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.

IndyCar and SMI “dis” the Indianapolis 500

Many IndyCar fans and even long-time journalists are applauding the recent announcement by IndyCar and Las Vegas Motor Speedway (SMI) of a 5 million dollar bonus to any non IndyCar regular that would win the season-ending race at that track.  I say it’s a smear against the Indianapolis 500.

If the Indianapolis 500 is your marquis event of the season, why then does a piddly season ending race pay almost twice as much to win as does the Indianapolis 500? (Dario Franchitti took home 2.75 million this past May for winning “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”)

The reason is simple.  Bruton Smith, the man behind SMI and LVMS along with IndyCar want to try and bring interest to a race that won’t come close to selling out without something big. (Don’t look for a sellout even with this.)

If there is to be a bonus for a non-regular, why not Indianapolis?  Maybe they could get some of the great names of racing who at one time made it to Indianapolis to race once a year return? And is a bonus for an outsider really fair to those that work hard every week?

I know it’s a very long shot for a non-regular to win at LVMS but to me it makes no sense to pay someone more for winning that race than the Indianapolis 500.  Oh and throw this in.  The season champion that runs all of the IndyCar events only gets a 1 million dollar paycheck.

IndyCar has gotten so desperate to survive with its declining fan base and driver recognition that they are more than willing to do gimmick after gimmick with SMI.

I refuse to drink the Kool-aid and sadly this just confirms my belief that the Indianapolis 500 has now become just another race in the IndyCar season.

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.

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.

Nascar’s Diversity Program? Take a look at open wheel!

Nascar has been touting it’s “Diversity Program” for several years now.  Has anyone seen an influx of women, African Americans or Hispanics into the sport?  Not me.

Now, look at open wheel racing, especially IndyCar and its little sister the Firestone Indy Lights Series.

DaytonaDanicaPatrick-1.jpg We all know Danica Patrick of course.  She however was just one of FOUR women that started the IndyCar season opener just over a week ago in Brazil. 

 

 

Milka Duno

There was Milka Duno.

 

 

 

Simona photo

Simona De Silvestro 

 

 

Ana Photo

and Ana Beatriz Figueredo who happened to finish 13th. (Danica finished 15th)

 

 

 

Sarah Fisher-photo

Sarah Fisher will  race in the IndyCar Series this year on the ovals but she is also a team owner.

 

That’s five women in IndyCar!

Pippa Mann Photo

Now in the Firestone Indy Lights, Pippa Mann is in her second year. 

 

Carmen Jorda photo

And add in Carmen Jorda.

 

 

7 women in the top two open wheel series in the United States.  Nascar has only Billy Jo Cobb trying to race fulltime in the Nascar Camping World Truck Series.

I haven’t even got into all the nationalities and ethnic backgrounds of the drivers in open wheel both female and male.

Maybe it’s time for Nascar to give more than just lip service to its diversity program and put its money and weight where it’s mouth is.

A sad day in auto racing

logo You may or may not know this, but the Atlantic Racing Series has gone dark.  Yes, the economy has stopped cold one of the great developmental racing series of the last 30 years or so.  You can read more here.

I got to know the Atlantic Series very well during my days with CART Radio.  I saw many of the young drivers that were on their way up the ladder such as Indianapolis 500 winner and Atlantics champion Buddy Rice, Patrick Carpentier, A.J. Allmedinger, Alex Barron, Scott Goodyear, Jimmy Vasser, Jacques Villeneuve and Danica Patrick to just name a few.

The Atlantic Series was very rich in its history and diversity of drivers.  It was a proving ground that gave many young racers the skills they needed to be at the top of their craft.  Now, that series is in mothballs.

I’m very saddened by this but it is just a sign of the times.  With the economy the way it is worldwide, I’m afraid more and more of the secondary series will disappear just like the old Trans-Am Series did and who can forget Can-Am which was an unbelievably great series.

Hopefully the Atlantics will return.  I know there are many like me that are wishing the same thing.  Until then, we have our memories.

(NOTE-Longtime Atlantics Communications Director Anne Roy will be a guest on Pit Pass USA Tuesday 3-16 at 8P ET Listen here )