NJ race indicative of challenge open wheel racing faces in the USA
From 1979 until 1995 CART built open wheel racing in America into a big sport, and that included a number of successful support series. Sponsorship revenue was double NASCAR and TV ratings were better than NASCAR. In 1995 the IRL was born and it split open wheel racing in half. As we predicted back then, that was the beginning of the end of open wheel racing in America. Since then America has become a stock car country, even though open wheel racing has been around twice as long. The split in open wheel racing destroyed the sport and sent the fans packing. The following article is indicative of fan apathy with open wheel racing in this country today.
One of the nation's top open-wheel racing series was at New Jersey Motorsports Park on Sunday, but few people came to see it. A sparse crowd that appeared to be only in the hundreds watched Tristan Vautier win the Star Mazda Championship's seventh race of the season and second in as many days at NJMP.
Officials from both the track and the Star Mazda series blamed the heat - temperatures were in the 90s. Still, it was difficult to ignore the absence of the Atlantic Championship, the higher-level series that headlined the Mazda Motorsports Festival of Racing weekend the past two years. The Atlantic series suspended its operations due to financial problems in March. zzzz
"Was the crowd good? No," said Dean Case, communications officer for Mazdaspeed Motorsports. "But there are a lot of reasons for low attendance."
The track does not release attendance figures, but only a few dozen people sat in the bleachers for the 45-minute race, the last of 10 during the two-day event. Several more were in the air-conditioned Officer's Club suites, which the track opened to the public due to the heat, but it was still a disappointing turnout. Tickets cost $22.
"With the heat, it's hard to get people to come out," track official Don Fauerbach said.
The Atlantic Championship features drivers who are a step closer to IndyCar, the United States' premier open-wheel series. Simona De Silvestro, a winner last year at NJMP, is now an IndyCar driver. The Star Mazda series also develops drivers with that goal, but it's unlikely that anyone would go straight from there to IndyCar.
But Star Mazda series president Gary Rodrigues said the attendance likely would have been the same even with Atlantic at NJMP on Sunday.
"I don't think Atlantic has anything to do with the crowd, honestly," he said. "(Fans) are just not around."
The heat is only partially to blame. Drawing fans from Philadelphia, New York and Washington is a challenge regardless because of the cost of advertising in those markets and the relative lack of racing tradition, Case said.
"We love being in this market, but we have to work with the track to figure out better ways to get to the fans," Case said. "The weather this year certainly didn't help. Anybody who was contemplating a walk-up probably got up this morning and said, 'No way am I going out there.' " Press of Atlantic City