May 14, 2001
Racing Fans Can't Get No SatisfactionBy JR Nerad
Maybe it was those years I spent at J.D. Power and Associates (you know, the customer satisfaction experts), but I somehow expect enterprises that depend on big audiences to fill their coffers actually to care about the fans who pay top dollar to file through the turnstiles. Apparently, however, auto racing has never gotten the message.
Oh, I can't fault the small tracks that dot the American countryside. The regulars who frequent the quarter-mile and half-mile bullrings around the country generally get what they pay for -- namely, an inexpensive night of family entertainment composed of a cheap seat, reasonably priced hot dog, and a cold beer. You can afford to bring the kids, and they're not going to see anything more offensive than the occasional fistfight, either in the stands or between two disgruntled drivers.
What really amazes me is so-called big-time racing like CART and Formula One. Both open-wheel series charge absolutely top dollar for their tickets and depend heavily on their television audiences, yet the powers that are within their organizations seem to consider the race fans to be little more than mild nuisances. To confirm that, simply compare the quality of the seating, parking and refreshments at most major racing venues to those at major league baseball or football stadiums. Most often, to attend a big race as fan you have to endure horrendous traffic jams, dusty (or muddy) parking lots perhaps miles from the seats, indifferent food at ridiculously high prices, and rest room facilities that would make a Green Beret blanch.
Last year, fans at the British Grand Prix were forced to endure conditions so deplorable that it became a national scandal. Yes, F1 officials did assure the media that changes would be made, but if another downpour hits the track this year is anyone convinced that the conditions won't be equally bad?
The most recent example of the fans-last attitude came with the recent cancellation of what was to be the inaugural CART race at much-maligned Texas Motor Speedway. Citing a "safety problem," the sanctioning body cancelled the race minutes before the green flag was to fall with some 60,000 fans already in the stands and a big television audience nervously fingering their remote controls. Now, nobody (and certainly not this reporter) wants to see any race driver killed. And from all indications there really was some possibility of CART drivers actually passing out at the wheels of their race machines. But the question has to be asked: why didn't anyone representing this supposedly high-tech, leading-edge race series figure all this out BEFORE race day?
To compound the problem, CART officials were pretty cavalier in the way they delivered the news of the cancellation to the media, the thousands of race fans on the scene and even the Texas Motor Speedway's promoter, Eddie Gossage. "Tough luck" was the general tone of the hastily arranged press conference.
Already stung by the continued absence of the Indianapolis 500, CART has continually fumbled the ball this season, first with the cancellation of the race in Brazil and then with the abrupt cancellation of the Texas Motor Speedway event. One has to ask, just how masochistic do they think race fans are?
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