Almost everyone has heard of Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping
Beauty and Snow White. They are some of the most famous tales in the
western world. But the open wheel racing world in North America has some
tales of their own, the two most popular are: 1) if we had only one
series open wheel would return to its former glory instantly, and, 2)
people prefer NASCAR because they do not know open wheel racing even
exists. Just like the tales created by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, they are
Let's explore the first tale, if we had only one series open wheel would
be an instant success again. This I believe is the most dangerous tale
out of the two. People who believe in this tale are certain that if one
of the two series disappeared (Champ Car or IRL), or a merger occurred,
open wheel racing in North America would magically return to its former
glory. Yes, the split hurt open wheel racing a lot, and yes, everyone
knows that first we need peace in open wheel racing before it can
prosper again (preferably by a merger), but the danger in believing in
the one series instant magical solution is that you put the blame solely
on someone else, and you fail to address the other important issues that
open wheel racing has.
Both series have made errors, lots of errors. By putting the blame
solely on the split, you are denying all the errors you have made in the
past (although I still believe the biggest error was the split). This
makes it impossible to concentrate on the difficult and long road to fix
open wheel racing in North America.
Let's imagine that tomorrow one of the two series happened to disappear,
or a merger happened. It is true that you would probably have a stronger
series, more sponsors, a stronger grid, and a healthier schedule. But
it would still lack the only thing that can save open wheel racing in
North America, more race fans, lots of them.
Even though there is some overlap, if you were to add the attendance
numbers of both series, you still won't get close to NASCAR. Do the same
with the TV ratings of both series and NASCAR will probably beat you
using only a handful of its 39 races.
And if you believe there are hundreds of thousands of fans waiting for
the one series scenario to follow the sport again, then you probably
believe Snow White is a real life story. Yes, having one series is the
first step the sport needs, but believing it will instantly fix
everything is missing some key issues that need to be addressed, issues
Sponsors who donít activate their sponsorship,
Lack of Ďstarí names and lack of promoting the drivers in every
Lack of sponsors in general,
Lack of advertising by the race series themselves,
Inability of the TV announcers to keep the TV viewers on the edge of
Inability to portray the speed and excitement on the track to the TV
viewer at home. Did you see Tony Stewart get his car sideways at 190 MPH
in the Daytona 500 with cars all around him in the draft and save it?
When was the last time open wheel had a wow-factor moment like that
other than a crash?
Lack of TV programming other than the races themselves,
Lack of marketing skills by many of the teams,
Car paint schemes that, as a result, make your product look 2nd-rate
Drivers come and go making it difficult to build upon them as a
series asset long-term
Promotion of events ahead of promotion of the drivers. Sure the
sport needs successful events, but people buying tickets to enjoy an
event do not guarantee they will be true fans who will watch every race
like NASCAR fans do. True fans connect with one or more drivers. What I
am saying is, ďitís the drivers, stupid.Ē
Lack of interest in the sport by local, grassroots, newspapers.
Now let's explore the second tale - people like NASCAR because they donít
know open wheel racing exists. People who believe this tale think that
stock car driving is so popular because people can identify more with
the cars as something they drive on the street. They like to think of
NASCAR as having a burger with beer for dinner, and open wheel racing as
having filet mignon with a great bottle of wine.
The problem with this tale (besides from being very arrogant) is that
you are denying all of the things NASCAR has done right Ė especially
making the drivers the central focal point. Even though the Indy 500 is
only a shadow of its former self, it still gets a lot of coverage in the
media, especially this past year with danicamania. NASCAR fans do know
open wheel racing exists, they just donít identify with the drivers
because largely they are invisible. Most of the viewers who watch the
Indy 500 donít watch the rest of the IRL schedule because they are fans
of the event, not of the drivers or the series.
With rumors in AutoWeek today that a merger may be at hand, letís cheer
if it happens, but recognize there is still a lot of work to be done.
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