We are very proud to share with the community that Marty Fiolka has officially joined the RDC family. Moving forward you will see many quality feature articles authored by Marty here on the RDC front page.
Off-roading is a lifestyle and Marty has been one of the primary voices in this culture.
View From the Soap Box – Peering Into 2013’s Crystal Ball
The human race has a natural tendency to use the birth of a new year as a once-yearly excuse to don the rose-colored glasses we keep hidden the rest of the time. But looking ahead to 2013, I doubt that any off-road racing season in history has been filled with more hope and promise. And while there are as many questions as answers at this point, collectively we can bet that our motorsports landscape won’t be the same come New Years 2014.
With the dropping of that big glass ball in New York now a quickly fading memory, it‘s time to peer into the crystal ball and hit the keyboards. There is just too much to look forward at this point, and given the rapidly shifting sands now underneath the sport’s’ collective feet, there only one thing that’s certain; 2013 is going to change everything.
The first full volley for the new calendar year arrived in my email inbox a week ago at 1:00 P.M. on Thursday, December 20, 2012. Its headline simply read: “Sal Fish sells SCORE International to Roger Norman”
While the rumors of this groundbreaking sale had been swirling for a week before they became official, the news hit the off-road community (and the racing world in general) with an impact not seen since the theatrical release of Dust to Glory. The RDC forum once again became the instant catch-all for opinions, reactions and also, thankfully, heartfelt written tributes to the incredible contribution the outgoing Sal Fish made throughout his nearly four decades of stewardship of SCORE and the all-important Baja 1000. The recent SCORE Awards that included a touching tribute to Sal and the ceremonial passing of the torch to Roger Norman has only added to the sense that this is a new day in desert racing.
Unlike the more studied (some say old fashioned) approach to PR and communication used by Fish and SCORE, Norman has instantly used social media to announce new SCORE initiatives, gather input on several “trial balloon” ideas and continue his well-established persona of being an open-door ally to racers at all levels of the sport. In fact, the seriousness of Norman’s approach to revamping SCORE became apparent when his staff managed to go live with a seriously needed new SCORE Website within a week of the acquisition. The hits have kept on coming, including the establishment of SCORE’s new “Dirt Live” web production that offers a dose of SCORE each week.
The fact is that the real significance of SCORE International’s takeover by Roger Norman’s regime won’t be fully realized until well into next year – or longer. The newly announced SCORE and HDRA championships, which can be won individually or be combined by racers seeking to claim a “World Championship of Desert Racing” title, has instantly raised the profile of an HDRA series that had a promising debut in 2012 but lacked the star power or entry numbers of SCORE or Best In The Desert.
It will be interesting to see how the very personal, homegrown vibe that has made so many grassroots racers true believers in the HDRA program will change now that the series has been elevated to a higher level of professionalism and significance. On the flip side, the ability of this new alliance to attract more grassroots-based racers back to the Baja races also has the potential to change desert racing’s landscape.
Meanwhile, you can bet that this seismic shift in the balance of power and influence in desert racing is also being assessed by the watchful eye of Casey Folks and his BITD crew. Knowing Casey as well as I do, he will remain whole-heartedly focused on doing the excellent “blocking and tackling” of race promotion and organization that has served him and his series so well in the past. While the raised profile of the HDRA series may sway some racers in 2013, the fact of the matter is that Folks has the three most significant desert races in the United States under his BITD umbrella – the Parker 425, the General Tire Mint 400 and the General Tire Las Vegas to Reno race. Not sure about that? Just look at the massive entry list of Trick Trucks and Class 1500 cars set for Parker qualifying next week – truly impressive by any measure.
I have said it before and I will say it again – for most of this sport’s history winning or promoting important events such as the Baja 1000 or Mint 400 will trump a series championship any day – especially when there are so many to win. Remembering this lesson from the past would be a wise piece of advice both men should remember as they move into 2013.
That same theory of quality over quantity should also be heeded in terms of television. Just having lots of television coverage does not guarantee results in today’s oversaturated media universe. Don’t believe me? Just ask the good folks over at Lucas Oil (see below). I may be going out on a limb here, but I dare suggest that the 150 or so minutes that made up the three ABC Wide World of Sports telecasts and the entire Dust to Glory film have had more impact on the sport of off-road racing than all the other related shows combined in terms of lasting influence and moving the needle – be it sponsorship, participants or fans.
At best, the current Lucas Oil versus TORC series battle for supremacy is ugly and counterproductive. At worst the sport’s lack of having a single, unified entity to promote and grow spectator friendly off-road racing may have left the door wide open for yet a third entry – the Robby Gordon Stadium Super Trucks (SST) to further dilute the short course universe.
Many figure, and perhaps rightly so, that the future may see the SST series and the two short course entities co-existing like Supercross and outdoor Motocross. Considering how long it has taken for the motorcycle world to find this harmony begs the question of endurance and financial staying power within all three of the four-wheel based series.
Let’s start with the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series. 2013 will see the flagship series run by new Series Director Ritchie Lewis, an amiable southerner that has transformed the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series into a well-oiled moneymaker. With a solid schedule in place for next season the focus for Lewis will be, according to a recent press conference, making a “great product even better.” For Lucas Oil, that translates into closing the financial gap closer to the black, increasing event attendance and finding more television viewers for its very well exposed series.
With more than 200 hours of television in 2012, no racer or fan can complain about a lack of coverage. The real issue at hand is translating all that exposure into hard dollars for the series and its racers. Clearly, the Lucas Oil staff is working hard to get there, and the hope for really significant sponsor like Budweiser or Home Depot stepping in to take advantage of all this momentum is still burning bright. With all of the pieces now in place, 2013 will be a crucial year for Lucas Oil to prove the viability of its series in particular, and short course racing as a top-level motorsport in general.
Those same issues can also be applied to the Traxxas TORC series. With the gloves now off in terms of trying to establish a West Coast presence, the folks at USAC and TORC must grapple with ongoing issues like lower truck counts in its premiere classes and trying to find sponsor support for race teams to compete, not to mention making the long haul to Primm, Nevada for the season opener in March and then back to Lancaster, California to close out the 2013 campaign.
A key difference to the TORC business model versus Lucas Oil is the fact that it can count on large built-in crowds and fields at traditional Mid West tracks such as Crandon International Raceway and Bark River. That however, places a huge emphasis on trying to establish new footholds for the sport, which TORC was, unfortunately, unable to do in Charlotte. This year, TORC will return to promising new venues at RedBud and Chicagoland, but is also scheduled to make inaugural appearances at Dodge City Raceway in Kansas and even Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway in New Weston, Ohio. The question becomes one of sustaining the sport long enough to establish a fan base in these areas. Growth is great for the sport, but only if the show will bring potential fans back for a second visit.
TORC’s well-timed, two-hour special that aired awhile back on the NBC network shows the promise of well-produced (thanks to being part of the Red Bull “Signature Series”) content shown on mainstream television. Congratulations to all involved with this programming home run.
The big white elephant in the room, however, is Robby Gordon’s ambitious, but still ambiguous, SST series. What is known is that the hard working Mr. Gordon plans on running and producing a whopping schedule of 12 events that begins April 6th at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. According to all accounts, the fleet of new SST trucks is on schedule at Gordon’s former NASCAR shop in Charlotte, North Carolina. Gordon’s crew is also busy building trick steel ramps to make the wild notion on running the trucks on the streets of Long Beach for the annual Toyota Grand Prix a reality. SST will also benefit from a very healthy television package with NBC and NBC Sports via a newly formed production group led by the very capable and talented Jason Markham. In addition, the $400,000 cost of leasing a truck and the relatively lucrative purse and championship structure have been in place since the series was announced.
That said, big questions still remain unanswered. From what I understand the only confirmed drivers at this point are Gordon himself and NASCAR driver Justin Loftin. Outside of Speed Energy and Traxxas, there are many companies, especially tire companies that are adopting a “wait and see” attitude in terms of going public with support of the SST concept. Series management, promotion, PR and event management personal are still unclear – not an insignificant detail when hundreds of thousands of seats will need filling over the next 11 months.
With all of this interest, effort and support of off-road racing, the sport is poised for greatness once again in 2013 – perhaps more now than anytime since the mid-1980s. None of this, of course, includes the huge impact of the King of the Hammers event, the rapid growth of interest in vintage off-road racing via the NORRA General Tire Mexican 1000 or the dozens of more grassroots-themed races and series.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that this season will be a banner one for the sport we all live and enjoy. Happy New Years to all of you…we will see you in the dirt.