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Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Thursday August 30, 2007
NASCAR is heading in the wrong direction. No (for once) I don't mean in general, I mean that literally. As the Busch and Nextel Cup Series both head for California Speedway this weekend they're going the wrong way. They're heading west when they should be heading south.
I touched on NASCAR's abandonment of its history in my column last week. The subject should be of much greater concern than NASCAR seems to want to admit. Labor Day weekend was, until 2004, the weekend of the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. It's not just that Darlington is the oldest superspeedway in the United States; it's that the Southern 500 was once the oldest race in NASCAR; older than the Daytona 500. In fact, NASCAR once had a bonus program for any driver who could win three of its four most coveted races-the Daytona 500 (the most prestigious race), the Coca-Cola 600 (the longest race), the summer race at Talladega (the fastest race) and the Southern 500 (the oldest race). The feat was only accomplished twice in over ten years on the books-once by Bill Elliott and once by Jeff Gordon. Both accomplished it at Darlington.
Until the last five years or so, ask most drivers what races they most wanted to win and they'd have said "The Daytona 500 and the Southern 500" almost to a man. The race was one of the sport's crown jewels-a demanding test of endurance and car control. Once Indianapolis allowed the stock cars inside its hallowed gates, the Brickyard 400 was added to that list, but the Southern 500 stuck.
Then NASCAR decided it didn't need its roots any more. They decided demographics were more important than good racing and tossed aside more than fifty years of their most storied history in favor of the Southern California 500. And it's time to fix it.
Putting the Southern 500 back in its rightful spot might slow the bleeding of NASCAR's declining ratings and exiting fan base. At least it would put a decent race on a weekend when many families are watching a little NASCAR while they have their cookouts. California Speedway would do just as well in February and again in May. It wouldn't hurt their attendance and it wouldn't boost Darlington's. But it just might boost NASCAR's coveted television ratings and it would most certainly boost the morale of the old time fans who feel alienated and even unwanted by this new NASCAR.
NASCAR, once upon a time, used ticket sales as a gauge when assigning race dates. This policy destroyed one track when it put Rockingham in the catch-22 of a cold and inhospitable February date that the track was never going to sell out-and refused to give them a better date because of poor sales. By that policy, Darlington deserves the Labor Day date. They sell out their one date every year while California can't fill the stands-even when they give away thousands of tickets. California is bigger and may sell as many, or possibly more, tickets to an event as Darlington does; but look at the stands-they're always half empty. Maybe all those fans prefer the shopping underneath the seats than to actually sitting in the seats and watching the racing on the track and who could blame them? But it sure looks like the seats are empty.
There would be just as many people not there in May as there would be in September. Darlington wouldn't sell any more tickets, you can't sell more than all you've got, but the Lady In Black is one of NASCAR's last links to the past, and by virtue of that, one of the last links to their most loyal fans. Just once, it would be about the racing. In a time when NASCAR's integrity is being questioned from every side, a little morale boost would go a very long way. Actually, it's not a very long way at all-just two or three hours due south.
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“Alienated and unwanted by this new NASCAR”!!
How very true!
How very sad!
AMEN! As a NASCAR fan for nearly 3 decades it really frustrates me to see the tracks and events that I consider true pillars of NASCAR history to be cut from the schedule. Even more so when that date is given to a track like California. With all the people out there, and considering how far away it is, they can’t fill the stands. Even if they could fill the seats each event, loosing a date at Darlington was too high a price to pay. If you want to take a date from a track, take it back from California or take one from Pocono. But Darlington deserves another date in my opinion. Great racing at a historic site and deep rooted in the heart of NASCAR.
I have been to a race at Fontana. Boring! It’s even worse on TV. Bring back Darlington on Labor Day. Micah
I agree with everything in your column except this:
“Itâ€™s not just that Darlington is the oldest superspeedway in the United States”
Amy, have you ever heard of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway? Opened in 1909, hosted the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911, and actually INSPIRED Harold Brasington to build Darlington?
It would be more factually correct to call Darlington the oldest dedicated superspeedway in NASCAR
It’s a good thing they got into these major markets they were so concearned about. Barely 80,000 show up to Caliboringya……Chicago isnt’ exactly difficult to obtain tickets too.
The fundemental miscalculation on NASCAR’s part, is believing that “new” fans and “new” markets will be able to sustain what has served as the foundation of the sport since it’s inception almost 60 years ago.
Like it says it the Good Book….you cannot build a house on a foundation of sand. Unless you’re building a sand castle….but that’s neither here nor there.
Self-Appointed Expert on Everything
The underlying message here is this: NA$CAR and I$C justify their bonehead moves with claims of poor attendance. In their zeal to get into the big markets, have given the axe to three great venues because of this. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or even a monkey to figure out that North Carolina is still pretty damn cold in February and can get chilly in October/November. I guess the France monopoly is lacking in climatic intelligence, or maybe just intelligence. No one could dispute the quality racing at North Wilkesboro and Rockingham, but it was usually cold on the hind end. Which it probably should be in FEBRUARY and OCTOBER. Idiots doing the schedule (NA$CAR) were to blame for this, but they use the excuse of sagging attendance to give the tracks the axe. And come on, if your going to take away a race at Darlington, why not the spring race, the old TransSouth/ Rebel race. Its never too cold in September, but can be in May. Leave tradition in place on Labor Day!
And didn’t having the Mother’s Day weekend free on the schedule used to be tradition as well? WHAT A JOKE
I agree 1000% on this one Amy. I’m a younger fan, but I know both the tradition and heritage behind Darlington, Rockingham, and North Wilkesboro. I grew up on racing, and now it’s like we’re being abandoned for dollars. It’s unfortunate because the one thing we always could count on is falling apart right before our eyes.
I will agree that they should of stayed in darlington. That track is boring and it is always too hot there. The last time i was there they ran out of water but they still had beer left. Also dont forget about the milwaukee mile-it has been around since 1903. Thats 8 years before Indy.
I disagree that moving the Southern 500 to Cali is the cause of dropping ratings. As much as the old fans don’t like the new school racing, its like a drug and your need your fix. Even if their complaining the whole time, its like watching a train wreck. I’m alot more worried about the newer fair weather fans. I think in 2001 Nascar blew up. As these new fans learned the sport, nascars hand got stronger and stronger effecting the outcome of the races. Now in 2007 its at its highest point. Calling cautions to benefit certain drivers is just accepted now. And not calling cautions to benefit drivers is accepted now. Most of these new fans are coming from the holy grail of the NFL. That crap don’t fly over their! And fans are leaving in droves because of it. A bad call is one thing. But being able to predict “debris cautions” at a 90% accuracy is rediculous.
just my opinoin.
I have never understood why Nascar (Brian France) thinks he must throw out everything that brought Nascar such success…to get more successful? Why is it necessary to cut off the old fans, the old (good) tracks to gain new fans? Shouldn’t you be building on that strong foundation, rather than shoving it out the door?
Of the points you made, Amy (and others), take these out:
1. attendance/ticket sales
What we have left is that Darlington is STILL better racing than California. THAT should be the deciding factor. Especially for the last driver to walk the stage in NY.
If the racing is good, attendance, and TV viewership should follow. There are a handful of tracks that are never going to provide quality racing. Get rid of them and give those dates to tracks that can put on a show.
I can easily find something better to do this weekend than supporting NASCAR at Cali this weekend. Cleaning the garage and getting a root canal come to mind.
Question for y’all: would you rather watch races at places like Cali, Chicago, and Kansas, or would you prefer Darlington, The Rock, and N. Wilkesboro? I thought so.
MMAck, you are correct. What I meant to say is that Darlington was the first high banked superspeedway for stock cars in the US-which it was. Chalk that one up to writing a chunk of the column clandestinely while in an editors’ meeting :)
Do I think that this move alone is the cause of the ratings plunge? No, of course not. But I do think that NASCAR’s complete ignorance of their history and complete unwillingness to put good racing before demographics-despite the fact that far more fans watch the races on TV then attend them in person-are two of the main root causes of the slide.
I agree with Teddz…nowadays it really doesn’t matter where they race as for the most part the tracks are all the same. That makes for some boring racing for the year, the schedule needs more short tracks if you ask me. I’ve read some opinions that suggest removing the road courses from the schedule, I’m actually starting to like them as they aren’t yet another 1.5 cookie-cutter track which is exactly what would be in the schedule if the road courses were removed.
Ive been a fan for about 28 years. Earnhardt dying left a lot of his fans without much to look forward to. With Tony Stewart and Gibbs going to toyota next year, I have even less. To tell the truth, I was looking forward to watching Maria Sharapova in the US Open this weekend than anything.
if the france family controlled golf, they would move the master’s out of augusta because it’s too small a market.
Hey onlyone3, I agree with you. I have been watching since Earnhardt drove the Wrangler car. NASCAR keeps talking about “the new fan base”, The way I see it is these are the ones that are fans today and tommorrow they are somewhere else. To today’s youngsters, this is fun for now but not five years from now. There’s no loyalty there. I’m about ready to sell my Earnhardt die-cast collection and go back to shooting IPSC.
NASCAR has been heading in the wrong direction since Dale Sr. passed away. The cookie cutter tracks of today don’t have the change in track personality like Rockingham, Darlington, or even North Wilkesboro. One fan commented that NASCAR blew up in 2001 and he hit paydirt on that one. Since then NASCAR has been struggling to fill that void. Where is the challenge for the teams when a setup that was used at Vegas can be used at Charlotte,Atlanta, Cali,Texas, and so on. The new fan base NASCAR talks about is already bored with the racing. All you have to do is look at some the chat sights and read what is being written.
When you look at F1 racing one thing you will notice, yeah the racing for the most part is boring and comes down to one or two drivers, but when you look at the tracks they drive at not one track is the same. NASCAR has become the F1 of the U.S.. The mega teams are the dominant factors which translates to boring races unless your a fan of one of the drivers. NASCAR needs to lay down a rule where an owner can only field two teams . This leaves sponsorship dollars for second and third tier teams to become more competitive. The race for the chase is nothing but a joke. At least half the teams locked in the chase this year have been caught cheating. One team in particular should have been thrown out of NASCAR. The top 25 in the points standings receives points money at the end of the season, stands to reason that the top 25 should be the cutoff for the chase. NASCAR has truely blown it.
Remember the Days when…
1. Rubbin’ was racing
2. Racing to the half way point
3. Racing back to the Caution
4. Races that started almost always at 1230-1300 in the afternon on Sunday !
5. Exciting, Colorful, light hearted, and smart commentators….that held yur interest…
6. Angry, Dirty (by dirty I mean that both ways), frustrated drivers who didnt care to let you know they was just a little PO’ed at someone(but where friends in a few days with out having to pay 50000 bucks and being put on probation)
7. DRIVERS not Steering wheel holders.
8. NO SISSY’s
9. Miller, Strohs, Winstons, Budweiser, Skoal, Copenhagen, and Tide !
10. and for some reason I dont hardly ever remember a fuel mileage race….
11. DIFFERENT cars ! not DIFFERENT emblems !!!!
12.and like someone said earlier….North Wilkesboro, Darlington, and the rock !
There are a lot of things I liked about the old NASCAR, they where the gunslingers of my childhood. They could take an ill handling race car and run the dog crap out of it and either they drove it into the wall or they drove it to victory lane…And didnt complain about it all day on the radio…..ive been a fan since the mid 80’s and always knew that it would peak sooner or later. i ddint think that it would be because they would close half of the tracks that they grew up on and then gave everyone the same car……If that worked we would still have an IROC RACE LEFT ON TV !!! HELLO ??? Those where ok,but I be damn if would watch 36 of those ! And now thats pretty much what we, now, isnt it ???
Recent articles from Amy Henderson:
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
Fans To Decide Format of Sprint Unlimited at Daytona
UNOH and Kentucky Speedway Extend Sponsorship Agreement
Earnhardt Out For Charlotte and Kansas After Talldega Concussion
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Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.