Racing Rules Changes - The 1910 Edition
In 1910 the Daytona Beach automobile tournament organizers made a bold move to make the racing more spectator-friendly. As interest in the annual winter races in Florida had waned following the peak of speed mania in 1906, the Florida East Coast Automobile Association considered pulling back its support of the event. The survivability of the tournament was in question.
Why does that matter in 2018? Recently NASCAR announced rules changes for 2019 that will change the racing. The goal is to alleviate boring, follow-the-leader racing that has plagued the sport on the intermediate tracks that dominate the schedule.
In what could be a template for NASCAR in making rules change announcements, the following was printed in The Daytona Daily News on February 24, 1910.
“Said a prominent member of the racing committee this morning ‘we are going to do everything in our power to provide exciting and entertaining sport for the visitors and spectators.
It is very probable that in the long races we will sacrifice a little time for the entertainment of the crowd as the course will be cut to five miles instead of ten as prevailed last year and sixteen miles as in years gone by.
Then the cars will pass the grandstand twice as often and relieve the monotony of looking down the course for a car to come along every fifteen or twenty minutes. In fact this year we are going to cater to the public instead of the drivers.
With the practical assurance of worlds records being broken for short distances, the only thing necessary is to make the longer races interesting for the spectators. This will be done and we are going to perpetuate the Daytona Beach races. There will be no talk of abandoning the speed classic of the year after the next meet in March.’”
In this announcement there are a few lessons for NASCAR today.
Focus on the fans. To appreciate the significance of the timing of this course change, you need to understand the environment in 1910. After it seemed that the 1910 tournament would not be presented, the people and businesses of Daytona Beach rallied together to ensure the race tournament went on, putting up their own money. The townspeople understood the importance of the tournament for building interest in Daytona Beach as a winter destination and wanted to ensure that the racing, that made the beach famous, continued. Daytona Beach needed fans to show up and enjoy themselves, so they put the fans at the center of their decision.
Sacrifice speed for the show. By shortening the track, the organizers knew the racing in longer events would be slower as the cars were turning more frequently. They calculated that was worth it so that the fans could see the cars more frequently. By keeping the course 5 miles long, the fans would still get the thrill of the speed of the cars in the straightaway time trials. Fans likely couldn’t tell a significant difference in the longer events where the cars went out of site for minutes anyway.
Balance tradition and evolution. The short time trial runs had originally been the draw at racing tournaments. Earlier tournaments included significant hype over the 1 and 2 mile runs. Those short events were the events that generated the headline-grabbing world records. However, the tournament schedule included longer events, which were increasingly popular as racing spread across the US and Europe, and those events also needed to entertain the audience.
Making changes to provide better racing for fans isn’t new. These types of changes are almost as old as racing itself.