If we subscribe to the probability that growing or sustaining circle track racing will require not only relevancy but offer opportunities that appeal to new participants, how do you see this happening?
If it's not fun and exciting, it won't happen. But again, there's no longer the legacy of motorsports where circle track racing all over the country was woven into the fabric of society. Even in the Northeast where I grew up, there was legendary Wall Stadium where Ray Evernham raced, along with a number of other great racers who came before him. The track was in the middle of an urban area. It was supported by the entire community, both on and off the track.
An example could be the owner of a gasoline service station who also owned a race car that was either built or maintained at the station, possibly both. Local engine builders played a part and there was sponsor support from local businesses. Today, if you find these type situations, the people involved are likely much older and the sport is considered an "old man" venture. I know there are exceptions to this, but the point is this arm of the sport is withering and needs to be infused with new elements more contemporary to the time. To me, this again suggests repackaging the sport and making it more exciting and relevant to society's views today.
Part of the problem we have is that when you look at the health of motorsports over the years during which there was a great variety of car and engine types and things like that, it means the sport was healthy. But when the sport approaches or becomes more of a "spec" environment, this invariably indicates it's not as healthy. While this is not necessarily a direct correlation, it's certainly a clear indicator.
The IRL is a perfect example of this in Open Wheel racing. When there were multiple car and engine manufacturers, the series was healthy. When this was reduced to single-sourced engines and cars, it became unhealthy and less exciting.
Twenty or 30 years ago, virtually any circle track had participants running Ford, Chevy, and Dodge engines in equally different brands of cars. But when everybody is running the same crate engine and same tire, there's less creativity. Even though it may be less expensive to race, it's not as attractive to the spectators who tend to be brand oriented and like to see their preferences win races.
In addition, young people have so many things today that compete for their time and money that circle track racing will continue to suffer, even at the spectator level, if something isn't done to improve its appeal. Much of this has to do with a lack of creativity. That seems to be part of the problem. So I guess part of making circle track racing more relevant is discovering ways to increase its appeal among those who don't want to become involved at any level in a sport that's looking backward instead of forward.
This doesn't mean that every level of circle track racing needs an overhaul. But at the upper level where efforts to increase spectator count and gain new followers of the sport, more creativity is needed, sooner than later. Using crate engines and spec tires in the lower series of racing will make it easier and more affordable to participate, so this will probably need to change more slowly.
Even adding classes that allow and encourage alternative powerplants or fuels is a step toward moving what I'll call the "feeder series" of racing more into the future. Circle track racing as we know it today will decline on its own as the newer opportunities are created and explored.
Wouldn't it be wonderful for this country if the Indy 500 was a "run what you brung," non-gasoline, non-diesel race based on how far or fast you could go with limited btu or even hydrogen as fuel? I mean, although with more relaxed rules in past times, this is the sort of thing that made the Indy 500 the greatest motor race in the world. Maybe we should consider establishing a racing environment that fosters and includes that type of creativity and relevancy.
Note: Next month, we'll share more of Charles's thoughts on his near- and long-term perspectives dealing with circle track racing. Based on his responses to a few questions you might expect we'd not be asking, a few surprises may be in store.