Yes there’s a global pandemic and the world is locked down and live sports events are a distant memory. Yet, in all this doom and gloom, I’m here to tell you that one motor sport is adapting to the change and thriving in this maelstrom of uncertainty.
America’s oldest continuous road racing series “Trans Am” is entering its 54th year of racing in the USA and if anything, its gaining new momentum in an era where motorsport is growing exponentially in a different technological direction.
While electric and hybrid racing has gained a huge foothold in the last decade worldwide, with massive manufacturer backing and technological advancements, “old school” muscle cars are also gaining huge momentum and not just in the USA. South America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand are ramping up TA2 programmes. Amid the pandemic, Trans Am in the USA has begun its own Esports championship and is planning meticulously to be going real racing at the famous Brickyard in June 2020.
I have been the voice of Trans Am in America for the last three years and have had an excellent perch to watch the transformation of the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli, which has included growing competitor numbers , increased media and a calendar that takes on America’s iconic raceways such as Laguna Seca, Daytona and Road America.
I’ve also been privy to the recent growth of TA2 in Asia, Australia and most recently New Zealand where I was delighted to be involved in the ENZED Central Muscle Car historic series.
Then all this impetus was halted with the global pandemic. Fortunately for me, Trans Am here in the States launched an E Series and rescheduled the actual race series. It will now begin and run its full season from June until December with the finale at Laguna Seca, California . In fact, unlike many race Series, Trans Am actually held its first round at Sebring in February before the shut down.
The launch of live streaming with 30 plus fields in the two main categories and the launch of a new App for 2020, things were really looking bright for the season ahead. Then Lockdown!
Yet, as I found out, it’s not all burying heads in the sand and the end of racing. Far from it. Speaking to the President of Trans Am in the States, John Clagett, and its current TA 2 champion, Marc Miller, I was left with a very positive sense of what the future holds for Trans Am and for the continued growth of the brand in Australia and New Zealand.
“You know it feels like the Sebring event was about five year ago with everything that’s been happening. Between then and now is a distant memory. We had such a positive start to our championship from the rollout of live streaming, which I feel we knocked out the park with the production quality from GreenLight Television and ability to look at so many different camera angles for the consumer. And here we are today with no racing.
“To have to start over with the schedule is like three dimensional chess with all the other series we partner with, like NASCAR, Indy Car and the Sports Car Vintage Racing Association (SVRA). It is a massive undertaking.
“But the good news is we’ve done it and we plan to go racing mid-June at Indianapolis and go all the way to the first weekend in December at Laguna Seca. We have everything from our old schedule with the exception of the Detroit Grand Prix which has been cancelled. Everything else from our old schedule has been salvaged from a nine month schedule to a packed six month series.
“Indianapolis will likely be a non-fan event and we will see the situation after that. I’m less worried by the pandemic and more by the financial impact it may have on my teams and drivers.
“We have all sorts of social distancing measures including even a digital zoom drivers briefing, so we can keep our drivers and staff safe. There’s even an online registration system.
“It’s the financial aspect with the stock market tanking. The question for me is ‘Will my competitors lose their “play money,” if you will, to go racing?’
“We have accepted a lot of registration entry fees for Road Atlanta, our second race. If they weren’t going to go racing, we would have expected them to ask for their entry fees back. Very few have, so to me that’s an indicator that they will still to come race with us, so we will roll over those fees to the Indy race in June.”
American motor sport in general has a long road back to normalcy, but in many ways Trans Am’s business model of being lean and mean could serve them well on a full-time return to racing.
“Our situation is different than Indy, NASCAR or Formula One. We are not so much dependent on the consumer showing up. Its nice, but it’s a small part of our budget.
“With our new sim game, with our Esport partner Torque Motorsport and the launch of a state-of-the art-APP, we will broadcast our live stream world-wide for all nine rounds. We are such a different company than we were two years ago now with the addition of all these new fan engagement and consumer friendly packages.
“Unlike many American race series, Trans Am is very outward looking to the rest of the world and sees the potential other markets can be to help the brand grow.
“The key to the growth of Trans Am is two fold. The price point to go racing is so much more economically attractive to the market and frankly, so too is the pure simplicity of great sounding, beefy V8 muscle cars. They are an “old school” return to pure out and out high horsepower grunting beasts that are both a spectacle to watch and an absolute joy to drive.”
Marc Miller took the 2019 TA2 championship in a Prefix/Stevens-Miller Racing Dodge Challenger. Its was also a milestone, winning in the 40th year anniversary of Prefix (engine supplier).
Marc believes Trans Am has never been better placed in its 54 year history to grow and there is definitely a large part of the world’s racing community who still enjoy basic, non gismo, fire breathing, hard to handle horsepower noise makers. They are the opposite to modern sport or electric race cars that really leave many fans unimpressed.
Marc Miller USA 2019 TA2 champion
“I think with Trans Am, people will realize that its such a well thought out cost contained format. I look at V8 Supercars or British Touring Cars where the costs levels just keep going up as they did with Pirelli World Challenge when they had it here in the states.
“GT racing is the same, with costs increasing year on year. TA2 is able to cost contain and that’s a big benefit as they keep the costs down while the performance level is not hindered.
“If you look at the speed of a TA2 car it is in between a GT4 car, which typically starts at $US200,000 and a GT3 car, which is at least a half a million to $US600,000. TA2 is at half the cost of a GT4 car.
“The cars are extremely safe. I’ve taken some big wallops and walked away in a TA2 car on numerous occasions.
“It’s the racing experience that matters to the driver and Trans Am is pure seat of your pants racing.
“The culture is also part of it. You’ve got a big V8 which is lightweight, fast down the straight-aways and pretty nimble handling in the corners. Put that all together with no technology aids – no ABS no traction control no sequential shifters, and it puts the driver back into driving.
“You can burn the tyres or conserve them, it’s up to you. Whereas in a GT3, technology and aerodynamics make the car so fast so if one little thing goes off you have to slow down.
“When it comes to TA2, if the tyres go off, you can hang it out all day long and drift and fight the car all the way to the flag. So, drivers who are OK driving outside of their comfort zone love TA2 racing.
“It really comes down to cost and how much fun you want to have. How much do you want to spend to have a lot of fun. That quotient is really good in the TA2 market.
“Modern GT and TCR racing is great, but there’s a different level of nostalgia about Trans Am. The fact is, the noise the TA2 makes can really turn heads because of its sound. Its not the norm anymore, so it really stands out at race meetings.
“TA2 is old school racing and that’s what we want where rubbing is racing. You can give a gentle touch or push which you just can’t do in GT racing without affecting the overall performance of the car.”
“In the 80s and 90’s, old Trans Am cars were shipped off to the Caribbean and muscle cars were a worldwide phenomena. It all goes back to our Trans Am championship, which began in 1966, as the backdrop.
“It’s really a muscle car culture. If you think of all the series that have come and gone over the last 50 years, Trans Am and muscle car racing has survived all of that to this day. It is still going strong and if anything getting stronger. That can’t be just a coincidence.
“We are a small company at Trans Am here in the States and we are lean and mean. In this current climate, that is absolutely the way to be. We have not had to furlough anybody and we are ready to go in June.”
So while we are all in our houses and the tracks are silent, check out the Trans Am presented by Pirelli Esports Championship. We have raced at Laguna and Road Atlanta so far and this weekend we are heading to the Daytona Speedway for Round 3.