There is a time and place for everything, and I think right about now is the time and the place to address the lack of respect people have for the motorsports industry as a whole.
Today I was reading an article on ESPN about white people being a minority in Basketball I think it was. Normally I don't read the stupid race baiting articles, though I love to read the comments from other fans about the topics. This one struck a cord with me for some reason though. As I was thumbing through the comments, there were the typical ignorant comments about this or that, but there were also comments about minorities in NASCAR, and then the follow up comments about NASCAR not being a real sport to begin with. This is what got me thinking about sports and the lack of respect for motorsports as a whole.
Now obviously I have a much different take on that industry than most others because I have been involved someway or another for the better part of 25 years. I have seen motorsports grow from Wide World of Sports, to an every weekend on network TV. I have seen NHRA grow from being bumped every weekend for water polo on ESPN, to going live on Fox with the best exposure of their events ever. I have seen rally car grow from something that you had to really search hard to find because it was primarily just in Europe, to being an X Games sport, competed in by big name athletes. We are seeing F1 racing in America too. Despite all of this, the stands seem more and more empty, and most people don't even consider auto racing a sport.
Auto racing in it's simplest form is about at least two cars against each other trying to make it to the finish line first. Sounds easy right? What if I tell you that you are going to be strapped into that car for countless hours with no breaks and it's going to be 95 degrees? Or what if I tell you that you will be driving a car on the side of a mountain at 100 mph with no real barrier? And what if I tell you that you are going to go from 0 to 210 mph in less than six seconds all while trying to make sure to keep a 2500 pound metal sled in your own lane. Now explain to me how this is not a sport!
There are reason's that certain things fail or succeed. Look at Europe for example, where soccer is the sport that everyone loves. They also love F1 racing, WRC Racing, along with other sports. Now look at the landscape in America. F1 isn't nearly that popular, we don't have real WRC races, and we love football way more than soccer. This analogy goes for pretty much every continent around the world.
It's a cultural difference between certain countries when it comes to sports and the sports that they enjoy and respect. You want to know what isn't a cultural difference though? It's the sound of loud exhaust, smell of burning rubber tires, the aroma of race fuel, and the determination of a driver/s to beat the person next to or behind them. There is no black, white, brown. No rich, middle, or poor. No PhD vs. GED. There is only the love of those sounds and smells. It rattles you to your soul and leaves you wanting more. You leave the track with a faster pulse and a sensory overload.
No other sport in the world will give you a sensory overload like motorsports does. Doesn't matter if it's go-carts, motocross, Indy, NASCAR, or an 11,000 Horsepower Nitro Methane burning Funny Car. Racing is the only thing that will tickle all five of your senses over a day or a weekend. You won't get that at any basketball or football game. You won't get that at any soccer or hockey game. Only motorsports can do that!
Another thing that you won't see at a motorsports event are the politics du jour of the day. Your skin color never matters, your religious beliefs don't matter, your income level doesn't matter, whether you are a Republican or Democrat doesn't matter. What you will see is morning invocation and almost complete silence during the playing of the National Anthem.
Motorsports stretches across the world like no other sport ever has or ever will. People tell me all the time that soccer is the "world sport", and I have no issues with soccer, but if you look at auto racing or motorsports as a whole, maybe that should be considered the "world sport". Show me another sport where the rules are pretty much the same no matter where you go in the world. Whether you are in Russia, Australia, Bahrain, Germany, Canada, South America, United States, and anywhere else, the rules are universal for almost all motorsports.
Who did we get to the point where people don't see these drivers as athletes though? We got to that point because of the lack of education and coverage on the part of media, whether it be E3xtreme or ESPN. It's also from a lack of education on the part of the sanctioning bodies and series. Why doesn't F1, NASCAR, INDY, NHRA, etc. have outreach programs? Public affairs people that go to schools to talk to young people about our sport. It's time to educate the general consumer on why it is that motorsports is in fact sports. It's about using your brain, your body, all the muscles working together.
We in the industry can not just sit back and hope that the next generation of kids love motorsports. We have to make them understand or at least explain to them why motorsports is so great. Jr. Dragster programs all over the country, and the world for that matter. Go-carts, motocross, midgets, and so many other things to get people involved. Drivers and team owners need to step up too! Get your cars and rigs out there to show people. Get these kids and parents, and just adults in general interested in coming out to see the races or participating in the races. Lastly, manufactures need to step up! Make your presence known. Sponsor local events, sponsor local shop classes, sponsor competition. Without getting people interested, you won't have to worry about your bottom line in 20 years.
So in closing, I want you all to take a moment, find a friend of yours that doesn't go to race, doesn't seem interested in motorsports, and ask why? Try to understand what can be done to help educate people that aren't involved. See if there is something that we as an industry can do in an effort to sway them to the right side of sports. And lastly, dare I suggest with the Christmas season coming up, get one of your friends that's not involved a subscription to something like Drag Illustrated, National Dragster, Hot Rod, Car Craft, Race Pages, Fastest Street Car, or any other motorsports magazine. No matter what, you know they will read it a little here or there and that can make all the difference.