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The Callahan Report: Quantity & Quality - NASCAR Has The Best Package

10 September 1997

[ Jeff
Gordon Drawing ]
NASCAR Star, Jeff Gordon

INDIANAPOLIS: It doesn't take a genius to figure out why NASCAR racing is the premiere racing series in the United States. Quantity and quality are two key features when selling any product. NASCAR has both. Winston Cup racing quite simply gives race fans more "bang for your buck." Take a look at your TV listings for this weekend and you will see listings for NASCAR. The other "big time" racing series' in the U.S. are off for a while. Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) will not race again until the last weekend in September. The IRL is off until October.


With over thirty races on the schedule, NASCAR is topped out when it comes to race quantity. The majority of the (sponsored) drivers in the series make a pretty good living. They should be expected to be on the road most of the time. They are stars .... which means public and sponsor commitment. The crews on the other hand are working class dogs like most of us. They are on the road week after week with their "star" driver. Their wage is a decimal point compared to some drivers' salaries. These "behind the scenes" folks shouldn't be expected to live on the road. Given that, the quantity of races in NASCAR is at its peak.

CART on the other hand, has made it cost prohibitive to run more than seventeen races currently on its schedule. Without the draw and glamor of The Indianapolis 500, CART teams are struggling to find sponsors willing to shell out the big bucks required to go racing competitively in the series. The ROI (return on investment) for CART sponsors has dwindled rapidly since the formation of the IRL. The big selling point in CART teams marketing packages were geared towards Indianapolis prior to 1996. It is beyond me how a corporation could lose nearly half its business (television audience) and still consider the series a sound investment. The quantity of CART races and teams will continue to decrease unless the organization takes measures to reduce its racing costs. (Teams have to buy all new equipment each year to remain competitive.)

[ Al Unser,
Jr. Drawing ]
CART Star, Al Unser, Jr.

The newly formed Indy Racing League has enormous room for growth. The series has only ten races on its schedule. The league was formed with the cost of racing in mind. Rules are such that a race team will be able to use their equipment for more than just one year. This is the same approach taken by NASCAR. A lesson learned. The problem the IRL has is finding new venues to exhibit their product. The league has managed to tap into the markets traditionally dominated by NASCAR. IRL founder, Tony George, has been playing with the good ole' boys and it is paying off. George gave NASCAR its biggest payday and its biggest crowd. He, along with NASCAR's Bill France, Jr., invented the Brickyard 400. NASCAR in turn has offered up several tracks to the IRL. Much to the delight of NASCAR diehards, the racing is very good. An example ... While covering this year's Brickyard 400, I had the pleasure of talking with Bob Myers (Circle Track Magazine) at length about the IRL race at Charlotte. He stated he had never seen the Indy Cars run live until that night. He was visibly impressed with the performance, handling, and speed shown by the cars and drivers. When I asked him if was planning to return to the Charlotte IRL race next year, I received an excited "OH YES". If one IRL race can induce that kind of a response from a man who covered his first race when Moses was a driver, then IRL race quantity will surely increase.

[ Scott Sharp Drawing ]
IRL Star, Scott Sharp


The quality of the NASCAR racing shows are top notch. The racers bang sheet metal all race long. There is rarely a winning race margin more than one second. That is quality racing. Take a look at the "hometown" listings of the NASCAR drivers. Even though most of them live in the Carolinas, their hometowns would dot the map from California to New York through the Midwest and right back to the heart of their roots ... The South. This makes for quality in that it causes the crowds at the tracks to be involved. Hometown crowds love to see their hometown heros. The noise from the cheers spreads through the grandstands like the plague. In this case, it's a good thing to catch.

In CART, the quality of racing is as good as NASCAR. The problem is, CART falls short with the crowds at the track. With most of the CART races being run on street circuits and road courses, the majority of the fans miss the best passes. It is a shame because these are precision, well thought out, thrilling maneuvers. At a track like Elkhart Lake, for example, the fans only see the racers drive by 48 times. Elkhart is a beautiful place but the racing pales in comparison to 500 heart throbbing laps at a NASCAR short track race. Again, these are some of the best drivers in the world, but race fans deserve to SEE the racing action. Don't get me wrong, I have been to several road course races .. It's just that I have to watch them on tape when I return home to see the talent displayed by series' drivers.

The IRL has had several quality races this year. Some of these "quality" races have been overshadowed by the sanctioning bodies. A fan needs to have a good experience at the track. The fan needs quality from the racers all the way down to the hot dog vendors. The IRL has taken its lumps and deservedly so. There is no excuse for scoring mistakes or miscommunication. Thankfully, the league has taken immediate action to correct their blunders. The IRL is following the NASCAR lead. Fans can see all of an IRL race because the league is an all oval series. The racers don't bang wheels (usually) but the precision and speed of these cars on fast ovals is amazing. The quality is not quite there yet, but it's close. It could be written off to "growing pains."

There is one NASCAR tradition the IRL will never be able to copy. You will never see at least one IRL race without foreign drivers. The Indianapolis 500 has always had international appeal. As long as Indy is part of the IRL series, there will always be foreign drivers. This is a good thing. Indy is so prestigious, it should have the best drivers in the world....not just this great nation.

With CART and the IRL taking their fall break, it is NASCAR to the rescue of the racing junky. If the two open wheel series' keep their race quantity numbers low, NASCAR will continue to build and watch its fan base grow. Sponsorship money will go where there are customers in the grandstands. NASCAR has a working model. America's other two "big time" series' had better be taking good notes.

Terry Callahan -- The Auto Channel