Is there more money in this NASCAR mobile broadcast studio than in the AMA paddock?
Last October, watching the final round of the 2011 AMA Grand National Championship, Chris Carr’s last professional dirt-track race, I had an epiphany. Admittedly, it was partly due to the incessant red flags and “ambulance races” that prompted a number of first-time attendees to vow that this would also be their last dirt-track race. But mostly it was because I—one of the faithful, and one of the proud few who has actually ridden on that Pomona Fairplex dirt—found my attention drawn elsewhere. Specifically to the television monitor in the corner of our box seats showing a live broadcast of the inaugural Monster Energy Cup. For those who missed it, AMA Motocross/Supercross Champion Ryan Villopoto capped off his perfect season that night by winning a million dollars.
That’s a big deal—or at least it is when the winner of the annual NASCAR All-Star Race hoists his oversized $1 million check over his head in the winner’s circle. And it should have been here as well; this should have been motorcycling’s chance to steal the sports-page headlines. But sadly, the following day, just a few miles away at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a tragic pileup in the final Indycar race of the 2011 season, Danica Patrick’s last race in an open-wheeler, claimed the life of Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon. And suddenly his was a household name, his face plastered all over the newspapers, TV and the Internet.
The following weekend, up-and-coming MotoGP racer Marco Simoncelli was killed at the Malaysian Grand Prix, and there was nary a mention in the mainstream media. Household name? It was as if his accident had never happened—or maybe the sports-page editors figured no one cared.
They may be right. Motorcycle racing is such a big deal to us rabid fans that we forget how small it really is. Yes, MotoGP draws hundreds of thousands of spectators to events all over the world, and Supercross packs tens of thousands into stadiums from coast to coast. Top riders in both of those series earn millions. A few years ago, Sports Illustrated reported that Valentino Rossi and Dale Earnhardt Jr. both made about $35 million per year. But for every Rossi in MotoGP there are a dozen Earnhardts in NASCAR.
Forty-three cars times four tires each times how many pit stops?
A few years ago I was invited to tour the ESPN Craftsman Tech Garage, in which legendary NASCAR crew chief Tim Brewer explains the inner workings of racecars during TV broadcasts. This impressive setup consists of two tractor-trailer trucks—one full of broadcast equipment and the other expanding to triple its width into a mobile studio. Inside are a complete cutaway car and numerous components thereof, plus a high-tech video screen capable of magnifying and even animating any part. In truth, NASCAR’s television coverage rivals the best ball-and-stick sports, with slick production, countless cameras, pre- and post-game shows, and a slew of qualified, knowledgeable, well-spoken on-air personalities.
That comparison extends to the sports pages and the Web, where there’s a NASCAR tab right alongside those for the MLB, NBA, NHL, NFL, etc. Seeing that is like turning a knife in the side of a Formula 1 fan, let alone a MotoGP devotee! But it’s not all bad, and here’s why: That heading is a catch-all for various forms of motor racing including motorcycles. Be glad it’s there, because without NASCAR paving the way, bike racing likely would never have gotten on SPEED-TV, let alone the major networks.
And remember this: Since October of 2008, AMA Pro Racing has been owned by the Daytona Motorsports Group, which is NASCAR. True, that relationship got off to a rocky start, but the racing has been getting better each year. Hopefully, in time, DMG will do for motorcycle racing what it’s done for stock cars.
Just leave the pace car in the garage and don’t throw any full-course yellows, okay? MC