Last month we brought you a commentary on the current status of Dirt Late Model racing. This month, we are taking the same look at the health of stock car racing, only now, it's all about asphalt. We spoke with people in the know, high-ranking officials, and the heads of state at ARCA, ASA, CARS Pro Cup, CRA Super Series, SRL Southwest, and NASCAR to get an in-depth look at asphalt racing as a whole, and the whole thing looks good! There is no question the economy has affected racing in general, but the outcome may not be such a bad thing. In most cases, costs to operate a race team had become so inflated that it was hard to be competitive without some serious sponsor reinforcement. This made it almost impossible for the little guy, or an up-and-coming racer who didn't have the financial support of a bigger team. Now that everyone is struggling, many of the sanctioning bodies have implemented rules to significantly reduce the operating costs of its teams. This, in turn, levels the playing field, allowing smaller, less funded teams to compete more frequently in a more competitive fashion.
Promoters have also altered rulebooks, adding some commonality between tracks in close proximity. This allows racers to run more than one track with the same equipment. Cost control matters, coupled with promoters not afraid to think outside the box has keep racing alive. These changes could be the catalyst needed to revitalize short-track racing in some parts of the country where the economy has hit the hardest. With a new way of thinking in place, the future looks extraordinarily bright for when the economy comes back around.
Mark Gundrum: Vice President--Business Development and Corporate Partnerships
Founded in 1953 by John Marcum, the Midwest Association for Race Cars (MARC) was a regional stock car racing series. The series name was changed to the "Automobile Racing Club of America" (ARCA) when it took to racing on superspeedways. ARCA started racing at Daytona International Speedway in 1964, during the Daytona Speedweeks, at the request of Bill France Sr., who had raced against Marcum in the '40s. Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) was founded in 1953 by John Marcum. In ARCA Series competition, racers drive stock cars formally used in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. A mix of seasoned professional racers, as well as up-and-coming stars of tomorrow, take to tracks all over the country. ARCA has been a breeding ground for top talent, as many top-level teams use the series for driver development with its younger drivers.
We caught up with Mark Gundrum, the series Vice President to get his thoughts on how the downturn in the economy has affected the series. "We've had to adjust in a number of ways," explains Gundrum. "But probably in the same sentence, consistency has also helped us maintain a healthy business. Consistency, meaning the rules package. It's a long-term forecast about the equipment they've invested in. We've assured them that those were good investments in the current cars, tires, and the type of tracks we are going to run. We did our homework when we introduced this equipment. It was a commitment for three to five years in most cases, which gave our team owners some comfort that they were investing in equipment that was not going to become obsolete anytime in the near future." Rules can define a series. But they can also choke race teams that don't have large amounts of funding, especially in a national series.
"We've certainly had to make adjustments as a business specific to the economic challenges we've all faced." He continues, "We've had to lighten up on some procedural rules, one of them being the required purchase of sticker tires at each event. Things we could do to create a cost containment environment have been helpful. We've tried to work with [our teams] on licensing for the over-the-wall crewmembers just to keep their costs in check as we've gone through these tough times." Through the tough and not-so-tough times, the ARCA series has maintained its spot as a high level series that feeds the top tier NASCAR ranks. Smart decisions with its teams in mind has proven to be a smart strategy, and the ARCA Series is in it for the long haul.
The American Speed Association (ASA) started as a single racing series in 1968, and has grown into one of the leading short track organizations today, sanctioning more than 10 different series across the U.S. and Canada. In addition, ASA is known for its Member Track program which sanctions numerous dirt and asphalt short tracks along with road courses. While the ASA has been on the leading edge of innovative race promotion such as their National Championship which allows racers at different tracks to compete against one another via a mathematical formula, their bread and butter is intense wheel-to-wheel Late Model racing. Finding current and retired Sprint Cup drivers behind the wheel at an ASA event has become commonplace, as they are attracted to the high level of competition. Dennis Huth is the ASA President, and we sat down with him to get his take on the current status of Late Model racing and how important the entertainment factor is.
"The economy has had an impact without question, but not as great of an impact as many would think. I think the entire entertainment industry has seen an impact of some degree. It still comes down to providing an entertaining show for the fans, along with having fair and competitive events for the racers. Our tracks and series work as hard as anyone to provide that quality entertainment. When you think about it, short track racing is still one of the more affordable family entertainment venues all across the United States. Our ASA Member Track and series promoters have had to rethink their marketing strategies and race programs just like all of us had to re-think our personal budgets. Some car counts have gone down slightly compared to five years ago, but we are still seeing stable numbers at many of our tracks and series and rules are an important part of that equation." The ASA understands the costs associated with racing, and according to Huth, is working very hard to minimize those costs, as well as how important scheduling is for the promoters. "For our ASA Member Tracks, many of the competitors come within a 30-mile radius to compete each week at the track," Huth explains. "The economy hits them when they get involved in a wreck or blown motor, which of course costs money to repair. Many ASA Member Tracks are stabilizing their rules to help save costs on building and rebuilding a car to compete for more than one season. For our different traveling series, the promoters are making sure that the events are held to as minimum travel as feasible, and many events taking place within a day to allow for same day travel, which equates to cost savings."