Gordon Kirby recently published an article about the NASCAR takeover (oh, sorry; we are supposed to call it “merger”) of the American Le Mans Series.
Every sports car fan in North America has been arguing over the new series, which will combine the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series (NASCAR-owned) with ALMS (now also NASCAR-owned.) Kirby’s latest offering has nothing new really, except a few quotes from five-time Rolex (NASCAR’s sport car series) champion Scott Pruett.
Kirby’s article says, “Pruett believes the only way forward for the new combined series will be to apply NASCAR’s formula for manufacturing a level playing field rather than trying to encourage factory teams and high-tech machinery.”
Please note the word “relatively.”
NASCAR is probably the second-most expensive racing series, after F1. While not all team budgets reach Audi-LMP1 proportions, the amount of cash it takes for most teams to be there is substantial.
On the other hand, a NASCAR team can “Start-and-Park” for one season and earn enough in prize money to run a whole season in ALMS (or the next season in NASCAR.) So, the series is “relatively” cheap, and very profitable.
The idea that cutting costs is the best way to make money only works if you are a cut-rate chain, selling low-quality burgers to billions of customers. Since there are not billions of sports car fans or sponsors, perhaps the series should look at the profit margins on five-star restaurants instead: high quality ingredients, highly skilled kitchen staff, high prices on the menu and high profit.
But not too exotic: there are plenty of restaurants which go broke because they try to offer food so unusual and expensive that even the local epicureans cannot stomach it; those places go broke.
There is only so much the series can do to cut expenses; eventually the product will become a bargain-basement hamburger even the employees won’t eat. Indulging the tastes of the chef (engineers) instead of the customers results in menus featuring Sea Slug Tartare and such … and Chapter Eleven.
Serve up traditional food with the occasional twist, combine new flavors with old, and offer a top-rate experience form the first step into the restaurant until the final bite is finished, and the restaurant will be there forever.
Spend It to Make It–Invest in Yourself
Sometimes a business has to spend money to make money, and right now is that time. The new management needs to recognize that the fan base does Not want to watch spec racing, and does not want cars using 1950s technology. And if the fans aren’t buying, it doesn’t matter how low the team costs are—no revenue, no business.
Pruett told Kirby: “You can’t have factory teams locking out the rest of the field with their own cars that nobody else can buy and big budgets for testing and development. That frustrates a lot of wealthy individuals who want to go racing.”
I agree with some of Pruett’s ideas: if the only possible overall winners are factory teams, then most of your privateers—a huge part of the field—will look elsewhere. WEC P1 pretty much proves that (Rebellion, anyone?)
However, “dumbing down” everything is not the answer. That has been proven wrong by the failure of the Rolex series (and let us not forget that Both top-tier sports car series failed.)
Running identical kit cars won’t work, based on almost a decade of failure with that formula in Grand Am. Running hyper-priced exotica … well, maybe that would work if a Whole lot more went into marketing, but even then I am not sure the market is there.
What we need, folks, is middle ground. The cars have to have enough excitement factor to get folks to care, and enough RoI for teams and sponsors to make a living.
The real issue is How can the series do that?
Next: Somewhere Between Memory and Imagination