INDIANAPOLIS – I don’t know why it took me so long to figure this out, but among all the racing series’ and their problems right now, USAC seems to be getting it right. Now, I know they too have their flaws and they’re far from perfect, but after witnessing and covering the Driven2SaveLives BC39 presented by NOS Energy Drink at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week, one thing is clear, USAC has a massive following.
Granted, I’m not talking about millions of followers or even hundreds of thousands, but if you pool the entire United States of America, there are a ton of fans of their style of racing. Grassroots racing is indeed alive and well.
The only thing that USAC and this type of racing is missing is that lucrative TV deal. You know, the one that they used to have.
As a kid, I remember watching Thursday Night Thunder on the ESPN family of networks. That then transitioned into Saturday Night Thunder. It was must see TV. Gary (Lee) and Larry (Rice) and Dave Despain filling the airwaves with either USAC Midgets, Sprints or Silver Crown cars racing in the foreground. It was a perfect combination. We watched drivers like Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Robbie Stanley, Tony Elliott, Danny Drinan, Mike Bliss, etc tear up tracks like IRP, Salem, Winchester and a bunch of others around the country.
It was a perfect way for fans to find a driver they like at the grassroots level and following them up through the ranks.
Then, it went away.
Now, with NASCAR trying to recapture their glory, USAC appears to already have. Here’s what I mean by that.
IMS reported a two-day attendance total that exceeded 13,000 spectators. Just last week, they had sold around 8,200 tickets. So, as you can see the buzz around the event over the last seven days created an additional 5k ticket sales. Plus, despite heavy rains and a four hour delayed schedule, the event went on and played in front of a packed house. I mean the green flag of the A-Main didn’t even drop until Midnight and the stands were just as packed as they were earlier.
This fan base is true dirt fans. They knew what to expect, where to watch the action and who was who. This wasn’t new to them.
Also, just scan the attire that these fans were wearing. More times than not, they had a shirt from their favorite USAC driver. Tyler Courtney, aka “Sunshine” had a bunch of fans with his apparel in the stands. “The People’s Champ” Dave Darland was likely the next biggest fan favorite. Kyle Hamilton was another guy receiving loud cheers from the grandstands. Christopher Bell, Zeb Wise, Logan Seavey, Brady Bacon, Alex Bright, Tyler Thomas, C.J. Leary, Justin Grant, etc, they all had a big followings too.
It was something that you’d use to see at a NASCAR race. Remember those days? Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Mark Martin, etc shirts and apparel all over the grandstands. People standing up and cheering proudly as their driver makes moves through the field. Nowadays, I don’t see much of that at a NASCAR race anymore.
There’s a reason for that.
I wrote about it last year when Earnhardt Jr. announced his retirement. The drivers with huge followings were leaving the sport. Danica Patrick, Earnhardt, Carl Edwards, Stewart, Gordon and others have all left NASCAR recently. Those were the drivers with fans donning their shirts and cheering in the stands. Instead of picking someone new, they’ve became casual viewers.
In USAC, there’s not many “casual viewers” in these parts of the country. They’re diehards. If you look around the USAC schedule, their races are always packed. They have a very good on track product with marketable drivers. They have three different divisions, all unique in their own way with drivers able to race in each and every one as they choose.
They have a good system in place. They have good tracks, great drivers, even better fans and a solid foundation. All they need is that TV deal and they’re onto something.
Next, all that’s left is INDYCAR or NASCAR grabbing these drivers up. The fan base is there, who wants to join the party?