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.

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.

Can Nascar be “fixed?”

A giant topic of discussion for the last several months has been the declining attendance and television audience for Nascar.

Attendance could be a direct correlation to the economy but the television ratings is the mystery.

Some point to the struggles of live television taking an event that has no time outs such as other sports do and trying to fit in those pesky but necessary commercials.  You will miss action on the track.

Others say it’s the pictures that television is putting on the screen.  That they focus too much on one car going round-and-round or maybe two cars thus not showing the real racing that is going on.

There is the lament that only a few drivers become the focus of the television broadcasts leaving over half the field with no mention what so ever unless they crash or retire from the race.

My Techie friends point to the lack of online video streaming, integration more of Twitter and Facebook during the race along with other technological enhancements.

Many have pointed to the Nascar Chase format in the Sprint Cup Series.

All play a role but I think the bigger problem is who really wants to watch a four hour race on TV?

Wait, you say a NFL game or a college football game runs at least three hours.  True but there is a new play every 30 seconds.  In Nascar, such as at Daytona and Talladega, they can play follow-the-leader for 30 laps or more.  Exciting stuff huh!

Danica Patrick brought some new fans to Nascar but how long are they going to stay as she continues to run at the back of the field?

Extreme motorsports star Travis Pastrana is about to make the jump to Nascar and even he admits that his fans probably won’t stay if he doesn’t do well.

Attention spans of the public are short. (140 characters on Twitter need I say more?) Nascar can be boring.  I many times watch the first 50 laps, go do something else, and catch the last 30. It is the nature of the beast.

So what is the answer on how to fix Nascar?  I don’t have a clue. Maybe, just maybe, the “newness” has worn off on the American sports fan and Nascar is reverting back to its original fan base and is that really a bad thing?

Happy Birthday to us!

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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!