PRI Magazine March 2017 : Page 8
winning is the ultimate goal for professional racers, it’s seat time mixed with a good time that amateur road racers value above all else, and why they have been entering the sport in droves the past few years. In fact, it was the seat time–good time combination that spawned the 24 Hours of LeMons in Emeryville, California, a quasi enduro that began in 2006 and has since spread to three continents. Twenty-one US races are set this year for the series that’s described by Nick Pon as “a party where a race breaks out.” Still fun, but with greater emphasis on racing on the cheap, the ChumpCar World Series in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, has 31 races in three divisions on the 2017 calendar. And there’s little to dispute the claim from ChumpCar’s Mike Chisek, “Racing is relational; we know our people and they repeatedly tell me track time is king.” And don’t overlook the annual Grassroots Motorsports Challenge, where competitors take any four-wheeled, production-based vehicle and prepare it to set fast times on the quarter mile as well as on an autocross course, all for $2017. (The budget increases one dollar annually to correspond with the year of the event.) Scoring for the event is based on 8 WHEREAS innovation, execution and presentation. The $2017 Challenge takes place October 20 and 21, at Gainesville Raceway in Gainesville, Florida. At the other end of the arc, where competitors target a professional motorsports career, series officials, promoters and race track owners recognize the need to contribute to a reasonable, affordable pathway. “SCCA Pro Racing’s F4US Championship is an entry-level formula car whose concept was developed by the FIA as a low-cost, cost-controlled formula car for kids graduating from karts to formula cars,” explained Steve Oseth of SCCA Pro Racing, Topeka, Kansas. He described the Onroak/Crawford-designed carbon chassis with Honda power that comes complete with a set of Pirelli tires at a cost of $51,600, and includes all allowed data and video camera, “easily $35,000 less than any comparable new formula car now available in the United States.” The inaugural 2016 F4US Championship averaged 15 cars per race, and SCCA expects to double car counts this season. Additionally, Mazda Motorsports in Irvine, California, is on board to help increase entries, contingencies and future opportunities for racers in Formula Enterprises (FE) cars that run Mazda 2.3-liter MZR motors, some 100 nationwide. Performance Racing Industry | March 2017
Rev Up Revenue In The Road Racing Market
Louise Ann Noeth
Stakeholders are managing expenses and lowering barriers to entry in order to stimulate sales of dedicated products and services for competitors that value seat time as much as lap times.
Whereas winning is the ultimate goal for professional racers, it’s seat time mixed with a good time that amateur road racers value above all else, and why they have been entering the sport in droves the past few years.
In fact, it was the seat time–good time combination that spawned the 24 Hours of LeMons in Emeryville, California, a quasi enduro that began in 2006 and has since spread to three continents. Twenty-one US races are set this year for the series that’s described by Nick Pon as “a party where a race breaks out.”
Still fun, but with greater emphasis on racing on the cheap, the ChumpCar World Series in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, has 31 races in three divisions on the 2017 calendar. And there’s little to dispute the claim from ChumpCar’s Mike Chisek, “Racing is relational; we know our people and they repeatedly tell me track time is king.”
And don’t overlook the annual Grassroots Motorsports Challenge, where competitors take any four-wheeled, production-based vehicle and prepare it to set fast times on the quarter mile as well as on an autocross course, all for $2017. (The budget increases one dollar annually to correspond with the year of the event.) Scoring for the event is based on innovation, execution and presentation. The $2017 Challenge takes place October 20 and 21, at Gainesville Raceway in Gainesville, Florida.
At the other end of the arc, where competitors target a professional motorsports career, series officials, promoters and race track owners recognize the need to contribute to a reasonable, affordable pathway.
“SCCA Pro Racing’s F4US Championship is an entry-level formula car whose concept was developed by the FIA as a low-cost, cost-controlled formula car for kids graduating from karts to formula cars,” explained Steve Oseth of SCCA Pro Racing, Topeka, Kansas. He described the Onroak/Crawford-designed carbon chassis with Honda power that comes complete with a set of Pirelli tires at a cost of $51,600, and includes all allowed data and video camera, “easily $35,000 less than any comparable new formula car now available in the United States.”
The inaugural 2016 F4US Championship averaged 15 cars per race, and SCCA expects to double car counts this season.
Additionally, Mazda Motorsports in Irvine, California, is on board to help increase entries, contingencies and future opportunities for racers in Formula Enterprises (FE) cars that run Mazda 2.3-liter MZR motors, some 100 nationwide.
Specifically, Mazda Motorsports has made the FE SCCA National Runoffs Champion eligible for nomination to the Mazda Road to Indy Shootout in 2017. Mazda will provide contingency support for a parts credit, as well as a cash contingency to the top 10 FE finishers in the SCCA Super Tour races.
Further, they will offer PR and marketing support to drivers as they climb the Mazda Road to Indy ladder.
Equally important are the legions of street-driven car owners who may only participate at track-day events, but account for beefy nationwide parts and service sales. Mazda Miata, Nissan GT-R, Ford Mustang, and the Chevrolet Camaro and Corvette are wildly popular with the weekend track-day participant, and ripe for upgrades.
Out of the grassroots crowd emerge some who find they have not just a love of, but a knack for, precision speed. For example, Phoenix Performance in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, gave Preston Calvert, a retired neuro-ophthalmologist from Potomac, Maryland, a chance to live a lifelong dream to drive fast in a safe place. “I discovered I had a little talent, but there is a sub-culture of street cars that only want to run by themselves, develop driving skills, and understand their car,” he explained. “It’s the closest thing they can get to racing.”
Calvert earned the SCCA Club Racing National Points Championship in 2014 and was named Pirelli World Challenge Rookie of the Year in the GTS class the following year, and this season will head to the Trans Am series—from doc to professional motorsports jock in just five years.
The story is the same with John Holds from St. Louis, Missouri, who was nearly 50 before he had his own helmet. Today, together with four other drivers, he campaigns two cars at four races in the eastern part of the US; each member extracts upwards of 14 hours behind the wheel.
“This is where beginners can go to learn to race—with less carnage and individual cost,” said surgeon Holds. “Getting to race different iconic tracks is one of the things I really love about this.”
Tim Suddard of Grassroots Motorsports and Classic Motorsports magazines in Holly Hill, Florida, recalled that even during the depths of the recession, racers didn’t quit so much as they raced less to save money. “The biggest factor now is competition,” he said. “There is a plethora of options, from the major sanctioning bodies like SCCA and NASA, as well as a ton of new racing and track-day groups that have sprung up all over the country.
“Major marque clubs like the Porsche Club of America and the BMW CCA have also increased the amount of track day and racing options over the last few years,” he added.
Suddard also believes ChumpCar, 24 Hours of LeMons, and the slightly more expensive American Endurance Racing (AER) and World Racing League (WRL) enjoy growing popularity because most drivers just want to experience simple, fun racing, and are less interested in winning a national championship. “These low-key groups are driving the market, and traditional club racing is fighting to reinvent itself,” he said. “The one glaring exception to this is the SCCA Solo Nationals, which boasts world-record-entry levels of nearly 1500 competitors. The secret is not the championship, but the party, camaraderie and the chance to go to the big show.”
ChumpCar’s 2016 record-high numbers on the East Coast included new teams that joined veteran “chumpers” at events. “Once you are in racing, you tend to look for more ways to utilize your investment,” said Chisek. “We have also seen new tracks open up recently, making it possible to tow shorter distances to reach a weekend of racing.”
ChumpCar has experienced a surge in 16- to 20-year-old drivers with past motorsports experience in karts. In addition, these younger drivers often prove to be less of a discipline problem than adults. “Kids that have won championships are looking for the next step up—cars,” noted Chisek. “To build their resume up for potential pro rides, they run endurance events. Many fathers have said that they can run a full season of budget endurance racing for a quarter the cost of a karting season.”
The Ultimate Street Car Association (USCA) based in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, is a sanctioning body for street car road racing events that attracts a very diverse field, from the late 1940s through to present day vehicles. Jimi Day believes a strong economy inspires expansion of existing track facilities, or altogether, new tracks.
“As the economy, both in perception and reality, continues to get stronger, more dollars can be allocated to racing initiatives that might include marketing campaigns aimed at racing enthusiasts, or direct sponsorships with racing series, facilities, or teams,” noted Day. “The exact opposite effect happens in a weakening economy, driving car counts down.”
Midwestern Council of Sports Car Clubs (MCSCC) in Machesney Park, Illinois, sanctions wheel-to-wheel racing, both current era and vintage, high-speed autocross, high-performance driver education and lapping, in addition to an enduro series. While Spec Miata, Improved Touring A, and vintage/historic competitors have made up the majority of MCSCC competitors in recent years, the series saw an influx of ITB and ITS competitors last season.
In the Midwest, at least, it seems that autocross has been affected most by swings in the economy. “A Council survey also found that having children, and not enough time, were also predominant reasons why people race and why they don’t,” revealed Lynn Serra of MCSCC. “Car numbers per class have typically been, if not cyclical, fluid.”
USCA’s Day points to the OEM revival of performance cars as an impetus for renewed interest in grassroots-level road racing the past few years. “Companies like OPTIMA Batteries have made it possible for sanctioning bodies like USCA to provide a place, a rule set and the platform to showcase high-performance street cars—driving the market upward for other manufacturers, and service providers within that segment,” said Day.
“We have noticed an interesting phenomenon taking place,” he continued. “As new facilities open up, sanctioning bodies ramp up their event schedules and marketing companies create new events, [and] consumers are afforded many more opportunities. While we see overall car count increasing, we are often now seeing a lower car count per event.”
Jeremy Croiset of NASA (National Auto Sport Association) in Napa Valley, California, believes the organization’s consistent rules and class leadership provide stability and incentivized class growth. “We like to think of ourselves as automotive enthusiast creators,” he observed. “We enjoy a healthy selection of machinery at our events.
“The largest contributor to our continued growth comes from our High Performance Driving Experience (HPDE) program,” he continued. “It continually allows us to grow and cultivate our very own competitors, providing a steady stream of ‘new blood.’”
Competition & Modification
On the supply side, manufacturers cite steady sales of road racing products.
“To win at the track you need to be at the track,” said Todd Romano of Hawk Performance, Park City, Utah, himself a racer and whose firm supplies brake components to competitors in SCCA, NASA and HSRA. He sees little if any threat to its business from outside influencers, like rule changes, in 2017.
“Braking and tires have a tremendous effect on lap times, but in many series, tires are a spec product, so we work with the teams to pick the correct compound to complement the tires they are racing on, and the ABS they are using,” he said.
“We are growing our focus in the pro paddock of both sprint and endurance racing,” he continued, “and have seen a significant demand for a pro paddock race compound and rotors.”
Grassroots Motorsports’ Suddard sees within the sport an increasing demand for safety knowledge and requirements. “Head, neck and arm restraints to cage design changes will impact retailers, as well as the expense that competitors have to deal with,” he noted.
“From a performance standpoint, the move away from race tires to cheaper, more durable high-performance street tires means tire companies may have interest if they can sell standard street tires, and not have to build all-out race tires,” he continued.
“Very affordable electronics is a game changer both for the competitor and for the retailer,” added Suddard. “Radios, cameras and data acquisition that would have cost $100,000, or not even have existed two decades ago, can be had for a couple of grand today.”
Surprisingly, we learned, ChumpCar racers are hungry for GPS and data acquisition systems. “You wouldn’t think it, but our racers are pouring thousands into it for just a trophy,” said Chisek. “They are serious amateurs who want to run in a race just like they see on TV.”
Pivots for 2017
NASA has a pair of location changes for two of its 2017 championship events: The Eastern States Championships will move to Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Florida, while the Western States event will move to Thunderhill Raceway Park in Willows, California.
“We are slowly migrating our Performance Touring series into our Super Touring series, providing competitors with an easier-to-employ rule set” noted Croiset. “This change should be of keen interest to businesses, because our Super Touring classes provide for nearly unlimited modifications while still adhering to specific class rules, and should be a builder’s paradise.”
NASA’s 2016 edition of the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, a very competitive, grueling endurance race, consisted of 62 entries with an increase in pro team participation. The first event, held 14 years ago, was won by a car completing just north of 300 laps; but this past year, a staggering 751 laps was required to claim overall victory!
“Some wanted to compete for the sheer challenge of winning the event,” quipped Croiset. “Others found opportunities in operating arrive-and-drive efforts to extend their racing season into chilly December, or use the event to prepare for the Rolex 24.”
What’s so special about it? Consider the majority of the race is run in the dark—an 11 a.m. Saturday start that finishes at noon the following day. And then factor in a huge variation in vehicles and driver talent, and you have one heck of a race. To finish is valued almost as highly as a win.
Serra, too, reported changes at MCSCC for the 2017 season. The most prominent of these are dropping the minimum age requirement for its competitors to 14; decreasing the number of driver signoffs to only two in order to earn a full competition license; and eliminating the requirement for novice license holders to work a day as a corner worker.
ChumpCar added dozens of new cars to its 2017 eligible vehicle list—now up through 2010 model years—which organizers believe will bring to the table a whole new crop of potentially successful cars to endurance racing, and create a demand for parts. “Cages, tires and brakes will be purchased by our members for cars that were not options before,” predicted Chisek. “New ‘hot picks’ will be found as a cross between low purchase price and high performance.”
When SFI recently changed the way it dates its racing harnesses, it necessitated a rule adjustment for LeMons competitors. “We now require SFI 38.1 head-and-neck restraints, in addition to our existing SFI or FIA standards and Snell or FIA standards. We have a lot of rookie racers, so there’s a good chunk of folks buying all of that safety gear for the first time,” Pon told us.
USCA has new formats for two of its five event segments: autocross and speed stop will be morphed together into the side-by-side competition, creating a better spectator and viewer experience. Day offered, “To put more butts in the seats and provide a better participant experience, we are creating side-by-side running for more exciting visuals that gives fans something to root for, and provide great stuff for TV.”
Meantime, the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association’s (SVRA) recent purchase of the Trans Am Series, with the intent to infuse some much-needed cash, will provide a solid platform on which the series can grow, according to Day. “Coupling Trans Am with SVRA puts the series in front of a relevant audience, which should drive sponsorship dollars to the series, in turn driving up participation in the series,” he predicted.
“As more participants attend these events, three things happen: Competitors will get more competitive, wear out parts, and break parts. This leads to positive results for manufacturers, service providers and builders,” said Day.
While it is important to be mindful of the introduction of more spec parts to control racing costs, potential robust revenue streams still exist in entry-level racing series, where rules are not so stringent, while organizers build grids and series.
On the professional side, multiple series are experiencing major changes in terms of rules and mandated parts, i.e., Pirelli World Challenge (PWC) and IMSA adopting FIA rules and regulations that require parts to be homologated by the OEM, and prohibiting modifications. “For instance, tuning and performance advantages derived from being able to use your own dampers are already on the downturn,” said Daryl Sampson of Turn 14 Distribution, Horsham, Pennsylvania.
“This downward spiral will be put into sharp relief as competition cars tuned for use on tracks overseas start racing on US courses that are generally not as smooth, and will be especially troublesome on street circuits that are extremely bumpy,” he added.
Also, Sampson advised racers to consider the entire package, and how it was developed, in order to avoid a disadvantage by ignoring one or more parts of that racing package. For example, if an OEM is producing a GT3 car for competition, they may be tuning and validating parts based on their performance on tracks overseas, where surfaces are generally much smoother than tracks in the US. So, if the homologated shock damper that is required for use is not set up for those specific tracks, the competitor can be at a big disadvantage. Which means those shopping for a GT3 race car to run in a series in the US must look at the entire package and how it was developed.
“Some technologies from upper levels of racing have become mandatory for us,” noted Chisek at ChumpCar. “We recently began mandating the use of fire suppression systems over fire bottles, but we’ve seen many teams opt for full containment racing seats, even though we only require a racing seat versus an OEM seat. Some seats cost more than the car!
“Lately, it is not uncommon to see teams with telemetry equipment in their low-budget cars,” he continued. “We’ve recently started to add live, in-car cameras during a race to give people at home something to follow us with on social media. The resulting traffic spike has been great for our sport.”
Read the full article at http://bluetoad.com/article/Rev+Up+Revenue+In+The+Road+Racing+Market/2712752/384417/article.html.