Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why Does The Continental Tire Cup Series Get No Love?

On 10-Tenths, there's a regular poster named "Speed King". He lives in Germany but watches American racing. Anyway we often agree on many subjects especially the Continental Tire Grand Am Cup. I refuse to link to Grand Am so you'll have to use Google.

The origins of this series go back to 1980's. It was originally the IMSA Firestone Firehawk series which was a rival to the SCCA Escort Endurance Championship. Both series features current Speed TV color analyst Calvin Fish and Dorsey Schroeder.

Calvin who came from a middle class background in Britain couldn't afford to continue his single seat career in Europe, decided to come to the States in the early 80's and has been here every since winning the Formula Atlantic Championship in 1987. He eventually linking up with Ford Motor Company and raced Saleen Mustangs in the Escort Series, along with Mustangs in IMSA GTO for Jack Roush.

Dorsey was a struggling Formula Atlantic driver in the late 70's. Forced with quitting racing or trying another more affordable series, he was able to take his last few dollars and purchase a Renault Spec Racer; He won the championship. He credited the series with changing his driving style which allowed him to succeed in the Firehawk series for Chrysler (Eagle), IMSA GTU (with Dodge). Later become IMSA GTO race winner and SCCA Trans Am Champion for Jack Roush.

A short history lesson, if you want to know more about Dorsey's early career, just Google his name with Renault Spec Racer, he did an interview back in the early 00's about this phase of his career which was make or break, its very interesting.

Anyway, the Firehawk series was enthusiastically supported by the manufactures. Chrysler Corp at the time used the series to promote its version of the Mitsubishi Eclipse; The Eagle Talon which Dorsey drove back when he was connected to Chrysler. Porsche even built factory prepared 944 Turbos for the series. They had two divisions and fields of 40-50 cars. The series was often featured on The Nashville Network (Diamond P Sports).

I used to find Eagle Talon ads in Car & Driver featuring the pictures of the Dynomax (Walker Exhaust) sponsored two-tone Blue and White Eagle Talon AWD's.

When Don Panoz bought IMSA in the late 90's from a ousted Andy Evans, changed the name back to IMSA from PSCR (Professional Sports Car Racing) and signed a deal with fledgling Speedvision Channel. With that partnership and Firestone leaving as series sponsor, it became the Speedvision Cup Series.

About the time Speedvision was bought by Fox and the name shorten to Speed, they sponsored the series for I think one more season (1998). Also about this time a faction of IMSA broke off and became USRRC. The management of the Speedvision series decided to go with this group instead of sticking with IMSA. SCCA entered in a partnership with USRRC and the series then became the Motorola Cup when it merged with the Motorola Cup Series out of Canada.

It then became the Koni Challenge Series where ITT/Koni supplied the teams with Koni dampers, the first series I think that had a single damper supplier. Finally at the end of the 2009 season it became the Continental Tire Cup, a spec tire series back to its origins (Firestone Firehawk).

With close racing and manufacture support you think this would be more popular than NASCAR. After all one of the main complaints of NASCAR Nation is that the Sprint Cup Series, Truck and Nationwide have nothing in common with the cars and trucks they drive everyday. This series has you covered, many people bought and owned Mazda MX6's, Honda Preludes, Honda Accords, Ford Mustangs, Pontiac Firebirds, BMW M3's, etc, etc.

I think lack of promotion to the base was part of it. The internet at the time wasn't broadband and mature yet. But I really think they could have gotten the grassroots, the owners of the street versions of these cars to support the series. The manufacturers didn't seem to leverage their dealer network to attach fans to the races or even watch it on TV.

This still continues, because most dealers have NO IDEA what your talking about if you mention Continental Tire Cup Series. Some of the forums reminisce about cars raced in this series by posting pictures.

I think a major problem is the series has no high profile drivers. Over the years drivers of other series would "moonlight" in this series but they were not high profile drivers and never became series regulars. One of the most famous drivers of these series is Randy Pobst. Hardly a house hold name but if your a hardcore road racing fan like myself, then his name is not foreign to you at all.

No major series is without its high profile drivers. Even Indy Car with most of its winning drivers of the last decade being born in South America, Canada or Europe they still have large fan followings in the States. Grand Am Cup has had occasional well known drivers drop in for cameo but seldom stayed in the series, usually at the request of a manufacture. Boris Said has found himself racing in this series do to his connections with Ford and BMW.

How can they solve this problem, is it even solvable?

Promotion -

Every manufacturer should be promoting this series through its dealer network by putting posters in the waiting room of the service center at the very least. They should also be sending out promotional items for the series, including videos.

My father worked for one of the larger Chevy dealers in the Los Angeles area for 13 years and didn't remember anybody mentioning any of the various names this series has been called.

Which is shocking since this series has been around in one form or another since 1986, making it 25 years old. The ALMS is 11 years old, SCCA World Challenge is about 25-26 years old.

Why aren't they promoting it?

TV -

Is tape delay really an option in this date and age of the internet? What are people suppose to do ignore web sites like Speed TV? Now if I haven't seen a race for example but recorded it, I will avoid web sites I know will have the results. This includes avoiding my own blog as I have RSS feeds on it and sometimes results of races are posted since I have feeds directly from Auto Sport Magazine and a few FIA series.

Internet Streaming is an option at least for those that want to watch it live. Since they are on Speed, I believe the races are shown live on Speed 2, but they have limited reach at the moment.

The product -

Get away from throwing Yellow Flags for even the slightest incident! In years past they would use local yellows to remove broken cars close to the racing line. Seldom is there a reason to throw a yellow unless the track is blocked. But even Grand Am Cup is guilty of throwing the debris caution!

The biggest problem is self promotion. They regularly have fields of 50-60 cars. I don't know what the entry fees are per event or for a season, but fields that large allow the series to stay afloat clearly.

I understand this is a feeder series to other Touring Car and GT series like the ALMS, World Challenge or Rolex Grand Am, but there's no reason for poor fan turnout, no promotion from key players and tape delayed TV broadcast.

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