April 21, 2015
The Stephen Cox Blog is Presented by McGunegill Engine Performance
I have good news and bad news. The good news is that a short track series is advertising free admission at their upcoming season opener. The bad news is, of course, that a short track series is advertising free admission at their upcoming season opener.
By all means, please go to the Super Cup Stock Car Series race at CNB Bank Raceway on May 16th in Clearfield, Pennsylvania. It will be a truly great short track event and it won't cost you a dime. They'll even let you bring in your own food and drinks. It is a racing enthusiast's dream in every possible sense.
But the bigger picture is more serious. Why are Super Cup and CNB Raceway inclined to do this? Because oval tracks big and small are closing at a record pace all across America. Virginia's Old Dominion Speedway, a short track landmark since 1948, recently closed. This time next year, the once mighty Texas World Speedway will be a housing development. California's Irwindale Speedway is slated to become a shopping mall. Texas Thunder Speedway, Green Valley Speedway, Jennerstown Speedway and Baer Field Speedway (two of them now attempting to re-open) are among many other recent casualties.
The CNB/Super Cup decision is easy to decipher. I have quite a bit of competitive experience in that series and believe me, they are vibrant, healthy and growing. But the overall state of auto racing in America demonstrates that even the most successful series and tracks need to secure their fan base against an increasingly hostile environment.
Fans in the stands are aging. The demographic gap in the grandstands is amazing and discernible to even the most casual observer. Young people are not routinely going to auto races on weekends any more.
Why not? Because kids aren't interested in automobiles, at least nowhere near the extent we were back in the 70's and 80's. Our generation looked at automobiles as an expression of freedom. We drag raced on back roads at night. We slid our cars around on dirt roads all summer. We spent our weeknights cruising the strip and we spent our weekends at race tracks. That's how I grew up. That was my life. And I was not the exception.
Today's kids are strapped with insane penalties for the most minor speeding infractions. The process of getting a driver's license is outrageously lengthy and invasive. Insurance companies take advantage of kids who are forced to buy a product against their will by charging them rates that no honest businessman would consider remotely moral. In many municipalities, cruising is now a crime for which you can be ticketed.
Let's face it. The 70-year love affair between American youth and the automobile is being legislated into oblivion. It's just not worth the hassle, expense and risk anymore, especially when cell phones and computer tablets offer entertainment for a fraction of the cost but with no regulation.
There is a direct and indisputable line that connects rampant legislation and over-regulation of the automobile with the widespread dearth of interest in motorsports among young people. Kids who don't care about cars will never care about racing them, let alone watching anyone else race them. Racing survives on interest in the automobile, and right now that interest is waning.
Now go to a race track this weekend and look for young fans. You'll be able to count them on one hand. And now you know why.
If we want auto racing to survive into the 21st century, our kids must have an interest in the sport. In order for that to happen, they need the same liberty to drive, cruise and have fun in cars that we did, at the same price. If that doesn't happen, the ugly fate shared by many short tracks across America right now is only the beginning.
Sopwith Motorsports Television Productions
Co-host, Mecum Auto Auctions on NBCSN
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