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.

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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.

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.

IndyCar, please stop the gimmicks!

DSC_0190 Desperate times require desperate measures I guess but IndyCar’s propensity for gimmicks over improved product and listening to the REAL fans of Indy car racing is driving me even crazier than I normally am.

First came the Indianapolis Motor Speedway changing qualifying rules AGAIN by saying you have to qualify TWICE to win the pole for the Indianapolis 500. (Read the story here)

Now in its infinite wisdom, IndyCar has decided that  crowning a series champion isn’t enough, they need a champion for the road/street circuit portion of their season, one for ovals, and then an overall champion! (Here are the details on this insanity!)

New CEO Randy Bernard says he did this to create more “major” races outside the Indianapolis 500.  What, saying they go for a “championship” make them “major?” Sorry dude, get a clue!

What makes a race major are the participants not the gimmicks.

The Indianapolis 500 became what it was (my opinion to use past tense) because of the men and women that raced there.  There was a time when the best-of- the-best raced at Indianapolis. Fans went to 16th and Georgetown because the heroes of racing from the USAC ranks, Nascar, Formula One and even road racing came to Indianapolis.  There was also the mixture of exotic cars. (Read previous post)

Not that long ago people were drawn to the races to see the likes of Rick Mears, Al Unser Sr. and Jr., Mario and Michael Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Emerson Fittipaldi, Nigel Mansell, Gil deFerran and so many more.  Hideki Mutoh just doesn’t do it.

What IndyCar fans want is great racing, great stars, great cars and an understanding of WHY they are IndyCar fans!

How about LISTENING to the fans. Not the ones that come to a race and barely know a race is going on because they are busy partying and schmoozing but the real fans that sacrifice their hard earned money and time to attend an event because it’s a passion to them.

I truly believe that the best days of Indy car type racing is in its past.  However, that doesn’t mean that IndyCar racing can’t become respectable and relevant again.  It just takes leadership that gets its collective head out of its ass Gimmicks just won’t do it.

Anyone seen Danica lately?

P2040032 We may have to put out an Amber Alert on Danica Patrick soon.  Somehow she has disappeared from the media horde that was following her every movement when she ran three Nascar Nationwide races at the beginning of the year.

Since that time, Danica has been involved in her “fulltime” job of racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series for Andretti Autosport.

In the four races she has run, all on street or road circuits which are suppose to be her strength, her best finish is 7th.  The other three, 16th,19th, and 15th.

It’s amazing how no one is reporting that but as soon as she comes back to Nascar after the Indianapolis 500 for a short stint, watch out!  The media will be acting as if she’s the next superstar of the sport even though her success on the track is very limited and has been for quite awhile..IF anyone would check.

Danica is a marketing phenomenon.  I think her description on the GoDaddy home page sums it up best– “Racing Star and Go Daddy Girl.”

You notice it didn’t say “race car driver” it says “racing star.”  There is a difference and right now Danica epitomizes that difference.

Oh, by the way, it’s been reported that Danica will be spotted this weekend at Kansas Speedway where the IZOD IndyCar series will be racing just in case you need your Danica fix.

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.