I'm pleased to see a lot more spectators at the sport compact drag racing events this year. The sanctioning bodies are understanding the geographic markets better, and there's an increase in the popularity of the sport. Some venues always have a good crowd. Englishtown, Atco and the Florida events are examples of well-supported races. But what we need is to make the same impact everywhere else.
We're a long way from filling the stands at most major venues, but it's still good to see the fans coming to watch the races and have a good time. We need to make the sport even more of a spectacle to attract the fans in high numbers. More butts in seats means more races, better exposure for the sport and increased profits for the sanctioning bodies. This all goes a long way to making the sport better for everyone involved.
There are many things we can do to try to increase the overall popularity of our sport. I've discussed this with lots of racers and the same possible solutions keep coming up.
1) Get more racers involved. It's easier said than done. When a Pro Class has a field with only two or three cars, it's obvious we have a problem. The teams with smaller budgets tend to limit their travel because of the costs. Even the smallest team will spend upwards of several thousand dollars to travel from one coast to the other. Do the math. Fuel costs, accommodation, parts, food, time away from work. It all adds up.
Increasing the prize money would help to attract more participants, but the money has to come from somewhere. Perhaps paying for travel is an answer, but again, where will the funds come from?
Another bone of contention is the cost of building a competitive car. These days we have factory-supported teams in the sport and it's not cheap to compete with the big guns. We have a few low-buck heroes who do a fantastic job of competing (Gary Gardella springs to mind), but generally, the most successful teams are the well-funded teams.
It's simple economics. I don't have an answer to this. The sport is growing and the involvement of the factories is good for the sport, but it brings with it a whole new batch of issues. I think the drivers and team owners have to try to be far more professional in terms of marketing and PR. Creating a nice presentation and dealing with potential sponsors in the right manner is essential if the have-nots want to attract any sponsorship dollars and be able to compete.
Trying to secure sponsors is a frustrating process. There's only so much money available and it's up to you to convince the sponsor why they should make an investment in your team. You'll be rejected many times and your ego will take a few hits. Don't give up. Establish and develop relationships. Communicate on a regular basis and, above all, be a pro.
2) Make the racing more competitive. Over the past few years, the sanctioning bodies have made changes to the rules on a regular basis with the intention of trying to level the playing field. Nobody wants to slow the cars, but on the other hand one or two cars dominating at every event is not a recipe for generating excitement.
The Pro RWD Class is probably the best in terms of parity between the top-level cars. Yet, we still have a long way to go before we see a full 16-car field separated by a few hundredths of a second as we do in Pro Stock. The fans want to see lots of side-by-side racing. That's key, but how can that be achieved in a class such as Hot Rod, where the fastest car is running in the low-8s and the slowest can be in the 11s?
I've heard people talk about having new rules on tire sizes, restricting power levels and introducing stiffer weight penalties. Perhaps we need to bring in new classes or shelve some of the existing ones. One thing is for sure: We have to give the fans an exciting experience that makes them want to come back again and again.
3) Increase promotion for the events. This is another tough one. All of the sanctioning bodies do a good job of advertising the events in the specialist press. We need to expand our horizons and work more with local radio and TV companies in the areas that host events to attract more fans.
Once again, however, cost rears its ugly head. How long would it take to recover the cost of producing a really exciting ad and airing it on local TV channels and radio? The bottom line is we need to attract a lot more fans to the races. With the additional income, our sport can grow and become all that we hope it will be. I'm not an accountant, but it's obvious the crowds at some events are extremely sparse, so the promoters must be hurting.
It's easy to be critical. But I do feel we all need to raise our game to secure the future of the sport. We have an opportunity to take the sport to the next level. We just need to figure out how to do it.
Sport compact drag racing is still in its infancy compared to other motorsports, and we're suffering from growing pains as we morph into a truly professional sport. It's up to everyone to make it happen. What are your views?