Rory Cummins: The fortunes of Irish Motor Racing
July 28, 2012 by Rory Cummins
The fortunes of Irish Motor Racing have always ebbed and flowed. From the brave new world of the late sixties and seventies when motor racing in Mondello captured the imagination of the paying public and Formula 5000 cars thundered to a five deep crowd. Local Formula Ford championships produced young talent who having proved themselves on the bumpy confines of Mondello took the boat to England and won races and championships galore. For a few years Irish drivers owned single seater racing in the UK. Messrs Daly, Roe, Kennedy and Byrne flew the flag first in England and later the world. The healthy local scene was a great nursery for them.
The eighties saw decent grids and large spectator attendances at events like the Leinster Trophy and the Park. Mondello had its own financial woes during this time but survived thanks to Martin Birrane. The live TV coverage every year of the Leinster Trophy ensured that Irish motor racing had some place in the minds of the public. This continued through the nineties with RPM covering the major championships and decent crowds turning up to race meetings with excellent entries. I have a vivid memory of a one day meeting in with an entry of over 200 cars. The Vee championship alone had over 60 registered drivers. This was a boom time and we enjoyed it.
So where are we now? Irish Motor racing seems to be in freefall and very little is being done to stop it. There are some great individual efforts, this website being one. Formula Sheane has come together and put a plan in place and is beginning to reap the reward. The Abarths tried similar but with limited success. Other Find a Driver competitions have received good local press coverage and are to be applauded but when the last car meeting attracted just an entry of 55 cars you begin to realise that we need a more cohesive effort. It is time for fresh thinking. Now I realise that the main culprit of this dire state of affairs is the lack of money in the country. That fact cannot be argued with but we can either sit there and moan about it or we can change our approach. The economy will eventually turn around and the decisions that are made in the next few years will dictate how we benefit from that change. Value for money is key, if we can put Irish motor racing in a position now to attract sponsors and new and old drivers when nobody has a dime then we will be better placed to attract the really big money when it is around.
So what can be done? Please bear in mind the following is just throwing enough shit at the wall to see if it will stick. Some of these ideas might not work but if they lead to somebody having a better one that does then all the better. All I am trying to do is kickstart the debate and get some fresh thinking going. So where do we begin, ,as with everything lets start at the top.
Motorsport Ireland do very little to help Irish Motor Racing, they seem quite happy to collect the licence fees and issue the permits but on the promotional side they are non existent so we can forget about them. If you want to get their interest you should go rallying. Lets move onto race meetings.
To properly promote this glorious sport of ours we need to reduce the amount of race meetings that we have. This year Mondello will run six car meetings, it should have been seven but one was cancelled. We should reduce this down to four. These four meetings should be run as double headers. Qualifying and championship round on both Saturday and Sunday. These meetings should be run on the May, June and August Bank Holiday weekends and the final one being the Leinster Trophy in September. If Mondello wants to run non championship rounds on either side of the season that’s fine but they don’t fall under this promotional campaign which I will come to.
All classes should be invited to run at these meetings but if they don’t have fifteen cars they don’t get their own race. Six car grids do no favours to the image of the sport. If you cant produce the numbers be prepared to get cosy with another class. I can imagine a number of class reps that I have dealt with over the years punching the laptop at this stage but we have to have a promotional image. If you want your own race go get more cars.
Lets pause for a moment on the subject of classes. We have too many. When I started going to Mondello there was Formula Vee, Formula Ford, Gts, Fiats and Saloons and that seemed like a full day. If I ruled the world and thank God I don’t we would have Formula Vee feeding into Formula Sheane (Should they have a name change to Super Vee?). A generic Fiat class feeding into ITCC and a sportscar class for Strykers and Globals with a Formula Libre class for all other single seaters. If the Historics have stopped fighting amongst themselves then they are very welcome as well. Ginetta Juniors deserves its place as the breeding ground of new talent. Eight classes, everybody gets a race and if we get the scheduling right then probably more track time than they have ever had before.
You can see where I am going with this cant you. The consolidation of Irish motor racing into a more easier promotable and understandable package. Four race meetings mean less demand on the drivers time, less cost involved and if its done right a reduction in entry fees and testing costs because Mondello have to spend less money. A package like this is also easier to sell to sponsors and spectators.
Media coverage is also an area that need new thinking. Try and get coverage on terrestial tv and you are on a hiding to nothing. We have to realise that the internet and in particular Youtube is our friend. An Irish motor racing channel on Youtube means that it is accessible to a huge audience. All we have to do is produce the coverage. This is not the insurmountable mountain that you think, just look at the great work that fellow blogger Cregor has done for the Vees. All we need to do is expand on this idea. In car camera footage combined with outside shots makes for race coverage. So how do we get it produced? An idea that has been bouncing around in my head for a while is that this would be an ideal project for a media course, we hire the equipment and they shoot and produce the show. The more popular that this becomes the easier it is to sell to sponsors. All this promotion needs money though so how do we pay for it.
The best way forward seems to be the setting up of a Co-Operative for the management and promotion of this package. If all the drivers and class committees were to purchase shares for say 100 Euro then you begin to see a budget forming. Your share entitles you to vote for a board charged with the responsibility of running the sport in Ireland. Any profit made would be put back into the race meetings to reduce costs or spent on more promotion. It might seem like a mad idea but it might just work.
A lot of people in Mondello have strong opinions about how the sport should move forward. One thing is certain , we have to come together to move it forward. There is no point in going off in seven different directions because it will crumble around us. We can keep going as we are and hope that it turns around and it might, or we can try and speed the process up and take control of it so that we all benefit. If we want it, the future can be in our hands.