Professional SportsCar Racing Inc. could easily be classified as the 'stealth' racing series.
SportsCar - the series formerly known as the International Motor Sports Association, or IMSA - counts some of the famous racing nameplates among its participants. Ferrari, Porsche, BMW, Ford and Chevrolet are among the names sprinkled throughout its racing classes.
But on any given weekend, the majority of motorsports fans are tuned into the NASCAR race, or the CART or Indy Racing League event, or even getting up extra early to watch the Formula One race live. Beyond a small blip associated with the season-opening 24 Hours of Daytona in February, the SportsCar series runs in relative obscurity - and has for several years.
Andy Evans is determined to change all that.
Evans, 45, a successful investment banker who had been one of IMSA's most prominent competitors, last fall joined with Roberto Muller, a sports marketing whiz from Reebok International, to buy the series from former owner Charles Slater.
Evans is now the managing principal in International Motor Speedway Group, the company that owns SportsCar, which replaced the IMSA moniker in March. His goal is simple: turn SportsCar into a high-profile, money-making show that not only ranks among the prime racing series but also among the sports world's top tier - along with professional basketball, baseball and football.
Achieving that goal is a monumental task, with lots of potential stumbling blocks.
Early in the season, for example, competitors complained it was unfair that Evans was both chief rule maker and a series participant. After winning in Sebring, Fla., amid some controversy, Evans leased out his Ferrari 333SPs and quit racing. But his bigger challenge is breaking the cycle of a small fan base and limited support from automakers.
'There are a lot of different racing series competing for a piece of the pie,' said Kevin Kennedy, public affairs manager for Ford Motor Co.'s Special Vehicle Operations. Ford's involvement in SportsCar is currently limited to supplying some engines.
'In the racing pie, NASCAR already has a big hunk, CART and IRL have a big hunk, Formula One has a hunk, drag racing has a hunk,' Kennedy said. 'After that, there's not a whole lot left for all the other series out there.
'We only have so much money to work with, and when you line up the priorities, right now SportsCar is a ways down on that list,' he said.
Whipping up interest
Like Ford, other automakers want to see more fan interest before they open up the purse strings.
So to attract more fans, and attention, Evans and his team - which is peppered with marketing executives drawn from companies such as Walt Disney Co., Nike and Reebok - are working on radical changes in the way race weekends are conducted and promoted.
The cornerstone of the revival is something dubbed The Spin Experience.
If SportsCar wants to attract more fans, Evans reasons, each stop along the series schedule should be something special, an event that sticks in fans' minds for months and prompts them to seek out the series again.
The Spin Experience is a music and entertainment festival that will be held at the track on Saturdays of race weekends, when most of the on-track activities are confined to qualifying and running races for the smaller series. Sundays would be reserved for SportsCar's two prime-time series: the World SportsCar and Exxon Supreme GT.
'Motor racing is made for this kind of thing,' Evans said. 'People go out and spend something like $120 million to put up these big tracks, and they're forced to keep the operating 300 days a year. I think we'll put on great events and still make money for our shareholders.'
The ultimate challenge
Making SportsCar profitable is the ultimate challenge for Evans and his partners. The series' previous two owners, Slater (1994-96) and Mike Cone (1989-93), lost millions. Why? Because running the series was not their primary job, Evans maintains. 'They had other businesses to run,' he said.
And due to its lineage that runs back to when it was formed as an offshoot of the Sports Car Club of America in 1969, IMSA operated like a club, not a professional organization, Evans said.
'No one has ever come in and run this like Bill France runs NASCAR,' Evans said. 'He controls everything.'
And that is the key, Evans reasons. Control the tracks, control the racing to make it good and close, and the racing will become a magnet for fans. Evans, who has a reputation as something of a control person, said he looks to Bernie Ecclestone, the head honcho of Formula One racing, as something of a mentor.
Evans also takes inspiration from a client of his investment business, Bill Gates, the billionaire head of Microsoft Corp.
While companies such as IBM Corp. created the personal computer, Evans noted, Gates provided the content with his software that brought the computer into homes and businesses. 'We've got to control the content,' Evans said.
So his deal to buy IMSA included the Sebring race track near Orlando, Fla., and the management contract for Mosport Park near Toronto. And Evans has been working deals to have a better relationship with Road Atlanta, and other tracks he refuses to name.
And his financial acumen also buys SportsCar another sorely needed commodity: time. The changes he is making now and over the next few months, Evans said, likely will not begin bearing fruit until next year.
By most accounts, Evans' partnership has access to between $100 million and $150 million to bolster the series. And Evans openly admits that in the future he would like to have SportsCar tap into the public stock markets for more money.
Evans also wants to build the schedule. This year, the World SportsCars will appear in 12 races. The series needs at least 16 events a year to be successful, Evans said.
And he needs the support of automakers. Evans said his staff has been making the rounds, talking up the series and its plans.
Evans confidently predicted that there would be announcements of support for the series from automakers in the next few months, and expects 'a major announcement of support of SportsCar and our vision' by next September.
'I think the quality of our racing is better than CART's,' Evans said. 'And it's done with the type of car they can buy and drive on the road.'
He said sports cars appeal to a whole generation of professional people who can afford hefty price tags and who make such a purchase a priority early in their careers. Plus: 'The 45-to-55-year-old group is the fastest growing population segment,' Evans said. 'They want to be reinvigorated. This is different than any generation before them. And they are invigorated by sports cars.'
Dale Jewett is engineering editor for Automotive News in Detroit.