The Fast TRAC

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In somewhat of a surprise last week, Team Racing Auto Circuit (TRAC) and ESPN announced a multi-year deal that will see the new sanctioning body open its inaugural season in May 2004 with a 13-race schedule on the ESPN networks. There were strong rumors of an imminent deal last June, but then TRAC seemingly disappeared from the public eye.

The ESPN-TRAC agreement is for a solid two years, with options that could make it as long as 11 years. Races will primarily be held on Saturday afternoon or evening, with a few races possible for Sunday. The series will race at all six Speedway Motorsports Inc. tracks, along with seven additional unnamed venues.

You can bet they’ll do everything possible to schedule away from NASCAR. That leaves the prime candidates for Sunday races as the NASCAR weekends of The Winston, the late June off week, the July Daytona race, and Bristol in August. Of course, however, CART and the IRL will also want to take advantage of the Sundays that NASCAR doesn’t race.

The TRAC deal is a time buy for the series, meaning that TRAC purchases the airtime from ESPN. The Disney network locks in a profit with the time buy and gets even more money because TRAC is paying ESPN Regional Television to produce the broadcasts. There’s virtually no risk for ESPN in the deal. It’s TRAC’s responsibility to sell the ads and sponsorships, and they’ve enlisted Raycom to do that for them.

Clearly, the TV deal will make the business case for selling TRAC franchises that much more compelling. TRAC still needs to lock in team owners in the six cities that will field teams for the inaugural season, no small feat in this economy.

TRAC insists that it’s not aiming to compete with NASCAR, and that’s probably true at this point in time. No racing series in the U.S. has a prayer of competing with NASCAR right now. However, with the involvement of Bruton Smith and ESPN, no business proposition or threat can be taken lightly.

THIS WEEK’S NOTES
Today’s Newark Star-Ledger reports that developers are eyeing building a .92 mile racetrack in Linden, New Jersey that would hold 100,000 fans and could expand to a capacity of 140,000. It’s not being developed by ISC, which may be its biggest hurdle. But there’s no doubt that NASCAR wants to be in the New York market and they’d have a hard time saying no if the facility is built, especially given antitrust concerns. If this track picks up steam, look for ISC to move faster on plans for a New York-area facility in an attempt to head off the Linden construction. For fans, it’s a relief that it looks like the proposed track isn’t yet another cookie cutter model. But let’s get greedy and hope that developers can cut it down to .75 miles or less and make it real short track racing.

How bad have you got it? Too bad, if you’re Michael Melo of Billerica, Massachusetts. The NASCAR fan was upset that the Fox affiliate in Boston pre-empted some races in 2001 to show live Red Sox baseball, so he flooded a Fox website with over a half million e-mails. Fox says it cost them $36,000 to shut down the site because they were afraid it might be an attack from a hacker, so Mr. Melo is facing federal misdemeanor charges. Boston area fans don’t have this issue anymore, as Red Sox games are now on the local CBS affiliate.

The final rating for the IRL race/news broadcast/feature show from Japan on ABC was a woeful 0.7. ABC, is it so difficult to just broadcast a race with quality video and sticking to the on-track action? You’ve got to believe that the IRL is extremely frustrated with its “TV partner.” What happened to the rumored “breakout year” for the IRL?

CART’s number for the St. Pete race was a .12 rating on SPEED, drawing just 69,000 households. No piling on here though. Let’s see how they do with two races on CBS on the same weekend in May.

Here’s an idea: Fans should band together and hold an Open Wheel Summit, and it would serve as binding arbitration on the open wheel powers-that-be. None of the big egos would have the option to reject the fans’ decision and there would be no veto power.

The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race from Martinsville on SPEED turned in an impressive .99 rating, thanks to the on-track presence of Darrell Waltrip.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will guest on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” this Thursday night after “Nightline.” “The Best Damn Sports Show Period” on Fox Sports Net will host Jimmie Johnson (Wednesday), Rusty Stewart (Thursday), and Tony Stewart (Friday).

You can see excerpts from Monday night’s Sports Emmy Awards on this Sunday’s “Best Damn Sports Show Period” on Fox Sports Net.

SPEED Channel has reached the 57 million subscriber count in the U.S. The network added 6.2 million U.S. homes in the last 12 months, making it the 15th fastest growing in cable. In the last 24 months, SPEED has added 18.2 U.S. million homes, holding its position as the fastest growing sports network and the ninth fastest growing in all of cable.


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NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2003

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