NASCAR: The Motorsport Destination (Eventually.right?)
It all started in 1967, when a world famous talent named Mario Andretti came into a little known southeast stockcar series called NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing). Andretti won the 1967 Daytona 500 and never won a race again in NASCAR, but why would he? He was the world's most famous driver and soon returned to his home in open wheel racing. Now it is 2007 and in the past three years, motorsports fans have seen eight open wheel standouts (Patrick Carpentier, Sam Hornish Jr., Paul Tracy, Jacques Villeneuve, Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Speed, A.J. Allmendinger) bolt from their current series to the phenomenon called NASCAR.
What would cause such an exodus for so many drivers? Richard Hylands, Director of Motorsports for Torrent Motorsports believes the lure of money and recognition are the two major issues why open wheel drivers are migrating to NASCAR. "The fact is that NASCAR can guarantee 100,000 people in the seats for any event while the current open wheel series struggles to maintain half that number," said Hylands. "With the promotion that NASCAR delivers, all their drivers are recognizable to the public and that is very motivating to the driver."
There has to be more of a reason to it then that though. In March of 1996, the IndyCar racing series split and formed two competing open wheel series, now known as ChampCar and IRL (Indy Racing League). "I don't feel the split between IRL and ChampCar is hurting open wheel racing, but the obvious and blatant animosity between the two groups hurts the entire open wheel sport," said Hylands.
Many open wheel (ChampCar and IRL) fans feel that if the two series re- unified, it would help open wheel racing in America. "I think it will take more than a re-unification of IRL and ChampCar to make their drivers stay," said Hylands. "They will need a complete overhaul of their entire promotional package to make it attractive to drivers, sponsors, and fans."
NASCAR currently does what ChampCar and IRL do not. "NASCAR delivers a product the American public wants," said Hylands. "And NASCAR delivers it the best that they can, NASCAR goes out of its way to make the entire sport accessible to the fans and ultimately, that is where the money is generated."
If NASCAR is the end all of motorsports in America, where does the future of motorsports lie? "[I think] the future of motorsports is wide open and will only be limited by [the] lack of vision [by] its promoters," said Hylands. "I see two or three more top level sportscar series as well as another top flight open wheel series in the future."
The problem with the future of motorsports outside of NASCAR in America is that all other series are struggling. GrandAm and ALMS have a core audience, but that audience is aging rapidly and not growing fast enough, while the battle between ChampCar and IRL continue to harm North American open wheel racing.
So with the current trend in motorsports and the unstoppable train called NASCAR, it appears NASCAR is the motorsport destination-Unless you enjoy watching Formula 1 at 3 AM every third Sunday of the month.