The Driver Suit Blog-My Thoughts On The Stability Of The Auto Racing Market

By David G. Firestone

Last month, NBC ran an article discussing the future of the football game worn memorabilia market. It’s a highly interesting article, and it’s worth a read. What it discusses is important to the racing memorabilia market. If there was no race-used memorabilia market, none of us would be here. It also raises the possibility of a new system for collegiate athletes being able to keep their memorabilia, until they graduate, or get drafted. NCAA athletes have gotten in trouble with memorabilia in recent years.

As I was pondering the implications in terms of driver/team deals as opposed to player/team deals for memorabilia, I suddenly realized that there is no single “race-used” memorabilia market, rather it seems that each sanctioning body has its own protocols for race-worn memorabilia. I’m not saying that the sanctioning bodies themselves set the rules, but there are noticeable differences in the
“big 4” sanctioning bodies, NASCAR, IndyCar, NHRA, and F1. At these differences will affect the futures of the market.

I’m going to discuss NASCAR first, since they have figured their market out perfectly, and are using it to their advantage. With NASCAR, almost everything race-used, from lug nuts to driver suits get sold to collectors. Body pieces, which we call “sheet metal” are sold from the team to collectors, and sometimes to sellers, who cut the metal into smaller pieces and sell them individually. This keeps costs down and a constant supply of metal on the market.

Tires are sold to collectors as well. These often find their way onto eBay, and, again, because the supply/demand ratio is kept in check. There is enough supply to meet demand, yet the market is not flooded. This is also true with uniforms. Driver and pit crew uniforms are in demand, but there is enough supply to meet most of the demand, without killing prices. Car equipment falls into this category as well, and is in the same shape as everything else race-worn. There is another aspect of racing memorabilia to discuss, more on that later.

The next best market is the NHRA, though they are not as good as NASCAR, through no fault of their own. When it comes to car equipment, the NHRA is unmatched in the memorabilia market. Car equipment is readily available, and it’s very reasonably priced. Tires are highly sought, but are not available in the quantities that NASCAR produces. Granted that most of the tires used on race-day are sold to collectors

Uniforms and body pieces are really sought after, but for some unknown reason, there isn’t even close to enough supply to meet the demand. When it comes to car bodies, I get that teams aren’t cutting up many of their old bodies, since they can be re-used or sold to other teams. But couldn’t you take a body that’s been damaged beyond repair, and sell that to collectors? It’s not like they won’t bid on it, I’ve seen pieces from Alexis DeJoria’s body sell for insane amounts.

Uniforms aren’t changed as often in the NHRA as they are for NASCAR, but could someone explain to me why there is next to nothing coming out of the NHRA in recent years? When was the last time you saw a Pro Stock or Pro Stock Motorcycle uniform on eBay? The nitro categories have had some recent exposure, but for the most part, little if anything race-worn is hitting the collectors market. There are a lot of hungry collectors out there who want this stuff. Teams are screwing themselves out of a lot of money, and for the life of me, I can’t understand why.

The IndyCar market is interesting in that there are a decent amount of body parts, and uniforms on sale for collectors. IndyCar, like many racing sanctioning bodies sells stuff through charity auctions. I have no problem with that, as these items are sold to people who will resell them to other collectors. The supply/demand ratio is good, and prices are decent and availability is decent…except for tires.

I’m racking my brain trying to figure out why the most expendable piece of a race car almost never shows up on the private market. Firestone isn’t repairing these tires after races, and then reusing them…are they? That wouldn’t make sense from a safety perspective, but it would explain why there is nothing hitting the market. The theory that they are taking the tires back and using them for research for tire production could be a valid one, but why wouldn’t they sell them to collectors afterward. Goodyear will monitor various aspects of the tire during the race, but the used tires don’t disappear after the race. Hell F1 has more race-used tire listings, and two of them are for “wind tunnel” tires.

Speaking of F1, their market is similar to NASCAR’s in that there is a lot of availability, but because of the size of the F1 collectors market, the prices are significant higher than the NASCAR market. I’m getting into the F1 market in the very near future, but I’ve avoided the market up to this point because of the costs involved versus what you get for the price. F1 has their market figured out, because there is a lot of stuff available, some at good prices, across the board, from engine, to body, to uniforms. I would have to say that F1, the NHRA, and NASCAR have solid race-used markets, and the IndyCar market is shaky at best.

The question on the table is “What is the future of the race-used memorabilia market?” The answer is that if the economy goes south, all the markets would be hit, and IndyCar would be the worst of the group. The fact that the teams aren’t selling their old engine parts, body parts, and tires on the level of their competitors is very telling, and the prices for what is available are so high that they are in real danger of pricing themselves out of the market. There is a decent market, there isn’t much on the market, and the prices for what is available are too high for what you get. I’m really wondering why the market is as bad as it is.

NASCAR and the NHRA appear have solid markets for race-worn memorabilia. Even if the economy does take a downturn, the memorabilia will still sell, though not for the price the buyers want to pay for it. When it comes to NASCAR sheet metal, if the economy does take a downturn, the sheet metal market will go from decent to flooded in a hurry. Prices for small pieces on eBay can be low to begin with, and if people need to sell their sheet metal for money, then that will drive prices down even lower. It could very well turn into a buyer’s market, where no one buys.

The NHRA might have a similar problem with engine parts, though since these are not as easy to get as NASCAR sheet metal, the market could weather the storm with minimal damage. The uniform market could take a hit, but that wouldn’t so much affect the supply, but the demand would force sellers to lower prices.

The F1 market is more of a mystery to me. I like to watch F1, but I’m not a super fan. Within the last year, I’ve been buying F1 uniform stuff, and I will do F1 Month in November. For the month of November, all 4 Friday Features will be about F1 race-used items. That aside, the F1 market will see a price downturn in an economic downturn, but the market will weather the storm with minimal damage.

I should mention something that few people who aren’t firesuit collectors don’t realize. I don’t know if I mentioned this on The Driver Suit Blog before but there is an aspect of the race-worn uniform market in the US that most people don’t realize. I’m not just fighting other collectors, I’m fighting race car drivers for uniforms I want to buy. If you have a choice of spending $150 for a race-worn pit crew uniform, or $1,500 for a custom-made suit, which one would you buy? This is an issue I’ve been dealing with as a collector, which sometimes is fine, though sometimes is an annoyance.

I’m really worried about a market downturn because of the fact that the economy could very well take a bad hit. I’m not optimistic, I’m realistic. The auto racing boom is over, the money, and TV viewership isn’t what it isn’t used to be, and many factors could cause a downturn. I can only hope that the market won’t crash and burn, but the possibility is there. Let’s hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.

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