Watch the video below, which shows an exhibition run of a 2010 Red Bull Renault F1 car in Cape Town, South Africa, last week. That’s test driver Neel Jani behind the wheel, not Sebastian Vettel or Mark Webber. Despite this, the stands are absolutely packed with race fans, eager to see an F1 car up close and personal. The fact that it’s last year’s car, driven by a supporting member of Red Bull Racing, is completely irrelevant to the standing-room-only crowd. When was the last time you saw that kind of interest in a professional race in the United States? Aside from the Daytona 500, which is packed because of both tradition and the late winter weather in Florida, you really don’t see this level of interest in professional motor sports in the United States anymore.
The Indy 500 used to draw hundreds of thousands of spectators, and earning a decent seat usually required you to endure years of cheap general admission seating. I haven’t been to an Indy 500 since 1991, but I imagine I could show up on race day and buy a halfway decent seat at the box office, because the race has lost a lot of it’s prestige. Even NASCAR attendance is down, and tracks like Daytona are scrambling to stay solvent in a down economy. Is the answer that simple? Has racing gotten too expensive, or are today’s cars (in both open wheel and stock car racing) simply too bland to be entertaining? What would it take to fix racing in the United States?