sportscarpros Gallery

Stuck In Neutral

Grand Am Honcho Roger Edmondson attended this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. He was there as a guest of Tracy Krohn. After returning to the States, his take on the French endurance classic, according to Adam Saal – Grand Am’s PR Flak – was “great show, horrible race. The winning car won by laps.”

Hey Roger, your season finale had 4 great drivers all fighting for the DP championship. Like all GA races, the cars were equally matched and the racing was close. And nobody was in the stands to watch it. What do you call that? How about this: “Great race, no show.”

The 2007 Grand Am final act, held at Utah’s beautiful Miller Motorsports Park was the latest example of the organization’s biggest problem – if the series isn’t partnered with either NASCAR or the IRL, the stands are virtually empty. MMP was a modern day version of a windy, dusty, deserted, old, western ghost town.

Parent company NASCAR has proved beyond debate that they know how to promote a race series with equally matched, low technology cars, driven mostly by excellent drivers and owned by astute businessmen. According to some of the team owners, the Grand Am higher ups have the same arrogance and “my way or the highway” attitude of NASCAR. So why can’t they put a substantial number of fans in the stands, especially at stand alone events?

Chicken Or Egg

An equally fair question can be asked to the majority of Grand Am team owners, Why can’t you do a better job of promoting yourself, your team, and your drivers? Yes, there are some organizations that understand how to do this. Alex Job and Ruby Tuesday advertise nationally and at every 800 of their restaurants. Playboy…..ok, bad example, a Playboy bunny shows up wearing a tight t shirt and she will draw a crowd anywhere….but even at Salt Lake Tommy C had a go kart event for his guests. Telmex had Salvador Duran’s picture on every (yes “every’) Telmex phone booth in Mexico City the Tuesday following the 24 Hours of Daytona (think of the logistics of that!). Hypersport and SoBe entertained corporate guests and the Hollywood “media” at Miller.

However, the majority of team owners seem to think the only purpose of their pr rep is to take the race results and driver quotes, write a press release, xerox copies and distribute them in the press room, file a story to the local papers and post it to the team website. This is all great. But how does this differ from a well funded, 16 year- old kid running in a SCCA regional? Not one damn bit.

Most of these team owners either can’t or don’t think outside of the box. And they have plenty of examples on how to do it better, right in front of their faces. Come on, think………………...NASCAR? Yes! NASCAR.

How does NASCAR and their teams generate attention for loud, ugly (yes, the car of tomorrow is ugly) spec racers that only turn left 34 out of 36 races a year?

1) They invent the news and then continually cram it down the throats of the media and the racing fans. Every NASCAR races has a few story lines – Toyota entering the series, Sprint vs. ATT, Robby Gordon being Robby Gordon, Tony Stewart pissed off at Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart pissed off at NASCAR, Tony Stewart pissed off…. you get the picture. So every race has tension, often several different story lines of tension. The green flag drops, the race unfolds, the checkered flag waves. Some of the tension is resolved, other stories continue a week or two, and new stories are born all throughout the season.

2) The teams promote their drivers especially away from the track. Tony Stewart has a pet monkey, Jeff Gordon spends his spare time in the Big Apple, Mark Martin is a body builder, Dale Jarrett plays golf at Augusta National, etc. The NASCAR machine realizes if you generate interest off the track – if you make the fans’ heroes mortal – they will eat virtually any pile of shit you feed them on the track.

So why can’t Grand Am do this? You have a paddock full of interesting people – Fortune 500 moguls, racing legends, the sons of racing legends, actors, athletes from other sports, and the future stars of NASCAR.

Until the Grand Am organization commits to spending more money in a number of key areas; until the majority of Grand Am team owners decide this isn’t the SCCA; and until most of the sponsors on Grand Am cars decide to activate their sponsorship beyond contingency dollars and hero cards - the series will remain what it is. Great side by side competitive racing with the loud roar of the cars’ engines echoing off of empty grandstands. Blowing in the wind.

Enjoy the pics.

Richard Dole
September, 2007

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