Are Pro Races That Much Better to Watch Than Amateur Events?


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As a racer myself, I don’t watch a lot of racing. I’m not entirely sure why this is; I guess maybe it hits too close to home. When I watch racing, it feels like work: I invariably know many of the teams and the guys on them, and a lot of them either do business with us, should be doing business with us, or in a few cases owe us money for doing business with us. When I watch football, I think of none of this stuff, so it provides much more relaxation.

There’s also the fact that when you do something yourself, it is not as exciting to watch others do it. You feel like you should be out there.

Recently, however, I spent back-to-back weekends watching other people track their cars. And while both were sports car races, the experiences were night-and-day different.

First I found myself at Indy watching the SCCA Runoffs. The event put nearly 1000 cars on track, and we were there to help celebrate the SCCA’s milestone.

Sitting on a cold, hard bench at Indy’s Turn 1 with about 500 diehard friends and family, I witnessed some of the best racing I had ever seen. Many of the race groups, including SRF and Spec Miata, were at the 72-car limit of what the track could handle. Watching them come down the front straight and dive into the right-left combo formed by Turns 1 and 2 was simply amazing.

The Spec Miata drivers got it right and didn’t scratch a single car–impressive on what has to be the fastest straight leading into the tightest corner in American road racing. The SRF crowd had less luck (or skill), and a huge pileup occurred on their first lap. The subsequent EP and American Sedan races were just electrifying.

While I was there at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I thought back to a trip I had made a few years ago to the Indy 500. Some 100,000 fans waited in line for hours to get into that event, fighting the traffic and paying high ticket prices to watch 30–40 nearly identical cars go by them so fast, they could barely see them.

I couldn’t help but wonder: If those people had been sitting in the cheap seats at the Runoffs ($25 a day admission for that event), would they have seen and enjoyed what I saw? Would they agree that it was much cooler to watch drivers masterfully weave through the infield road course instead of that infamous, yet so mind-numbingly boring, oval?

Just a week later, I got another chance to experience racing as a spectator. As a guest of Mercedes-AMG, I was invited for a world-class experience at Petit Le Mans, the IMSA season finale at Road Atlanta. Mercedes had flown in some of their high-end customers as well as a handful of journalists to show off the fruits of their first year at American sports car racing’s highest level.

Instead of the cold, hard seats at Indy–or the red clay dirt that I know so well from the infield at Road Atlanta–Mercedes had constructed a huge, temporary building featuring a patio filled with comfy couches and a huge indoor lounge with big-screen TVs. Oh, and let’s not forget the open bar and more world-class food than even a wealthy Mercedes customer or greedy journalist could eat.

What a difference a week makes!

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t watch a lot of racing, so I was rather shocked to find tens of thousands of fans poured into Road Atlanta to do just that. Unlike the flat tracks we have here in Florida, Road Atlanta is a fantastic place to watch racing. The elevation changes make for great viewing, so while not everyone was sitting on a patio, sipping free drinks at the start of the race, I could certainly see the appeal.

I am thrilled that IMSA road racing has become so popular in the U.S. I also marveled at the off-track contest the manufacturers had trying to outdo each other when it came to fan displays and hospitality setups. While Mercedes seemed to clearly win this contest, there were also impressive showings from Porsche, Mini, Alfa, BMW, Ford and others.

This is all good for road racing in America, but the contrast between my two race weekends does make me wonder why one event can draw so many fans while one can’t–and doesn’t even try. Honestly, the racing was just as watchable at both venues. And I remember when the SCCA Runoffs attracted similar fan counts to what IMSA does today.

People are obviously interested in racing, as IMSA events like Daytona, Sebring and Petit Le Mans have proved. Why does nobody come to the Runoffs anymore?

You could argue that with the Runoffs moving every year, it is hard to develop a fan base at any one particular venue. You could also argue that the SCCA puts its resources into creating a world-class experience for drivers and has little left for promoting to spectators. You could blame tracks like Indy for not even trying to promote the Runoffs to spectators.

Whatever the reason, it should change. I, for one, got to see some of the best racing I have ever seen–without fighting crowds and for little money. Sure, wine and caviar are nice, but the cheap seats are pretty damn good, too.

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HapDL
HapDL New Reader
2/26/18 4:22 p.m.

Runoffs were great, some really good racing.  Same for club racing at the regional level.  "Pro" racing is highly overrated, most drivers aren't "pro" drivers at all, and the driving reflects it.  And then there is nonsense that goes on behind the scenes with the sanctioning body trying to make sure all the car makers are happy by giving them all a race win or two thanks to the God of BOP.  It is just ridiculous.

bmw88rider
bmw88rider SuperDork
2/26/18 6:15 p.m.

You can't really generalize. There are good pro racing and good amateur racing. With the Run offs you get the best of the best. You take a random SCCA or nasa regional race and it's a crap shoot.  There is usually some decent racing in the Spec classes but there is also a lot of crashes. 

 

DTM, Aussie V8, IMSA (especially the CTSC) is some really good racing. Where as most of the 911 Cup series are ehh at best. PWC has been hit and miss on the racing side in recent years. I think that this year will be more of a miss. 

 

I like racing so it's all good. I've worked all of the series that currently run in the US. I've seen a lot of racing the last 6 years. 

frenchyd
frenchyd Dork
2/26/18 6:58 p.m.

In reply to HapDL :racing goes in cycles I remember Can-Am in its glory days and when it couldn’t generate a crowd

same with Trans Am

Vintage

NASCAR

etc  

 

stan
stan UltraDork
2/27/18 11:38 a.m.

 I always went to the Runoffs when they were at Mid-Ohio. Always took that Friday off work too. My favorite race(s) of the year. Couldn't get to Indy last year (it's about the same travel-time for me), but the next time it's that close I plan on being there.

 

Stan

Devilsolsi
Devilsolsi Reader
2/27/18 12:01 p.m.

As I mentioned on the FB post, I only have so much time and money to devote to attending races. I gravitate towards the series that I follow the closest, which is IMSA. Close racing is great, but it's even better when you have some sort of vested interest in a car/team/driver. 

 

Would it be cool to go as a spectator to the runoffs? Of course! Would I choose that over going to an IMSA race? Nope.

Jaynen
Jaynen UltraDork
2/27/18 12:23 p.m.

Sounds like I need to do the runoffs at VIR this year then because its an amazing track

FIYAPOWA
FIYAPOWA New Reader
2/27/18 1:02 p.m.

I would say that amateur racing is better to watch.  In my observations of road racing, even a minor variation in lap times will spread the field out quickly, and there that much actual competition to watch.  On the other hand, Spec Miata (for example) there isn't as much variation, plus large fields ensure there are battles throughout the field.  This also tells me that what makes a race exciting isn't the speed of the field, but the competition in it.

On a related note, road racing is inherently difficult to watch, because there usually isn't someplace in the stands you can sit and see the entire track, so you only see a few corners at best.  This ends up being better to watch on television or coordinated video feed.  

Compare high-end road racing to the average local dirt/paved oval tracks across the nation - tons of fans on a regular basis, lots of close racing, and they can see the entire track.  Even if the leader breaks away, he has to make his way through traffic. 

 

TL;DR: large fields of slower, more closely matched cars is better than small fields of super-fast cars.

Devilsolsi
Devilsolsi Reader
2/27/18 1:43 p.m.
FIYAPOWA said:

I would say that amateur racing is better to watch.  In my observations of road racing, even a minor variation in lap times will spread the field out quickly, and there that much actual competition to watch.  On the other hand, Spec Miata (for example) there isn't as much variation, plus large fields ensure there are battles throughout the field.  This also tells me that what makes a race exciting isn't the speed of the field, but the competition in it.

On a related note, road racing is inherently difficult to watch, because there usually isn't someplace in the stands you can sit and see the entire track, so you only see a few corners at best.  This ends up being better to watch on television or coordinated video feed.  

Compare high-end road racing to the average local dirt/paved oval tracks across the nation - tons of fans on a regular basis, lots of close racing, and they can see the entire track.  Even if the leader breaks away, he has to make his way through traffic. 

 

TL;DR: large fields of slower, more closely matched cars is better than small fields of super-fast cars.

Some of what you mentioned is why the multi-class racing (such as IMSA) is so appealing to me as a fan. THere is always something going on. This year at Daytona I used my iPod to listen to IMSA radio the entire time I was at the track. it was great being able to hear the commentators the entire time to know what is going on. Without the radio feed, I probably wouldn't have had any idea about all the tire issues, the 5 minute stop and hold for the #29 Audi, etc..

j_tso
j_tso New Reader
2/27/18 6:16 p.m.

I'd go to pro races to see the latest machines and the fastest lap times.  Plus vendors and manufacturer booths are interesting to see.

However, there's better paddock access for spectators with the drivers and teams at amateur races.  Sometimes it's fun to trade notes over the track and set ups.

To be totally honest, it's better to watch racing on TV.  You get to see pit stops up close and it's easier to find out about mechanical failures.  Plus no need to deal with traffic and pricey concessions.

MotorsportsGordon
MotorsportsGordon Reader
2/27/18 11:09 p.m.
j_tso said:

I'd go to pro races to see the latest machines and the fastest lap times.  Plus vendors and manufacturer booths are interesting to see.

However, there's better paddock access for spectators with the drivers and teams at amateur races.  Sometimes it's fun to trade notes over the track and set ups.

To be totally honest, it's better to watch racing on TV.  You get to see pit stops up close and it's easier to find out about mechanical failures.  Plus no need to deal with traffic and pricey concessions.

That depends on the type of pro racing your talking about. Imsa and alms etc have traditionally had great great paddock access and usually is included with any ticket. Tv wise yes depending on where you are watching but it’s easy to find out about that stuff with radio lemans,they are some of the best you that will ever cover a race.

te72
te72 New Reader
2/28/18 1:02 a.m.

Best seat in the house is the driver's seat. Second best seat is one where you get lots of good camera feeds.

 

I say good competition makes for better spectating than outright speed or skill. Take two competitors (or more!) of similar skill levels, and watch them jockey for position, it's a hoot! The top level pros, they make passing look so easy sometimes, I miss that they even did something. It's truly magical in that sense.

 

That last point is why I'll likely never be at that level. I can cut fantastic times around a track, but there are always better drivers out there that can exploit a weakness without you even realizing you were doing something wrong.

 

As far as crowds and whatnot, I still say that if you took beer away from any sport, you'd find out who your true fans are. This goes for any sport, and frankly, the idea of selling copious amounts of alcohol and entertaining folks with really fast cars, then expecting them to get home safely without incident? I know the responsibility is on the consumer, but... seems poorly matched if you ask me.

dxman92
dxman92 Reader
3/1/18 8:16 p.m.

I tend to prefer watching road racing on tv. The only series I enjoy watching in person are Global Rallycross and World of Outlaws. Those events don't seem to have a bad sear in the house and overall good experience.

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
3/2/18 7:32 a.m.

If only I could get V8 Supercar, BTCC, DTM on cable I would be a happy camper.

bmw88rider
bmw88rider SuperDork
3/2/18 9:07 a.m.

V8 Supercar actually has a great feed through their superview program. It's only $48 for the year. DTM has been on CBS Sn on tape delay. BTCC has streamed through their website in the past: http://www.btcc.net/live-zone/live-streaming/

MotorsportsGordon
MotorsportsGordon Reader
3/2/18 10:26 a.m.

You can also watch various touring series like supercars,dtm,btcc,tcr,etc on motor trend on demand.

ill be watching the Adelaide 500 races on it this weekend.

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