The 2017 NASCAR season gets underway this weekend at Daytona International Speedway. The Twin 125’s got underway today and the excitement for the season is reaching a fever pitch! Meanwhile, at the historic Silverstone Racing Circuit, Lewis Hamilton and the Mercedes AMG racing team have unveiled the new car for the 2017 Formula 1 Season. Why is someone talking about Motorsports on here? Well, let me explain to you my sporting guilty pleasure!
Ever since I was a kid I enjoyed go-kart racing! I loved the competition, the thrill of reaching high speeds and hitting those curves on the track! As I got older, I began to pay attention to what went on with motorsports. I enjoyed playing the video games and quickly learned about the drivers and the cars.
For example, It wasn’t hard to follow NASCAR because I lived between two neighbors that absolutely loved the sport! They owned Dale Earnhardt merchandise, they owned Dale Jr. clothes and hated Jeff Gordon because he was “The Rainbow Warrior in the 24 DuPont Chevy.” I hated Jeff Gordon too because what self-respecting man would drive a Monte Carlo with rainbow paint on it?
So, my favorite driver was Dale Earnhardt because he drove a black Chevy Monte Carlo with the number 3 on the side (my favorite number) and he was the most hated driver among his competitors. Dale was rude, Dale would start fights and would outrace his competitors. He was my kind of driver! When Dale died at Daytona in 2001, I felt bad as did everyone else. But, I knew Dale Jr. would soon become the most popular driver because he had to carry on his father’s legacy.
Then there’s the rivalry between the American automakers Dodge, Ford and Chevrolet. My neighbor Ray loved Ford trucks and my other neighbor Ricky loved Dodge vehicles. My dad drove a Chevy. There was this informal cold war on Benita Drive in Nashville. I thought it was funny because I would tell Ray whenever his Ford gave him trouble, “Ford stands for: Found On Road Dead”. It must be noted, I didn’t watch every single race. I didn’t have to. Ray and Ricky would tell me what happened every weekend!
Then, my friend from college gave me a ticket to the spring race at Talladega in 2009. I drove down there from Nashville at the crack of dawn not knowing what to expect. When I pulled up, it was no different than a football game! Except for the fact I could bring in hard-liquor in a plastic bottle! Winner, winner chicken dinner! The race was outstanding, feeling the draft of those cars going 200 miles per hour was intense! It certainly gets your heart pumping! There were screens showing the action up close when the cars were on the opposite side of the track. Finally, the drivers were so accessible to the fans. That’s what made NASCAR what it is today! It was easy to see why fans have their allegiances to certain guys!
Meanwhile, it was harder to follow Formula 1 in America during the 1990s and before broadband internet connections were easily accessible. Formula 1 stages 20 races around the world from Australia to Spain and their most glamorous race is the Monaco Grand Prix on Memorial Day weekend. The crowd is generally cultured and the jet-set type. Former chief executive Bernie Ecclestone believed in a pay-TV model to grow the sport (and his pockets) and seriously diluted the methods gear-heads and racing fans could follow the series everywhere. F1 was shown on the old Speed Network which was available on a subscription basis like HBO and Showtime. There was no NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) in those days and the F1-related magazines always came from England, so, the content was out-of-date by the time it reached American bookstores. It was hard, almost impossible to keep up. With the advent of high-speed internet and streaming, those walls came tumbling down.
I began to take interest in an über-competitive, sometimes divisive driver from England named Lewis Hamilton. He was driving for McClaren at the time and he was winning races in style. Hamilton was possessed by winning, was sickened if he lost and whipped the McClaren around the track as if he was 10 years old racing go-karts. It also helped his profile that he was dating Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussy Cat Dolls. He was “out-and-about” as they say!
I had the privilege of meeting Lewis at an Atlanta nightclub in 2010 and probably was the first time I was awestruck. What was a racing legend doing with super producer Polow Da Don at the infamous Velvet Room? But there he was chilling. I took his photo and shook hands with the driver. I didn’t know it then, but that’s the VIP treatment compared to what takes place on race weekend.
However, if Formula 1 could get back to the days when their drivers were accessible to the fans it would go a long way to improving the fan experience in the sport. Also, it costs around $20-$30 million to host a race and each track has to pay those staging costs. Those expenses are then passed to the customers, resulting in the highest ticket prices in motorsports. F1 has about 425 million annual viewers each season however, the sport hasn’t grown in America. The hope is with Liberty Media taking over for Ecclestone, the United States can hold a second race during the season in an attempt to increase popularity.
As the 2017 season gets underway in Formula 1 and NASCAR, I can’t wait to see how each sport integrates the fans into each broadcast and on-track experiences. It will be also interesting to see how many NASCAR fans download their app and utilize it during each race. For F1, I want to see how Liberty Media improves the accessibility of the drivers to the fans, add more races to the calendar and improve their app. Unlike NASCAR Mobile, the F1 app doesn’t allow fans to hear the driver radio or see the in-car telemetry. That would be the quickest way for F1 fans to get closer to the drivers! In addition, NBCSN has done a great job promoting both brands of motorsport as they carry both NASCAR and F1. As long as teams, drivers and the networks continue to push for access in these garages and paddocks, the fan experiences will improve!
I’ll be watching the Daytona 500 this Sunday and will attend the race weekend in Atlanta next week! The F1 season gets started March 26th in Australia! I can’t wait to hear these legendary words: Drivers, start your engines!