The State of the High Performance Industry
By Jim Hill
Recent online comments have asked about the state of the high performance industry. These included statements that attendance at the PRI show seemed to be down from previous years. In addition, the general state of the U.S. economy has prompted comments about the relative state of the high performance industry. I thought I would take a few paragraphs and pass along some of my observations.
I was at the PRI show for all three days. The only day that traffic was "down" was the last day, Saturday, and only after about 2:00 PM, when many people were heading back home. We were packed at our booth in the main hall, and the aisles were stop and go. Enthusiastic people were "thicker than hair on an old dog's back" every day until the afternoon of Day Three. We answered more questions and went through every catalog and piece of literature we had early Saturday. I also came home with nearly 500 "swipes" from attendee's magnetic ID cards, each of these requesting catalogs and literature.
I personally took the attendance as being "up," and PRI made a big deal about announcing that it was an all-time record attendance, which I found easy to believe. I rarely "buy" attendance numbers announced by promoters with something to gain by inflating such figures, but this time I felt it was accurate, as did everyone I "polled," our people plus other exhibitors and media folks!
This strong optimism and interest tells me that 2002 will be a good year for hard-core racing activities: drags, oval tracks, etc. Racers want to race, period. We are a nation with a strong "car culture" orientation that began as soon as horseless carriage and motorcycle inventors, builders, and buyers decided they wanted to challenge the "other" owner of similar machines... or the day's fastest horses. That's where this "racin'" thing started, and it's been a primary factor in our lives and economy ever since. Americans have an enduring love/hate relationship with their automobiles, with no end in sight to this fixation.
True, NHRA had a long and apparently rough road to singing a new series sponsor, but the economy is but one factor of that organization's troubles. Let's admit it, TV today drives ALL sports events, and NHRA drag racing hasn't been able to deliver a viable TV audience to drive ratings and to attract major consumer product advertisers. When (and "if") that happens, you'll see the "deep pockets" corporations and their advertising agencies knocking on the doors of NHRA, its TV network (ESPN), and then the racers, for "race car billboard" placement during events.
I love drag racing, but being absolutely honest, drag racing is a sorry sport for live or even delayed and edited coverage. Those most essential, basic thrills of drag racing, the ground-shaking, feel-it-in-your-chest SOUND and the stunning sensation of 300 mph speeds just isn't there in TV coverage, and that's what is lacking in attracting NASCAR-like TV audiences.
The fact that some of the "back-half" NASCAR teams have had difficulty in signing sponsors also stems from the fact that the asking price for these teams, once considered attractive by consumer products advertisers, has escalated sharply. Advertisers expecting their brand logo to appear on camera for 200-300 laps aren't as pleased when the cost of this exposure triples or quadruples from 3-4 years ago, and the back-marker team they sponsor goes out in the first quarter of a race.
In essence, NASCAR racing has become and will be even more of a "haves" type of racing, where a smaller number of multi-car teams dominate the action... and the coverage.
Another "shift" in the NASCAR paradigm has also taken place. This "blue collar, good ol' boy" sports-spectator activity has become "trendy" among the upper-end spectator. Seats at NASCAR races have risen out of the range of "blue collar" budgets, especially when "Billy Joe-Bob" is looking at lay-offs down at his job. More and more, the typical NASCAR spectator arrives in a $100,000 motor home and pays more than $100 per seat to park his and "the little woman's" butts in a NASCAR race seat. Or, they rent motel rooms and pay $250-300 per day with 3-5 day minimum fees for the privilege from gouge-happy hoteliers all to anxious to make an economic killing on 1-2 events per year.
More and more, the blue-collar NASCAR "spectator" has been driven to "participate" in stock car racing by parking in front of the TV on Sunday afternoon and viewing the race via the network coverage. That's why TV coverage for 2001 NASCAR events was UP 30+ points over 2000 (NASCAR's own numbers, released just last week!)
As far as street performance (which is the key to prosperity for many industry firms), that's a question up in the air and dependent on the general economy of the nation. Of course, THAT is resting in the not-so-reliable hands of the CLOWNS in Washington, D.C. These are the same folks that last week advised our country that we are "...now in a recession", and that the recession began in MARCH, but these economic geniuses had just now realized that they could use the "R" word!
How can such unmitigated BS instill confidence in consumers and to the nation's economy and create the "feel good" effect that even THEY say is key to returning the economy to stable growth?
I'm a registered Republican, but I honestly have little faith in either party or its members. They're all about party loyalties, successful re-election campaigns, and enhancing their personal wealth and power (BIG emphasis on "power!") at the expense of the citizenry.