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Home arrow American Le Mans Series arrow Opinion and Commentary arrow ALMS O+C arrow Time for La Familia to Challenge The Don?
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Time for La Familia to Challenge The Don? Print
Written by Tony Dowe   
Mar 30, 2011 at 06:33 PM

If you look at how the ALMS, and for that matter how most racing series have evolved, it’s clear that they are too often defined by a format that ensures commercial success for the series owners, generally at the expense of other participants.

This structure accounted for the demise of CART/Indy Car and would seem to soon be going to take the ALMS down with it. The IRL will need the proverbial miracle to avoid the same fate.

While I have no big problem in such a profit motive, I do have issues when the profit motive is at the expanse of the element that makes the whole thing work, the teams!

In much the same way as F1 has had Bernie Ecclestone as its financial head for the past 30 years; Don Panoz has been in a similar position of running the ALMS for its full life. At one time the ALMS was starting to make real inroads to becoming a major player in North American motorsport.

In both cases neither of these players have seen fit to have a successor to appear and, indeed, both would appear quite capable of taking the respective series to the grave without any care as to what might follow. Both think they own the “sandbox” and both have no interest in letting go of their playspace.

The next year in F1 will bring some big changes, because this time frame will see the company that Bernie works for, CVC, take a long look at its investment before the main players, FIA-CVC-Teams, gather around the snorting pole to “discuss” how the next Concorde agreement is arranged.

If, as it would seem, CVC, who own the commercial rights to F1, will have to give a larger slice of the profits to the teams, currently split 50/50, then their cash cow would seem to be gone and with it the need to retain ownership of F1. The first indication of how this might play out will be what Ecclestone does, stay with CVC or move to another position/role?

So what has this got to do with the ALMS you may ask? Well, things are on a much smaller scale than F1, and I certainly would not bracket Don Panoz with Bernie Ecclestone, but to us USA based sports car fans, they are just as important.

The ALMS has been a nice cash cow to “The Don.” His first lieutenant, Scotty Atherton has continued to tell us he keeps costs in check by always referring to the Don as having to put money into the series to keep it afloat! That’s BS, I think, but as it’s run as a private company it’s hard to get concrete evidence of the returns. It’s clear that after a “peak” year in 2008 the series has gone downhill as a large cash making entity. The departure of the majority of manufactures that once provided major financial support to the series, and many of the private independent teams have given the ALMS “management” “team” the problem of presenting a positive outlook while cutting costs.

Even good management would find this hard, and the Braselton brains trust has really struggled, until we now have arrived to the great Internet fiasco of 2011!

The NASCAR business model is one that professional race series have struggled to emulate in some way. The Bill France Jnr. had some very gifted people on board that were given the authority to make decisions and the series was able to move into “The Big Time”

Example, look at the Murphy Web Site, and read the Andy Lally-ALMS Challenge article. While there may be tenuous links and assumptions made, the one big business model fact that stands out is just how smart Kevin Buckler has been by moving into NASCAR Sprint Cup racing! Finishing no better that 31st in any race he has earned $654,911.00.

This means in simple terms that after five races in NASCAR vs. one ALMS race, Buckler is only behind the TOTAL 2011 prize fund by $189,089.00, and where do you think he will be at years end?

If ever there was a case for the ALMS entrants to “defect” to NASCAR, this is it!
Now, obviously the teams that are in the series and even those that are recently departed may not want to spend less on equipment and also earn less, but the principle is there for all to see.
What principle you may well ask? Well, it’s one where teams work with the series and get rewarded accordingly!

The only way the ALMS teams, current, old and perhaps, new, can get to a breakeven point is if they unite as an association and have a leadership that can present to Don, Atherton, a new owner (I know, never going to happen, but hope springs eternal) a set of proposals that will reverse the current trends of dumbing down the series and failing to provide vale to participants and fans alike!

Sure, the teams will have to bite the bullet for a while, but they need a voice beyond the lone Risi voice that is saying “Where’s the money?” “Where’s the TV?” Just think of the response from Braselton if the teams went to Don and said, “If you don’t play ball, NOW, we are all off to Daytona” maybe in a less  in your face way, but you get the idea!

Now is the time to make this happen, because my friends, if we get to July without a significant change in approach from the ALMS, then you can kiss what’s there now “Goodbye” for 2012.

Clearly not everyone will agree with what I have written, but so what? Certainly the “status quo” is not working. If Highcroft Racing can’t find the support to commit to an ALMS season something has got to be done differently. Risi Competizione has taken the first step; who is going to take the next?

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