Mar 14, 2005
Is NASCAR really the only racing Americans seem to care about? That is a logical assumption to be drawn from the past couple of weekends, which featured the opening of the IndyCar and Formula One racing seasons with hardly a ripple of interest from U.S. racing fans, at least as evidenced by the television ratings. Water cooler talk? You've got to be kidding. This, of course, begs the question, what has happened to open-wheel racing in the United States?
Oh, F1 has never drawn a great deal of interest on this side of the pond, though it seems to have a stranglehold on racing fans around the globe. But there was a time when the open-wheel United States Auto Club "Champ Cars" were America's ultimate level of racing, while the stock cars of NASCAR were just a bumpkin show relegated to the Southeast. How times have changed! These days NASCAR gets all the ink (and TV audiences), while the IndyCar and the rival Champ Car series are idling in neutral. When it comes to the IndyCar series, race fans don't seem very interested in anything other than the Indianapolis 500. Champ Car, of course, doesn't have anything like that tradition with its opening race in Long Beach being its closest approximation.
Interestingly, Champ Car seems to think that one of its keys to success lies overseas. Recently, one of its principals, Kevin Kalkhoven, embarked on a trip to Korea, Japan and China to drum up support for his series over there. Korea will have a Champ Car race this year, but Kalkhoven is desirous of placing races in China and Hokkaido, Japan's northern island. And he returned from his trip encouraged that the Chinese and Japanese races might become a reality.
But Champ Car's key problem is right here in the U.S. If the series is going to prove desirable to big American corporate sponsors it has to get decent TV ratings. It is as simple as that. And sending more races out of the country, many of which couldn't be viewed live, will do nothing to boost those TV ratings. Instead, it will probably send them in the other direction.
So, sadly, the state of American open-wheel racing is grim. And we say that's sad because open-wheel racing can be such a great show and such a great testing ground for advanced technology. But once the wagon starts sliding downhill, how do you turn it around?
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