A World Challenge Report Card from the Participants Committee TOPEKA, Kan. (March 3, 2008) -- If SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge was a school and President and CEO Bob Wildberger was the principal, Chief Steward Pat Di Natale was the...
A World Challenge Report Card from the Participants Committee
TOPEKA, Kan. (March 3, 2008) -- If SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge was a school and President and CEO Bob Wildberger was the principal, Chief Steward Pat Di Natale was the vice principal, Charles Espenlaub was in detention and Randy Pobst was the art teacher, then Bob Woodhouse, Peter Cunningham and John Doonan would be the student council. In SPEED World Challenge, this group of leaders, selected by their peers, is called the Participants Committee and they've had a lot to think about leading up to the start of the 2008 season.
The Participants Committee was started in 2006 by then Team Cadillac manager Dave Spitzer with the goal of focusing the thoughts, ideas and opinions of the series competitors to help improve the racing they loved.
"Dave saw that both the manufacturer teams and the privateers had a lot invested in the series and felt we should organize to contribute to the strength of the series with one voice," Woodhouse said. "Dave accepted a promotion with General Motors in 2007 and Jon Groom, the team owner for AXA Porsche, left the series at the end of the 2006 season, leaving Peter Cunningham of RealTime Racing the sole committee member at the beginning of the 2007 season. Feeling a bit lonely, Peter asked me to represent the GT folks and John Doonan, Manager of Mazda Motorsports, to represent the manufacturer interests. Peter of course is the Touring Car representative. It continues with the three of us today."
Meeting at every SPEED World Challenge event and several times during the off season at the SCCA Pro Racing offices in Topeka, Kan., the Participants Committee has been exploring new ways to market the series, increase car counts and develop a cost-effective television package. While the committee members address these core issues throughout the year, one task that reappears each winter is reassuring others on the future of the series.
"During the winter months, communication falls off and rumors take their place. Peter and I have both spent time on the phone reassuring folks that the series is headed in the right direction. This series has a long history and with a little love in the right places, it will have a long future too."
While Woodhouse is confident in the future of SPEED World Challenge, he understands the teams' need for reassurance before committing to another season.
"These are genuine professional grade racers, they all want to win, they should of course, but they are also looking for some stability, something hard to find in motorsports.
"Professional racing is expensive and competitors struggle under the weight of that, but they are also adrenalin junkies that want to show the world through their fans and on television what they can do. The manufacturers, drivers and teams will all keep coming back if they know they have a chance to win. Our sprint series is unique in that it allows all manufacturers to compete against each other. A one hour sprint event that begins with guaranteed action-packed standing starts and unpredictable finishes - what's not to like?"
As entrants themselves, the Participants Committee is well aware of the strengths the series has and, with input from their peers, are working with SCCA Pro Racing to translate these strengths into more cars and more fans.
"For the series to really grow we need to shift our platform of thinking as SCCA members. We members think racing is all about us. World Challenge has to think of racing as all about the fan and the media audience. They are in charge; they pay to watch us compete, whether through a ticket purchase or a sponsor advertisement and we as a series are competing with football or fishing for their attention. We need to put on the very best show we can.
"World Challenge needs a merchandise program. The paddock needs to bring more dazzle to the fans. Things like an entry or gateway arch, public seminars, improved communication techniques like text messaging and live Web site options for fans."
Maybe the schedule wasn't done as soon as some would like, maybe the grid at Sebring is missing some familiar faces, but each year, despite the pre-season hiccups, Woodhouse is amazed at what SPEED World Challenge delivers. He expects big things for 2008.
"Every year I walk away thinking this has been the fiercest, toughest, hardest fought group of competition we have ever been in. Then the next year starts and damn, everybody is just that much faster again. No enterprise has a more committed group of people trying to beat each other.
"This year will be no different. It is so darn thrilling to watch these people rip and tear on each other, all looking to find a way to win a battle, then win the war. It's a civilized war with machines. These people beat on each other every race, then hug when it's over. If you can't be at the event, make sure you set the recorder on your TV."
Spring break is approaching and fittingly enough, SCCA SPEED World Challenge is heading to Florida, but there won't be any time for the beach with the season underway. The Participants Committee will meet as usual, compiling their latest advice for the SCCA Pro Racing faculty. Could 2008 be a breakout year for World Challenge? Class is still in session.