar night race ever end before midnight local time or start before 3PM in the afternoon?)

 

Nascar also should take s look at teams in the NBA, NHL, and MLB to see what they are doing to bring in fans that want to hang onto their hard earned dollars.  I’m prejudiced, but Nascar could learn a lot from my friends at the Palace of Auburn Hills and the Detroit Pistons. (I’ve worked with the Palace and the Pistons in the past.)

 

With Big 3 layoffs rising, the Palace continues to sell out for the Detroit Pistons.  The reason?  Value and entertainment.  (www.DetroitPistons.com)

 

Nascar needs to get back to its roots both on and off the track.  They need to get off their private jets and helicopters going to and from the track and get stuck in traffic with the “regular” folks.  They need to sit in the stands with fans and talk to them with their ears wide open. They need to make their drivers do mandatory autograph sessions.  They need to end 8-dollar beer and 5 dollar hot dogs.  They need to think short track America!

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ARCA RE/MAX Series bucking the trend!

arca-logoLet me start by saying, I’m a big backer of the ARCA RE/MAX Series and I do not hide that fact.  I’ve gotten to know the people running the series including President Ron Drager over the last several years.  It does help the ARCA offices are just down the road in Tecumseh, Michigan, and that Ron also is an owner of Flat Rock and Toledo Speedways.  That however has nothing to do with this.

At the just concluded 3 day ARCA RE/MAX Series Daytona International Speedway pre-season testing, 62 different drivers took to the track!  That’s right 62 drivers!  I don’t think you’ll see that many try and qualify for the Daytona 500 in the Nascar Sprint Cup Series.

joey-loganoThe ARCA RE/MAX Series has been evolving in the last few years as more and more Nascar teams are using the series to get young up-and-coming drivers seat time.  That’s why Joey Logano, who takes over the #20 Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing was on-track in a Venturini Motorsports machine.  He wasn’t alone however as 5-time Daytona Supercross by Honda champion Ricky Carmichael was getting accustomed to running on four wheels instead of two.  How about 20 year old Port Orange, Flordia native Alii Owens?  She’s giving Daytona a go.

will-kimmel1Then there’s Will Kimmel.  He’s the nephew of 9-time ARCA RE/MAX Series champion Frank Kimmel.  He made his uncle proud as he posted the quickest time during single car runs at 180.977 miles an hour.

Those are the youngsters, but what is great about ARCA, they have a cadre of veteran drivers who are the heart and soul of the series.  Bobby Gerhart is looking for a sixth Daytona ARCA RE/MAX Series win.  There’s Patrick Sheltra, Terry Jones, A.J. Henriksen, Bryan Silas, Larry Hollenbeck, and Darryl Basham just to name a few of the guys that are there every weekend.

That’s what makes ARCA a fun series to watch.  The mixture of the young “soon-to-be” Nascar stars and the veterans, whose only aspirations are to win and be competitive against their peers in a series that allows them to enjoy their passion.

Also, ARCA runs at a lot of small tracks across America in addition to their races run in conjunction with Nascar.  They race each year at their home track of Toledo Speedway. There’s Salem Speedway, Berlin Speedway, Cayuga Motor Speedway, and DuQuoin Sate Fairgrounds, which is dirt! (Wouldn’t you love to see a Nascar Sprint Cup race on dirt!)

What’s great about those venues, the fans get to go down on the grid before the race and get autographs from the drivers who are by their cars !  Nascar says it is fan friendly. The ARCA RE/MAX Series backs up their words with action!

If you haven’t discovered the ARCA RE/MAX Series yet, let me invite you to watch the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 at Daytona February 7th beginning at 4PM ET on Speed.  I think you’ll be hooked on one of the best little secrets in American racing if you do.  I know I am!

A big shoe falls as 2009 Detroit Grand Prix cancelled!

logo-news-dbigpShock.  That’s the only word to describe what I felt when WXYZ TV in Detroit Thursday evening announced that the 2009 Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle was being cancelled. Not believing what I heard, I checked with my main Indy guy Robin Miller, who confirmed it, and moments later, a story appeared on-line at the Detroit Free Press.

Two years ago, Roger Penske brought back racing to Detroit and Belle Isle by spending at least 7 million dollars of his own money to turn what was a joke of a race facility into a crown jewel.  Fans came flocking back.  Both years Saturday and Sunday were sold out, but now the economy has done in even The Captain.

I’ve been proud to be part of the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix the last two years as the lead track announcer.  I was proud of what the facility on Belle Isle had become, world class.  I was proud that Detroit was able to shine worldwide on television with visuals that rivaled Formula One in Monaco.  Now, that is all gone.

This decision had to be one of the toughest that Roger Penske may ever have had to make. 

Roger has become the biggest cheerleader for beleagured Detroit that there is.  From first being the Chairman for Superbowl XL that through his leadership had even Detroit bashing media types singing the praises of Motown by the end of their stay here, to spending his own money with no hope of ever getting any back on the Detroit Grand Prix, Roger Penske has done his all for his adopted home.

Roger Penske doesn’t fail, or if he does, he makes sure it doesn’t happen again..  The only time I can remember of failure was at Indianapolis when his cars shocked the world by not qualifying for the 1995 Indy 500.  He didn’t get a chance to overcome that failure until 2001 thanks to the CART/IRL split and only had his cars finish 1-2 in his return to the Brickyard.  I’m hoping history repeats itself and in 2010 Roger Penske triumphantly announces the return of the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.  Until then, thanks Roger for not giving up on Detroit.  We won’t give up on you or the Grand Prix.

STATEMENT ON DETROIT GRAND PRIX CANCELLATION

DETROIT, Mich. (December 19, 2008) – Officials for the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix announced today that the 2009 event will be postponed due to the difficult economic conditions prevalent in southeast Michigan and across the nation. 

“The economic environment that our region, state and country faces, both today and in 2009, is difficult,” said Roger Penske, Chairman of the Downtown Detroit Partnership. “It is unfortunate that we must postpone the 2009 Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix as sponsorship opportunities and support has proven to be very challenging for the event in the near term.” 

The Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix has brought tremendous benefit to Belle Isle Park and to the region since the event returned world-class auto racing back to the Motor City for the first time in more than six years in 2007. Both the 2007 and 2008 races established themselves as one of Detroit’s most popular summertime events, featuring both the American Le Mans Series and the IndyCar Series. 

Over $7 million in infrastructure improvements have been made to Belle Isle since the return of the Grand Prix, including the paving of roadways, repairing or replacing damaged lighting and drainage, landscaping, the renovation of the Belle Isle Casino and Scott Fountain and the installation of pedestrian bridges, children’s playgrounds and irrigation systems on the island.  

According to a joint study conducted this year by the event and the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau (DMCVB), the Grand Prix generated over $55.2 million in economic impact for metropolitan Detroit in 2008 and another $12.8 million in direct spending throughout Detroit and its surrounding tri-county area. 

This year’s study by the DMCVB also revealed the Grand Prix helped attract thousands of visitors to the area as 28% of event attendees came to Detroit from outside the tri-county region and 52% of those visitors came from outside the state of Michigan. 

“I want to thank all of the fans that have supported the 2007 and 2008 Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix events,” said Bud Denker, Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix Event Chairman.  “Over 100,000 people attended each of the past two Grand Prix races and we are hopeful we can extend the excitement of world-class racing on Belle Isle in the future. We also want to thank the City of Detroit, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the City of Windsor for their partnerships. The Grand Prix would not have been possible without the support of more than 50 corporations including Bridgestone/Firestone, Bosch, Comerica Bank, General Motors, Meijer, Caesars Windsor, Charter One Bank, Pepsi, MGM Grand Detroit and many others. Finally, the over 1,000 Grand Prix volunteers were the best ambassadors of any race in North America and we say thanks to them. If the economic conditions improve, we hope to be able to bring the event back to Detroit in the summer of 2010.” 

The Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix is a 501(c)3, non-profit corporation and a subsidiary of the Downtown Detroit Partnership. 

Further information on the future of the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix will be announced in 2009 and will be found at the event’s official web site, www.detroitgp.com.

America’s Short Track Survival

I love short track racing and I’m not talking about Bristol or Martinsville, or Richmond.  In fact, I’m not talking Nascar at all.  I like local short track racing, America’s real racing and the backbone of the industry.

I grew up in southern Indiana and my family liked going to races at several of the dirt tracks near our home.  We got to see a lot of “jalopy” races and a ton of USAC midgets and sprints since they were based in Indianapolis.  They were always fun to go to and the excitement? Well well, you didn’t want to turn away.

I advanced from those days to being a part of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network and helping to broadcast the Indy 500 from 1980 through 1995.  I then spent several years with CART doing the same.  In recent years, I’ve been the track announcer at Michigan International Speedway and the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.  I worked the PA this past summer for the Daytona July Nascar/GrandAm weekend.

Those are fun and exciting yet I still get just as much enjoyment watching the “local” guys and gals go door-to-door at short tracks here in Michigan, where I now live.

There’s been a lot of discussion in recent weeks about the survival of Nascar, cutbacks in the American LeMans Series, motorcycle racing, and more.  Not discussed, America’s short tracks and how they are doing in these tough economic times.

Flat Rock SpeedwayI called up my good friend Scott Schultz who is the General Manager of Flat Rock Speedway, a quarter-mile paved oval in Flat Rock, Michigan, (Ford builds the Mustang there,) and Toledo Speedway, a half-mile paved oval in Toledo, Ohio.

Toledo SpeedwayHere’s our conversation.    Interview with Scott Schultz

More trouble for Nascar

Time to put on the "thinking hat" for Nascar

Time to put on the "thinking hat" for Nascar

I hate to keep hammering on Nascar and the trouble that group is in (see previous post) but it would seem it is getting worse than just the situation of the Big 3.

Ad Age has a story today on “Sponsor exodus from Nascar” 

It’s not as if we haven’t seen this as the smaller Nascar teams in Sprint Cup are struggling, Nationwide teams only get sponsors if they are using Cup drivers, and the Camping World Series is on life support when it comes to sponsors. (Just look at series champ Johnny Benson with no sponsorship on-board!)

The Advertising Age story only covers the tip of the iceberg.

Alltel is probably gone at the end of the season as they are in the middle of a merger. AT&T is going bye-bye. 

Who wants to really spend millions upon millions of dollars without return on those dollars in multiples of the investment?

Sponsorship is more than slapping your company’s name on the car and the driver.  Activation of that sponsorship with TV commercials, displays, die-casts, T-shirts, and so on, doubles the dollars on sponsorship.  Anyone have that kind of money in today’s market?

What’s the answer?  I really don’t know.

I’ve been around racing long enough to know that if an owner/team has one extra dollar lying around they’ll spend it on something to improve their performance.

As I’ve stated before, it’s time for a meeting of all the “shareholders” in Nascar.  That’s the France family and their corporate execs sitting down with team owners, drivers, representatives from the crews, car companies, sponsors, and maybe even a few fans.  No idea should be off the table.

Just like Congress call for the Big 3 to “reinvent”themselves, Nascar needs to do the same thing before they are asking the taxpayers for a bailout.

Can Nascar survive in 2009?

Nascar LogoInteresting topic headline right?  Well, those of you that say”absolutely Nascar will survive,” be prepared for a dose of reality.

I live in the Detroit metroplex and have done so for the last 20 years.  I follow what goes on at General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler.  The local newspapers, TV and radio stations have stories on the Big 3 daily in good times and definitely now in bad times.  And one thing I can tell you, it is not BS that Chrysler could be out of business within a handful of months along with General Motors.

What those idiot people in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives heard the last several days is the absolute truth.  Sales are on a big decline, but not because the car companies don’t make cars that Americans want to buy, but that the credit market isn’t giving loans to anyone.  Hard to buy a car with no money isn’t it.

So let’s say Chrysler and GM file bankruptcy.  Anyone think the millions of dollars they pour into Nascar is going to stay around?  Nope, it’s gone, and with it lots of financial help to a lot of teams, especially on the GM side.

Can those teams survive without money from the Big 3 and the engineering help they also give? 

In the Dodge camp, Penske Racing will survive, they’d just switch to Toyota.  I can tell you for a fact though, that they are watching every nickel they spend in all of their racing endeavours very closely and are trying to stay away from laying off personnel.  Gillette-Evernham?  That comes down to how much money does Mr. Gillette want to throw at the situation.  Petty Enterprises?  Probably down to one car, if they somehow stay afloat.

In the GM family, Hendrick and Childress can survive, but probably would have to cut some more personnel.  Stewart-Haas?  Major blow to Tony’s efforts at building that team.  DEI?  That group is in trouble already and merging with Ganassi, while should be economy of scale, might not be enough. 

Those are the big players, the small teams, they might not survive, or only show up for Daytona and a handful of races in the season.

Ford, because they have only 8 cars and have restructuredtheir efforts, should be okay, but no question that the Wood Brothers are on the brink of closing shop.  Whose to say however, Ford couldn’t go belly-up?

I haven’t mentioned Toyota, because they are okay, AT THE MOMENT!  Their November sales dropped more than Fords and they spend like drunken sailors in Nascar.  (No offense meant to drunken sailors.)

However, I’m sure back in Japan they are beginning to eye cutting back on the huge outflow of money.  I think you’ll see Toyota cut back to funding and helping only a couple of teams in the Nascar Camping World Series possibly at some point this season.

So what does this all mean?  It means Nascar needs to start helping to subsidize teams with the billions they’ve pulled out of the sport in the last decade.  Purses that teams take home from each race don’t even cover the basic costs of the weekend.  They lose money just by racing!

Nascar needs to have a marketing department that works with teams of all sizes to help acquire sponsorship of any kind.  One race deals, three race deals, whatever they can get for these guys and gals.

What Nascar has to realize, just like Congress should with the LOANS NOT BAILOUTS the Big 3 are asking for is that they are all in this together, and they must work together for a common goal of allowing Nascar and the thousands that rely on it for their livelihood and their racing enjoyment to survive.

I need some racing!

What happens without any racing!

What happens without any racing!

It’s now almost a month since the major racing seasons all came to an end with Ford Championship Weekend for Nascar at Homestead-Miami Speedway.  While the break is nice, I need my fix of auto racing!

How can one have a smorgasboard of racing to choose from Nascar, IRL, GrandAm, ALMS, F-1, USAC, World of Outlaws, and on and on to absolutely NOTHING! 

Why not a series based in South America or Australia getting some TV time?  I know the V-8 series in Australia that gave us Marcos Ambrose has some absolutely fantastic racing.  Get a couple of Americans to head “Down Under” and participate.  Speed has got nothing else to put on the air, so bring it to us!

Now, with no testing at Daytona, we’re kind of stuck until the beginning of February without any major racing activity in the US.  That’s almost 3 full months without breathing exhaust fumes, sniffing burning tire rubber, and having a few cold ones with some fellow fans.

Someone in the U.S. is missing a golden opportunity to fill the void from mid November to the beginning of February with racing that would at least let us “addicts” have a chance of restoring purpose to our lives. I mean, we actually now have to talk to members of our own family and do all those “Honey do” projects we put off because there was racin’ on the tube or in person!  This is America, WE NEED OUR RACING 365!