I had the pleasure of attending NASCAR’s Busch Light Clash at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum last weekend, and in my view it represented one of the most important moments in our sport’s journey in the 21st century.
This unique event certainly energized and, in many cases, polarized RACER’s devoted audience here on our website, in our comments sections and in our social media channels. It has generated many thousands of shares, reader comments and in some cases impolite arguments that mirror the fractured and uncivil state of society today. It has been said that one of the hardest things to do is to get people to notice what you are doing. In the age of new media that has become easier, but now comes the hard part: keeping their interest and attention.
Thankfully, after a period of uncertainty, stagnation and, in some cases, decline, auto racing has miraculously emerged from the darkness of the global pandemic and resultant economic chaos with more momentum than it had before. From NASCAR to Formula 1 to IMSA, WEC and the WRC, dramatic changes are taking place on a fundamental level I have not seen in my lifetime working in the sport. There is also a positive energy that I’ve not witnessed in our sport in more than 20 years.
This is the rolling restart of a lifetime, where courage and commitment like we saw last Sunday from NASCAR’s leadership team is the only way forward for our sport in this decade of profound societal change in almost every area of modern life — especially mobility, media and entertainment. Being afraid of what comes next is not what real racers do, because if you believe you have more to lose than you have to gain, you’ve already lost.
Chances are high that those who fear change are older than those who embrace it. One thing is certain: the future does not belong to generations (like mine) who were born in the middle decades of the past century. It belongs to those who will live most of their lives in this century and who also have profoundly different life experiences and expectations.
Taking a cue from the film “The Shawshank Redemption,” 2022 is the year that racing must “get busy living or get busy dying” because our sport could soon become irrelevant in a tsunami of cultural change driven by technologies that give us access to almost anything we desire whenever we want it. Being repetitive, ritualistic, and worst of all, predictable, is simply boring, which is the kiss of death in an era when the audience now owns the relationship with any sport or entertainment choice.
During my 50 years working professionally in motorsports, my constant companion has been change. For me, the sport has always been about driving to the future sooner than society. Successful racers manage change better and faster than their competition, and as my friend and now-famous race team leader Mike Hull once said to me, “racing is learning.” That simple phrase, spoken in response to me making excuses for an underwhelming qualifying effort on my part, helped me understand that what’s next is more important than what has been. Excuses are for losers, because you are living in the past.
NASCAR’s Senior VP of Strategy, Ben Kennedy was born on December 26, 1991 — which happens to be the same day I made the decision to launch RACER in the spring of 1992. The first 11,000 days of Ben’s young life led to his moment of destiny on February 6, 2022 in the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. Now, the rest of his life will be defined by what comes next. Thanks to his vision and collective commitment of his NASCAR colleagues, race teams and racers, that day now stands as the moment NASCAR “got busy living” with breathtaking courage shown in launching a new era at a globally iconic venue with an all-new car amid a renewed push to attract younger and more diverse audiences to our sport. If you didn’t already know it, Kennedy is a racer, and not surprisingly, he went for a gap in the market that also represents an opportunity for all of us who care about our sport to learn from.
It is important to mention that the fastest-growing age segments on RACER.com are all under the age of 44, with the 18-24 age group leading the way in growth percentage. I believe that this is evidence that the sport’s leadership in the leading categories are making the right moves and are embracing change rather than being defined by it. I also believe that bringing the sport to where people live and play seems like the right thing to do, just like it did when Chris Pook launched the Long Beach Grand Prix in 1975. Being around the sport for as long as I have does allow me to remember when Ben’s great grandfather Bill France Jr. extolled the evils of temporary street circuits in the 1970s and ’80s as a threat to racetrack owners who were positioned as the true stakeholders of the sport.
Oh, sweet irony…
In 16 days, Formula 1 will make a fresh start with the first test of the all-new 2022 cars and formula. Based upon the similarly high audience energy and engagement we are seeing around F1’s changes, I have great optimism for the coming season. In the year ahead we will also see the debuts of new exciting GTP cars for the next era of IMSA in 2023. In the months ahead, more will be revealed about the next generation of IndyCar powertrain and the evolution of the series’ aging Dallara chassis that hopefully includes a Weight Watchers coupon code.
Many years ago, our company was involved in the marketing and advertising for an early action sports apparel brand called No Fear. Their brand tag line was “Face your fears. Live your dreams.” Based upon what we saw last weekend, this should now be the mantra for the next era for our sport.