In my position here at PRI (Jeff Swoboda is a PRI sales and marketing manager), I am fortunate to have contact with a wide variety of motorsports related businesses, large and small, in all sectors of the industry. I'd like to report that while racing did not escape the downturn in the economy, the racing industry is definitely fighting back and getting results.
At our most recent PRI Trade Show in Orlando, I witnessed several companies that had implemented programs to keep motorsports sales charting in the right direction.
The first place I saw this occurring was at the Red Bull Kart Fight at PRI, Powered by Rotax--a high profile, high energy, highly entertaining event that saw some of the top karting talent on the globe (10 World Karting Championships were represented on the grid) squaring off with drivers from IndyCar, NASCAR, the X-Games, Grand-Am, and the ALMS.
If you looked a little closer though, you’d notice that the event’s title sponsor Red Bull had implemented an Amateur Division at the event. This division had 20 amateur drivers from indoor and outdoor recreational karting tracks across the southeastern U.S. that had won the right to compete at this high profile event, that would be nationally televised, in front of the jam-packed grandstands filled with motorsports industry personnel, and alongside some of the top names in North American motorsports like A.J. Allmendinger, Alex Tagliani, and Cole Whitt (Mr. Whitt in fact provided personalized coaching for these Amateur drivers). These drivers were flown to Orlando, provided top-rate accommodations, and given the chance to attend the world’s largest and most diverse motorsports industry trade show as well. I would dare to venture that more than a handful of them utilized the experience to make plans, contacts, and purchases, for a more serious racing effort in 2012. Now compare that to the ‘Fast Time’ contest that you are used to seeing at your local karting center. Hats off to our friends at Red Bull for helping us to provide this captive audience of motorsports consumers with a first-rate experience to advance their ambitions in racing.
It didn’t stop there however. Rotax, the presenting sponsor of the event and engine supplier for the race, had just completed their 2011 racing season where they sent 11 American drivers of all ages to compete at the Rotax World Finals in Abu Dhabi, against some of the best karting talent worldwide. The opportunity to cap off your karting success with a trip to Abu Dhabi to compete against some of world’s best, and the fact that ELEVEN drivers would be afforded this chance, is a prize structure that would have been unthinkable a generation ago when drivers were scrapping for a few hundred dollars of prize money and a trophy. Give credit to Rotax for providing such a great experience to so many young drivers worldwide and a payoff for all the money they spend racing all year.
It didn’t stop there though, the event’s associate sponsor, Mazda, was on-site with a decked out and pyro-fitted Mazda3 pace car. Their involvement wasn’t all for show and fun however, as Jim Jordan and John Doonan from Mazda were quick to point out. Their support of karting is part of a complete motorsports ladder where a driver can advance up from karting through to IndyLights with a scholarship program that ensures that if you keep winning, you will keep advancing. How many drivers have we heard of lately that have won championships at the developmental level only to be rewarded with the need to find several hundred thousand more dollars in sponsorship to keep progressing?
With the Mazda system, the champions always advance there are many IndyCar and sports car drivers that wouldn’t be driving race cars for a living now without it. The Mazda group even held a seminar at the show on Friday morning to help educate young drivers from across all of racing in the complex and quirky world of motorsports, marketing, and sponsorship. It was packed. Thank you Mazda!
Of course, those are all programs that relate to drivers, and providing more opportunities for people to drive, or advance their driving career. But all of us in the industry know that for every one person in the driver’s seat, there are another 10 to 20 behind the scenes designing cars, working on chassis, building engines, distributing parts, and managing racing events. This is where there seems to be real concern in that today’s youth are not being groomed to fill these vital roles.
Enter the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Engine Challenge event. An annual series of competitions managed by Jim and Rodney Bingham’s Winner’s Circle organization that awarded $2,035,000 in scholarships from Ohio Technical College, the University of Northwestern Ohio, and the School of Automotive Machinists this year to high school students nationwide . The HROT group held exhibition engine building competitions for two days at the PRI Show where show attendees were able to witness young, passionate, and sharply presented students displaying their talents on a platform that allows them to:
Others in the industry have taken notice too. The HROT high school teams that competed at PRI enjoyed sponsorship support from ARP, Comp Cams, Edelbrock, Moroso, Motive Gear, Painless, and Royal Purple. In an era of rising post-secondary tuition levels and high unemployment rates, this platform is a true game-changer in many young people’s lives.
So while the times are changing in the motorsports industry, there are strong, forward-thinking organizations that are stepping up to the plate to help not only sales of their specific product in their segment, but also the industry and its next generation as a whole. From all of us at PRI, we would just like to say Thank You!