10 Ways To Make Racing More Popular

By Winding Road Staff

August 29, 2018

We recently listened to a podcast interview of Bill James, the author of Bill James Baseball Abstract and creator of the sabermetrics approach to baseball, as chronicled in Michael Lewis' Moneyball. Baseball is, perhaps, relevant to sports car racing since baseball faces challenges to retaining its audience. Baseball is a rather traditional sport, so we weren't surprised to hear Bill opine that many ideas for improving the game simply wouldn't be accepted.

The acceptance or rejection of change seems to us to be more a matter of leadership. Football could be said to be traditional but has done much more to alter the game to make it work for fans than baseball has. We'll assert that this is mainly due to better (or at least different) leadership.

Road racing lacks the monolithic ownership structure that baseball and football have, but there is still a lot that could be done. Consider these ten ideas for making road racing more popular:

  1. Shorter races. Much of the action in racing happens on the first laps and the closing laps. Cut out the middle and you cut out the fat. We'd suggest 30-minute races, with 40 as a max. This fits nicely with the space needed for commercial breaks to fit races into an hour.
  2. More races per weekend. If short races don't provide enough action for spectators, organizers can run multiple short races. Two races seems like the reasonable number, and we'd do these back to back, with a 15-minute halftime. But if races were 30 minutes, then technically you could have 3 or 4 races on a weekend in the roughly 2 hours that are normally allotted.
  3. Standard time slots. Organize broadcast and streaming coverage into known time slots. Pretty obviously Saturday and Sunday at 1 PM and 3 PM. We might add Sunday at 7 PM and Wednesday at 7 PM. The specific series would have known times. Since most series don't run every week, series could share a slot (e.g. IMSA and PWC could share Sunday at 3 PM) if they coordinated schedules.
  4. Time slot for "lower" series. Feeder series frequently have the most intense and action-packed races. Therefore, some slot, perhaps Saturday at 1, should be reserved for the best feeder series. This could be determined by tight finishing times from previous races. This slot would include certain SCCA Runoffs and NASA Championship races.
  5. Game of the week. Monday night (or Wednesday) night could have a slot for a Sunday Night Football/NFL Films-style reprise of the action of the week.
  6. Reverse grids. As long as we're doing multiple races, let's make qualifying a key to race 1 and then mix things up by reversing the grid for race 2 according to finishing order among the top 6, 8 or 10 cars (1st place is gridded P10, 2nd P9 etc). Passing skill becomes a key to race 2, without having to do 12 or 24 hour races.
  7. Sprinklers. One of Bernie Ecclestone's few good ideas. We would use a random number generator to "declare" a wet race (random number = 1 - wet, random number = 2 - dry) on a surprise basis. As long as we have a random number generator, it can also decide which lap the track goes wet (this also would not be revealed to competitors). On that lap, full course yellow conditions are declared (to limit carnage) and then the sprinklers go on. Cars come in for wet tires and go back to race conditions after two laps. For full simulation of Mother Nature, the random number generator can also determine when the sprinklers go off.
  8. Mano a Mano. Golf is going to run a Phil Mickelson vs. Tiger Woods event on Thanksgiving weekend. Road racing could offer a similar event, but with several pairs of drivers going through a seeding ladder on a weekend.
  9. All-Star Games. Take the top 16 drivers in the world, add in 4 amateur champions, and run them in a two-race weekend in a ladder series car (e.g. MX-5 Cup).
  10. Off-Season Classics. Specify and promote a specific group of off-season races to fill in the calendar. For example: Spec MX-5 Challenge in November, 25 Hours of Thunderhill in December, Chili Bowl in January. Mix in Mano a Mano and All-Star events during this time period.
  11. Fantasy Betting. Optional extra credit comes from organizing fantasy sports betting across the road racing series above. Fantasy participation increases the level of fan engagement and betting ensures broad participation. The legality of fantasy betting was clarified this year, but we're not attorneys and so it still seems slightly ambiguous. But, if it works out, it could be a big thing.

 

You probably have ideas, please add them below in comments.