Is The Future Of Auto Racing In Danger?

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Normally, I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to what comes out of NPR. Let’s just say that I don’t fit into their demographics or target audience. But I came across an article from NPR last week that got my attention. It was about the upcoming generation of millennials and their disdain for the automobile. The article focused on how this affected the auto industry, but I got to thinking how it would translate into the future of motorsports.

This is not about the doom and gloom of the IndyCar series. God only knows there is enough of that out there, without me adding to it. This is simply pondering the future of all motorsports across the board and its appeal or lack thereof to the upcoming generation.

There is some debate over when the age of the millennials started. For our purposes, let’s say that it encompasses anyone born between 1985 and 2000 – a range that includes both of my kids; my daughter was born in 1988 and my son in 1989. As the article points out; the millennials make up about eighty million of the US population and they represent the greatest number today besides the baby-boomers, which I am a member of.

Next month, I will hit the milestone of fifty-five, which means I will be eligible for a senior-citizen discount at movie theaters and some fine dining establishments such as Denny’s. To make me feel even more like a dinosaur – I share the demographic of baby-boomer with those that were born as early as 1946 through 1964. It is small consolation that I am on the younger end of the baby-boom spectrum. Like most my age, I am delusional and convince myself into thinking that I’m really more like the thirty-somethings more than I am the sixty-somethings. But the truth of the matter is, I’m enough of a curmudgeon and an old fuddy-duddy that I could pass for an octogenarian (Get off my lawn!).

Whatever the case, I have a hard time relating to the mindset of the millennials. I realize that every generation claims that the one coming behind them will destroy the earth as we know it. Consequently, every new generation claims that they are part of a revolution that will completely overthrow conventional thinking. Sometimes, there is truth in both claims.

I don’t care to discuss what is perceived as the poor work-ethics, strange values and bizarre goals of the millennials. That’s for someone else to dwell on at another site. What does concern me as far as the future of IndyCar and motorsports in general, is the way the new generation views auto racing.

Like many, I have personal experience being involved with my kids growing up. My son played T-Ball, where they didn’t keep score and everyone got a trophy. In Little League, winning was de-emphasized. It was only important to have fun, instead of trying to win. Later on, I was exposed to meetings with teachers where it was apparent that competition was looked upon as evil and something to be avoided at all cost. Consequently, my son is now twenty-four and lives in an unreal world where no one should be rewarded for hard work, everyone should be entitled to everything and we are all equal. This is not only his mindset, but the vast majority of his friends and co-workers.

I grew up in the sixties. To quote Charles Dickens; it was the best of times and the worst of times. Unlike the placid fifties, there was civil unrest, violence and riots in the sixties. Those that were of college age focused on social issues much more so than in any other previous generation. The result was a massive shift in culture by the end of the decade – for better or worse, depending on your perspective.

But sports were a huge part of the sixties, as well. In my opinion, that was the birth of the modern sports era – mainly due to television. For the first time, the World Series was available for everyone to watch. The Super Bowl was born in the late sixties. The world got its first real expanded look at the Indianapolis 500 through ABC’s Wide World of Sports. The Olympics were televised and many saw the events for the first time ever. Competition was still considered a good thing in those days, for the most part.

Auto racing gained immense popularity in the sixties. Muscle cars were the envy of every prepubescent male on the planet. With the introduction of the Mustang, Camaro, GTO and Firebird, to go along with the still affordable Corvette – car enthusiasts were in a virtual heaven. On weekends, they would try to catch just a glimpse of Formula One or USAC Championship racing on television. “Car guys” were insatiable. Another benefit to being a car guy was that the cooler car you had, the better looking girl you got. Gasoline was plentiful at thirty-five cents a gallon. It didn’t take a huge bite from your wallet to fill your car and go cruising. America had a love affair with its cars. Life was good.

I was too young to drive in the sixties. I didn’t turn sixteen until 1974. But by the time I was eight years old, I could glance at a car and tell you if it was a 1966 or 1967 Mustang. The culture in those days required that kids my age learn the subtle differences between all makes of cars. To not be able to pick a 1968 GTO out of a group of cars, brought your manhood into question.

Today, things are different – way different. The NPR article reinforced what I already knew. Today’s kids, teenagers and young adults aren’t interested in cars. They are viewed as expensive contraptions meant only to get you from Point-A to Point-B in a very efficient and green manner. Perhaps what is most perplexing to me and those of my age is how many of today’s kids have no desire to get their driver’s license. For months, I counted down the days to my sixteenth birthday. I still remember it was a sunny Thursday afternoon when my mother took me to the DMV to take my driving test on my birthday after school. After passing the test, I took my mother home and I was off to the races – literally. That was pretty much the norm.

My son turned sixteen in 2005. Yet, for whatever reason, he didn’t get his license until about two months later. Susan’s oldest son finally got his license about six months after his sixteenth birthday. Her youngest waited until he was almost eighteen before she essentially forced him to get it. What’s up with that? I’ve seen reports where kids today would much rather be driven around instead of ever getting behind the wheel. They don’t want to get their license. I cannot even process that way of thinking.

Unfortunately, there is also a fast growing segment of today’s youth that are completely uninterested in sports. Even the mainstream sports of football, baseball and basketball are not holding the attention of today’s youth as in years past. Yes, there are still plenty of kids who are fanatical about one of the traditional stick & ball sports – but the waning in popularity is growing. Perhaps the message that competition is bad is starting to take hold in some of the population.

The combination in the lack of interest in cars among the millennials and the decrease of popularity in sports among today’s youth presents a troubling picture for the future of motorsports. No longer do young men drool over the sight of a monster-sized polished engine. The smell of racing fuel is not intoxicating as it used to be. The sight of a sleek racing machine at speed is no longer mesmerizing to most young men or women. Throw in the fact that people can still lose their lives while competing against each other to see who can go the fastest, and you get questions why anyone would do that instead of being awestruck by those that compete. Just as my generation had no interest in boxing, this new generation may look at racing as a sport whose time has passed.

Much has been said and written on this site and many other places about going after the casual fan or the young fan. The assumption is that if they get exposed to any form of racing, they’ll immediately fall in love with it. Why? Because that’s what happened to us. If it worked as a tonic on us, surely it will do the same to our kids. Right? Wrong.

Like most racing-fan parents, I took my kids to races. At age three, my son could name two-thirds of the starting field of the 1992 Indianapolis 500 – just by looking at the pictures of the cars. In the early to mid-nineties, he was almost as passionate about IndyCar racing as I was. But his peers didn’t get racing and they drug him away from it. His last race was the 2005 Indianapolis 500 – which was a great race. I think if he never went back, it would suit him just fine. He no longer follows sports and sees no point in cars racing against each other. And I think his way of thinking is probably a good representation of his age group.

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The baby-boomers will be around to carry IndyCar, NASCAR and Formula One through another decade or so, but what about the future?

Andretti Autosport has announced plans to compete in the Formula E championship in 2014. If you are unfamiliar with Formula E, it is an eco-friendly championship running totally electric race cars in ten cities around the world. This is being hailed as the future of motorsports. Michael Andretti was quoted as saying that this will keep auto racing relevant. The batteries will only last for twenty-five minutes. As the batteries run down, the driver will come into the pits and run 100 meters to a freshly charged car.

I know I’m reverting to my octogenarian phase again, but if that’s what it takes to keep auto racing relevant in the future – count me out. What about savoring the smell of methanol/ethanol in the air? Where is the exhilarating sound? One of the things that I didn’t care for with the turbine cars at Indianapolis in 1967-68, was the irritating whine that replaced the thunderous roar of an Offenhauser or the throaty sound of a Ford V-8. As cool as I thought those cars were at the age of ten, I knew they sorely lacked the sound of a real engine.

So is the long-term future of auto racing doomed as we know it? Not exactly.

When I was growing up in the late sixties, I was terrified at the thought of going to college and dealing with riots, violence and unrest. By the time I got there in 1976, the pendulum had swung the other way. The long-haired hippies in tie-dye of the late sixties were replaced by short-haired kids in khakis, buttoned-down shirts and penny-loafers who actually bathed regularly.

Just because, at this moment, it appears that there is a profound lack of interest in the automobile among young people; does not mean it will always be that way. Just as there were many of us who stayed silent that didn’t necessarily agree with the hippie movement – I think there are still a lot of closet car fans out there. It is no longer politically correct among their peers to say they are into gas-guzzling machines that they would like to race – but they are still out there.

Perhaps the pendulum will swing again, just as it did about forty years ago when I was coming of age. The cultural difference between 1969 and 1979 was huge. It’s hard to believe that the mindset of the nation and the world could change that quickly.

So who knows? Things could change where it’s suddenly cool again to covet someone else’s set of wheels. Stranger things have happened. If there is a resurgence of interest among young people in the automobile, I think auto racing will stay relevant in this country for a long time.

George Phillips

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37 Responses to “Is The Future Of Auto Racing In Danger?”

  1. SInce I’m a little older than you are, George, I agree completely with what you’ve said. I’ve always said the high water mark in American civilization was July 20, 1969, when we first landed on the moon. It has been downhill ever since, and today if we decided to go back to the moon, it would take us longer to get there than it did in the sixites, even though we had virtually no computers back then.

    I think part of the reason that today’s youths are not so into sports is that there is so much “sports” out there. In the sixties, you could watch a few MLB games during the week, but many stadiums (stadia?) did not have lights then, so prime time sports simply didn’t exist to the extent they do now. Even on the weekends, except for ABC’s Wide World of Sports, there was very little sports TV coverage except during the traditional seasons of fall (Labor Day to Thanksgiving) for football, winter (January to March) for basketball, and summer (April through September) for baseball. Nowadays, the market is diluted with too much “product” to choose from.

  2. Pffft… as long as there is testosterone in the world there will be people wanting to drive fast. It’s in our DNA. before auto-racing, it was bicycle racing. Whatever wheeled contrivance replaces the automobile someday, you can bet that people will want to race them.

    As for the hope for millenials, check out http://www.jalopnik.com It’s where car nut 20 somethings go.

    Also, my son is 12 and him and his friends are my go to source of information about supercars, and high end sportscars. They watch Top Gear religiously.

  3. popoffvalve Says:

    I don’t know you, George, but I saw this blog shared on Facebook, and I found it interesting. Coming from a Gen-X open wheel racing nut, perhaps you will find my ideas interesting.

    1) My first car was a 1974 Chevrolet Nova (in 1983). Then I worked my way back to a 1967 Camaro. I had “muscle cars” because they were still readily available and cheap. I think we paid $1200 for the Camaro, and it was a convertible. Today’s youth had no access to fun, cheap, performance cars. You can see some yearning in them in the way they modify late model Japanese cars to attempt the same thing, but let’s face it, it’s not the same. They never had the muscle car experience.

    2) Old people always think the best year was the last year that they were young. But it is not true. Conservative thinking (not political, but in general), is the resistance to change and the desire to maintain a world that is already gone. I would humbly suggest that old folks who don’t “get” young folks should approach them with more of an open mind and try to learn what they are all about. They are products of their upbringings, just like we were of ours, and neither group is necessarily in the right about anything.

    3) So sports and racing are not so popular with the young people. Maybe, just maybe, the fact that the sports suck has something to do with this. Racing in particular in America is a sad joke, with the NASCAR huckster clan now controlling everything except Indy Car and seemingly intent on turning everything into the WWF/WWE. Indy Car was destroyed by the split, the stupidity of the Hulman-Georges, and the sociopathic behavior of the CART owners. It will never be what it was in 1995, and in my opinion, it will probably would not survive the loss of the 3 key car owners, so the whole thing depends on 3 rich guys continuing to be amused by their hobby.

    4) And finally, so what? So what if it goes away? Do our old-timer preferences have anything to do with how society will be 100 years from now? How about we let the kids shape the world they want, and spend our waning years enjoying the ride? If racing went away tomorrow, I would be upset for a little while, but I would move onto something else. Too many other things in life are just so much more important.

    • That was a lot of space to plead for something that isn’t so. Sports are more popular today than ever before. Look at the NFL Channel and the college athletic conferences television channel. FOX, NBC and CBS are getting into the sports channel business and it isn’t to satisfy the baby boomers itch.

  4. Tom is right and my son, Jack, who is celebrating his 14th birthday today, recieved a pair of driving gloves for when he goes go-carting. He gets it.

  5. I’m a Gen-Xer at the ripe “young” age of 42, and I too couldn’t wait to get my drivers license. However, here on the East Coast, the automobile is now a sign of traffic, insurance, and high fuel expense. Even I commute to Jersey City (directly across the Hudson River from NYC) via mass transportation, as the same commute in my car is longer and filled with great stop-and-go frustration.

    I also think that the younger generation doesn’t “get” racing because of NASCAR; I can’t tell you how many times folks of all ages ask why I’d want to watch cars go around in circles. And with self-driving cars on the horizon, I suspect people will get more excited about that than the rattle of an inefficient V8.

  6. Good topic, George. It would be interesting to see what–if anything–is circling the oval at IMS in 20 years.

  7. Here’s what happened, George: soccer/baseball/hockey parents.

    As you noted, the generation just before yours was competition-crazy, and some people took it too far. They taught their kids that winning was more important than fairness and that boorish behavior in the name of getting ahead was more important than civility or decency. They got into fist fights with other parents when their kids body checked them the wrong way at the rink. They rubbed their kids’ trophies in other people’s faces to make themselves feel big and others feel small. They took their kids’ successes on board as their own and pushed their kids to give them more.

    The people who became parents around the time you did bore the brunt of that influence growing up. They began to perceive competition as little more than an avenue for bullying. They saw that some people had come to prefer winning at all costs (read: as a cheat) over winning fairly and understood the negative messaging that accompanied that mentality. They started to believe that the only fair outcome is “losing is bad, so everybody wins” — hence the trophies for everyone. The pendulum that had swung to one extreme swung back again to the other. That’s where we’re at now.

    It’s my hope that there are more people out there like me — parents of very young children who are observing the pattern and feel it’s important to restore an appetite for healthy, fair, civil competition in the name of self-improvement — who can help to swing the pendulum back again, more gently this time, and restore balance to a fundamental part of life that the human spirit craves at its very base.

    But based on what I see when I look around me, I’m not always optimistic that change is on the horizon.

    • I agree with a lot of what Steph is saying. I think the kids saw their parents in hyper-competitive freak-out mode (which I have seen first-hand as a soccer parent myself) and are reacting by keeping sports more in balance. My daughters aren’t much into any sport, I think because they don’t see the benefit from the time invested more than anything. They see other activities as generation more benefit than watching sports. I have to admit I’m a bit of the same. The idea that the commie school system is indoctrinating our youth to hate competition is idiocy, frankly. I believe our youth have seen all the bad that comes from hyper competition .. the win at any cost and ends justify the means mentality … and are reacting negatively to that.

      • I coach my daughters 7th and 8th grade girls soccer team. Last Saturday one of the girls asked me if I would play her on the left side, instead of the right. When I asked why she told me “my parents are sitting over there, and I want to be as far away from them as possible.”

      • Sam in the Glen Says:

        Dog, don’t be too quick to dismiss the “competion is bad” thing as idiocy. My sister teaches middle school in New Hampshire and has for the past fourteen years. She says she is repeatedly bombarded with memos, in-service plans and the like instructing them to down-play any activities that may emphasize competition. They have actually had formal workshops pointing out how competition can damage a child’s outlook in the future.

        While I agree that out of control parents is as good a reason as any to sway your child from sports, the dislike for competition is real in education today.

        • I coached my son’s soccer and basketball teams when he was a 1st grader to his third grade year. I did that so that I could insure that he and his team mates would enjoy themselves, maybe get a few of the fundamentals and begin a life-time love for the sports. We didn’t win much in the second grade, but we did finish strong. Each season the kids got trophies or medals for their efforts, but they all knew the score and enjoyed winning. With that said, the only thing that has changed since I was a kid is that everyone got a reward for playing, but what remains the same is that the winning team got trophies that said 1st place.

          By the way, the second grade basketball team lost all of their games except the last two and that is a tribute to their not quitting and wanting to win atitude. Those wins were sweet, too.

          One more point, the trophy collecting for ALL players stops at the middle school/Jr. high level. There and beyond it is all about competition and nothing beats high school sports. Pure competition!

  8. billytheskink Says:

    I do not fear for the future of auto racing, but I don’t expect every current racing series to respond well to the challenges that lie ahead of the sport.

    While the rising cost of cars, gasoline, and (especially) insurance pose significant threats to kids’ interest in cars, perhaps as significant is how few truly interesting cars are within the grasp of the average young person’s ownership. After all, the more interested you are in your own car, the more likely it is that you will become a “car person”.

    Even the unachievable “interesting” cars often seem less so.
    As a car guy, I always like to tell this story. A few years back at the local auto show, I was looking through the Jaguars, one of which sported a big 5+ liter V8. When I popped the hood to check out this monster of an engine, I saw nothing more than a plastic sheet and an oil cap. Not only was this extremely uninspiring, it completely defeated the purpose of the hood.

    Some millennials (not a fan of this term, but it seems to be sticking) may never care about cars or auto racing, perhaps a greater share than in previous generations. But I do not expect there to be a shortage of ones of who can care, and it is up to the auto manufacturers and racing series to find out how to make them. Someone will get it right, someone always has.

    • agree, especially with last point. it’s up to the racing series themselves to find ways to make cars and drivers and events interesting and relevant to the new audience. I don’t know if that’s green technology or design or performance, but if I ran a racing series, I’d be looking to see what the future audience might be interested in.

  9. Part of it is that school children are indoctrinated with a hate of everythng American. And few things are more American than the Indy 500 and oval racing. Maybe baseball and apple pie. Hence the yearning to copy europe.

    Same situation with cars. These poor kids are being taught that cars are evil and destroy the planet. That speed kills. All so the ruling class can run their lives.

    But there is also more to it. The cars have become so complex that few people can do repairs or revisions to their own cars. So they don’t learn about the mechanics of the car. I remember my grandfather telling me that he and his friends spent many a sunday taking apart their engines of their cars and putting them back
    gether. Nobody can do much more than change the oil now, if they do that.

    One thing that is hurting auto racing, and I think is getting worse, is the behavior of the people at the track. I know its never been pristine, but I have three kids who had taken an interest in the sport, but this year at both an Indy Car and Nascar race at Indianapolis and Kentucky, the people were so rude (and drunk) that I will be attending my last race of the year by my self. I could nto get my kids to go any longer. Tony George was right about trying to maky Indy more family friendly. The rest of the family is moving 230 mph in the opposite direction.

    Indy can only do what it can do. And they need to get back to their roots. What got them there will get them back.

    • “School children are indoctrinated with a hate of everythng American.” Hate all things American? You have your head up your ass on that because that is the biggest load of Bull Shit I have read in a long while!

      • Ah, the confidence of ignorance. I have kids in public schools and I hear about it daily.

        America is sexist, racist, homophobic. Uses an unfair amount of the worlds recourses. Is the worlds biggest polluter. Steals from the poor to give to the rich. I could go on but if you research this you will find these ideas. Of course, packaged in pretty little programs that don’t come out and say it specifcally…..

        I would agree with Popoff that the midwest is still not as bad as the coasts. But a good example is the electric car. Why would young people car how the car is powered as long as its fast, unless other factors were in play.

      • Lapper, Bob F is correct. this crap goes on every day. Thanks to Obama and his minions, American children are being indoctrinated with all these sissy European ideas. Everything American is bad, according to our government school systems.

        It’ a sad state of affairs. One can only hope the American people will wake up and demand change before it’s too late. If you can afford it, get your kids out of government schools….NOW.

        • All you have is an opinion based on what? What is sad is people chewing on the opinion of others thinking that what they are spouting is fact. However, I’ll give you the benefit presenting facts about this “de-Americanization” of our youth. If you got any facts with numbers then I’ll buy.

          • I think everyone has gotten way off topic with this, but since you want to perpetuate it…you are assailing someone for their opinion. Unfortunately, it goes against your opinion which you seem to be convinced is the correct one. There are no numbers to back this up. No one needs numbers for an opinion. It’s a conviction which you believe in.

            Personally, I agree with Bob F. I have two sons one 19 one 17. The oldest is convinced that the US is the most evil place on earth and can’t wait to leave it. He got this from friends but also from teachers. The younger one is more patriotic, but he is becoming an outcast with his friends that all hate America.

            The sign of a narrow mind is one that dismisses an opinion they don’t agree with. Then when confronted, they ask for facts and numbers that they know don’t exists. Then they beam and glow when these mythical facts can’t be produced. How petty.

          • An opinion based on your chilldren is asinine and quite a broad stroke.

    • popoffvalve Says:

      “Part of it is that school children are indoctrinated with a hate of everythng American. And few things are more American than the Indy 500 and oval racing. Maybe baseball and apple pie. Hence the yearning to copy europe.”

      I don’t know where you are getting this. Right wing propaganda, maybe? Where I live (very close to IMS), my kids are taught patriotism and respect for our country and the people who have died protecting our freedoms. They are, however, being taught to think for themselves, so sometimes they come to conclusions that are critical of things because those things deserve to be changed. That is not a hate of everything American, but simply critical thinking.

      • I spoke with a friend about this and he was agreeing that we as a nation ARE teaching our kids to hate everything American. Of course, the only examples he could give me were his two Kids and he blamed their access to the internet as why they are like that. I had to laugh because if you play tit for tat I have a wealth of nieces, nephews and children of friends who are great examples of kids (high school, college age and early twenties) that are proud Americans who would find that being called out as hating America is as good a reason as any to kick someone’s ass.

    • Bob, you really nailed a big part of the problem. I still like to watch auto racing, and other sports in person, but I dislike the behaviour of so many of the others that each time I go to a sports event, I am reminded more of why I don’t like the experience that why I decided to go in the first place.

  10. Chris Lukens Says:

    I also think a lot of the stuff we hear from the NPR types is projection. They are telling us “We hate cars. The kids hate cars. Oh my, aren’t the kids today smart”.
    If kids today are anti automobile it’s understandable. They have been bombarded, from kindergarten through college by the Ralph Nader types saying that cars are evil, polluting, resource guzzling anachronisms. There is anecdotal evidence that kids are waiting longer to buy cars and get drivers licences. There is also evidence they are waiting longer to move out of the parents homes. Neither is evidence of having no interest in cars or homes, but a reflection of the state of the economy today.

    To put into perspective the interest level of todays kid with yesterdays kids I will make a personal observation. In the early 1960′s I attended Fairmont High School ( go Dragons !! ) and was part of a graduating class of somewhere around 400 kids. Out of 400 kids I knew about 20 that were race fans, and some them were only so because I turned them into race fans. Out of 400 kids I knew exactly ONE who had been to the 500, 1 ½ hours away by train. Racing was very popular with me and my friends, but I don’t think it was as popular with the general public as some like to remember, and this was the “Golden Age” of USAC racing.

    Also, I think it’s very wrong to say there is zero interest by the younger generation in things automotive. Look no farther than the craze in tuner cars. There is a group of enthusiasts out there that are pulling huge HP numbers out of those little buzz boxes. Look at the numbers that Drifting draws, or Monster Trucks, or Stadium Trucks, or stadium Motocross. When I look back at my High School years I can’t convince myself that there is all that much difference between then and today. Today, as then, there is a dedicated base out there somewhere. I think the problem that Indycar is having with the kids is the same problem they are having with the old fans. They can’t seem to offer a product that either group wants to watch.

    • popoffvalve Says:

      This NPR type loves cars and racing. Stereotypes like that are not helpful. Also, cars ARE resource guzzling and polluting. They are also exciting and useful. What is with the tendency to think only in black and white?

      • Chris Lukens Says:

        Other than the first two sentences what else do you disagree with. This isn’t a shot across your bow, it’s a serious question because I’m interested in your opinion.

  11. The first race was conceived when the second car was built. I think it is a natural human tendency to want to race, whether it is cars, horses, motorized bar stools, or turtles. How that manifasts itself over time will always change.

    I don’t believe that kids are being taught to be less competitive, or to hate America, or to hate cars, as some have stated above. I do believe that many times kids react with alarm at how their parents behave at their games and at other sporting events.

    As one of the resident old timers here, as a teenager I was mostly interested in making my car look cool so it would attract chicks, I wanted it to be loud, and I wanted it to be fast. Without much education or experience as a mechanic I was able to make the car look cool (without aerokits), and I made it loud and fast. Same with my boat. Todays cars are so much more complicated that the average teenager is very limited in what they can do on their own. In addition, today’s cars are much more expensive and it is much more expensive to improve their performance. Those may be a couple of things that have contributed to the decline of interest in racing.

    The local 1/4 dirt track is now a big box Menards store.

    Maybe everyone is just too busy texting or tweeting. It sure seems that way.

    In any case I am not going to lose much sleep over the question posed here.

  12. Reblogged this on Bob Gangwer's Wing Side Up and commented:
    An excellent article by one of my favorite bloggers on WP. It’s interesting to note that I had the same conversation with my good friend Richard Lesiecki about how his son and his son’s friends had no interest in obtaining their drivers licenses. Rich and I are both the same age and both spent time watching supermodifieds go around from behind the lense of a 35mm print film SLR camera. My son, Sheldon, is 18 and didn’t share the same ideas about getting his drivers license as Rich’s boy, but he does have a bit of a disdain for motorsports. Some of that changed when I took him to his first International Classic 200 last year at Oswego Speedway. I think he was excited about the speed and that fact that he knew many of the drivers helped a lot to ease his attitude against something that means so much to his father.

    I’ve said many times in my column and while bench racing that we need to attract families to supermodified races. We need to learn how to get new kids excited about our form of racing and motorsports in general. I think much of the problem lies in the fact that most of us our age got caught off guard with societal changes because we were too busy having our own fun listening to big blocks roar around the racetrack. Now it’s all about catching up. I hope we can.

  13. This is an interesting and well considered column George.
    Is is not unreasonable for anyone to question whether anything, be it auto racing, football, Chess, Golf, or Monopoly have any relevance in their lives. The answer is unique to anyone.
    I told some people many years ago when I was still very active covering the 500 and racing in general, there some day, possibly in my lifetime, there will no longer be an Indianapolis 500, and event IMS will be gone.
    I don’t see any reason to change that prediction.
    That is neither good nor bad, just an observation of the cycles of life.

  14. George, this article goes very deep. Thanks for sharing it! :)

    People turn into fans of a sport usually because someone else introduces to them. (Well, I wasn’t introduced to System of a Down, I just saw the Chop Suey videoclip and instantly knew that I loved it.) Often it’s families: I became a Michael Schumacher fan because my father tuned F1 every two weeks.

    So, perhaps young kids stopped turning into sports fans because their parents stopped introducing them. It’s hard to tell your kids to watch Monday Night Football or NBA Wednesday so late in the evening, when you have to work next morning and they must go to school. In the case of motorsport, fuel got more expensive so families attend less races.

    Another point against sports is that perhaps kids don’t enjoy sports at school. Perhaps it’s bullying, or the stress of homework and tests, or that teachers don’t let kids have fun around a ball.

    I share concerns about the sustainability of society. But people have to move around, and cars are still needed (buses are very slow here in Uruguay; other places have decent metros and trains). Motorsport can be the answer.

    In the late 1980s, F1 chose to ban turbochargers to decrease speeds. If they had chosen to keep reducing fuel tan sizes, perhaps cars would be more efficient. The new Le Mans protoypes in 2014 will have unlimited engine displacement and layouts, but there will be fuel flow limiters. Be sure that they will keep running over 300 km/h at Le Mans.

  15. It is beyond me why kids would not want to drive or own a car when they turn 16. Could it be technology has replaced the desire for independence? There are so many things kids have today, maybe, the desire to be mobile, see new places, learn how to drive and take care of a car are no longer a priority. I see difficulty ahead.

  16. Formula e is the future of racing. But we it won’t usurp F1 or IndyCar anytime soon. Oil has to go at some point in the next 100 years. But that will be replaced with some other way to power the cars. The smells and the sounds will be the only differences. The racing will be just as good and the officiating will be just as bad. By the time this happens we will all be dead or near it anyway. No worries. How funny will that 100 meter dash be?

  17. Good comments here. At the end of the day, it remains up to racing to compete with the exploding amount of entertainment options out there. When I was a kid (1970s & 80s) racing didn’t have to compete with 90% of the options now, everything from 250 cable channels, to all the Internet offerings, and video games, etc. etc. It’s a big challenge for all sports. Never blame the customer for not choosing your product. Also, great comment about parents/others introducing their kids to sports. How many can afford to attend a pro sporting event these with any frequency? Virtually all pro sports long ago priced themselves out of my consideration set. If they can get $75 a ticket, more power too them. Free country and that’s how free enterprise works. But I can’t afford it.

  18. Well, George, count me as one of the very few young (24) racing nerds! But I also recognise I am in a very small category. I don’t identify with my generation. I don’t share their choices in music, TV, internet habits (I don’t do “social networking”), political views, interests, behavior, etc.

    Unlike most 20-somethings, I can’t remember NOT liking cars. I’ve watched racing of all types (F1, IndyCar, NASCAR, sports cars, and more) regularly for 13 years. Getting my drivers license was an accomplishment (failing on the first try an embarrassment), even though I didn’t have a car yet. Getting my first car (1992 Ford Escort) was HUGE because I wouldn’t have to ride the bus or bum rides off friends anymore. Watching Le Mans for the first time in 2010 made me fall in love with the race. So much variety among the cars! It’s like a day of car heaven! Yet very few people I know (let alone people my age) have any interest, or knowledge, of the daunting, exciting, unpredictable emotional roller-coaster of a world that is motorsport.

    Maybe I’m too independent-minded to truly fit in with my generation. If I had to give up my independence (of any kind) simply to fit in, I’d rather be an outcast.

  19. […] Is The Future Of Auto Racing In Danger? | Oilpressure […]

  20. Jaryd Chambers Says:

    I am 24 as well… I love the Sport, it is my passion above all else. IMS is heaven to me, well second heaven, first being a dirt mile with USAC Champ Cars…

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