WALTZ: Has Racing Skipped Over The New Generation?

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HARRISBURG, N.C. — From the very beginning, auto racing has been a sport that has been passed from generation to generation — a characteristic that applies to both fans and participants.

A son or daughter most likely developed a passion for the sport because their parents took them to the track beginning at a very young age. That’s definitely true in our case. But look around in the stands during the next visit to your local short track and you’ll probably notice that older fans outnumber younger ones.

There are several theories as to why this has happened and we discovered a very interesting one during a recent interview with Dennis Huth.

Huth has been involved in racing for more than five decades. He was a track promoter and a NASCAR executive for many years and now owns and operates the American Speed Ass’n. Huth believes racing has lost a generation of fans and he points to cost as a contributing factor. “One of the things I’ve always felt is that there is a segment of the population that we lost,” Huth said. “A lot of it had to do with various components, but the motorsports industry expanded so quickly, especially on the Cup level. It’s the kids that were impacted by that. It became too expensive for the kids to go to the races at that point in time, so that generation stayed home with mom while dad went to the races, or they stayed home with grandmother.

“Of course with the advent of the computer, the games and all the rest, the kids probably weren’t taken to their local short track as we were growing up. What they were taken to was maybe a soccer match or swimming meet, a movie or something that had to do with school activities,” Huth added. “So I think there is a generation that was somewhat left out and we need to recapture that generation. They found other things to do, so we’ve got to continue that pursuit.”

A very interesting perspective and we’ll have much more from our interview with Huth in a future issue.

– Richard Freeman got the shaft. He’s the NHRA Pro Stock driver who qualified 17th and had to load up and go home Saturday evening because Kurt Busch wanted to “play” during his off weekend from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Busch’s participation at Gainesville generated tremendous publicity for NHRA, but his drag racing should be limited to the sportsman ranks. Freeman plans to compete in 15 NHRA events this season and his entire family is very dedicated to the sport.

Busch should give Freeman every penny his team won Sunday and he should personally sponsor Freeman’s car at a future event.

– While the inaugural Charlotte SpeedFest Saturday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway attracted more than 7,500 race fans, it exposed an issue NASCAR needs to address.

Fans waited in line to get autographs from racing legend David Pearson and former driver Kyle Petty, but no current NASCAR Cup drivers were in attendance. There should be a half dozen of these events at tracks across the country to generate regional excitement for the sport. But in order for them to be effective, five or six big-name drivers must be on hand to meet fans and sign autographs.

We understand a driver’s time is very valuable and the season is extremely long. So here’s how we would guarantee driver participation at a series of these events. In order to be eligible for prize money, including the $1 million first-place prize, from the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, each driver would have to sign autographs for two hours at a designated NASCAR fan event. This concept is not new. In fact, it worked very well for R.J. Reynolds.

– Congratulations to Chris Browning and his staff at Darlington Raceway for putting fans in the stands for Saturday evening’s NASCAR Truck Series race. The turnout was much better than we expected and the fans were treated to a good show.

– In the words of Dale Earnhardt Jr., “It’s Bristol baby,” as news and comments reach us at [email protected]

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