Question Of The Day: Why Isn’t Rally Racing Bigger In The United States?

Question Of The Day: Why Isn’t Rally Racing Bigger In The United States?

Yes, the racing at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona was exciting and close, especially if you were watching the Corvettes duke it out in GTLM. But there was another race going on where the margin of victory was a mere six-tenths of a second, and better still, wasn’t at a perfectly-groomed asphalt racing course in Florida. Sno*Drift, the kickoff rally of the season, was held in Michigan in the middle of winter, in the middle of conditions that I personally wouldn’t be caught dead in. A 1998 Subaru Impreza rally car, which, let’s be honest, should have been retired ten years ago, was the victor, and they won because the team in the runner-up car noticed that they had a tire going flat and stopped to help. Did you hear anything about it? See any footage? Get any reports? For the most part, we bet the answer is a solid and resounding “no”. Why is that? Rally racing is absolutely mental: it’s over the hills and through the woods at 100 miles an hour we go, yet the only time it crosses our path is when we see crash footage via YouTube. Something is missing in this equation. What do you think, readers? Is rally racing just too out of American enthusiasts’ grasp, is there not enough coverage, or do you just not care?

If you are interested in what happened at this year’s Sno*Drift finish, check out Mike Shaw’s writeup at OpenPaddock: “Six Tenths. Six Tenths Gave Them The Story Of A Lifetime.”

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28 thoughts on “Question Of The Day: Why Isn’t Rally Racing Bigger In The United States?

  1. Chevy Hatin' Mad Geordie

    A good question – I think the answer is that as there are no suitable cars being built in America that would compete in WRC events, the sport will continue to be a mild diversion with older drivers from other motor sports using it as a last hurrah.

    The automotive version of Soccer in other words…

  2. Steven

    I drove from Nashville, TN to Atlanta, MI to watch this race last weekend if that counts for anything. It was an awesome experience! I hope that we see more rally programs in the southeast in the coming years. Regardless, I hope to be part of a team that fields a rally car in the future.

  3. russell

    I have always strongly believed the most talented drivers—bare none—in motorsports are top tier rally pilots. Truly gifted individuals when you see how masterful they guide their 4-wheeled ballistic rockets. As for popularity in the states? many reasons I suppose. Most American race fans like amenities like grandstand seating, beer & hot concessions, etc. where they can wear their favorite grain & seed co-op cap or similar tribe affiliations. Could be rally just isn’t ‘Merican enough. Another thing I think is it can be rather difficult for the average participant to race on any kind of exciting level with required licensing and cost of the car build. Solo events, autocross, parking lot events just aren’t the same as triple digits thru the woods at night however. Many reasons I think, not just one simple answer. Its way easier to go Friday night bracket race your daily driver or similar activities I think. tuff question to answer.

  4. Lakewood

    Beats me! It’s some of the most exciting racing with the most talented drivers on the planet! I’m betting that no Chevies or Bud sponsorship has something to do with it.

  5. tigeraid

    I think it’s because it makes for a terrible spectator sport. It’s amazing to participate in, even at the grassroots level, but in person you only get to see one or two corners as you walk around, freezing your ass off, most of the time… And on TV, it’s almost impossible to put together live coverage properly.

    Global Rallycross has really taken off because, basically, it’s a spectator-friendly version of rally racing.

  6. Gary Perkinson

    I love rally racing–I watch the European events on the tube whenever possible. It’s as ballsy as racing gets. I don’t get the lack of popularity here, either, especially since this country has such an amazing variety of geographical locations and could host any number of these events. Equally amazing is that there don’t appear to be any Americans driving the European circuit (or if there are, they’re not finishing anywhere near the top)…SOMEONE on this side of the pond has to have the money and interest…

  7. Brendan M

    I don’t think it’s popular due to the large buffer between the cars. Same reason you don’t have a huge amount of spectators at land racing events. It’s too safe to make it interesting for your average Kardashian lovin’ meat head.

    The general public wants to see cars door to door, trading paint in top gear. It’s like when Evil K said “These people didn’t show up to see a motorcycle jump, they came to watch me bleed.”

  8. jerry z

    Watching those fart can popping overpriced tin cans racing is about as exciting as a root canel. Now put Pro 4 trophy trucks in place of them, now you’re talking!

    1. Gary Perkinson

      But isn’t that actually the difference between the two types of racing? I mean, Pro 4 is OFF-ROAD, while rally racing is ON-ROAD. I think the rally courses are way more interesting than the man-made “off-road” courses set up at speedways and motorplexes–even the Baja-style desert courses (which are obviously brutally difficult to drive) don’t seem as interesting as driving over 100 mph through woods and villages. It’s like the difference between motocross and Isle of Man TT racing, which to me is the most insane motorsport out there, period. But if all you’re saying is that they should have Pro 4 trucks driving on tiny roads through rural French towns, then I agree! 🙂

    2. Josh

      Have you ever been to a rally? Must have a small confidence of yourself if you think you have to have a big truck and motor to be cool and manly.

  9. sbg

    because we like trucks and Jeeps. I honestly think that popular racing starts with grassroots. A kid buys a car, drives it and races it. In Europe, those cars are econoboxes and awd econoboxes because anything bigger requires a much bigger wallet.
    In the US, trucks are cheap, distances are vast and the opportunity for racing those things is, because of space and availability, what’s popular. It’s not because we hate F1 or Rally events, it’s more because there’s no grassroots and no impetus for such that it doesn’t happen more here.
    After all, what’s been happening this last week? King of the Hammers – which would eat and spit out those little tin boxes.

    1. Matt Cramer

      I agree – I think that it’s mostly because trucks and Jeeps have overshadowed rally cars in the US. A lot of the grassroots enthusiasts are out taking Jeeps on a trail, and there’s a probably even larger segment where using a four wheel drive truck is a means to an end with getting to your favorite hunting spot or fishing hole. So this has led to events with (usually) lower speeds but more difficult terrain.

  10. crazy


    Can you see this type racing, with fans on the side of the road, flipping cars back over, cars running into houses, etc..
    no way in hell, you get a waiver to cover it all,

    1. Doug

      Yup. No way they’d let fans watch this.

      oh… except this.

      While I will chastise Rally America for their media strategy, or lack thereof, for as long as anyone would like to listen, they actually do a good job of crowd control. The stages are well marshaled and the spectator locations well planned. Although the attendance I’ve seen at the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood has dwindled in recent years, it’s still strong.

  11. Moparmaniac07

    It’s not a spectator sport. Time trials are boring, door-to-door racing is much better viewing.

  12. ratpatrol66

    I don’t have an answer to your question, but back in 1986 the was a WRC in Olympia, WA. They pitted in the Tacoma dome, cool stuff. I could not get anybody to go with me so I didn’t go?!?! This was the end of the Group B cars. Still have the VHS highlight video, yes VHS!

  13. Josh

    Small motors, no bleachers, having to walk to watch, no TV coverage, lazy Americans, most think power and noise is everything in racing, cost of racing is high compared to sponsor help so not a lot of drivers or new cars, a lot of people don’t even know what stage rally is, everywhere I go I have to explain it.

  14. blurbyu

    I’m just reiterating what’s been said by others above.
    Americans are lazy, especially when it comes to entertainment. Going to a Rally (especially Sno*Drift) is hard work. I logged 6 miles of walking each day in full cold weather / snow gear while toting a backpack most of the time. I’m a big, out of shape, dude and it was hard work.
    With all of that hiking, I still was only able to watch 1 or 2 corners of action at a time. Rally is spread out, the “track” is long and winding. There is no vantage point where you can see the entire course. The only exception at Sno*Drift is the Super Special Stage that is held in a Gravel Pit where the average person can see about 80-90% of the course. This is the same reason why road racing in general suffers with attendance compared to the big super speedways.
    Finally, I think we are stuck in a bit of an predicament as far as media coverage. The interest and viewership need to be there in order for it to be worth while to send film crews out to the Stages.
    Subaru’s Launch Control Film crew was at Sno*Drift. I saw the same guy at multiple stages and at service. If they had more than one guy with a camera, I’d be surprised. You can make an excellent web series that way, but you can’t make live TV that way, you need multiple crews of decently paid folk, transportation, and top notch equipment.
    As good as Launch Control is (and how dedicated Subaru seems to be at keeping it going) it still only has a little over 500,000 views on YouTube… Across all 44 episodes up right now… That’s far less that most semi-popular “YouTubers” get on a single video.
    It’s not too far of a stretch to say that there are only 10,000-15,000 individual people watching all of the episodes of Launch Control. The interest isn’t there for large scale media coverage. I think Rally will continue to be a niche in the US. I’m OK with that too. I don’t mind sharing the woods with a few thousand ‘mostly’ like minded folks once or twice a year.
    It’s an adventure and I’d much rather be out in the woods hearing the sounds, smelling the smells, and living the experience rather than watch it on TV anyway.

    1. Rolling Blunder Rally

      A lot of this is speculation, but I suspect there are many factors as to why rally is not more generally popular stateside.

      Partially, it’s geographical. There are many great roads in America, but there is also a lot of land in America; vast distances can separate desirable drives. Not a lot of teams are able to compete in a full national campaign for reasons of time, money, etc. Potential spectators and fans can similarly be dissuaded from attending events for logistical reasons.

      The distance issue occurs in tandem with a cultural issue. The explosive growth of the U.S. auto industry in the post-WW2 years and the simultaneous development of the interstate highway system reinforced a utilitarian view and commoditization of the automobile. A reduction in travel time and complexity made huge swathes of “new” places readily accessible to many more people, but domestically the focus on the roads and travel has overwhelmingly been efficiency over excitement.

      There is a divergence in business cultures of the auto industries, as well. Again referring to the commoditization of the automobile, the U.S. OEMs have favored efficiency in production and direct marketing to the consumer on the basis of value to an individual as the way to realize profits. Motorsport is an extremely risky investment (pretty much no entity makes money directly, if at all), and even in my few years spent in the auto industry it was apparent that automakers are risk-averse, preferring smaller, iterative risks or “sure things” to indirect marketing with an uncertain payoff.

      So, how is this different for OEMs in Europe or the U.K. who face the same risks? They have history on their side.

      The European marques have been strongly represented since the birth of road rallies in the early 1900s, through the highest, most visible levels of stage rally today, as has the scenery of the eurozone. A lot of the reason for this is the relative geographic closeness of the various manufacturers and the convoluted roads used for commerce and recreation in equal measure. For spectators in that part of the world, the smaller geographic area covered means attending an event has often been a relatively simple afternoon or weekend affair, whereas many hours one-way to get to a rally here is not uncommon.

      The post-war economic and industrial rebuilding funded by the Marshall plan heavily favored the U.K. (think: Mini) and France (Peugeot, Renault, etc), and I’d guess that the couple decades that passed (leading to the establishment of the Manufacturers Championship in the 70s) allowed an ample supply of cars to diffuse through the population, as well as allowing the recovering and burgeoning automakers to accept the elevated risks in racing to make their brands more visible. This idea probably wasn’t palatable to American OEMs, who were pretty much exclusively centered on Detroit (about as far from mountains as you could get, though interestingly quite proximate to a few modern rallies). Without the logistical benefits afforded by the globalization that began to occur around the time the Mfgrs and Drivers Championships began, it was more-or-less impossible to send a factory team halfway around the world to go burn piles of money.

      Obviously I’ve harped primarily on the participation of manufacturers, and this is because the factory teams are overwhelmingly more successful than privateers due to the much higher level of resources available (man and machine). More success means more visibility and marketability, which means more money, which means sustaining or even expanding of the team/sport/brand.

      Sure, there are things like the intangibility of a competition where drivers don’t compete wheel-to-wheel, but that would be a human factor that is roughly the same across cultures. Ultimately, no entity with big money wants to knowingly spend money it won’t get a return on, be it a works team, an advertiser, a broadcaster, etc., and so things will remain in the background until someone thinks it is profitable, or is willing to make it profitable.

  15. Truckin' Ted

    Before we begin, I would argue that Ford builds 2 current rally type cars…..the Fiesta and the soon to be released Ecoboost Focus RS …..pushing 300 HP. If Brain France has anything to do with it…….more manufacturers could migrate out of NASCAR in the near future.

    I’m a huge fan of WRC, but I think there are several challenges……not the least of which is culture mindset of Merica vs. Europe.

    a. Americans like to sit and watch, the Europeans are a bit more adventurous when it comes to being outside. Hardy, if you will.

    b. The rallies here are usually WAY out in the country,…….some of the WRC races are either run through or around small towns. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.) Or even a medium sized town with easily accessed country roads.

    If we were to bring a rally closer to a town here in the U.S., and get the townies involved……….watch it grow. Doubt me? Attend a LeMons race in Kershaw, SC and you’ll fight for a space to put your lawn chair down on the lawn.

    Good Lord, if LeMons folks can fiqure how to get publicity and crowd participation…….could NOT the RALLY AMERICA folks fiqure it out????

    c. Want to keep the lawyers at bay? Plan your crowd control accordingly. Either that, or have everyone sign a release……

    d. It’s kind of basic,……but in Europe……….hill climbs are crazy popular during the summer. Not so much here in the summer,…..yep there’s a few. But, even in good weather……..not so much here.

  16. KWP

    The reason it’s not big here. Too drawn out for TV. I agree it’s great racing. The comments about being out in the boonies is on point.

  17. Threedoor

    I’m betting government is the biggest problem. Try to get permission to use a road and be prepared to spend so much on legal fees and ambulances you’ll never need and you’re priced out of doing anything fun.

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