Getting backsides trackside
What makes a good racetrack? Not from a driver’s point of view but from a spectator’s? It’s a question worth contemplating since the announcement that the final race of the Supercars season will be held on the streets of Newcastle’s historic East End, replacing the much unloved Sydney Olympic Park.
Judging by social media, spectator expectations for the Newcastle circuit are not very high. Many have clearly been scarred by Olympic Park, which was a generally poor spectating experience for anyone not in corporate hospitality or a paid seat, and not even very good for those who were.
Held just before Christmas, the race around the concrete and bitumen Homebush desert was almost entirely shade free and, usually, hotter than the surface of the sun.
Worse, Supercars seemed to have gone to some trouble to prevent spectator viewing at the very few passing spots the track offered. With no naturally elevated vantage points, general admission punters were reduced to pressing their faces to the wire as cars flashed by. That might have been OK but for the large advertising hoardings that often blocked their view.
After the first two years word had spread that Homebush was a dud and attendances sank like a stone. That the NSW government agreed to support the event for several more seasons without fixing the fundamental problems was inexplicable – the very definition of hope triumphing over experience.
Those of us with slightly longer memories were perplexed that Supercars seemed have learnt nothing from the debacle that was the Canberra street race of 2000-02.
In that case it wasn’t concrete heat sink that confronted fans, but biting cold. Now normally, hardened motor racing fans are happy to rug up, providing the view is worth the potential frostbite. Guest columnist Mark Mathot ponders where paying spectators sit on Supercars’ priorities list and whether motor racing’s powerbrokers have any clue how to cater for those wanting to take in the action trackside. Against all odds, wintry Winton pulls a crowd in excellent Blancpain GT Series in Europe. Its May and I have been snowed upon at Bathurst races mostly run in front of empty spectator in October. But on the streets of Canberra there stands and despite the quality of cars and drivers was almost nothing for the general admission the events are patently lacking something – not race-goer to see. In the absence of freely simply atmosphere but that visual signal that tells available vantage points it was only thanks to your sub-conscious this race is important. race commentary that the average attendee had Major sporting events need a major crowd and any idea at all what was happening. the NSW Government will not be pleased if the
You’ll notice that I have been focussing on the Newcastle 500 doesn’t attract one. “freely available” viewing experience. Perhaps While the Newcastle layout appears to have the key difference between good and bad motor much to recommend it – tricky elevation changes, racing venues is the way they treat their most spectacular beach and harbour backdrops and modest attendees. Moreover, there is evidence of the sound of racecars bouncing off historic a correlation between the satisfaction of general buildings – it appears good vantage points might admission spectators and the long term success be at a premium. of motorsport events. One modest hotel, which fortuitously finds
At this year’s Bathurst 12 Hour I was reminded itself with a great view of the planned track, is that, amongst its many delights, Mount Panorama already selling twin person rooms during race affords priceless viewing opportunities for the week for almost $1000 a night. cheapest ticket. During Saturday afternoon Of course, it doesn’t have to be like that. While qualifying I stood with my slightly dumbstruck it will take some imagination and determination, teenage son at the entrance the Chase – it should be possible to ensure that an $80 Australian motor racing’s fastest corner – as we race day punter gets a good view of the race. watched international sports car stars testing their If done right, the Newcastle 500 can become a limits. It was a premium moment and it cost not a sustainable event rather than a starburst. single extra cent. The lack of consideration given to providing
Contrast this with Supercars’ approach. spectators with a view of the actual racing has According to one insider: “in the first year or me wondering if those running motorsport in two of a new event we put ticketed grandstands this country (and that includes the actual circuit everywhere we can and then over the following designers) ever spent time spectating at a motor years we have less and less of them. I don’t know racing meeting? why, that just seems to be the way it goes.” I’m pretty sure I know the answer to that. The
I think I know why. Supercars simply charges view from corporate suites doesn’t count. too much for grandstand seats and fans can’t see Supercars has shown they can do it. Adelaide the value when they can’t see much of the track. and Townsville clearly appeal to many fans. But Ticket sales fall and, year by year, the unsellable Sydney Olympic Park, Hamilton and Canberra stands are quietly deleted from the venue map. were significant failures and the sport should
It could be argued that in this era of blanket reflect carefully as to why. television coverage and internet streaming of One of Australian motor racing’s most motorsport, the actual number of fans that turn seasoned observers once said to me that “you up at the race track is far less important than it only have one reputation to lose.” The Newcastle used to be. This appears to be the spin some in 500 has only one, perhaps two years to get it NASCAR are putting on its declining attendances. right. After that the damage may be irreparable.
But it’s a slippery slope. Look at the otherwise Mark Mathot has been involved with cars and motor racing for almost two decades as a journalist, filmmaker, PR flack and occasional marketing hack. He goes by the handle @marquedman_oz on Twitter.