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Ingram: Will The Racing Get Better?

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, January 18 2010
Brian France will be the person will determine NASCAR's fate at a critical time in auto racing's history. (File photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Brian France is the person who will determine NASCAR's fate at a critical time in auto racing's history. (File photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

From the Monday Morning Crew Chief:

At one of the toughest times for motor racing series around the world, it bears asking why some series have continued to sustain their dominant status and others have continued to merely muddle along or in some cases have disappeared.

Exhibit A is NASCAR, where there’s enough daily controversy and genuine debates about the conduct of the sport to fill TV time and the Internet virtually 24/7. But relatively speaking, NASCAR and its three major touring series continue to be a dominant player in one of the largest sports and automotive markets in the world.

Outside the U.S., the Formula One world championship has been plagued by three major scandals in as many years and has suffered a huge loss of investment when compared to any other series after the abandonment by many of four of its manufacturers. Like NASCAR, the F1 series is also hammered daily by debates about the conduct of the sport – from how to produce more overtaking to where events are held and poor attendance at some tracks.

Yet F1 continues to be the major force in motor racing outside the U.S., as does the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, the sanctioning body.

Are these organizations fundamentally strong or simply too big to fail? Do they continue to sustain themselves through strong management – or do the people in charge simply manage to average at least 51 good decisions out of 100 on an annual basis in a business that literally moves very fast? Have they done better when it comes to managing growth in the good times and market share in the bad times?

Exhibit B is Championship Auto Racing Teams. It seems difficult to believe that during the mid-1980’s, it appeared that CART would take on both NASCAR in the U.S. and the FIA’s benchmark F1 series simultaneously. Needless to say, the organization no longer exists – despite the fact its passing is mourned by many. CART had brilliant stars from all over the U.S. and the world, active manufacturer involvement and a unique combination of road courses, street circuits and ovals on the schedule. Perhaps more significantly, the team-based organization had some brilliant businessmen on its board of directors.

There are two rather broad philosophical choices as to why some racing organizations succeed over time and others fail. One theory focuses on good leadership and the other is a completely divergent point of view. The series most likely to be sustained, goes this other line of thinking, are those that have an organic appeal to fans, teams and manufacturers. The result is a series that management could not kill with a stick, no matter how inept the leadership might be.

I suspect that reality sits somewhere in the middle. History has long since demonstrated that Bill France Sr.’s vision and leadership in building a national championship and the superspeedways at Daytona and Talladega made NASCAR the stock car racing sanctioning body in a country where there were (and still are) a boatload of groups organizing this all-American sport.

And, F1 has gone from a gypsy-like tour to a multi-billion dollar series under the guidance of business manager Bernie Ecclestone.

Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of these two gentlemen was the establishment of  a dominant position in motor racing categories with rich histories and tremendous grass roots appeal. If anything, the current hard economic times indicate there’s even less competition to these series’ relative hegemony than ever.

CART made the fundamental mistake of cutting its ties with the Indy 500, the soul of Indy car racing and the source of its identity. The demise of CART, in fact, was the gradual return of its teams to the Indy 500 – at the behest of manufacturers. The Izod Indy Racing League, meanwhile, continues in a rut because the process of gathering all of Indy car racing under the management of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was protracted enough to generate a loss of interest across the board – with fans, TV executives, manufacturers, drivers, sponsors, etc. In both cases, leadership contributed to a less than desirable outcome.

Momentum can be hard to sustain even under quasi-monopoly status. These days, NASCAR is more open to co-operating with its participants and to listening to fans who believe the organization has made mistakes, because of the competition in the American market place for fans’ time and money in a time of economic crisis. And because of leadership willing to adjust to the times. Aero adjustments to cars at Daytona and Talladega plus blade-type spoilers are coming soon.

In F1, Ecclestone has successfully weathered a revolt among manufacturers led by Ferrari by both paying out a larger share of the F1 revenues to participating teams under a new Concorde Agreement and by resorting to an increase of new private entries, teams such as US F1 that will very much rely on those revenues to go forward. Next on the agenda: cost containment.

The methods in America are typically more democratic and those in Europe autocratic. Will the result be better racing – or just better business? Time will tell.

Quote of the Week: Bernie Ecclestone had tongues wagging with his latest suggestion about the problems of not enough overtaking in F1. He suggested intalling “shortcuts” at all F1 tracks, which each driver could use five times a race.

“Then you wouldn’t get stuck behind a slower car,” said Ecclestone. “It would be great for TV. I’ve tried to push the teams on this because I don’t think the efforts to increase overtaking are working, but they haven’t gone for it.”

Rubbin’ is Racin’: In the good ol’ days, no driver could ever get enough horsepower. These days, they can’t get enough downforce. Hence, the consistent plea for rear spoilers on the Car of Tomorrow in place of a wing. …The move to make changes to the COT chassis seems a lot like a lot of competitors ganging up to make changes in order to unseat the dominance of Hendrick Motorsports – and Jimmie Johnson. …If Dale Earnhardt Jr. had run better in the last two years, would NASCAR be fiddling with the COT formula?

In a report via Twidget, the Ferrari of Michael Waltrip, Marcos Ambrose and MWR team principal Rob Kauffman crashed after eight hours and 45 minutes at the Dubai 24-hour. Waltrip was behind the wheel and got collected in a crash on a straightaway at the race staged primarily for privateers and clubmen. …Max Papis spent the last weekend sharpening his racing skills in Orlando at the Florida Winter Tour, a karting extravaganza. …Marino Franchitti, the younger brother of Dario, has signed to drive for the factory-assisted Acura team of Highcroft Racing, where he will be the third driver in long distance events.

The Campos Meta 1 team from Spain is searching for funding to launch its team in the F1 season opener in Bahrain and is reported to be in talks with Tony Teixeira. Isn’t he the same South African businessman who presided over the recent demise of A1 GP, the winter series version of F1 that went belly up due to a lack of finances?

See ya! …At the races.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, January 18 2010


  • Steve says:

    “These days, NASCAR is more open to co-operating with its participants and to listening to fans who believe the organization has made mistakes, because of the competition in the American market place for fans’ time and money in a time of economic crisis. And because of leadership willing to adjust to the times”

    Apparently, this is one reporter who fell right into the Nascar PR trap. The only reason nascar is listening now is because their wallets are taking a huge hit in attendance and TV ratings. They ignored the fans for the past few years and now all of a sudden they are turning over a new leaf? Sorry. I’m too skeptical to consider it just a coincidence.

  • Marybeth says:

    I think that to avoid the perception of WWE the Chase has to go. F1 has nothing like a Chase. I also agree with Newman that they should keep the double yellow line.

  • Phyllis says:

    Who cares?

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