I recently attended the races at Riverhead Raceway on Long Island, New York to watch a friend race. He did a great job after suffering a flat tire to come back and pass several cars before the end of the race.

Riverhead is a tiny 1/4 short track. I've also seen the races at my local asphalt short track (Old Dominion Speedway). Since I'd attended the Baltimore Grand Prix just a month or so prior, and also have attended plenty of club road racing race weekends as a participant and spectator, I got to thinking about the differences of road racing and oval racing for the spectator and in particular why local/amateur/club road racing is not a spectator sport, while short track racing is!

Short track racing is quite frankly, just way more exciting to watch. Watching 400HP late models negotiate a tight short track, getting sideways putting the power down, side by side, inches from each other is just a pretty impressive thing to see up close and personal. Watching 120hp Miatas follow each other around a corner of a road course can be interesting sometimes. But it's just not the same as the former. The cars that race on a short track oval are generally just more spectacular to watch and the racing on a short track just promotes more action.

At a short track you can almost certainly see the whole track from any seat in the house. At a road course you can see a good few corners at a time if you know where to watch from. At the short track you can almost certainly hear the announcer from everywhere. On a road course from my experience you can hear the announcer from half the paddock, and no where from where you'd actually want to watch the race from. And that's assuming there's even an announcer. These two things make road racing more entertaining to watch on TV versus in person, with multiple cameras following the cars around the track and commentary from the booth.

At the short track you sit packed in with a few thousand other spectators in a stadium or arena like environment. This gives you the atmosphere of a football game, being a part of the crowd cheering, reacting to crashes, etc. can add to the fun and appeal of watching. At the road course the feel is more like relaxing in a park while race cars fly by you. This is one area where I can see both being more appealing to different types of people.

Short tracks take up a lot less land so for this reason (I assume) they are more likely to be located closer to major population centers. Road courses are typically in the middle of nowhere.

For all these reasons, short tracks typically attract a few thousand fans every weekend, while the road course might attract a few hundred friends and family a few times a year for a club race. The implications of this are huge to the grassroots racer. The road course racer pays $250-400 to race for the weekend, and gets nothing back as the entry fee goes to pay for the rental of the track and other expenses. The short track racers pays the entry fee (I'm not really sure how much but I assume it's cheaper then the road course club race) but then has the opportunity to make back some all or even more of that entry back depending how well the racer does from the purse payout. This is possible because of the thousands of fans, each paying, say $10-20 a head. So it's a totally different financial model that makes the two disciplines work.

So it becomes pretty obvious why one form of racing has more spectators and participants in the United States then the other.