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Yes, it IS a popularity contest


ast year I talked with and read of the many fans wringing their hands, worried about how we can all make drag racing more popular. Now in the modern era of drag racing some look to leadership of the sanctioning bodies to get it right this year while others look to the local level for our weekly dragstrip show to provide special shows to keep all us interested.

Well here’s a shocker for some of you, drag racing isn’t ever going to be mainstream popular and isn’t one big happy family of fans and competitors all fighting for a common goal. On the local level there is not much interest in the big shows for the local track champions who prefer being a big fish in his or her local pond.

Drag racing will certainly keep moving along no matter how much some voices demand more, more, and more! But don’t expect your local newspaper to all of a sudden jump up with overnight box scores, qualifying ladders and in-depth coverage of the weekend’s event, it just isn’t that important in the big sports picture. We have what seems to be an easy sport to understand so why doesn’t the media have that same passion, why can’t they get how important drag racing is? It’s damn tough for drag racing to gain media legitimacy when our hero national champions fail to reach a million dollar payout for winning the top championship as other secondary motorsports like Champ Car and IRL already pay.

The latté drinking outsider, who cares nothing of the passion we all possess, will never be interested in drag racing, but might very well take the family to a NASCAR event at California Speedway where his kids will recognize the cars, the stars, the shirts, the brands and be caught up in the show a show that can be understood and completed in 4 or 5 hours. While I railed in 2005 at the idea of California Dragway closing to make way for a gift shop and museum where the burnout box sat, as a motorsports fan I completely understood why the plans would sacrifice a mere operating dragstrip for increased NASCAR fan exposure. Thankfully drag fans spoke up enough for track management to hear the importance of a dragstrip and will move it to an alternate site on the huge Fontana facility early this year.

Do any of us fans really want NHRA to ever become as big as NASCAR? God I hope not. I like the way drag racing is fragmented with special venues for so many competitive classes. Diversity is what makes drag racing strong. The same muscle car fan that’ll build a car for NMCA or PSCA is not likely to be interested in the NHRA big show and vice versa. A Goodguys nostalgia competitor may have a passing interest in the NHRA big show, but probably doesn’t follow the nitro pro’s as much as he or she used to do. On the other hand does an NHRA nitro pro follow what goes on at a Goodguys event? Handfuls do, but the word I’ve heard used by a few professional team owners and racers is “hobby racing.”

Now don’t get me wrong, as a fan and marketing expert, I hope every competitive team has sponsorship dripping off of their racecar, but truthfully that’s not very realistic. The sales pitch it takes for the part of the market drag racing garners is so very small in the eyes of Madison Avenue advertisers.

I spoke with an Account Executive at the ad agency of a national auto parts chain last year. They were not happy with the way their client’s Return on Investment was working in NASCAR since the “Do-It-Yourselfer” has apparently left NASCAR being replaced by the latté drinkers. Latté drinkers don’t go to the local auto parts store to buy an alternator or water pump; they’ll take the family Toyota to the local dealership for service, indirectly buying Toyota parts.

When I explained to the Account Executive that the “Do-It-Yourselfer” was very much a part of today’s drag racing fan and sportsman competitor on all levels he was not really aware of drag racing as a viable advertising medium. Ultimately the advertiser reduced their dollar participation in NASCAR but the same Exec said that after queries of most of their distributors, they were a lot more interested in a hospitality tent at a Nextel Cup event than the accessibility of the POWERade pits. They chose to stay with NASCAR.

One thing is for sure, there are some changes coming. This year I think we’ll see a few of the traditional newsstand car magazine titles you’ve known for years in the hot rodding and drag racing word either fold or be sold off as the readership erosion of print magazines continues. Look at how you’ve traditionally received your information; TV, radio, newspapers, weekly and monthly magazines. But now the Internet brings you email with your friends, you can download specialty I-pod shows, streaming video media on drag racing, fan chat rooms and of course DRO. Across the board, traditional, mainstream advertisers are now fragmenting their ad budgets, not necessarily adding new dollars, but dropping some of the traditional delivery systems such as newsstand magazines, newspapers and curtailing television commercial productions.

Today where we demand split-second, in-depth info, data, stats, photos, x-rays, reports and interaction on an unprecedented level, take a look around you. Drag racing is not the most important thing in the wide world of sports. But it can be a significant player if those in charge park their egos, take off the rose-colored lenses and realize that if drag racing is going to compete with the rest of motorsports, they'd better spend more money selling our sport to the general public and less adding luxury seating for venues that sell all the tickets now.

View from the Left Coast [12/8/05]
It's all over but the eggnog

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