By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. This isn't going to be a column about the competitiveness of the entries for this weekend's Daytona 24-hour (Rolex24), the opening round of the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championships race. It isn't going to be about whether or not the Chevrolet V8-powered Daytona Prototypes will dominate, or if the Ford EcoBoost V6 Turbo-powered entries will rise to the occasion and surprise everyone, or that the P2 cars will come good through speed and reliability, or even about the remote possibility that one of the GTLM entries could ascend to an overall win, either. That's all pretty much looking-glass stuff that means zero at this point.
What I'd like to focus on is the current status of sports car racing in this country itself. Despite my lifelong affinity for sports car racing - along with countless others either immersed in it or enthusiasts for it - this particular form of motorsport has been an afterthought for so long in the U.S. that it would be comical if it wasn't so depressing. Let's face it: After years of having two "major" road racing series working at odds with each other (ALMS vs. Grand-Am), along with the all-NASCAR-all-the-time stick and ball media infatuation that has been in play for over a decade now, major league sports car racing is nothing more than an afterthought, a mere blip on the radar screen.
I'm not going to regurgitate the nonexistent television viewing numbers or what other forms of motorsport eclipse sports car racing in the media landscape, because suffice to say it's a dismal pursuit. The fact that major league sports car racing exists at all in this country is due to the love of the True Believer participants, and the True Believers - yes, they exist - at the vehicle manufacturers who support and participate in it.
But as we all know, that isn't nearly enough. The unification of sports car racing that begins this coming weekend at Daytona is a pivotal juncture for the sport. This is, for lack of a better term, the last gasp for this form of motorsport in this country. If unification doesn't work to generate new fan interest over the next few seasons - I'm not talking about the enthusiasts who are already on board and clamoring for it but fans new to the game who might be attracted to it - then I truly fear for the sport's future.
Why? There are too many other marketing avenues vying for the attention of these manufacturers and too many opportunities to venture out in pursuit of "new" - meaning young - consumers who aren't necessarily interested in the idea of traditional sports car racing. And if you think that rote manufacturer interest in the sport of road racing will continue indefinitely, I'm sorry to break it to you, but it won't.
With all of this in mind then, the TUDOR USCC must do everything in its power to make sure that the image it presents this weekend is absolutely first rate. The look, feel, presentation and everything about it should make for compelling television. That's a difficult task, especially considering that the start and finish of a lengthy endurance race is about the only thing that new-to-the-sport consumers can grasp.
I will assure you, however, that if the broadcast production team gets lost in trying to explain the various classes, it will do more to turn casual viewers off than anything. It will be too confusing and thus uninteresting to the nanosecond-attention-span generation, and it will kill any shot that the ratings have of being more than nonexistent.
If this is truly a sport worthy of serious attention and interest, then it has to be presented in the very best way possible.
In short, image is absolutely everything.
I sincerely hope for the best.
Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD
(Photo by Dave Friedman courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Daytona Beach, Florida, February 4, 1966. The great Ken Miles waits to go out for practice in his No. 98 Shelby American Ford Mk II 427 at the Daytona International Speedway on the Thursday before the Daytona 24-Hour sports car race. Miles and co-driver Lloyd Ruby spanked the field, capturing the pole and winning the race going away (by eight laps) while leading a 1-2-3 Ford sweep. Dan Gurney and Jerry Grant (No. 97 Ford Mk II 427) finished second in a Shelby American team car, with the No. 95 Holman & Moody Ford Mk II 427 driven by Walt Hansgen and Mark Donohue coming home third. See more Dave Friedman images from that weekend here.
Publisher's Note: Like these Ford racing photos? Check out www.fordimages.com. Be forewarned, however, because you won't be able to go there and not order something. - PMD