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.

Two-wide restarts for IndyCar on ovals? What a joke!

IndyCar right now is looking for anything to generate a scintilla of excitement around a series which has lost much of its luster.  One new change that follows Nascar’s lead is for double-file restarts on oval tracks.

On paper, this sounds like a good idea.  However, paper is not reality.

Let’s look at what has gone on for at least 10 years under the “brilliant” leadership of Brian Barnhart, President of Competition and Racing Operations of the series shall we?

IndyCarThe Indianapolis 500 was always known for it’s three-wide, 11 rows of three “Flying Start.” All the rows would come off turn 4, perfectly lined up, and the green flag would fly. That tradition ended under Barnhart who has let the field start stringing out in TURN 3 BEFORE THE GREEN FLAG and be almost single file to start the race!

If these are the best drivers in the world, then let them come to the start of the race the way the great names in racing did! I guess Barnhart doesn’t’ have much faith in them.

This starting in turn 3 also took place at every other oval on the IndyCar Series schedule and also on every restart.

IndyCar says it is addressing that “situation” in its press release on the two-wide restarts.

When the field hears “green next time by,” the restart zone will be closer to the start/finish line and be identified according to each venue’s characteristics. On ovals, the restart area had been between Turns 3 and 4.

“It’s a fan’s expectation that it’s where the restart should take place. It should be an exciting change,” Barnhart said.”

You mean the fans actually expect the field to be on the main straightaway where they at least can see the start/finish line before restarting?  How novel an idea!

As I’ve said before, I’m a Neanderthal when it comes to the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar racing, but the problem isn’t tricks and marketing, it’s the racing..and gimmicks won’t cure the problem.

Déjà vu all over again?

By now you know that I worked with Championship Auto Racing Teams as a radio announcer during that series glory years of the late 80’s and through the 90’s.  I was there to see many of the mistakes that were made that ultimately led to the demise of a series that once provided the best racing in the world. IndyCar, far from providing that same level of competition, is beginning to follow the same path.

A few days ago I received a news release from IndyCar. It read: “INDYCAR, the sanctioning body of the IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will open an office in Santa Monica, Calif., to make further inroads into the media and entertainment industries.”

It went on to say “INDYCAR is in a unique position for growth that makes opportunities for integration into film, television, music and emerging media properties exciting. “

Excuse me? Anyone remember the God awful movie “Driven?” (BTW, you can hear me in that movie and I still say it should be banned from anyone viewing it again!”

Here we go thinking that the series is somehow full of “stars” that the entertainment world just wants to hear more about. The only reason anyone in Hollywood might even know IndyCar exists is because Ashley Judd is married to Dario Franchitti.

IndyCar’s problem is product and very poor officiating. Put rouge on a pig, you still have a pig.

CART thought they were the “elite” of the world and kept moving into the “wine and cheese” lifestyle presentation.  If IndyCar heads down that path they too will be doomed.

It’s not as much about putting butts in the seats every week these days as it is TV ratings where the big money is to be made. You can attract people to the “party” such as at Long Beach and Toronto, but can you get them to become real fans? An outreach to the Hollywood community isn’t going to do a thing to change that.

As I said, I’ve seen this road taken before and it leads to a  hubris that can only spell trouble.  Think you are bigger and better than you are and not work on improving the reality of the situation and you are doomed to failure.

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!

PT Barnum is alive and well with IndyCar!

Wahlberg-Andretti I am ready to go Rambo on the IndyCar series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway! First they keep trashing normal month of May traditions and now they will have a 34th car on the track coming to the green flag of the Indianapolis 500!

In their best PT Barnum impersonation, IndyCar is unveiling the “Izod Fastest Seat in Sports” at the Indianapolis 500.  This will be the series two-seater piloted by Michael Andretti with movie/television star and producer Mark Wahlberg as a passenger following the field to the green flag for the race on Sunday.  Oh, and Mario Andretti will be on the headset talking to them during the parade and pace laps. Here are all the details. (Click here )

THIS IS THE INDIANAPOLIS 500! WE DON’T NEED GIMMICKS AND SIDESHOWS!

Did I state that strong enough?  Let me repeat.  THIS IS THE INDIANAPOLIS 500! WE DON’T NEED GIMMICKS AND SIDESHOWS!

What brilliant idiot came up with this idea?  Why take away from what use to be the “Flying Start” to the Indianapolis 500?

I know some will applaud this move as “bringing in new fans” to the sport.  That’s not bringing fans into the sport, that’s amusing them like a YouTube video does.

One more move like this and IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 is going to turn off what is left of its shrinking died-in-the-wool fan base that has stuck with this type of racing through thick and thin. 

I’m done and now headed to Dr. Phil’s couch to get some much needed help to handle this abomination.

Does tradition really matter at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?

ims-centennial-sm Let me start by stating that I know I’m a Neanderthal when it comes to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500. I am guilty of being stuck in the past and see every change made around this iconic event as a travesty.

When the Indianapolis Motor Speedway added a Nascar event back in 1994 the Brickyard 400, I saw that as lowering the uniqueness of the Indianapolis 500.

When Formula One came to town with a road course being constructed and a lot of the infield area for fans including the infamous Snake Pit going away I saw that as a slap in the face.

When the “Flying Start” tradition of the Indianapolis 500 became the race starting in Turn three BEFORE the green flag dropped instead of rows of three coming down the main straightaway told me these no longer were the best racers in the world because they couldn’t do a start that had been done for years. (IRL decision to let them race before the green)

When the number of attempts a car could make in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 went from a total of 3 for the month of May to three attempts each day of qualifying meaning a team had 12 tries to make the Indianapolis 500 I was angry.

This year two days of qualifying made more changes.  Now you got three chances on Pole Day to make the “Fast 9” and then as many tries as one could get to improve your starting position and take the pole. They also limited the number of cars that could qualify on Day One to 24. To me those were gimmicks violating tradition.

I’m not the only one that believes the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been trampling tradition in its quest to regain its once revered position as “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser who has never been shy about giving his opinion on anything agrees many traditions around the Indianapolis 500 have gone by the wayside in the quest for “innovation.” I talked to Bobby on this week’s Pit Pass USA show on the PowerUp Motorsports Channel. (Listen to archived show here) He agrees traditions are quickly being eroded or eliminated and has his own ideas on how to turn things around which he shares as only Bobby can.

Again, I know I’m stuck in the past but have we gotten to the point where tradition doesn’t matter? Just how far can a tradition be “modified” and “modernized” before it’s nothing more than a marketing ploy? Is all of this making the Indianapolis 500 just another race with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway just another race track?

Those are questions I have with very few answers at this time.  I just know that to me the Indianapolis 500 and the Speedway aren’t as special as they once were and that makes me sad.

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