Craig Murto: How to fix racing

Craig Murto

A lot of people ask how we can fix racing.

Well, first we have to realize that there is a problem with racing. Lower spectator attendance at major events and lower TV ratings is enough to show we have a problem.

The problem is built into the sport itself; the problem is speed.

Many people are so obsessed with speed, they forget about the quality of the racing. Series officials love when their series arrives at a track and breaks the track record. But what is lost is that the faster cars go, the narrower the racing groove becomes and the less overtaking and actual side-by-side racing can occur.

Surprisingly, the best race of the weekend was the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway. The reason? Drivers actually lost control. It’s not that fans want to see accidents, but they do want to see that drivers can go over the edge. At Texas, not only did drivers lose control and cause incidents, but it appeared a number of teams were too aggressive with camber, causing worn tires to blow.

The Formula One race in Bahrain was a single-file, follow-the-leader affair only saved at the end by Vettel’s will to hang on for the win on used tires. The current formula went in the wrong direction. The cars appear aggressive, but the wider tires and aerodynamics allow the cars to run so much faster that if it were not for the Drag Reduction System that allows for less drag and artificially creates passing opportunities, the only overtaking at Bahrain would have resulted from pit stops.

The IndyCar race at Phoenix was saved by a late-race caution and a battle at the end, but for the most part the race was a single-file, follow-the-leader dud. And it’s not certain that the race will return on the IndyCar calendar in 2019, despite the long tradition the series has with the facility.

The problem is speed. The cars are glued to the track, both with mechanical grip in the form of wide racing tires, and with aerodynamics. And as the cars go faster and faster, the groove in which they can race gets narrower and narrower until the racing resembles a high-speed single-file parade. And that results in less fan interest.

NASCAR had the right idea last year when it experimented with low-down force packages. They need to continue in that direction. Get rid of the side skirts and raise the cars up off the ground. Make them more difficult to drive.

In New England there are two types of Late Models that race on short tracks. You have the Super Late Models like those that race in the Pro All Stars Series (PASS), and the Late Models that race in the American-Canadian Tour (ACT).

When the ACT cars run a race on New England short tracks, fans love it. They are racecars, and they are competitive among themselves. Fans love the PASS cars as well. But when the ACT cars with small crate engines, stock transmissions and shocks, and eight-inch-wide tires are on the track by themselves, fans can’t tell that they’re a second a lap slower than the PASS cars with their racing engines, racing shocks, and 10-inch tires.

Likewise, in the big leagues fans won’t see the difference if all the IndyCars at Phoenix are doing 150 mph rather than 180, or if the NASCAR Cup cars were doing 175 at Texas rather than 200. But the lower speeds would result in a wider groove in which the cars could race. And that results in better action on the track.

There is nothing wrong with big-league racing that can’t be fixed. And the fix is to take away down force – a lot of it – and take away mechanical grip by putting racecars back on skinny tires.

The cars would be slower and more difficult to drive. The racing would improve. Improved racing would result in increased fan interest. Problem solved.

It’s going to be a good weekend, so be sure to record the major races on TV and visit a local short track. Or check out the road course in Summit Point, West Virginia  this weekend as the Sports Car Club of America offers free spectator admission. And plan for the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia  on April 19; take the day off work and see the best Late Model racers in the region compete against Hamlin, Kyle Busch and others in the Thursday night special.