My wife calls me a pessimist because I see dark clouds and say it looks like rain. Sure, it doesn’t always rain but experience says it’s a very good indicator so I call myself a realist.
What does this have to do with cars? Bear with me.
Since I was old enough to read my dad’s Super Stock & Drag Illustrated magazines I’ve wanted to drag race. Last August I finally built a car specifically to fulfil that desire and stomping the go pedal on my Ford Country 1957 Ford is a thrill that only intensifies with more passes.
I grew up playing competitive sports and since an elbow injury sidelined my squash game nearly eight years ago I haven’t had anything to replace the juice that good competition provides. Racing does that and the power and noise of it is intoxicating. When you lose a lot can be blamed on the car but just as much blame, probably more, can be heaped on the driver. The chance to measure your progress — whether it is increasingly quicker reaction times, E.T.s or top speeds — happens every time you stage. It’s a blast.
But sometimes I worry about the health of this sport in Canada. One of the reoccurring themes at events I’ve attended in the past year and a half is plenty of guys racing but not many paying to watch. Isn’t this where track owners make their money? In Canada sanctioned 1/4 mile tracks are few and far between and some are not in such great shape.
Recently while watching Youtube videos of a nostalgia funny car event in Calgary I noticed how empty the stands were. This is the most exciting class in a burgeoning nostalgia race scene and yet in the clips I watched almost nobody was there to see it. Add to that the city of Calgary badly wants the land and you have a track that might not be around when the lease runs out in 2012.
One of the biggest crowds I’ve seen in the past two years was at an Arm Drop Live event hosted by Pinks All Out host Rich Christensen at Toronto Motorsports Park. Some guys hate the Pinks host but track promoters probably love him. We have a one-time annual event on Vancouver Island called Thunder in the Alberni Valley which takes place over two days at the Alberni Valley Airport. There are good crowds at this event every year rain or shine, but the once-a-year nature of the event is probably the main reason.
The island’s last true ¼ mile drag strip, Van Isle Dragways, closed in the 1970s and nobody’s stepped up to replace it yet. I see the same thing at local stock car tracks – lots of room in the stands on any given Saturday night. I once had a conversation with a track owner who said putting together races was mostly a money losing proposition. He had to rent the track to corporate track days or host music concerts to make money. It can’t be a good thing when the people most interested in what is happening are the people
driving the cars on the track. As racers and track owners we need to figure out how to get the crowds back to the races. We can’t just show up, have our fun, and go home anymore. There are far too many simple minded politicians, local officials and “environmentalists” targeting motorsports and old cars as irresponsible remnants of an oil-drenched past. It makes it easy to shut down tracks when there is no percentage in owners putting up a fight. It also makes the construction of new facilities an almost non-existent possibility, at least in Canada.
The recent resurgence of seldom used airports for semi-regular drag racing events is a sign there is participant interest in the sport. But these are usually non-profit events successful thanks to entry fees and local sponsor contributions.
Growth, improvement of equipment or facilities and even increased frequency of events is hampered by being non-profit. Add to that you’re at the mercy of local officials who have, in some cases, begrudgingly made the facility available in the first place.
Sanctioning bodies such as the NHRA and IHRA seem to have healthy participation and fan attendance but as in any sport the grassroots participation is a good indicator of the future health of a sport.
What do you think?