Approaching the 50th anniversary National Championship Runoffs, the Sports Car Club of America's pinnacle amateur road racing event (taking place Sept. 16-22, at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.), Racer.com sat down with SCCA President and CEO Jeff Dahnert to get his thoughts on this year's Runoffs, the future, and the state of the Club.
RACER: Based on the registration list, the 2013 National Championship Runoffs could be the biggest Runoffs in history, with more than 700 entries, putting an exclamation point on the historic 50th running of the event. What should competitors and fans expect to see at this event?
DAHNERT: Aside from the commemorative shirts, decals, and the like, we have a number of things planned to bring additional stature to the 50th running of the Runoffs. There will be an all-driver photo on the main straight after last checker on Thursday, Sept. 19. We also have a special banquet for all participants Thursday evening, which will recognize past and current champions, top 10 moments in Runoffs history, and more.
RACER: The Runoffs is moving to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for 2014, then Daytona International Speedway in 2015, and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 2016. This is the first time since 1969 that the Runoffs has rotated racetracks on a yearly basis. Why has the Club made such a massive change in the structure of the Club's championship road racing event?
DAHNERT: It has been many, many years since the Runoffs was held on the West Coast – it was time to make a swing back to the West to give SCCA members who live there the opportunity to participate. Also, we have seen participation fall off the longer we stay at a venue. By rotating the Runoffs around the country, the event will always be new and exciting, and it is our goal to target iconic tracks that our members want to visit.
RACER: Is the three-racetrack rotation something the SCCA membership should expect for the Runoffs beyond 2015?
DAHNERT: As of now we haven't looked past 2016 and Mid-Ohio. While I can't say the Runoffs will always be a three year rotating schedule from this point on, it is safe to say that the event will be moving much more regularly than it has in the recent past.
RACER: There are rumors that the Runoffs will be organizationally different for 2014 and beyond because the business model for the Runoffs has changed.
DAHNERT: We will be approaching tracks and working with them to host the Runoffs. This will bring many more tracks into contention than we were able to get under the old business model. In order to make this work, SCCA will deal with many of the functions historically handled by the tracks. This may mean bringing in more local assistance to handle particular areas. The details of these arrangements are still in process and may differ from venue to venue, so SCCA racers should pay attention as each year's event gets finalized. That said, it is our hope to have as little an impact on the racers as possible.
RACER: One of the criticisms of the SCCA, which turns 70 years old in 2014, is that its history and tradition can sometimes make change slow. That said, in the last year the Club has changed the face of Club Racing with a Showroom Stock and Touring reorganization, a forthcoming Sports Racing revamp, and a GT category consolidation. In Solo, the Stock category is slated to be replaced with the Street category by 2015. This actually seems like the Club is changing a lot, and doing so in a short period of time. Are there concerns with so much change so quickly?
DAHNERT: There are always concerns when you make changes, especially in an organization as steeped in tradition as SCCA. None of these changes are taken lightly, and the SCCA National Staff and the SCCA Board of Directors give a lot of thought and discussion before doing implementing change. The worst thing any organization can do is nothing. If you're not continually evaluating your offerings and programs, you are stagnating. The trick, obviously, is to leave what works alone and address the items that need attention.
RACER: Financially, all of the changes the SCCA is making have possible financial implications. Can the SCCA afford to make such changes?
DAHNERT: We have said all along that we are making investments in the Club right now. We weathered the economic downturn extremely well and emerged in sound financial condition. We are now in a position to make the investments that need to be made to grow our programs. In the short term, we will have a lean year or two, but overall we will be stronger. The goal is not to build up a large bank account; the goal is to have enough reserves and be able to invest in our Club, and that is what we are doing.
RACER: The SCCA has been working with the Trozzolo Communications Group for a fresh insight into the Club. What has come about since they were brought on?
DAHNERT: The changes that they've identified are along the lines of image of the Club, both within the organization and outside. While they have helped with branding and messaging for the Runoffs, U.S. Majors Tour, and the SCCA National Convention, their impact has been more along the lines of improved member communications, such as new member packets, renewal statements, newsletter templates, and media relations. Through their efforts, we discovered we needed to create a culture change within the organization before attempting to make an external image change.
RACER: What does the SCCA look like several years down the road?
DAHNERT: With so much happening with automotive technology, it's hard to say exactly what the SCCA will look like in five or 10 years. Currently, the membership number is growing after many years of decline, which bodes well for SCCA's future financial strength. With all the strain on people's time and resources, I think you'll see more of the arrive-and-drive type classes and programs in the future. Will competition be better? We can always be better, but as far as amateur motorsports in America is concerned, SCCA is where those who want the best competition come to compete. I don't see that changing.
Follow all the Runoffs action live via online Timing & Scoring here: http://www.sccahost.com/sccalive/
• For detailed coverage of the 50th SCCA National Runoffs, go to scca.com/runoffs. The races can also be seen live Sept. 20-22, on www.SpeedcastTV.com.