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.

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!

The real reason I love racing

aarwbasm Just a few days ago, I attended the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association annual awards banquet at the John Force Racing shop in Brownsburg, Indiana. It was an evening of race drivers and personalities intermingling with the media that cover them in a relaxed, social atmosphere and that got me to thinking.  Yes I enjoy watching the action on the race track but I really love the friendships I’ve made at the race track.

I’ve always said that when I was involved with CART in its glory years as a member of their radio network, I was part of a family.  We travelled together, we stayed in the same hotel together, we worked at the track together and sometimes we cried together.

While racing is what brought us all together, it was the camaraderie and sense of family that made 30 hour travels to Australia, 12 hour days in 105 degree temperatures in Brazil and Mexico, and sadly sometimes tragedy that made it all worthwhile.

I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that it’s friendships that make racing so popular.

I’ve gone through the infield at Michigan International Speedway where I’m one of the track announcers and talked to those that are camping there.  They talk about the racing but they also repeatedly talk about the friendships that have been forged.  Many are parked side-by-side and make the race their “reunion.”

It’s the same in the grandstands.  People who haven’t seen each other for 12 months but have seats next to each other renew their friendship at the track.  They show pictures of their families and share what’s gone on in their lives for the last year.  They’ll remember the time they spent with their once a year friends.

I’m off to Daytona in a few days for Speedweeks.  I wonder how many new friends I’ll have when I come home.