EN­TER­TAIN ME

NZ Performance Car - - Editorial - Email: mar­cus@per­for­mance­car.co.nz In­sta­gram: mar­cus_nzpc­magazine Mar­cus Gib­son

Most Satur­day nights dur­ing sum­mer, my neigh­bour­hood hums to the sweet sound of high-revving speed­way ma­chines blast­ing that dirt oval. While I en­joy wrench­ing away to this sound­track, it does get me won­der­ing why the hell speed­way has main­tained such a good fol­low­ing (even with its ter­ri­ble food) when other forms of motorsport have seen big de­clines in spec­ta­tor num­bers over the past 10 years. What ex­actly are the is­sues that have driven the sport to lack­lus­tre crowds, min­i­mal cor­po­rate spon­sor­ship spend, and race cars gath­er­ing dust in sheds all over the coun­try? Have fans lost in­ter­est in eat­ing hot chips as they swel­ter un­der the hot sum­mer sun watch­ing tin-tops bash wheel to wheel? No, I don’t think they have — well, not en­tirely. What I do think has hap­pened is that the ‘show’ as­pect of these week­ends has slowly but surely dwin­dled away.

Hard-core race fans are just that, and it’s un­likely they will ever stop go­ing, as the en­ter­tain­ment for them is walk­ing the pits, drink­ing in the tech­ni­cal de­tails, and fol­low­ing the rac­ing with a hawk eye. It’s the mu­mand-dad ca­sual race fans who are the ma­jor­ity, and it’s these folk who need to be con­vinced that it’s money well spent and a good use of their pre­cious week­ends. Re­cent talks about the need for a new cat­e­gory to fix the bro­ken ex­ist­ing ones per­plexed me, as I feel that an­other new class will fall flat on its face if it’s not be­ing slot­ted into an ex­cit­ing event for­mat. Sadly, most race week­ends have now be­come sim­ply about pro­vid­ing a race for­mat for driv­ers, not about putting on one hell of a show for the crowd, which has stopped com­ing.

Think I’m wrong? Look at any motorsport event with big crowds ei­ther here or around the world, and you will see that it is put on as en­ter­tain­ment and not sim­ply as a rac­ers’ week­end.

Peo­ple want en­ter­tain­ment, so why did that stop hap­pen­ing? Grid walks, sign­ings, on-track shows dur­ing dead track time, de­cent trader al­leys, things the kids en­joy, promo girls, in­ter­views, and proper com­men­tary are all ac­tiv­i­ties that most race week­ends seem to lack. Sure, all this stuff takes huge amounts of ef­fort to pull to­gether, but for events that knuckle down and get it done, nine times out of 10, a big crowd of happy pun­ters is the just re­ward.

Look at events like D1NZ, World Time At­tack Chal­lenge (WTAC), Lead­foot, Drift Shifters, and the Hamp­tons 101 — all of these put a huge ef­fort into mak­ing them shows rather than just race week­ends. These events have main­tained a large fan base, and kept the in­ter­est alive, even when the likes of D1NZ have cars around 20-odd years old in com­pe­ti­tion. And hey, rac­ers win, too — they get cheaper en­try, as the in­creased gate rev­enue will cover some of the week­end’s run­ning costs, and the op­por­tu­nity for spon­sor­ship is also in­creased. But, for the driv­ers to reap these re­wards, they also need to step up to the plate in terms of so­cial me­dia and the like.

Sure, the cars are a big part of ‘what’s wrong with New Zealand motorsport’, but, rather than wor­ry­ing about a new class right now, why not put to­gether one hell of a show with the ex­ist­ing classes the New Zealand pub­lic are in­ter­ested in, and build from there? Yes, we should have a top-tier tour­ing-car class, but un­less it’s a stacked grid, it’s not the sil­ver bul­let that will sud­denly see grand­stands packed. It’s 2017, the game has changed, and do­ing the same shit we did 20 years ago will not fill those stands.

We need ex­cit­ing ma­chines and ex­cit­ing driv­ers to do ex­cit­ing driv­ing at ex­cit­ing events, and the num­bers will re­turn. So, to co-opt the im­mor­tal and most over-used phrase of 2017, ‘let’s make rac­ing great again’, and do it by copy­ing the for­mat of other suc­cess­ful events the world over.

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