USAR announced recently that after a 14 year relationship, Hooters will end its tenure as title sponsor of its Pro Cup Series. As the series heads into its final two races of the 2008 season, much uncertainty exists about the future of the Myrtle Beach based sanctioning body.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with the Hooters Pro Cup Series, it’s been a staple at short tracks from Iowa to Lakeland, FL since 1994. The series was founded by former Hooters CEO Robert Brooks in honor of those killed in a plane crash in April 1993. The plane crash claimed the lives of Brooks’ son Mark, Winston Cup Champion Alan Kulwicki, Dan Duncan, and Charlie Campbell. Some notable alumni of the series includes Brian Vickers, Joey Logano, Scott Wimmer, Regan Smith, Jon Wood, and Chad Chaffin.
Over the years, the series has served as a great proving ground for young talent, as it gives drivers the chance to compete in racecars that are very similar to those being used in today’s Nationwide Series. It has also been a place for drivers to compete on some of the toughest short tracks in the country. And often in front of packed crowds.
For many years, the series’ races were carried on the SPEED network, often in a tape-delayed format. Fans could tune in the week after the race and see their favorite drivers beat and bang for two hours. But USAR took a small hit in 2007 in terms of its TV exposure, when broadcasts were shortened from the traditional two hours, to a new one hour format. Viewers would see about 20 minutes of behind-the-scenes coverage, and about 40 minutes of actual racing action.
Starting in 2008 though, the series lost its SPEED coverage all together. The one hour race broadcasts were picked up by the sports network VERSUS. While still a nationally available cable channel, VERSUS is in about 15 million less homes then the more popular SPEED network.
Now, because of less exposure and a worsening economy, Hooters has decided to take their money elsewhere. And the decision couldn’t come at a worse time for USAR. The same reasons for which Hooters left will make it very difficult for the series to secure a new title sponsor and continue racing beyond this season. And what a shame it would be if we were to lose this series.
I personally have had the opportunity to spend some time around the Hooters Pro Cup Series, and I’ve got to say I loved every minute of it. Besides being good for drivers, the series has served as a place for young crew members to gain exposure and the necessary contacts to catapult themselves into the upper ranks of NASCAR. Guys (and girls) have used Pro Cup racing to learn not only about the mechanical side of racing, but to also hone their skills as tire changers, carriers, and jackmen.
With two races left in 2008, if you have the opportunity, I would highly recommend attending either this weekend at Southern National Raceway in Kenly, NC or at Rockingham Speedway on November 1st. These two races may be your last chance to see this great series in action.