WALTZ: Sizing Up The Summer Season

Keith Waltz
Keith Waltz

HARRISBURG, N.C. — Labor Day is in the rearview mirror and cool autumn breezes have replaced the dog days of summer. That means another racing season is winding down so we wanted to share a few things that caught our attention during the sport’s peak months.

– The Brickyard 400 has fallen from the ranks of racing’s marquee events.

When Indianapolis Motor Speedway joined the NASCAR circus in 1994, it was a milestone moment filled with pomp and pageantry. While the race itself has repeatedly fallen short of expectations through the years, stock car racing’s annual visit to 16th Street and Georgetown Road has consistently attracted a tremendous amount of attention that proved extremely beneficial for the sport.

But now the Brickyard 400 is simply just another stop on an overloaded NASCAR Cup Series schedule, and this season’s spectator turnout solidified our belief that next year’s 25th Brickyard 400 should be the event’s grand finale.

There was an era when NASCAR had earned the right to perform on this country’s grandest motorsports stage, and thousands of race fans braved the August heat and humidity to enjoy the spectacle. Unfortunately, those days have come and gone.
– Race teams at virtually every level are scrambling to learn more about the U.S. Department of Transportation’s mandate that virtually all commercial vehicles must switch to digital logbooks later this year.

World of Outlaws champion Donny Schatz has been using his T-shirt trailer to test the mandated system, and he believes it will have a major impact on how the nomadic sprint car series crisscrosses the country.

Some of our SPEED SPORT colleagues are looking into the new federal regulation and talking with team members, so expect an in-depth report in the coming months.

– As many in the sport focused on the ever-increasing number of empty seats at NASCAR-sanctioned events this summer, we were pleasantly surprised by Speedway Motorsports, Inc.’s earnings report at the end of July.

The publicly traded company, which owns and operates eight major motorsports facilities, actually showed an increase in net income of $2.6 million over the same quarter a year earlier.

“Various revenue streams, particularly track rentals and NASCAR ancillary broadcasting rights, have shown sizable increases,” said Marcus Smith, president and CEO of SMI. “So far in 2017, while certain admission revenues are lower, several of our NASCAR events show higher attendance trends and growing fan interest. We are optimistic that our marketing strategies of offering attractive ticket prices for families and children, and expanded and innovative pre-race entertainment, are gaining traction with both our core and potential new fans.”

There might actually be a light at the end of the tunnel.

– Target’s exit from Chip Ganassi Racing opens the door for a major company to latch on to racing’s brightest young star. Kyle Larson is a once-in-a-generation talent and his success — on both dirt and pavement — during the summer cemented his place among the sport’s greatest drivers.

If Ganassi’s marketing folks struggle to find top-of-the-line sponsorship for Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet, it will be a statement about the state of the sport, not the marketability of the driver or the quality of the team.

– Electric appears to be the future of the automobile industry, which in turn means it’s the future of auto racing.

Nine manufacturers, including BMW, Jaguar and Renault, have had power units homologated for the 2018/2019 season of the FIA Formula E Championship, and Porsche officials have announced plans to withdraw from the World Endurance Championship to focus on a future Formula E effort.

It will be interesting to see who takes the lead and develops the first American series for electric-powered race cars.