An informal Survey of the St. Pete CART race attendees


 by Scott Morris
February 25, 2003

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How knowledgeable is the average CART fan at St. Pete?

I went into this weekend's season opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg looking to do a racing version of Jay Leno's "Jay-Walking", which I thought would be an interesting way of informally evaluating the knowledge of CART race attendees. How much do these folks know about what they are watching? After all, the NASCAR attendees statistically buy significantly more merchandise, and watch and attend the races in much larger numbers, which is an indicator of the attention they devote to the sport.

I also was personally interested to see if the open-wheel racing wars still have people confused, despite various efforts to define, or "brand" the two rival versions of this form of the sport.

I devised five basic questions that I thought even a casual fan should know. I even bounced them off of a friend or two to see if I was on target. After confirming this, I approached race attendees at random. The first thing I noticed was a lot of NASCAR apparel and merchandise. I thought this was a good thing, and contrary to the seemingly popular assumption that CART and NASCAR do not share fans. I would have loved to survey all those wearing NASCAR merchandise on what they thought of the race they just watched, but that's another story for another day.

So there I was, my notepad in hand, with these five questions.

1) Where did Michael Andretti qualify for today's race?
2) Name one American driver in today's race.
3) Name one other race on the CART schedule this year or any past year.
4)Who won last year's Championship?
5) Name one difference between Champ Car Racing and IndyCar racing?

Sounds pretty simple right? Well for all of us, of course. We are here on a website that is designed for the racing fan. So yes, these might seem like pretty simple questions…almost too simple? Think again.

I spoke with 79 people as they entered the track to attend the race. I told them my purpose, and that not knowing the answers to these questions was not intended to be an embarrassment. I also thanked them all on behalf of the sport, at the risk of being a little bit self-righteous.

Here are the results, question by question.

Question 1: Where did Michael Andretti qualify for today's race?
77 I don’t know/don't recall
2 Not racing today (one called him a traitor, and she said she had thrown away all of her Michael Andretti merchandise)

Question 2: Name one American driver in today's race.
48 Paul Tracy
16 Michael Andretti
5 Paul Newman (impressive, but not quite there…)
3 Al Unser (did not ask if they meant the Indy 500 winner or the Barber Dodge driver)
2 Max Papis
1 Jeff Gordon
1 Jimmy Vasser
1 "That Target driver…what's his name?"
1 Morrissette (???)
1 Bobby Rahal

Question 3: Name one other race on the CART schedule this year or any past year
26 I don’t know
17 Indianapolis 500
11 Long Beach
7 Denver
6 Las Vegas
3 Chicago
2 Atlanta
1 Monte Carlo
1 Sebring
1 Lime Rock
1 Toronto
1 Mexico
1 New York
1 California (but did not mean Fontana)

Question 4: Who won last year's Championship?
55 I don’t know
11 I know…but can't pronounce his name
5 Dario Franchitti
3 That Brazillian Guy
1 Darren Franchitti (Does Dario have another brother?)
1 That Canadian Guy
1 Christian Fittipaldi
1 Bruno Junquiero (that’s how they pronounced it)
1 I think his name started with an "F"

Question 5: Name one difference between Champ Car Racing and IndyCar racing.
31 I don’t know
24 Champ cars are all Fords, and the Indycars are all different engines
13 I think they are the same….right?
9 Champ Cars have turbo chargers, the IndyCars don't
2 Indycars are bigger

This was admittedly an unscientific survey, but it does raise some interesting questions.

I personally did not find the results very surprising, with the exception of question 5 which most people seemed to answer rather accurately. Could this be because Ford is a brand name that people know and recognize? Could it be a result of placing their name on the series title?

I have been of the strong opinion that CART needs major consumer brands attached to the series more than the brands need them. Now, this sounds a little crazy, but on this basis, it might make just a little bit of sense to give away (or even pay for) a major sponsorship position in exchange for some serious marketing and promotion of the series as a whole. Once CART becomes a household name again (like NASCAR perhaps?), and people come out in droves to watch and attend, then the sponsorships will be worth something and can be sold for what they are really worth.

It does seem to confirm a suspected confusion on the part of the casual fan between the IRL and CART products. It also seems that the casual (or even incidental) fan could represent a major portion of CART attendees, which might explain good attendance, but poor television ratings. CART has good race attendance, now it needs to work on making those attendees fans for every race, and you only can do that if the drivers become heroes....i.e. CART must focus on growing the name recognition of its drivers so they become fans of the sport and not just fans of the "event."

So…let’s see if this creates some constructive discussion and debate.

The author can be contacted at feedback@autoracing1.com

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