Before the World of Outlaws made it on TV, it was common to have one car and one motor out on the road. When TV hit… everything changed.
I had Randy Hannagan on my podcast last week, and I started from the opening with the fact that Randy, a mid-90’s to 2000’s World of Outlaw regular was in the series during a time when you’d find them on live TV – my first access to the series as a kid growing up.
That’s a far cry from today where the series is broadcasted online almost exclusively with DirtVision.com. There has been a spotty deal with CBS Sports with prerecorded races occasionally (but who has CBS Sports!?) What’s cool about DirtVision (and it is awesome!) is they’re broadcasting ALL the races – albeit online (and subscription based), so it doesn’t match the reach the series once had on TNN (the channel has long since been broken up and changed hands several times most recently rebranded as ‘Heartland’)
My question to Randy on the podcast was going to be simple, just wanting to hear about that era on live national TV. What kind of sponsorship did it bring in? (from some spectator perspectives it looked like lots of corporate sponsors came into the series around the time) Perhaps I could gain insights looking ahead for the series.
Randy’s response was thorough and intelligent, he provided much more than I imagined… he explained the evolution of the sport.
“Everybody thinks TV is going to bring in the sponsors, and that’s what everyone wanted to believe. And it brought some… but it didn’t bring ’em all,” Randy began.
“It was almost like a false hope, because we were going to be live on national TV, and back then the World of Outlaws they pumped you up, you know, ‘Hey, we’re gonna have this, you can go get these sponsors’ and ‘Sponsors are gonna be easier to come by’ … well, in some essence, yes that’s true, if you were Steve Kinser or Sammy Swindell, the names back then, yes – you were most likely going to have a door opened up for you… For the smaller teams to go out and get these sponsors that were going to take it to the next level, you know, if you look at it – it was the evolution of big team racing. You had to have spare back up cars ready to go, because you we’re going to be on TV and you had to have that exposure. That’s, you know, what your mindset is. You gotta be ready, you gotta be ready… well, if you look back at the time, that’s when second cars were able to be brought out. That was just a big expense – that was a huge expense.
“Back in the early ’90’s if you wrecked a car, you were done. You didn’t bring out a spare car. Hey, you stayed up all night in the hotel parking lot and put it back together… That’s what you did – that’s what everybody did.”
Next day, you went at it again… Then all of a sudden with TV – live TV – well hey, we gotta have bigger trailers, back-up cars ready to go, well… there’s the added expenses to sprint car racing back then.”
Randy went on about the trickle-down impact it’s had on local racing, “You look at all the haulers, like guys that go to Williams Grove and race, you see all these big haulers… they drive 10 miles down the road from their house with a big hauler. They go to a local race track, and they got Toterhomes. You know, then you look at Donny Kreitz, rolls that car out of the back at that [small] hauler, goes makes a bunch of money.”
“The only reason I say all this, is because I experienced it. Back in 1995, I had a $40,000 built Hansen hauler. It was like a stacker trailer back then. It was one of the first ones ever built that had a second level in it. Mine in 1995 and Kenny Woodruff’s with Vivarin and Casey Luna’s car had second levels in it back then. Then in 1996, Featherlite came out with their big trailer for Steve Kinser. You went from a $40,000 steel built trailer to a $200,000 aluminum trailer. And you know, if Steve Kinser has one, everybody’s gotta have one. There was the evolution of the trailer… I had a Featherlite in 2001… but are they necessary? Yeah, I guess they are by today’s standard – because it’s now a standard.”
As Randy concluded, sharing his opinion and the history he witnessed during this era, it became apparent that TV drove up the cost of the sport, it didn’t help fund what was already put into it.
This insight, however simple it may seem to those who experienced it, really opened my mind up to what impact “Thursday Night Thunder” and TNN had, and even the NASCAR drivers coming back into the sport as team owners. It’s been good and it’s been bad, like anything else.
As a driver myself coming into the sport in 2004 from mini-sprints I didn’t think anything of it. This was already in motion and a reality I just assumed because of the times. To have heard what possibly had been the seed of change in driving up the cost of the sport, produced an even bigger question for me looking ahead.
With TV becoming more insignificant, where do you see the future of World of Outlaws races broadcasted? Is it DirtVision exclusively? Would enough people buy in, and it would it offer enough first time viewership of the sport to build its base?
What are ways to help slow the expense of the sport to correlate better with what it brings in revenue wise for these teams? Comment your answers below.
Listen to my whole podcast with Randy Hannagan here, as well as my other podcasts with drivers who matter to the past and present of motorsport.