Auto racing in some form has been around since the start of the 20th century. And as Americaâs love affair with cars has grown, so has motorsports.Â From 500 miles in open-wheel cars at Indy, to 500 miles in a stock car at Daytona, auto races have attracted hundreds of thousands of fans and have become a billon-dollars-a-year industry.
But NASCAR has seen a decline in the thousands of butts in the seats at tracks, forcing many of those venues to downsize, removing seats and even the once sold-out suites that lined the track.Â Attention spans have also shortened in a world full of sound bites and NASCAR viewership is down as people spend less and less time in front of the TV. NASCAR could be facing yet another dilemma.
The original appeal of NASCAR came from the stockÂ cars raced on the track.Â From Chevrolets to Fords, Dodges, Plymouths and Toyotas, what was raced on the track closely resembled the same cars fans could buy at their local dealership. The old saying in NASCAR was âWin on Sunday, buy on Monday.âÂ In fact, NASCAR began with a group who brought their street cars, many highly modifiedÂ to outrun the law on moonshine runs, to local tracks carved out of a farmerâs field.
In todayâs world however, there are fewer and fewerÂ cars to buy on any day, much less a Monday.Â The sales of the family cars thatÂ once prowledÂ suburbia areÂ declining while sales of sport utility vehicles, SUVs, is rising.Â It makes sense given that an SUV can carry everything a growing family might need. Trunk space is no longer an issue and people generally feel safer riding higher above the road.Â And more and more of these vehicles are burning less and less gas, relying more and more on hybridÂ and “green”Â technology.
So, what do shorter attention spans and fewer car on the road mean for motorsports? Could be seeing the beginning of the end of motorsports in America?
âIf you look at the history of motorsports, there have been turning points all the way through,â said Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president of performance and motorsports for Chevrolet.Â âAnd the technologies have changed, the vehicles we race have changed, and that will continue. â
Campbell was part of the annual OEM panel at Homestead-Miami Speedway Saturday as part of NASCARâs Championship weekend.
There is little doubt that NASCAR is changing. A next generation car will debut in 2021, and hybrid technology isnât far behind.
âIt’s as much about the technologies that go into the vehicles that we race and how we relate those technologies and the tools we use to prepare the race cars to our production side of our business,â Campbell said. âEither in the showroom with similar technologies in our cars, trucks and crossovers, or the tools with which we prepare to race get honed and refined and improve so that when we go to apply them to the production side, they’re even better.â
The argument could be made that the enthusiasm for motorsports is still strong.
âThere is still so much passion out in the world from fans for cars and for motorsports,â said Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports.Â âI know inside of our company, inside of Ford Motor Company and inside of the Ford family there’s a lot of passion for cars and motorsports and competition to be able to connect with those fans and customers, to be able to learn and innovate and have a tech transfer to use those same tools to make our …Â to be competitive and winning and racing and to use those same tools to make our road cars even better.â
For its part Toyota isnât giving up on sedans, at least not yet.
âWe are still firmly in the car business and plan to be for a significant period of time,â said Ed Laukes, group vice president of marketing for Toyota Motor North America.Â âWe just announced an allâwheel drive on Avalon and Camry, we’re looking at Corolla right now, so that will be a significant piece of the strategy.Â We think the electrification message, whether it be hybrid, full electric, different types of power trains are going to definitely play a piece in the future.â
And all the manufacturers who race in NASCAR right now are still looking forward to a sport that will be relevant, though perhaps different, for many years to come.
âYes, motorsports is going to change,â Rushbrook said.Â âWe’re excited about the nextâgen car.Â It’s going to be even more relevant for the technology that’s inside of it, and especially with hybrid coming in that in the future, as well, and everything that we’re doing on the street cars, we think it’s just going to keep growing.â
âBut racing somehow, someway, the evolution I think will happen over time,â Laukes added. âAnd we’re still pretty bullish about it.â