Something a lot of people in the racing community know about but don't like to talk about is the fact that the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), the largest racing organization in the US, has been steadily losing members for many years now.
I'm not just saying this without any numbers. In the ‘From the Chair' column in SportsCar, the SCCA's monthly magazine, back in February 2012 this was an issue that was addressed. “The Sports Car Club of America has seen gradual erosion in both membership and event entries and, unless unchecked, the very core of our club will be endangered.” said Jerry Wannarka Chairman of the SCCA's Board of Directors. “Our membership is around 42,000 – a number that reflects a drop of roughly 2,000 members a year for some time now.” he continued in the column.
Is this surprising? Not not really and a lot of finger pointing in the racing community has been going on. I am going to tell you 6 reasons the SCCA has been losing members.
1. Terrible Marketing
This is no surprise and most members of the SCCA are aware of this, but their marketing is terrible. I know from personal experience since I was a member for 1 year. I tried to work with my local SCCA group to understand why the marketing efforts were not going well.
It seems the people that manage the SCCA's outreach believe that auto writers and journalists will just magically show-up to their events for press coverage. The reality is if there isn't a really interesting story or I am not going to be able to drive a car, why the hell would I spend all that time driving there and back? Keep in mind most events they hold are a fair drive away and are held at Summit Point Raceway in West Virginia, would take me roughly 4-5 hours of driving. Somehow the people that run the Washington region SCCA didn't get this and don't realize that auto writers either need a really interesting story or need to get something out of going which they wouldn't get otherwise. (Also they are not very good at returning calls and getting back to you.)
Look my time is valuable and even if I'm interested in racing not every event the SCCA is putting on is interesting. When I wrote about Freedom Behind the Wheel it wasn't just a story that racing enthusiasts would enjoy but something veterans and their families would like to read too. You can't always appeal to a wide audience but you always try to with your articles and stories.
There is a reason companies pay marketers and salesman the most money and not the people that built the product. They keep the company afloat.
2. Racing is Expensive
This isn't really the SCCA's fault as racing is just expensive. However, they are not helpful in making so that people new to the club can understand what they need to do to get started with building their own racecars and getting setup. I guess they assume everyone has the knowledge and resources to do so.
The SCCA from what I can tell has not worked on keeping the costs low for a lot of their races. It is prohibitively expensive to just show up to a casual race and they don't have any intention of changing this. Unless you are just independently wealthy or won the lottery I doubt quite see how some people manage to fit in so much time for the SCCA.
The other issue is that in this difficult economy a lot of guys that have sold their racecars or project cars and have completely stopped racing. Usually I hear the same story. Car guy used to spend most of his money on his cars, bikes, or other vehicles but now he has 2 kids and maybe another on the way. He wants to save up money for a down payment on a house and has decided to stop spending time and money racing and on his toys, so he sells his racecar. (Not easy to find buyers nowadays.) No racecar or equipment, why would you keep an SCCA membership or other racing organization membership?
3. White People
Everytime I got a SportsCar in the mail my first reaction when opening the pages was, “Oh, racing is for white people.”
Unsure of how they can change this perception with minorities but the SCCA probably should think about it. The demographics of the US are changing and if they don't' get in front of it the membership base will continue to erode. Hey, even NASCAR has a diversity program. Of course I don't think it's going that well as I have zero interest in attending a NASCAR race.
4. Too Many Racing Classes and Categories
I honestly couldn't tell you the difference of the racing classes and categories in the SCCA even though I was a member and I am an auto journalist. This is probably because the racing categories were named by engineers, who are bad at naming things.
The reasons I mentioned this is it confuses newcomers to the SCCA and makes their lives harder explaining different classes. All I know is that they have Road Racing, Rally Racing, and some Open Wheel series. If you want to race a Miata you probably can do that too.
5. Racing Takes a Lot of Time
Me driving all the way to Summit Point just to write about a race, unpaid, is not appealing. This isn't the only web outlet I contribute too and write for. Also currently I am working on several other web ventures outside of the automotive space and I need to focus on things that actually pay the bills and make me a living.
For the average person to drive 5+ hours to attend a race or take part in one basically means you would need to take a whole or half day off from work. I personally can't do this most of the time since it's just not feasible. From what I've read it seems others feel the same way about the SCCA events too.
6. Young People are not interested in Cars
Yes, it's true. All young people are not interested in cars and are much more interested in the latest and greatest smartphones. 😉
In addition all young people are currently working on creating the next Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, SnapChat, etc. At least thinking that by spending too much time on these social networks.
SCCA is Losing Members
I read in another SportCar issue that while the SCCA gains a fair number of new members each year, a majority drop their memberships and do not renew. In addition they are losing more members than they gain each year equaling a decrease in members.
It's clear they they need to make some changes and to it aggressively within the next 2-3 years. If they don't the SCCA might cease to exist.