Why a lack of interest in auto racing in America?

Attendance is down in racing across America.  Television audience numbers are dwindling even for Nascar.  Everyone it seems has their own opinion on why and what the answer is.

My friend Michael Knight in his Spin Doctor 500 blog talks about the problem he sees.

John Daly through his The Daly Planet blog tackles what’s wrong on the TV side of things.

I’ll give my opinion on the TV coverage first.  I think it lacks passion.

Some will say that Darryl Waltrip has passion.  Possibly but it’s turned into just blabbing on and on and he’s also become a mouthpiece for the series.  Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

Same can be said over in IndyCar even with changes they have ahead.  No passion and no really delving into controversies or anything that might make the series squirm.

As far as fan attendance, no question the economy hurts. When the Motel 6 suddenly goes from $39.95 a night to $350 a night with a 3-day minimum, you have a problem.

However, I think another factor is at work.  Fans cannot relate to the cars they see.  We use to go to the race track and see cars we could drive.  Many were cars we dreamed about cruising in on the highway.

FerrariThat crossed my mind after seeing a huge crowd at the 12 Hours of Sebring.  The facility was packed and why?  They wanted to see Corvettes, Ferraris, Porsches, Jaguars, Aston Martins and Lamborghinis.

Car nuts dream about driving those cars and love seeing them in action. Fans wandered the paddock and because the way ALMS is setup, they got up close to those cars and could interact with team members including even drivers.

Chevy ImpalaWe all fantasize about being Mario Andretti (okay, my dream) and zooming around the race track in an exotic car. Hard to do that when watching a Ford Fusion, a Toyota Camry, Dodge Challenger or Chevy Impala . (The old Impala was a hot car, now it’s just a passenger car.)

This isn’t the only reason for the lack of interest in racing but when there is no emotional connection by the fans to the product, there is no reason to attend or watch on television.

Advertisements

My first 12 Hours of Sebring

032206224057Somehow I never had attended the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring until this past weekend. That changed after the American LeMans Series hired me to become the public address announcer for them along with the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama and the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Championship.  To say it was an experience wouldn’t do it justice.

Arriving at the track in Tuesday afternoon, I was immediately overwhelmed by the number of participants.  Almost 60 cars were on hand for the 12 Hours but that was just the beginning.  Add in excess of over 100 more in various series and it was race car junkie heaven.

Larry-pre race at SebringMy real eye-opening experience was race day morning for the 12 Hours.  I did the pre-race announcing from down on pit road and also on the track amongst a crowd of wall-to-wall fans. They were old, they were young and some so young they were in strollers.  Drivers were posing by their cars for pictures and interacting with the fans.

Once the race started the action on-track was non-stop and the same could be said in the infield.  Fans cruised in their vehicles slowly on the interior roadways.  They wandered the grounds.  In fact, thanks to cars going to and from the paddock, the fans would have to part to let frantic teams through to execute repairs.

032206230665At the end of the day, it was a sea of humanity around the podium where the top three finishing teams were honored.

I had the privilege of introducing all of the winners and then dashing away as champagne filled the air.  I never knew I was as nimble as I must have been because 60 bottles of champagne were sprayed and not a single drop hit me.

Around 12:30 in the morning Sunday I finally hit the bed for a few hours of sleep before heading to the airport in Tampa to return to Detroit.

I wish I could really give each and every one of you the same experience I had.  The adrenaline rush I had at the beginning of the day when I was standing in front of the pole winning Peugeot was incredible. The atmosphere memorable.

I may still be tired from long days and hot temperatures but I’d do it all again right now.  The 60th running of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring can’t get here fast enough!

What will 2011 bring?

Unfortunately I do not have a crystal ball nor can I read the future.  If I could, I’d be on a beach sipping those umbrella drinks after hitting the lottery. I do have some questions though as the 2011 racing season is about to get underway.

The top question, as it has been now for five years, can anyone dethrone Jimmie Johnson as the Nascar Sprint Cup Champion? The answer of course is yes they can but the second question is WILL they!

Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle would have to be my top four choices to have the best chance to do what seems impossible anymore. There are several others that could also come through.

Next, will the changes at Hendrick payoff in Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finally being competitive every week and break his two plus year victory drought? Don’t have a clue.

Over in IndyCar, will someone other than Penske and Ganassi battle for the series title?  The other teams are improving but have yet to prove they are in the league of the Big Two.

Speaking of Ganassi, does he dominate the Grand-Am Rolex Series Daytona Prototype class again? Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas were almost untouchable in 2010 and testing at Daytona for the Rolex 24 is showing they are just as strong right now.

Over in ALMS, I’m just having trouble keeping track of all the classes. Will it be Patron Highcroft for a third straight year taking the LMP crown?

The NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series had two great stories in 2010.  60 plus year old John Force coming from behind to claim his 15th Funny Car title and rookie L.E. Tonglet going from almost done for the season to taking the Pro Bike title. 

NHRA also had three tragic stories with the death of a fan and two drivers.

I have no clue who is going to claim the title in any of the 4 pro divisions but hopefully all four will be as competitive as Funny Car has been.

I am looking forward to kicking off the season taking in all the action at Daytona from the Rolex 24 through the Daytona 500 as I’m privileged to be part of the PA crew there.

Let’s just all hope that each and every racing series that we enjoy keeps us on the edge of our seats until the final checkered flag falls.

Happy Birthday to us!

image

n113908675882_1748-Big It isn’t actually my personal birthday but today does mark one year that has passed since the beginning of the PowerUp Motorsports Channel and Pit Pass USA being a part of it.

The channel was the brain child of Stefani Paulus. Stef, who has been around racing a long time (but not that long as she’s only 29!) went to Jeff Spenard the head man of Voice America and got him to commit to what has been our journey to this point establishing the PowerUp Channel as one of the top destinations for all forms of motorsports.

Larry with Dale Jr-1 I had one hell of a debut show last June 2nd. Newly crowned Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, “Dr. McDreamy” Patrick Dempsey, and the big one Dale Earnhardt, Jr. just hours after it was announced that his cousin Tony Eury, Jr. was out as his crew chief. You can listen to that interview by clicking here.

I can’t even list the different people that I’ve interviewed for Pit Pass USA during the last year but some of the ones I’ve enjoyed the most are the “little guys” of racing. That to me is a major part of what I try to do with this show.

Larry with Helio Castroneves Yes the big names are great but there’s a hell of a lot more grassroots racers out there than are in Nascar or IndyCar or NHRA or any of the major series. I hope I never forget those people because if I do, I will lose touch with the real racing in America.

 

I want to thank all of you for listening and supporting Pit Pass USA each and every week.  Because of your support, we’ve been able to grow and just a few weeks ago we were able to broadcast live before the Nascar Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Speedway.

Larry with Kyle Petty You are now following us on Twitter (@PitPassUSA) and going to our Facebook Fan page. (Pit Pass USA with Larry Henry) Many listen to the show in our archives at www.PitPassUSA.com or subscribe through iTunes. (Click here for feed)

Most of all, I want to hear from you.  Either drop me a note on the Facebook Fan Page or directly via email at LarryHenry@PitPassUSA.com I want this show to reflect your interests and not just mine.

If you have someone that you feel would be a great interview and the audience would enjoy hearing them, email me!  I want you to be my eyes and ears out there not only across America in racing but the world!

Larry with Chip Ganassi Indy team Tonite to kickoff the second year of Pit Pass USA with Larry Henry and the PowerUp Motorsports Channel I talk with now two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti, 2009 NHRA Funny Car Champion and winner of three events in a row Robert Hight, and Fox/Speed Nascar analyst Larry McReynolds.

It’s been a blast doing this past year and I look forward to many more here as part of the PowerUp Motorsports Channel.  Thanks again for making us one of the fastest growing spots on the internet and remember, The Best is Yet to Come!

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