The Future of Racing in the United States

Peter DeLorenzo wrote about the future of motorsports on his Autoextremist.com blog two weeks ago. This week he writes about the dwindling interest in NASCAR and how that sanctioning body needs to change its “expansion perspective” to a tamer “roll-back and hold” strategy.

Dead on, DeLorenzo.

I said, while doing project work for Vintage Motorsport Magazine, that the “future of motorsport is in its past”. I really don’t want to feel that way. But there are reasons why the fans are looking backward to a more gilded age.

The largest dedicated and growing attendance I have seen lately is at Vintage races. We live in an era where the paradigm shifts are coming faster and faster–and sport needs to keep up. Can-Am cars are still viable by today’s standards because there were very few rules in that series. It might behoove racing to go back to that formula–not Can-Am necessarily, but Can-Am inspired development to the very heights of engineering and human ability.

Looking at the state of just about every major racing series, the sanctioning bodies are in touch with their audience about as much Washington Politicians are with the voters. But hey, NASCAR just announced it will be switching to Fuel Injection on the Cup Cars in 2012. Congratulations NASCAR, you now have successfully advanced your sport to the last quarter of the last century. However, adding fuel injection will be a more electronic version of restricter-plate based racing as NASCAR can dial in and seal the fuel system for each track.

Go to a car show these days. Old men, old cars. Go to an IMSA or Grand-Am race, the youngest people in the crowd are 30-somethings. You can talk about the Hundreds of millions who tune in to F1 and World Rally Championship–but we are talking about the US and its particular future in racing. Consider though that even F1 is not sustaining itself the way it has in the past by discussions of spending caps, testing restrictions and promoters who have failed in trying to put on the events.

The state of the younger generation is made up of ADD, a-literate, electronic data junkies who hardly leave their screens to pee. They are texting instead of dialing. The split between the IRL and CART may have been the beginning of a hole that just keeps getting bigger. But what needs to be done to excite the next generation? The human need for competition still exists. But the combination of old, limited automotive technology, dry corporate talking head drivers with the personality of my coffee cup (actually my coffee cup may have more) and spec-styled development are not going to advance interest from a generation that could care less about even getting a drivers license.

Racing’s egos need to move aside and become much more interactive and interesting to the common fan. I know, lots of people say this–but what really has been done? This may sound unrealistic, however watch the Feature Film Speed Racer sometime. I would go see (heck, even pay to see) that kind of racing–and so would the youth. Believe it or not–we have the technology to make that type of motor racing happen today, loop-de-loops and all.

One of the most ludicrous promotions that I have seen in the last several years had to be the Gene Simmonz (KISS) strategic partnership with the IRL. While I respect the man as a phenomenal marketer, I was wondering what his involvement had to do with the price of tea in China??? What racing needs is a Steve Jobs-type to give fans what they did not realize they needed–then wondered how they ever lived without it. Is there somene out there with that kind of connection to sport and the people?

The other major attraction to racing has classically been the specter of death that hung over every car that left the pits. In this day and age, the only time you get mainstream coverage is when something horrible happens. Real risk-beyond the financial, has largely been removed from the top levels–and sadly so has the interest. Now I am not saying that someone needs to die to make the sport exciting, but it has become very sterile to the point where watching bumper cars at Kiddieland has the same appeal as modern motor sport.

Hemingway once said that there were only three real sports: Bullfighting, Mountain climbing and motor racing. The rest are just games. Can we still say this?

Believe me–I am on the side of survival and even thriving of the sport. But at the moment, unless there are some radical changes, racing will become the rolling museum I see at vintage weekends.

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