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.

The Daytona 500 once again “The Great American Story.”

I’m a sucker for a great story. To me, great stories are what make racing so interesting to me.  This year’s Daytona 500 had three of them.

Sam Cranston-Nascar llustratedThe first great story was that of Brian Keselowski. I’ve known Brian for several years and talk to him whenever I can at the race track.  I know how hard he works to stay in the sport he loves and how he struggles each and every week just to show up.

During the second Gatorade Duel at Daytona, Brian’s younger brother Brad, who is now a star Nascar driver for Roger Penske, pushed Brian into a qualifying spot for the Daytona 500.

Suddenly, the plain white car with the #92 on it and a crew of the driver, father and a friend were in the Daytona 500.

Roger Penske stepped up offering an engine. Ray Evernham, whose two year old chassis Keselowski was driving, offered to buy tires. During the first pit stop in the Daytona 500, the fueler from the A.J. Allmendinger Best Buy team did his normal job for Keselowski.  This indeed was the vaunted Nascar family at work!

63606742Then, in the Daytona 500, rookie Trevor Bayne in just his second ever Nascar Sprint Cup race, held off a hard charging Carl Edwards and won the race. This put the once dominant car owners the Wood Brothers back into victory lane after several years of struggles and even not qualifying for the Daytona 500.

Every fan in attendance at Daytona was up cheering the victory, no matter there driver allegiance. Even the media, who aren’t suppose to cheer, did because this was a great American story and showed perseverance by good people does pay off.

I got to sit down with Trevor Bayne, Eddie and Len Wood and crew chief Donnie Wingo the morning after the Daytona 500. They were all walking on air as well they should be for quite a long time.

I’ve talked to Brian Keselowski since he raced in the Daytona 500 and being involved in the “Big One” that ended his day early.  He’s back working on his car and trying to find that one extra dollar that can keep him on the track.  He’s still smiling and upbeat as he always has been even when his struggles seemed almost impossible to overcome.

The 53rd Daytona 500 may be remembered for it’s exciting finish but I’ll remember it more for the people and their story.

Is it time to shorten Nascar Sprint Cup races?

Everyone is trying to find an answer to Nascar’s declining television ratings. Some point to a dull Chase format, some to boring races and some to bad television production of Nascar races.

One idea that I like has actually been suggested by Fox Sports Chairman David Hill. (Here’s the story) His idea? Shorten all Sprint Cup races to fit into a 3 hour window with another one hour set aside for pre-race and post-race combined.

California finally caught on that 500 miles was too long there and shortened their race to 400 miles.  It turned into a better race.

Do we really need 500 miles twice at Pocono? 500 laps at a Bristol?

I would keep Daytona obviously at 500 miles, the 600 at Charlotte but everything else would be negotiable.

A NFL football game runs approximately 3 hours, a college football game about the same.  NBA game?  A little over two hours.  NHL? Two-and-a-half hours.

America’s attention span keeps getting shorter and shorter and maybe it’s time to fit the product to the audience.

One idea I’m not in favor of that Hill suggested is that many of the races move to Saturday night to stay away from going up against the NFL.

To me that forgets the person who is paying their hard earned money to attend the race as opposed to someone sitting in their La-Z-Boy at home.

Would I really want fans driving hours to go back home after a race ended at 10:30 at night? No matter what, fans that buy tickets must come first in any decision. They have earned that right by giving up not only money but their time to attend a race in person.

As I’ve said before, Nascar and its television partners can market the hell out of the racing but it still comes down to the product every week on the race track. Come up with a great solution to that and all will be well.

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.

Ringing out the old year

2010 was definitely an interesting year in auto racing.  Jimmie Johnson comes from behind to win Nascar Sprint Cup title #5 in a row. Dario Franchitti not only wins the Indianapolis 500 but he comes from behind to claim the IndyCar title. Chip Ganassi won the Indianapolis 500 as a team owner with Franchitti plus the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 with Jamie McMurray.  Oh, Chip also took the Grand-Am Rolex Series Daytona Prototype crown in dominating fashion with ageless Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas.  Those were just the top of the list in outstanding racing moments of the year in the United States.

The lowest moment may have been the pothole problem during the Daytona 500.  When your biggest event of the year turns into a stretch of Michigan highway (I believe we are the pothole capital of the world) that is not a good thing.

All in all, it was an enjoyable year.

Personally, I’d like to thank Daytona International Speedway, Michigan International Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway for hiring me in 2010 to be part of the their “at-track” voice.  Doing the PA work at those facilities allows me to have the best seat in the house, right above the start finish line and to be able to see every bit of race track.  It doesn’t hurt I also get plenty to eat and drink and I have air conditioning on those hot and muggy days.

Most of all, I’d like to thank all the race fans.  Without you, those three race tracks wouldn’t need my services nor would they provide the great racing we see each and every year. Considering the economy, many of you made a sacrifice to make it to the race track and for that I tip my hat.

I hope all of you have a great 2011 and we’ll see you at Daytona in four weeks with the smell of burning rubber and the roar of racing engines!

Time to end Driver of the Year in Nascar & IndyCar

Getty ImagesCongrats to five-time Nascar Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson for winning the “Driver of the Year” award for the fourth time in his career. However, he should never have gotten the award.

Here’s my thinking on this. Could Johnson have done anything he did on the race track without his team?

How many times during the year did we see his pit crew led by Crew Chief Chad Knaus make adjustments and repairs to his car that gave him either a chance for victory or a solid finish?

What about the engine builders, fabricators, engineers and a myriad of others back at the race shop that put in hours and hours of work to give Johnson a championship winning car?

The same can be said about those in the IndyCar series.  I’ve yet to see a driver win with a poorly handling machine in that series, especially on an oval.

I’m not saying that Jimmie Johnson in Nascar or Dario Franchitti the IndyCar Champion aren’t great drivers.  What I am saying is that they weren’t head and shoulders above everyone else.  What gave them their championship was the team.

Let’s change “Driver of the Year” to “Team of the Year.” As the saying goes “There is no I in team.”

Is Nascar suffering media overexposure?

Last time I asked if Nascar can be fixed.  Now I ask if part of Nascar’s problem is that it is overexposed.

Let me ask you this.  Is there anything that a fan DOESN’T know about Jimmy Johnson, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards or any other top Nascar driver?

Between all the media that is out there these days especially with the growth of social media, I think fans even know when their favorite driver has a bowel movement!  (Okay, that was a little more graphic than I probably needed to be.)

While some believe that to be great and want EVEN MORE information, I feel less might be the key.

There is no mystique left about today’s Nascar drivers.

Back in the day (okay, I admit I’m a fossil) we knew little about Richard Petty, Fireball Roberts, the Allisons, the Yarboroughs and many more away from the race track.

We knew just the basic details about their personal lives. However what we did know and that mattered most to us was that they could drive the hell out of a race car. It was that simple.

There was a mystique that surrounded them.  These men were tempting fate each time they got into a race car. We didn’t need to know they were going to the Caribbean to snorkel for a week of R&R!

If you need 24-hours a day of Nascar news and to know every little tidbit of information there is, then have at it. For me, I’ll just stay living in the Dark Ages.