How NRX plans to right US rallycross’ past wrongs

Thrill One CEO Joe Carr discusses the entertainment giant’s plans to redefine rallycross

Travis Pastrana

A decade ago, rallycross was beginning to take off in the US, but as history tells us, motorsport’s ‘next big thing’ endured something of a tumultuous time stateside.

That made the news that Thrill One Entertainment – the company behind the hugely successful Nitro Circus brand – was to start its own rallycross series rather surprising.

But despite it being the US’ third full rallycross series in the last five years, the appetite for a unique, US-based rallycross series remains, according to Thrill One CEO Joe Carr.

“It really started with us kind of listening and hearing demand from industry stakeholders that were looking for a fresh, more entertaining form of rally,” Carr told DirtFish. “So, we took the time to kind of develop the right product and execute on Travis’ vision for the sport.

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“We feel like our version of rallycross is almost a new sport and we’ve redefined traditional rally[cross] with our next-level track design and the introduction of the most powerful rally car ever made.

“I think we’ve also built it for the next generation of fans and the evolving media landscape – we think short form, high energy, highlight-heavy content will play well in the digital world.

“We also lean heavily into our superstar talent and obviously the audiences of drivers like Travis and Ken Block and I think the performance of the latest Gymkhana with Travis points to the power of those digital audiences,

Timing also played a role in the birth of NRX as a full series. As manufacturers shift towards electrified product lineups, NRX will also migrate to EVs, running an additional class for them in 2022, with them becoming the focus over the coming years.

It's not a kind of build and teardown. These will be permanent legacy facilities that will hopefully increase participation Joe Carr

“We felt like it was the right timing with the industry shifting towards electric now and the mass rollout of affordable electric vehicles over the next five years,” Carr said. “We think that NRX is the perfect marketing tool for manufacturers to showcase their vehicles and reach the kind of buyers that they’re trying to reach, and we’ve created an engaging platform for them to do so.

“I think it’s coincided with all the manufacturers’ electric rollout plan in America,” he added. “So, it’s timing more than anything.

“All of those factors kind of converged and for us, it was kind of right place, right time, right product and people are pretty bullish on it.”

Nitro Rallycross 2019

But what about Global Rallycross and Americas Rallycross that came before it? Neither lasted, but both provided valuable lessons for NRX.

“I think the first two series gave us a glimpse of the potential of rallycross [in America] and how quickly it can grow, but I think the learning was that growth also needs to be managed both from a business perspective and a technical perspective,” Carr said. “We need to be able to control the costs of teams so that rally[cross] doesn’t become a spending war and it always remains a battle between top drivers.

“We also found that the sport, for it to be sustainable longer term, the sport needs to grow at a grassroots level so when you think about our tracks and infrastructure, those will be permanent tracks at the facilities and be available for use throughout the year. It’s not a kind of build and teardown.

“These will be permanent legacy facilities that will hopefully increase participation over the long term and hopefully increase audiences.”

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Making racing fun is also a big aim. While NRX will, of course, be a serious racing series, it’ll also aim to put smiles on competitors’ and fans’ faces alike.

“Travis [Pastrana]’s goal, ultimately, is just to make racing fun again, because at the end of the day this is entertainment,” Carr said. “That’s what this is, and if you look at Thrill One, the company and the brands in our portfolio, that’s what we do best across the board.

“So, we think this product will not only engage the core motorsports fans but also bring in completely new audiences.”

Part of that engagement will involve capitalizing on the existing ‘Nitro’ fanbase and the experience gained in cultivating it. A brand known all over the world, it’s spawned TV shows, movies, arena and stadium world tours, and massive sporting events all over the globe.

We have the opportunity to grow this property organically and do it in a measured way Joe Carr

“This is also part of a much larger organization from a resource perspective and even an expertise perspective,” Carr said.

“We have the opportunity to grow this property organically and do it in a measured way and we’re going to expand internationally next year in 2022 and we’ll have a global platform, but we’re not doing that because of external investor pressure, we’re not chasing growth for growth’s sake, we can do this all very methodically as part of our overall business so we’re pretty excited about the trajectory we have in front of us.

“We have the existing Nitro Circus platforms and that fanbase to market to and push to, so I just think when you look at it as part of the broader company, there’s just so much more resources to accelerate everything that we do versus if this was a start-up property from scratch.”

Travis Pastrana

Of course, for the last year, a lot of talk has centered around the COVID-19 pandemic, but despite its devastating effects on the live events industry, Carr insists that it hasn’t really disrupted NRX’s preparations too much. Development for NRX’s 2022 international expansion is also ongoing, with the first venues already signed up as well.

“I think we were pretty fortunate because we were always planning a fall 2021 launch, so we didn’t have to shift our calendar or move races back and reschedule, that was always our overall plan,” he insisted.

“I think the one impact that COVID had is that I think it’s probably delayed getting certain things finalized, whether that’s our track deals or some of our sponsorship deals.

“But other than that, we’re kind of all systems go and on the same path that we were COVID or otherwise.”

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