Motorsport News Opinion

RODGERS: OVERHAULING THE SUMMER OF RACING

Across the globe, Motorsports of all forms are looking at ways to not only to grow attendance and TV ratings but also to engage at a far higher level with the fan base.

New Formula 1 owners, Liberty Media has already made substantial change to the fan experience, NASCAR too started 2017 with new race formats to spice up the show.

Australia is not immune to changes in consumption of motorsports, however the two major ‘’summer’’ sports appear to be so focused on internal structures and outdated constitutions that they have lost sight of the customer – the race fan.

Speedway and Drag Racing have both enjoyed periods of stellar track attendance, media exposure and corporate sponsorship. At the Bob Jane owned Calder Park in the mid 1990’s, Steve Bettes promoted the ANDRA Nationals with genuine crowds of over 50,000 over the two day event. Pre event publicity was extensive, and the crowds poured into the venue to witness great racing from the sports big names.

Fast forward to January 2017 and a failed attempt by ANDRA to resurrect The Nationals was poorly promoted, attendance was non-existent and Top Fuel had to be ‘invited’ to attend. A poor shadow of its former glory.

But it has been the sport of Drag Racing itself which has largely led to this situation. In fighting within the governing body ANDRA, and the emergence of the Tony Wedlock led 400 Thunder Series, plus sanctioning by way of the IHRA, served up two race series for Australian Drag racing fans. The struggle for control has been nasty and splintered the Group One and Sportsmen racers.

400 Thunder and the ANDRA Drag Racing Championships have both obtained airtime on FOX Sports however to the casual fan it is impossible to understand what the different series actually mean. Is there a champion in each Group One category? Why on some telecasts do we see four Top Fuel cars but on others we see up to twelve? Confusing and destructive.

ANDRA now has restructured after racking up losses of a reported $410,000 in 2015/16 taking this to a $1.2m loss since 2011. Yet still the focus which should be firmly on getting to the table to sort out a single commercial and customer focused series seems as far away as ever. There have been rumblings of a return to a unified Drag Racing category but an inordinate amount of damage has been done to the brand.

Some good news to emerge recently for Drag Racing was the Winternationals at Willowbank, albeit rain effected and the announcement of a 10 round series by 400 Thunder. The damage from a corporate and unified racing division still exists and just how ANDRA will play this out remains to be seen.

Unlike Drag Racing, Speedway has not had to endure a second series as a direct competitor, however the late Shane Krikke and motorsport powerbroker Tony Noske’s shared vision for a total re package of  Sprintcars and in turn the WSS launched back in 2009 has left a mark on the World Series Sprintcars summer program.

The WSS is the jewel in Speedway’s crown in Australia occupying the very important summer calendar. But apart from the die-hard fans, motor sport’s ‘best kept secret’ remains just that.

Wind back to 2009 and a free to air TV deal was negotiated with One HD, the series was attracting sponsors with brands such as Enzed and Hi Tech Oils have been and gone and the series remains without a naming right sponsor.  In fact it has attracted very little ‘mainstream support and is largely invisible in media terms.

The WSS has made significant announcements about the upcoming 2017/18 season but it now lists Sydney’s Parramatta Speedway and Adelaide’s Speedway City as casualties from the calendar.

So with the ‘time ticking’ track at Brisbane’ Archerfield Speedway, the popular Avalon Raceway (some 50kms from Melbourne) and Perth’s Kwinana now the only true capital city rounds, the WSS is becoming more and more a regional series. Furthermore, the WSS website lists dates for the WSS but these do not correlate when the individual track calendars are checked.

Is the WSS a 17 round series as per Speedway Australia’s site or a 14 round series as reported by respected industry website Sprintcar World? Very hard to understand if this is being played out to potential media and corporate partners.

Drag Racing and Speedway are two forms of sport that provide outstanding racing and are firm favourites with the fan base, but they both seem to be unable to rectify in fighting, controversy and a feeling of ‘that is how we do it – so don’t change it’. Time will tell if these strategies service the sport in Australia. Perhaps it is time for some young, new blood with new thinking to take over the reins?

WORDS: Dale Rodgers
IMAGE: Richard Craill

Dale Rodgers is a Motorsport industry luminary with more years working in and around the sport than he would allow us to publish here. An expert photographer, journalist and marketing / PR guru, Rodgers spent 10 years running Revolution Racegear before assuming the head PR role at DJR Team Penske in 2012. He now heads the marketing of Melbourne Automotive group, Bayford, a 100 years old business with 11 dealerships around Melbourne.