SEMA and Roger
GA Addresses The Future
© Janos Wimpffen

This was my first time at the SEMA show, the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association annual trade meet in Las Vegas. It is by far the largest automotive related show imaginable. There are over 12,000 booths, 15,000 exhibitors, and 125,000 attendees spread out over three huge buildings plus several smaller buildings, numerous outdoor pavilions and tents. There is also a completely separate after-market show that I never even went near. It is impossible to absorb even a fraction of the proceedings.

One entire hall consists of nothing but wheels, another is given over to speed and performance equipment, with separate sections for hot rods, tooling, and restoration. Another building is about mobile electronics, etc. etc. A subtitle for the show could be, the “World Center of Chrome and Cleavage” as so much of the industry is focused on the drifter, hip-hop, rap, gold chain, bling, thumper speakers, strobe beam crowd.

Anyone involved in the automotive industry has a presence at SEMA. While ALMS did not have a booth, they were part of a long line of media presentations—most being very brief. Grand-Am did have a permanent booth with a Howard-Boss team Crawford-Pontiac on display. I had a chance to speak at length with Roger Edmondson, who presented some advance notice of the plans for the evolution of the DP formula.

dailysportscar.com“The end of 2007 will mark the completion of five years for the Daytona Prototypes and this means the original licences granted to the constructors will be up for renewal,” said the Grand-Am president. “September 1, 2007 will mark the deadline for these renewals and the constructors will have several choices. They can simply ask for approval for renewing the current design with changes as needed. They can also opt for selling their licence to other entities, as long as the buyers are approved by GARRA.”

“There is also a third, entirely new option. An engine supplier (e.g., GM, Porsche, Ford, Toyota) can submit a plan for a unique body style. That design will be uniquely linked to a specific chassis builder. For example, Porsche could make an arrangement with Riley to build a unique Daytona Prototype model. It would have its own designation. Let’s say while the “open” or “standard” Riley might be called the “Mk XII”, this specific Porsche & Riley combination will have its own model designation, let’s say the “999.” That new chassis-engine combination model will then be available to any prospective team. Of course any such proposals would need to be approved by Grand-Am.”

“The purpose of this new approach is to alleviate some shortcomings of the original DP idea. Then it was thought that the personality of the engine suppliers would be revealed through the use of production like light assemblies and mirrors. However, that has had a minimal practical effect. Thus, by allowing engine and chassis builders to work together we hope to garner greater manufacturer support. It is also expected to provide a new lease on life to the “second tier” chassis constructors such as Doran and Fabcar.”

As GA official Adam Saal put it, “If I were Kevin Doran, I’d be on the phone to all Detroit and overseas manufacturers about this.”

Teams will still have the opportunity to field an “off-the-shelf” Riley, Crawford or other car into which they can put the engine of their choice. However if they purchase a new, unique chassis-engine model then they are committed to that combination for as long as they have the car. They could conceivably sell a car and purchase a different unique engine-chassis model, but their team points would start over at zero in such a case.

Perhaps there's more news coming early next week, at the Daytona test days, regarding the current two / three marque racing that has come about?

The GT rules will remain largely intact but Edmondson expects the two classes to run separate races at about 1/2 of the meetings by the 2008 season. The traditional two-class format will be kept in place at the longer and / or more established races. The Rolex series will also increasingly separate itself from the GA Cup races, sharing only a few dates on the calendar.

In response to the question of developing a spectator base, he emphasized that they are focusing on working with promoters who can deliver a consistent increase and distancing themselves from those that cannot. This led to a discussion about comparing and contrasting the two American sports car series. Edmondson fully recognizes that the two are in competition, “but we are not just competing with each other, we are competing with other series and with sports and entertainment outside of racing. Both series have something to offer to that pool of fans interested in sports car racing. ALMS has the speed and technology. We have the close racing. We also hope to capitalize on some recognizable names and build upon that.”

It was with this discussion that Roger Edmondson, with a decided gleam in his eye, launched into one of the most exciting proposals yet heard in American sports car racing this decade. “I don’t speak to Scott [Atherton] directly, but we have had contact through intermediaries. Understandably, both of us are careful about saying good things about the other side—we get sensitive that the media or the public might think that someone blinked. But why not go with our strengths? So here’s an idea, and if people think that Edmondson has blinked, well that’s ok”

“Now let’s be clear, I’m not proposing a merger—that would be impossible, or anything even remotely close, but how about running together? It could work something like this, we have two doubleheaders per season, one in the east and one in the west. One would be held at a Grand-Am track, the other at an ALMS venue. One would have the Grand-Am on Saturday, the other on the Sunday. We could alternate the sites from year-to-year. Alternatively, we could hold a third doubleheader on a “neutral” site.

Those who know Roger know that he is devoutly religious and using that analogy he said, “I’m a Baptist and I believe in that, but the Methodists have their own way of doing things, so why not let them shine. Fans could enjoy the two series for what each does best. This would surely be for the benefit of both series, let alone for sports car fans in general.”

Although there was much more to this discussion, hopefully this has hit the high points. Edmondson concluded with an important point, “I think that there is a broad misconception in the media, among fans, and even among some teams that if one or the other series would just go away then sports car racing would somehow grow. I believe that Scott and I both understand that this is not the case and that there is more to be gained by accepting that we are different.”

Some editorial comments about the proposal—in addition to seconding the idea:

Edmondson’s geographical notion is laudable but perhaps a bit difficult as both series have most of their strong venues clustered in the east. However, that needn’t be a problem. Every ALMS team would relish the opportunity to race at Watkins Glen while every GA squad would love to run at Road Atlanta or Mosport. Perhaps a simple way to get this off the ground would be to set a joint date at a neutral site. Mid-Ohio would be a natural, as both series have proven popular there. I’ll offer to flip the coin to see who goes on Sunday or Saturday.

 

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