Have The #43 and #199 Ships Sailed for American Rallying?

  • oregonwings

    There are a lot of issues in american rallying that this article doesn’t touch on. However, first a couple of corrections. Ken Block does not drive a Subaru in the Red Bull GRC, he’s now a blue oval man through and through. Travis still drives a Subaru in GRC (After a short stint in a Dodge Dart), but Ken drives the Ford Fiesta. Why did KB leave Subaru and Rally America back in 2009? The answer to that one is simple. Ken had already won a lot of rallies in Rally America and wanted to get into the WRC. Guess what manufacturer had just pulled out of the WRC at that time? Yep, Subaru. You are correct that Travis didn’t stay either, and that was very much about money. The big draw of a potential NASCAR paycheck drew Travis away from stage rally, and he thought he could compete against those left turners who grew up on dirt circle tracks and graduated to pavement. Unfortunately, the finesse required to handle a NASCAR in today’s draft racing turned out to be a lot harder than he thought. So why didn’t Subaru try harder to keep Travis? Well, at that same time they had pulled out of the WRC, so they obviously didn’t have the bucks to compete against the dollars a NASCAR team was willing to pay.

    Now the question is why isn’t Rally America as popular as it once was? It has to do with media, media, media. There used to be highlight shows of Rally America events on what once was “Speedvision” and then became the “SPEED” network. Then ESPN picked up Rally America along with the X-Games coverage, but the loss of the big names above and the economic down turn had ESPN focus more on college ball sports and dump most of its motorsports coverage across all kinds of areas. X-Games remained for another easy reason. The demographic it targets is what sponsors want. X-Games and the Red Bull GRC targets specifically the 16-30 year olds who have disposable income to spend on stuff they probably don’t need. Additionally Red Bull GRC went into their series knowing that it was perfect for the short attention span of young fans. It was NOT however patterned off of rally. The Red Bull GRC was patterned off of the then ERX (European Rallycross Championship) which was exploding in popularity with the above stated demographic, and investors took note. Rallycross in Europe actually began in the 1960’s, I believe at Lidden Hill, so it’s connection to modern rally is only in the similar cars and it’s multiple surfaces and of course the drivers. Rally America even tried a test of some RX events back east a few years ago in hopes of drawing some additional attention, but they didn’t have a TV package or big names anymore, so it was fruitless.

    And that is the big thing right there. TV, TV, TV. Red Bull GRC worked it’s butt off to get TV (or the promise of TV to early entrants into the series). It was able to set the hook with X-Games and the targeted demographic. With that it was able to get manufacturers and sponsors. GRC was a “Build it and they will come” series. At first it wasn’t even very good, but they kept pushing to bring in more manufacturers and better TV which has grown it to what you see today. If GRC worked WITH Rally America instead of against it, both sports would grow together. Sadly they see each other as competitors not as partners.

    So how do we fix Rally America to become what it once was? It is not as simple as getting a couple more big names even though that would help. It needs better media, more dedicated manufacturers, and a title sponsor. Subaru can’t do it alone. I think to bring back the spectacle of Rally in America, I think an enhancement of RWD would help. Big horsepower turbos or V8s thundering down the stages would a sight to see indeed. The Nameless GT86 that will race at the Oregon Trail Rally and Olympus events is an example, as is the BMW M3 of BRAKIM Racing that will compete in east coast events later this year. If Rally America can’t work with GRC, then maybe it could draw in the tuner teams that compete in drifting events? The Group 5 class is open to where you can run tons of power, but still the media piece is missing. Last year 4 Rally America events did get on NBC Sports, but the shows didn’t appear until a month after each event and it wasn’t all that exciting or interesting. If they can get the media figured out, I think a lot of other things will fall into place. However the key is to finding out what can draw in the media. Once you get the media and some sort of excitement (like Group 5?), then you will see sponsors and potentially manufacturers get on board. Build it, and they will come.

    • Jason Anthony

      Oregonwings, thanks for your reply, and yes, you are correct about Ken driving for Ford, my mistake!

      I appreciate your thoughts on the media aspect, you are right, Rally America is severely lacking in the media department, and their content is not that easy to find. The highlight shows on NBC are a far cry from the TV coverage of a few years ago on ESPN.

      However, in the current media landscape, is TV the answer? I wonder if they spent the huge amount of money it takes to get a short highlight show on the TV on a well produced webcast instead? I think that a lot of racing series still look to TV as the solution to all their problems, but how many people in the much sought after 15-30 demographic really use their TV’s that much anymore?

      For example, to see the WRC, I subscribe to WRC+. To watch sports car racing in the US, I watch the race broadcasts on the TUDOR SportsCar website, not the TV broadcast that is riddled with advertising. I don’t care too much about FI, but their TV numbers are dwindling over the past few years because Bernie E. refuses to accept new media.

      What do you think? Maybe it is time for Rally America to get creative with internet-based media instead of following the footsteps of so many other racing series down the TV path?

      • oregonwings

        Jason, I do the rally reporting for OpenPaddock.net and have discussed this subject many times. I agree with you that it is short sighted of many racing series to focus on just TV as being the big thing to “save their sport.” The only reason why they think that though is because it is what the advertisers and manufacturers want. Even if the younger demographic are moving to more mobile media and online sources of entertainment, the old school advertisers are focusing on old fashioned TV. What was key to Red Bull GRC was getting on regular NBC and not on a cable network because so many younger folks are cable cutters. What that misses is those that don’t even care about broadcast TV.

        One success story is the “Launch Control” videos that Formula Photographic does for Subaru Rally Team USA. If Rally America can’t get a near-live broadcast like WRC/WRC+, then a story telling type coverage like Launch Control might work well. Of note, the Formula Photographic guys also do the Canadian Rally Championship TV broadcast and web coverage, and it is brilliant. I think RA should hire them as they have the experience and make it interesting.

        I too use WRC+ as that is the only way to watch live stages (unless you have MAVTV) and get the daily recaps. WRC has improved by now offering the 1 hour full event recaps for free via redbull.tv by mid-week after the event has finished, which helps a lot. Personally what has hooked me on rally though is listening to WRC Live radio. Personalities with passion like Colin Clark make a massive difference in sports coverage. Timing is important. If you wait too long after an event to broadcast something, people will forget and lose interest. I’ll be interested to see if Jim Beaver with the new Rally America Radio can help a bit by providing live or near-live coverage that wasn’t available before, even if he isn’t quite as exciting as Colin.

        As for sports cars, that is what I like about Pirelli World Challenge. Live streaming, and available on YouTube right after broadcast is complete! They have a model that works extremely well to draw in both fans and manufacturers. This year with the move to all GT3 cars in the top class has the series bursting with manufacturer entries. Maybe more motorsports should analyze what PWC is doing?

        • Jason Anthony

          I agree about PWC! To be honest, I had them in mind when I was writing this piece about Rally America. They have done a great job of moving their series from a little-known entity to a real spectacle. They have attracted the gentleman drivers who have in turn brought sexy cars that the spectators want to watch. To make their accomplishments even more impressive is that they were achieved with a fraction of the budget of other major North American racing series.

          The Launch Control series is great, and it kind of reminds me of the documentary, Engineering the World Rally that followed the Subaru WRT team back in 2006. I really believe that rally is perfect for this type of “story-telling” production rather than a typical highlights show. There is a human element to rallying (well, motorsports in general) that tends to often get overlooked in favor of objective reporting.

          I’ll have to check out your stuff over at OpenPaddock, thanks for getting involved on WRBlog!

  • Jason Anthony

    Case in point… just logged onto the Rally America webpage to see who was leading the rally after day one and… there’s nothing! Just a few articles that were posted from last few weeks. In addition, on the banner advertising the 100 Acre Wood Rally, there is a photo of Ken Block, who isn’t even competing in the rally this year! If I were Subaru pouring tons of money into this championship, I would be pretty miffed. I guess that this is the type of stuff that oregonwings is talking about.

    • oregonwings

      Jason – I agree that they aren’t so good at updating their web page. They are doing pretty good on social media though. I know the guy doing the Twitter and Instagram for RA and he’s a dedicated motorsports fan that wants to get as much info to the masses as quickly (and accurately) as possible. As for why Ken Block is on the cover, I believe (not certain) that the previous winner of the event get’s the cover shots. Case in point there, the T-Shirt designs being voted on for the upcoming 2015 Oregon Trail Rally is required to have David Higgins on it as he won here last year. I’m not sure if that holds true for all materials (like the web site and the spectator guide), but it might.

      If you want to follow the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood, I’d suggest following #100aw #ra2 #usrally and @Rally_America, me (@oregonwings:disqus ), @openpaddock, and @iRally on twitter. Also follow Rally America and specific teams like FY Racing on Facebook. I’d also direct you to listen to the radio coverage from Jim Beaver at http://rallyamericaradio.com . For stage times, you have to go to the specific link to the event on the RA web site like this: http://rally-america.com/events/2015/100AW/results

      Sadly they focus so much on social media over the web site that it falls behind. I know what to look for, but someone new to it would not know where to find the times.

      • Jason Anthony

        Cool, thanks for the info and the links. I had a listen to a few of the radio broadcasts this morning. They’re not bad, but not terribly engaging either. The twitter feed with the photo scavenger hunt is a good idea to get fans involved. I imagine that in rural Missouri, the internet connections can be spotty, so I am sure it is a challenge to keep things up to date on a “live” basis, but I acknowledge the effort that Rally America is making. It’s a start, I guess…

  • Hey Jason,
    I think your ideas here are spot on. I’d like to mention the “other” sanctioning body in the US for a moment before your readers abandon all hope for rally in the US. :) NASA Rally Sport has been quietly growing in participation over the last 5 years, and is running a maxed out event with 50 cars this weekend in South Carolina as well as a maxed entry (10 car) Test Day in Washington State. Yes, we have so many rally competitors right now (spring 2015) – that there is a wait list for both events. This hasn’t happened in rally in a long time in the US, and while we’re excited – we’ve seen this movie before and will take it in stride.

    Why haven’t you heard of us? Well, we don’t have a #43 or a #199 for starters, don’t have a $250K TV show, and don’t pay a marketing team $40K a year, but we do have some dedicated gentleman racers, and are focused on rally from the ground up. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that we need recruitment and support of privateers. Privateer support and grassroots racing are what we’ve been focused on from the start (2004). This means of course, starting with the old pick up trucks, and Dodge Neon’s. You have to start somewhere and right now there is no clear path to becoming a “professional rally driver” besides personal wealth in the US.

    IMO: “Top Heavy” rally doesn’t appear to work in the long run. What I mean is, the gap between privateers and the 12 or so teams that take on Subaru of America is easily $1M. These hopeful teams spend 2 or 3 years trying to capture the brass ring and then go off and do something else – never to return. Meanwhile the 30 or so guys running Talons and old Subaru Legacy’s are just forgotten. Not even mentioned together on the scores. The special service areas, merch, and marketing is not for them. Discouraging privateers by forgetting about them, and when they have enough money to play with the big boys they are fighting against a manufacturer supported team with an ‘seemingly limitless’ budget. How is this exciting for anyone?

    To have an audience, you need racers. When you watch F1 drivers – you are watching the end of a long line of racer development programs. Modern F1 drivers don’t wake up in their 30’s and say “today I will learn to become a champion racer”. These guys started driving karts at 5 years old. They have raced in thousands of regional races and only when they were beating 100’s of others were they moved to a “Junior” program, and so on, and so forth. As you know, it’s exactly the same for WRC drivers: What if there are only a handful of rallies with only a handful of competitors?

    What would I like to see? I want to see the local rallies consistently full – and then focus on 2WD competition. From there I think a 2WD reasonably priced (say $25-30K) spec class would be a great thing. Give these guys all the attention, and a produced web show, and hope kids will forget about building a $250,000 Subaru. Now privateers that want to win rallies and gentleman racers are battling for seconds in “new” cars. When those are filling up rallies – then get “the show” going with the AWD Turbo cars, but never forget those privateers.

    This is of course going to take commitment and long term thinking. It’s tough to say to the #199, and #43 fans: Come rally with us, or check us out in 5 years, but I think before you know it – if 2015’s entries keep up – we’ll have made a significant impact on the sport of US rally. http://www.nasarallysport.com/main/schedule

    – Kris

    • Jason Anthony

      Hi Kris!

      I am sorry that it took until now for me to reply to your post. I have been a bit busy over the past few days and I wanted to give a reply that your post deserved. First of all, thank so much for getting involved and commenting on WRBlog, and keep the comments coming!

      I have been keeping the corner of my eye on NASA over the past few years, and I have to say that the progress they have made has intrigued me. Just looking at their website, you can see that they are trying to appeal to the privateer team. Their low-cost testing day is a fantastic idea!

      You are right about the disparity at the top in Rally America… as cool as the factory Subaru is to watch, it isn’t that intriguing to see them demolish smaller teams with margins of victory of 3 to 4 minutes. It seems like the NASA series offers a much more sensible and sustainable model to go rallying for the privateer at this point in time.

      I have a question for you. A few years ago, I volunteered at Rally NY when it was run under the USRC (United States Rally Championship) series. Was this at all affiliated with NASA? At that time, I remember that the organization of the rally seemed a bit sub-par compared to Rally America. I am not sure however, if at that time (I think it was 2011) NASA was involved in that rally.

      I am actually going up to see the Empire State rally next month, so I will be writing a piece reviewing the rally and the championship in general. Will you be up there for that rally? It would be cool to meet up.

      Thanks again for writing!


      • No Problem Jason,
        You’re quite welcome!

        Both the Sandblast Rally and the Washington Test Day went quite well this weekend! Lots of happy competitors in the Northwest, and tons of pictures and video tagged with #sandblastrally all over the web. There was a mix of AWD and 2WD cars at the top of the Sandblast podium, and even though it was a little tough on cars this year, it looks like a lot of the competitors had a great time.

        To answer your question: The USRC was an overlay national championship from 2005 – 2012 run by participating events. It had a number of events that were NASA Rally Sport sanctioned and insured, and a few that weren’t: Notably Rally New York

        ESPR has been an NRS event since its creation in 2013 (grown from some of the previous RNY volunteers under new management), but it will be re-inventing itself again this year with the switch to gravel. This will no doubt be a challenge to overcome, with brand new roads, maps, directions, radio locations, etc. I would expect there to be some hiccups with such an undertaking, so keep this in mind when you review.

        I won’t be at ESPR – as I’ll be busy at a California Test Day on March 28th, and the event my wife and I organize: The High Desert Trails Performance Rally on Saturday May 2nd in Ridgecrest, CA. The final runoff event for the NASA National Championship this year will be the Prescott Rally in Prescott AZ in October. I WILL be at that – hopefully as a competitor. Far drive or flight for you probably, but if you can make it out – you’ll get to see one of the best rallies in the country!

        – Kris

        • Jason Anthony

          Hey Kris,

          Are you receiving email on your NASA email account? I saw on the website that you are transferring servers… just want to make sure it is working. I have something I wanted to run by you.



    • oregonwings

      Although your article focused on the big names and Rally America, Kris is right on a number of points. NASA Rally Sport has a very different business model, and as you can see it works. Focusing on the grassroots and affordability instead of trying to cling to waning manufacturer support and multi-day large scale rallies spread across the country in a single championship. Grassroots rally has been a boon to the the NRS car counts, plus the flexibility in the NRS series allows for experimentation in other areas like their “Rally Moto” where motorcycles run on the rally stages and the introduction of side-by-side Polaris Razer entries in Rally Idaho. It is some very neat stuff for sure.

      All rally teams, regardless of scale/cost, have plenty of excitement and interesting stories to tell. I’ve seen a FWD Honda CRX turned into a rally car driven faster than 95% of the national teams. This interesting web site here http://www.daronhume.com/rally/combine.php5 with the right settings turned on, calculates the comparison between national and regional entrants in Rally America events. So there are plenty of drivers/teams to watch farther down the field that are competitive with the national guys. Unfortunately, the cheaper regional entry fee doesn’t give them any national attention (not that most national entrants beyond the top few get much coverage anyway). That being said, Rally America appears to realize their current model isn’t optimal and is trying to make changes on the exposure side. I know the guy they just added on to handle all the RA social media and he is potentially going to be taking on a larger role in media coverage. He has some great ideas and hopefully those ideas will bear fruit in the not too distant future (and hopefully focus beyond the top few).

      That all being said, I’m a fan of both series. NRS really does pack an exciting punch in a 1 day package. RA offers a bit more adventure in the long distances and varied conditions in their rallies. One thing to remember though is that the rallies themselves are organized and run by local groups while both NRS and RA are sanctioning bodies that handle scoring, insurance, a rules package, registration, and media, etc. In my neck of the woods there was a dispute with RA with the change in the Olympus Rally schedule and RA dropped it from the national championship. That did not stop Olympus from running the next two years though. One year it ran under the NRS banner (and a different name), and the following year back under RA as a regional event. My point is that rallying events in the USA will carry on one way or another for some time, just not necessarily under the original sanctioning banners they once were, and not necessarily with the “Big Names” mentioned in the article. I can’t say whether NRS or RA has the one perfect model, as they are very different by design.

      As a rally fan, the most important thing is to get involved and help the teams (especially the little guys) succeed by telling their stories. Rally is full of interesting moments. I was just talking to BRAKIM’s Matt Brandenburg and he told me about a time they broke a bunch of bits on a Dodge Neon they were running the year they came all the way over to Oregon Trail Rally (they were relatively unknown then). They purchased an entire other Neon from someone off of Craigslist so they could get the parts to continue running the next day! The repaired car unfortunately didn’t last much longer due to overheating issues, but it exemplifies what teams at all levels are willing to do. FY Racing and BRAKIM do a great job of telling their own stories on social media and from YouTube video these days, as does Chris Greenhouse with all his onboards. I think all rallying in the USA would benefit from more of this kind of coverage whether from individual teams or by the sanctioning body. The key is getting it out there to the public at large and having them recognize where they can find it. However, I don’t think we’ll see USA rallying on major sports networks like ESPN again anytime soon.

      Cheers Jason and Kris!

  • SquidBonez

    I’ve always prefered NASA Rallysport to Rally America…but that’s because I have a bias towards “blue-collar”, grassroots racing. Eh, either way, it’s fairly safe to say rally is gaining exposure here in the US and while there are some problems, that will be fixed as more and more people get involved. I know first hand that NASA Rallysport is gaining more members and fans rapidly.

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