Friday, November 8, 2013

Is Racing Dying?

I feel a disturbance in the force. Something is in the air, and, until now, I haven't been able to put my finger on it, but then it hit me... Between NASCAR sucking it up on the track plus the decreasing ratings and fan interest, F1's loss of its former luster, and Indycar being the afterthought of racing throughout the world, racing is approaching life support.

As many of you know, racing is an expensive sport. In a time of economic hardship, major corporations are no longer ponying up millions of dollars to fund a driver for a season, making finding sponsors difficult for many talented drivers. Other drivers have major backing from corporations due to their connections from family ties and nationality. Bruno Senna, nephew of Ayrton Senna, replaced Rubens Barrichello in 2012. According to The Wall Street Journal, Senna brought approximately $18 million to Williams. Unfortunately, this isn't the only case of money trumping talent in racing. Drivers like Oriol Servia and Ryan Briscoe struggle to get back into Indycar despite being highly talented.

GP2 drivers, the feeder series of Formula 1, often find it impossible to make the jump into F1 due to the lack of money they provide. This once again proves that money talks more than results. Conor Daly, who drove in GP3 in 2013, wants to move up to GP2.  But money hampered Conor from testing in GP2 at Abu Dhabi at first, and he sounded off on Twitter:

Although the situation did work itself out for Conor, talent doesn't matter if you don't have money. Drivers like Luiz Razia, Sam Bird, and Luca Filippi, proven winners in GP2, can't make it into F1 because they lack deep pockets.

In Indycar, a driver wanting to drive for a team lacking sponsors must bring approximately $6 million for a full season. Although the ride-buying craze hasn't reached F1-levels yet in Indycar, it might be approaching. Major sponsors like GoDaddy and Hewlett-Packard are leaving Indycar after 2013. Sponsors leaving in NASCAR and Indycar has become commonplace recently, which is a terrible thing. If more sponsors continue to leave, teams will have to look for drivers bringing money over the drivers who are the most qualified.

Simon Pagenaud (closest pictured) is losing Hewlett-Packard backing in 2013. James Hinchcliffe
(next closest) follows Pags down the pits. He too is losing his primary sponsor, as GoDaddy is
leaving (Photo: Alex Gallardo / AP Photo)

Ratings are down across the board for both Indycar and NASCAR. NASCAR still has very healthy ratings despite the minor setbacks. Indycar saw a reduction in ratings in 2013 compared to 2012, which is depressing. The ratings weren't good to begin with. A driver/owner pitching to a company to sponsor them becomes that much more difficult when ratings are bad, therefore decreasing exposure sponsors.

The (my personal opinion) decreasing quality of racing in Formula 1 and NASCAR is also turning many fans away from racing for good, which is sad. No more than 20 years ago did we see a Golden Age of racing in Formula 1, NASCAR, and Indycar. What happened to those good old days? Yes, I was once a fan of NASCAR. Gasps, I know... But it is now unwatchable. The Indycar Split put open wheel racing in North America behind the eight ball, even though the racing is currently amazing. And the the once thrilling Formula 1 series has become a ride-buying spectacle, with the racing being as enjoyable as standing in line at the DMV.

Another worrying aspect of racing is the demographic changes. The median age of racing fans continues to go up, meaning racing isn't attracting younger fans. Can you blame them? Not only is their other appealing sports out there like football and hockey, but young people don't appreciate the roots of racing; The days when Senna, Foyt, Andretti, and others dominated the scene. To add to that, racing has begun to carry a negative connotation in America thanks to the image NASCAR has cast upon racing. We all know of someone who thinks the Indy 500 is a NASCAR race. Many people in America now think racing isn't cool without green-white-checkered finishes, or double-file restarts, or crashes every 50 laps.

One of the most deplorable scenes of the year is the Brickyard 400. Not only because of the awful racing,
but because of the dead atmosphere at the race. This photo was taken in 2010,
but it has since  gotten worse(Photo: Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

So how do we prevent racing from dying? Engaging in social networking is important. Tell people what you are watching! If a newcomer asks a question that may be "stupid" to a diehard racing fan, don't give them shit, answer it without being a smartass. One of the best ways to make a new fan is bringing a friend to race! Watching a race on TV can be great, but attending a race in person and feeling the energy of the cars and the fans cannot be replaced. My last suggestion would to be to support the sponsors of the series you like! Simple logic states a company won't continue to sponsor a driver if they do not receive positive repercussions.

I am normally not a pessimistic person, and hopefully I am wrong, but unless something changes, racing has an egg timer over its head, and time is ticking.

Let me know what you think!

-Matthew Hickey


  1. New York City, Republican Party, Democratic Party,MLB,NBA,NHL,GM,Ford,Boxing,Horse Racing,Trains,Apple,New Coke,my local dirt track.Those all among the things that I heard were dead or dying during my 54 years on this planet, and yet almost all still exist in some form.(RIP New Coke). Some got big again by good management,some acted like water and settled at their new levels,but they live. As frustrating as it gets to see something you invest your spirit into struggle, shakeouts happen in everything, and the smart and strong survive. Motorsports is still I imagine the 1 or 2 most popular spectator sports on Earth. It's done on 6 of the 7 continents( probably all 7,but the televised snowmobile events in Antartica haven't made my viewing yet) Will it return to major prominence as you remember it, probably no, but it's not going away either. As frustrating as things look today, remember there are places not happy that they were not put on 2014 calendars to host IndyCar,F1,IMSA. So there is demand by track operators.For the names listed above that struggled to find funds, they found series to race and enjoy, and except for Pocono, which i thought could have used a few more cars on their big track, the car counts were okay in my eyes. Maybe the best finish in any form of motorsports in the world in 2013 was in a race that started 11 drivers at Indy, so racing will live, but consolidation and good management are needed.As fans we have to lower expectations, enjoy the sport for the purity of competition today, not the what was, what we think it could or should be. The internet age lets us get too much information and people tend to run with the negatives too often, don't let it instill a defeated attitude. Enjoy it, promote it, let the details you cannot control be left to the powers that be. There will always be racing to enjoy, we just may need to adjust our standards now n then. Sorry for the long rant.

    1. Crowds are down dramatically, sponsors walking away an aging demo and interest plummeting. Oh yeah, things are fine. Adjust? They're doing that - tearing down the grandstands at tracks across the country. INDYCAR will be gone soon and NASCAR will have 38 car fields.

      BTW: Santa Anita, one of the most beautiful horse race tracks in the world drew less than 2,500 yesterday.

  2. Servia's hung around a long time and is nothing special. Briscoe got chance after chance and kept blowing them. Pagenaud and Hinchcliffe will retain paid drives next year, their teams have other sponsors. You didn't mention Montoya returning to Indycar with Penske, or Bourdais getting a team upgrade (to KV for 2 years, with a good enough salary for him to stick around), and Kanaan also upgrading (to Ganassi, again fully sponsored).

  3. NASCAR fans booing First Lady, Michelle Obama and Second Lady, Dr. Jill Biden at a race where they were trying to raise awareness for hiring veterans, was my last straw.

    You can boo the politician, but the family is off limits. I always point to this incident which I tell people to actively avoid NASCAR. Racism, bigotry, and hate doesn't deserve anybody's business.