PFANNER: Balancing risks and opportunities in racing’s moment of truth

Image by Kinrade/Motorsport Images

PFANNER: Balancing risks and opportunities in racing’s moment of truth

Insights & Analysis

PFANNER: Balancing risks and opportunities in racing’s moment of truth

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This week, American racing will make a highly-anticipated return to on-track competition after a weeks-long global shutdown of sports and public gatherings due to social distancing directives aimed at slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. RACER’s recent survey of those who work in motorsports as professionals or volunteers shows that 80.8% of respondents have been negatively impacted by the consequences of this global pandemic, while 72.9% feel that racing returning without a live audience is better than having no racing at all. The latter data point is understandable given that their top concerns are ensuring that proper health and safety checks are carried out regularly and accurately (48.3%), and bringing the virus home to their families (47.8%).

Auto racing is a sport that constantly manages risk and safety by relying on science and data with an obsessively objective and proactive mindset. So we must never forget that we have a choice to make in this pivotal moment: We can behave like racers, grounded in reality as we do things to move our sport forward while protecting our families, those we work with and the well-being of our fans. Or, we can succumb to fear and hopelessness that leads us to embrace anxiety-driven outrage about something beyond our immediate control. I’ve yet to see anyone in our sport succeed by choosing the latter when confronted by a challenge.

I choose to live in reality, and I am fortunate to be surrounded by co-workers at Racer Media & Marketing who embrace this moment with honesty. They are making the best of what is possible in the eternal now we all share. The horror and the beauty of the COVID-19 pandemic can be found in the realization that the 7.8 billion souls on this tiny blue dot are connected. There is no place to hide from this ultimate truth, and denial only exposes weakness. In this lies a huge opportunity for our sport. While some believe auto racing is in the entertainment business, we at RACER believe that we have always been in the inspiration business as we move forward to whatever comes next.

In that context, we should find hope in the fact that the audience for racing is still engaged and growing with an intense energy regardless of the challenges of this moment. At RACER we are grateful for the 107% year-over-year increase in our online audience that occurred in April at a time when there was zero physical racing activity. It was also heartening to see how quickly racing series and sanctioning bodies have embraced Esports and the opportunity for our sport to have a compelling and engaging 24/7/365 global presence. We should not be surprised that RACER.com experienced a 298.84% increase in users in the 18-24 age segment and a 175.78% increase in the 25-34 age segment during April, which proves that there is always opportunity present regardless of the circumstances we are coping with. More importantly, it underscores that the spirit of racing is unstoppable and uplifting to people of all ages.

The RACER team believes that motorsport can take a leading role in demonstrating how to use science and data to tackle the question of how to reopen from lockdown safely.

During my 47-years in motorsports and in media I have seen many dark days where I felt deep personal loss that crushed my spirit. But I moved forward, inspired by the brave people who inhabit the racing world. You give me strength and courage because you remind of who I really am in moments like this. This is why I love the sport and the profession I have dedicated my life to. We share a cultural foundation of seeking the truth, and from this, relentless improvement.

This is how progress happens in the face of daunting challenges. Auto racing has a golden opportunity in this moment to lead the sporting world back to live physical events. More importantly, our RACER team believes that our sport can lead society forward by demonstrating how to confront and overcome the challenges present in the era of COVID-19. Motorsport’s culture is adept in dealing with environments and circumstances that represent mortal risk to competitors, event workers and fans, so no sporting or entertainment culture understands this moment better than the auto racing community. This is our collective moment to shine by setting an example for the world. We believe that the culture of motorsport and our proven ability to adapt, innovate and inspire will help lead society to a better place as we emerge from isolation and shed the demons found in the darkness of fear. We also believe that it is our destiny to cover and share this most important story in our history of serving the sport.

At RACER, our motto is “victory travels at the speed of thought”. We may win or we may lose, but the outcome starts with the mindset we choose. This is central to why we risk, and why we will race onward to a better tomorrow.

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