Spectators – Where have you gone?

Over the last few years I’ve been surprised by the lack of spectators / supporters at events and I’m curious – where have you gone?

I’ve been looking back at some old photos on the internet and remembering some great events where we walked into the forest in the early hours just so we could get a glimpse of our rallying heroes later in the day.  It was usually very cold and wet, but it never dampened our spirits to be out in the stages.  To this day I still have the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when I hear a BDA coming full noise through the stage towards me.  I don’t think I’d have those memories and feelings from watching it all from the warmth of my armchair, although that was always done when it was aired on TV as well.

It seems to me that everyone wants it now (whatever it is), and is not prepared to wait.  Would you really rather watch the rallying recorded on a phone and uploaded immediately, rather than waiting for the quality broadcast material?  I understand you can’t always be there and something is better than nothing, but it does appear as more and more stuff is broadcast live from a stage, the number of people seeing the action for real is getting less and less.

Support at this years Rally Otago
Support at this years Rally Otago

This year we were extremely lucky to have Ken Block compete in 2 of the 6 NZRC rounds.  Whilst he proved popular, he still didn’t bring the number of spectators out into the stages that I expected – with the exception of Rally Otago, which had the added bonus of Alister McRae and our very own Hayden Paddon.  I’ve only been able to afford to get along to Otago twice, and on both occasions the number of spectators always impresses me.  That has to be a good thing for the sponsors, organisers, and the sport in general.

I know back in the 80’s things were crazy with mad Group B rally cars and tens of thousands of spectators.  I’m not condoning their actions, but some of these photos (sourced from the internet) show how popular rallying had become.  Surely we still have cool cars to go and watch don’t we?  Who doesn’t enjoy seeing/hearing Alex Kelsey’s MC2 in the stages?  What about Shannon Chambers’ VW Polo, along with Patrick Malley’s Peugeot and Clinton Cunningham’s Proto cars?  Then there’s Emma Gilmour’s Suzuki or Andrew Hawkeswood’s Mazda (shame he doesn’t have the Audi any more as that was spectacular).  Then there is the raft of BDA Escorts that make appearances from the likes of Deane Buist, Regan Ross and Brian Stokes. Klinky in his Mazda is always a crowd pleaser as is Jonesy in his Honda powered Escort. Andy Martin in his immaculate Mazda RX3.

It cant be lack of cool cars, so maybe its the lack of talent?  But hang on just look at some of these names, Richard Mason, Sloan Cox, Matt Summerfield, Andrew Hawkeswood, Ben Hunt, Lance Williams, Darren Galbraith, Emma Gilmour, Phil Campbell and Max Bayley, guys(and girls) who, in my opinion are fast, exciting to watch and fully committed not to mention a few mad but highly talented club drivers!  We have the talent and entertainment, so why aren’t people going to spectate?

I’m certainly not condoning the actions of the spectators in these photo, as it was pure stupidity, but it shows how popular the sport was before the internet and live streaming came along.  Whether we like it or not, sponsors are a major part of this sport.  There are not too many drivers that can do it without sponsor support.  The only trouble is, what’s in it for them?  If the spectators aren’t coming out into the stages, no-one will see any sponsor signs / promotions.  The “media” being uploaded onto social media sites is more often than not of really poor quality, and again, the sponsor’s signage can’t be made out properly.

Drifting has turned up and has mass appeal for youngsters and sponsors alike.  The cars are in a confined area with lots of good viewing options and 1000’s of spectators all looking at whatever message the sponsor is trying to get across.  The spectators don’t have to chase the event to watch, and generally there’s heaps of parking to make it easy for them to go.  I have nothing against drifting, but personally I can’t see the appeal of going around the same few corners again and again, although I do appreciate the skills involved.  I just can’t see the same thrill that rallying delivers.

It’s a sad day when our 5 time National Rally Champion can’t secure sponsorship to carry on.  I’ve been to countless events from International level right down to grass roots club events, and Richard Mason still has commitment unlike I’ve seen from many other drivers.  It’s something that doesn’t come across too well on TV / Social Media, but standing in the stages, it’s breath-taking.

At the last few events I’ve ended up chatting with locals who had no idea the rally was on and mentioned next to no promotion had been done in the local papers/radio.  Admittedly I’ve only heard their side of the story and the event may very well have done heaps to get the message out there, but this is a comment I’m hearing again and again, so maybe organisers need to try a different approach.   These locals are potential new fans of the sport which in turn help sponsors and so on.

So what can we do?  What will bring back the spectators and the sponsor dollars?  Right now it actually makes my life a little easier with the lack of spectators trying to get in and out of stages, but this is bigger than me and what I do.  The sport needs to grow and be financially healthy.  Rally Otago appears to be doing something right.  Should they be the model to start looking at?  The NZRC has definitely started taking steps in the right direction to involve more people and make the sport more of a spectacle, but it’s still run by volunteers (as every other event is).  Should our National Championship organisers be run be paid, allowing them the time to develop it and make it grow?  Don’t get me wrong – they’re doing an awesome job, but it’s all done in their own time (as are all the other volunteer events). Who has the time to work full time AND not only organise an event, but develop the sport further?

I would love to do more to promote and help this sport, but I too have to work full time to pay the mortgage and chase the rallies across the country in my spare time at my expense.  I spend most of my spare time working on this site, which at present is about as much as I can do to help, although I’d love to do much more.

bringbackwrcWant WRC back in NZ right?  Well then we need to show the powers that be, that there’s heaps of rally fans and supporters here in NZ who would be willing to go and stand out in the elements to get a glimpse of the worlds elite Rally Drivers.  I think the level of support that Hayden got in Coffs recently(which was AWESOME to see) shows we’re more than capable of getting behind the sport, but we need to do and have the same level of support here for our home events.  We the fans/supporters/spectators need to look at the next generation and help them so they can follow in Hayden’s tyre marks one day.  That means we have to help those drivers visibly, so that existing and potential new sponsors want to invest in the sport.

I’ve quickly made up this poll to try and gauge why you think the spectators aren’t there any more.  Who knows who reads this blog, but someone out there who has the power/ability to make some changes just might read it and take note of what you have to say.  After all, this site had 4.5 million hits last year, so you never know!

Also feel free to leave any comments you want in the section at the bottom of this post.  I’ve even opened it up so you don’t need to be a registered user of my site to comment.  All I ask is you keep it clean and constructive please.

Thanks for taking the time to read this far, believe me it took a lot longer to write than it did for you to read!

Cheers for being part of the best sport in the world!


[yop_poll id=”1″ tr_id=””” show_results=”-1″]

For those of you that voted OTHER, could you please leave the reason in the comments below?  I have worked out how to add it into the poll yet.  You don’t need to leave your name/email.

Many thanks


Photo credit: Vettas Media
Photo credit: Vettas Media



About admin


  1. Personally I think we need to Inform the public more that these events are on and encourage them to come and have a look. The ceremonial starts that they have are also a great way to draw the public to the events. Some of the reasons that there are a lack of spectators from my point of view is that when some events have an spectating fee, it is to much, people can’t be bothered trying to work out how to get to stages (possibly a shuttle service or a dedicated person who would lead spectators and there cars to a spectator point from town would sort that problem), weather also plays a part, if it’s cold and rainy people would rather sit at home and watch rally safe, live streams and chrissport. More publicity from the drivers/codrivers would help as well, such as radio interviews, school talks or something like that

  2. voted other, Usually am an offcal or Marshall

  3. I like watching the rally but you are limited with spectator points, you can get good spots and see a bit of the stage but then you’re usually stuck at that one point for the day till roads etc are open again. Like Amy said earlier a shuttle or something could be good to get you round. It’s a hard one cause of costs involved and all the safety side of it

    • Thanks Mark. There are opportunities to go elsewhere to spectate rather than just the spectator spots but that takes a little planning which can be difficult with the route maps not available until the last minute at a lot of events.

      Wade Road Rally Sprint has a minibus that shuttles people in and out of the stage. It works really well being a sprint as the competitors have to return down the road they just went up and the bus can move behind them going down and ahead going up. This could in deed but a good way to go, but would spectators be willing to pay to cover the cost of the mini bus etc?


  4. Hi, Great to see your words, and one can only reflect why you have not had more comments, I guess we are all busy and I have had this page open for weeks looking to contribute.

    We need to take it for granted that social media has made people lazy, combined with the effort and expense to venture out in to rally stages, the majority choose to do it online.

    As so many events complete for our time and dollars we need to bring it to the masses, and I think rallycross has a very well thought out formula for an event with only some media for major classes but a lot of other racing going on in minor classes. Some form of hybrid event, centred around a super stage, street stage, I am sure we have done it all successfully before, its just finding a balance.

    Heros bring people out and the McAndrews Masons and Paddons of the sport are part of the key to unlock the masses, promote them and they will come? It worked got me out watching in the 1990’s 🙂

    On rally NZ.. yes of course we want it back.. but we better deliver if we do and not follow Aussie where they pumped millions into all sorts of spectator areas.. and the result.. well almost embarrassing for the organiser’s is my opinion.

    • Thanks Murray – I appreciate you taking the time to respond. Some valid points.

      Considering how much time people spend online using social media / websites like this, its very surprising the lack of responses I get every time I try and prove a discussion etc.

      I’m still passionate about the sport, but it appears many others have become apathetic to it, to the point where its too hard to speak up. Maybe I haven’t been around the sport as long as some, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try and make a difference and help.

      I really appreciate anyone who has taken the time to vote or leave a message here, although I’m sure more people could have considering the percentage of participation in miniscule compare to the number of people who have read this article.

      Thanks again Murray, I’m glad you did make the time 🙂

Leave a Reply