The Frontstretch: Amen, Junior: Why NASCAR Needs to Trim the Fat by Amy Henderson -- Thursday November 6, 2008

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Amen, Junior: Why NASCAR Needs to Trim the Fat

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Thursday November 6, 2008


Last week, when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. commented that the length of the season is too great, the first thought that entered my mind, was “Shut up and drive.” But then, I really thought about it.

The more I thought, the more I realized…maybe Junior was right.

The argument you usually hear about the 38-week season (including two exhibition races) is that it’s hard on race teams, keeping drivers and crew members away from their families for too much of the year. There is really no time off at all for most teams, as the month and a half after the season ends is spent getting ready for Daytona testing in mid-January, and after that, Speedweeks is just around the corner, and it’s crunch time.

I never bought that one. I do understand the long, long hours involved for the crew members, and I am all for an extra off-week or two in the season to give them a break. But, to be blunt, if someone doesn’t want to do it anymore because it’s too demanding-well, there are 50 people who would love that job.

But what about the fans?

Expanding the schedule from 29 races in 1990 to the 36-race schedule of today didn’t happen all at once, just a race or two a year, as NASCAR grew and fans clamored for more races in more markets. NASCAR responded, adding several new tracks in the 1990’s and 2000’s to bloat the schedule to what it is today. Maybe it is too much.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is talking, but is NASCAR listening? Now is the time to pare down the 36-race season.

Earnhardt, Jr. comments thus on the matter: “We have saturated the market with race after race after race. The NFL, they do such a great job. I hate to keep comparing to them and using them as examples, but they do the best job. They give you just enough to keep you wanting more. The season ends before you want it to. You get just enough to get excited and then it’s all over and there’s such a long wait. The model works.”

Junior is completely correct. Sometimes less really is more, and that is becoming more and more evident as television ratings plummet. Between a contrived, shallow, too-long “playoff” system and a regular season that has become 26 weeks of hype over the endless, needless Chase, NASCAR has reached the zenith-and started rolling down the other side. Perhaps leaving fans wanting more—not wondering if it’s ever going to end—would bring back some of the excitement and passion that used to buzz through the season like so much raw electricity.

But, sadly, Earnhardt, Jr. also recognizes the driving force behind the changes, which, more than the fans, boils down to avarice. “We’re driven by the ability to go make another dollar and make more money and there’s no way we would ever trim it down.” While he’s probably right on that count, I do wonder if eventually the slowing attendance at some tracks will turn on NASCAR and the track owners who jockeyed for more dates, more races. Consider this: at some point, it is going to become more costly than profitable for a track owner to host two races a year which attract half to two-thirds of the facility’s capacity. The cost of electricity and water and personnel for a race weekend is astronomical. Why not cut back to one race at some tracks, fill all the seats (and this would be likely given the human tendency to suddenly want something they can no longer easily have) and only pay the overhead once? At some point, the scenario of profit no longer justifying expense is bound to happen.

Junior hits the nail on the head when he says, “When we were a 28-race schedule, the sport was giving you just enough to get really get excited about the next season. When we were racing at 12 o’clock, people were racing home from church to get to see the start of the race. We’ve just made it too easy and too much. We sort of lost a lot of the substance that we really had before and the character of the sport I think has waned a little bit, but its part of the times, too.”

Part of the times, maybe. But Earnhardt, Jr. is very, very perceptive. It’s kind of like being cut loose in a candy store on an all-you-can-eat spree. At first, it’s pretty darn cool, but after a while, you feel sort of sick and wish you hadn’t scarfed the 14th Squirrel Nut Zipper. Your eyes are glazed and your teeth are stuck together, and frankly, it’s not as much fun as you thought an hour ago. Even the Atomic Fireballs lose their zip after you’ve eaten enough to numb your tongue.

NASCAR has lost substance and excitement. It started out innocently enough—a second race here, a new track there; start at 1 in the afternoon and then 2 or later. Suddenly, it’s all just so much. And being given too much of anything eventually makes you appreciate having it less and less.

I’m not suggesting cutting back to 29 races—that’s too many to cut out and still touch the number of markets that NASCAR does. But even a cut to about 33, and dropping the now-obsolete Bud Shootout would serve a purpose. Cut races from tracks that aren’t filling the stands—California, Atlanta, and either Texas or Michigan. That might be tough on those with season tickets, but the fans who are split between two races during the year would now flock to one. The stands would be fuller, and that’s a good thing all around. Cut the Chase to eight races instead of 10, giving those drivers less time to close a huge points deficit and thereby forcing them to stop playing it safe.

Eventually, even the most passionate fans are going to get a little sick on all the candy, and NASCAR would be wise to address the situation before dwindling interest and attendance force them to. It should be about making them leave wanting more, building excitement, not tedium, and making it all count. Less is more, and there’s just too much candy right now.

The Frontstretch Newsletter, back in 2014 gives you more of the daily news, commentary, and racing features from your favorite writers you know and love. Don’t waste another minute – click here to sign up now. We’re here to make sure you stay informed … so make sure you jump on for the ride!

Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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11/07/2008 07:57 AM

I used to attend 8 races a year…. 2 Rockingham, 2 Dover, 2 Richmond, 1 Vegas, and 1 Bristol, and camping at most of those tracks for several days. We even had a line on the family budget spreadsheet for racing. I won’t tell you how much it was but you can guess in was several thousand dollars. Well, now we go to Dover and Richmond once a year. And those are smash-and-dash trips… we drive up and drive back the same day. Hell, I don’t even bring the grill anymore. It’s not because we can’t afford them, it’s just we don’t want to go anymore.

Of course watching a race in person is far better than watching it on TV. The sights, the sounds, the smells…. ah nothing could have been finer. Too bad that has all been spoiled by the way NA$CAR is running their “show” now. Next year, I think I am going to pass on my Dover and Richmond tickets. If I feel like going to a race, I’ll jump in the truck drive up and pick up a half price ticket on the way into the track, pretty sad huh?

I truly hope NA$CAR wakes it’s silly butt up soon…. before it’s too late.

11/07/2008 08:02 AM

And of course you say: “I never bought that one. I do understand the long, long hours involved for the crew members, and I am all for an extra off-week or two in the season to give them a break. But, to be blunt, if someone doesn’t want to do it anymore because it’s too demanding-well, there are 50 people who would love that job.”

Please send a copy of that to Jr. tell him if the season is too long go find another job!

11/07/2008 08:47 AM

jr has too many other things going on in his life. his job is easier than the crews’ he just shows up and drives. i know this is demanding work, but you have to be mentally sharp too. think of the guys that work on the cars. heck, once season ends next weekend in florida he’ll go on vacation somewhere. what will crews be doing…maybe a week off and then focus on 2009.

read somewhere this morning where a reporter asked jr about a sports psychologist and nutritionist. he is response, no he hasn’t talked to them, but he’s sure he could tell them a thing or two.

mr. earnhardt, that is not the attitude to have. the more of you that shows that attitude, the more you polarize your fans. sure fans like blunt and honest answers, but your performance mid-race shows that there is definiately something lacking in your lifestyle to help you achieve your goals of winning races (not just on fuel mileage), and a championship.

The Old Guy
11/07/2008 08:47 AM

This is amazing. I’m really beginning to believe that there are some “sports writers” who hang on every word that comes out of Jr.‘s mouth and Amy Henderson is one of them. I’m beginning to also believe that if Jr. said in an interview “I think we should run every race on Saturday night and only in Purple cars.” writers, such as Amy, would be writing a column in full agreement.

If Jr. doesn’t want to race 36 weekends a year, wwhy doesn’t he move to the truck series. They run fewer races than cup.

Wonder how Jr. would have fared running 60+ races a year?

Concerning the empty stands.. NASCAR was put on the map by ESPN and the movie “Days of Thunder”. prior to that movie, very few people even cared about racing.

Unfortunately, the novelty has begun to wear off and maybe, just maybe, there are too many races in a season. But, what would you eliminate? The short tracks? Atlanta, Texas or Charlotte? How about two very poorly attended races in California? Take once race away from Pocono, Michigan, Dover or New Hampshire?

MMaybe it’s not the number of races that are veing run, but the IROC type cars we have today that are the culprit.

There are any number of things that could be causing the lowering attendance at races. I suspect that the economy is the biggest culprit.

Finally. I think that everyone hoped that Jr. would succeed his father as one of NASCAR’s leaders. What Jr. has actually done is succeed Rusty Wallace as its most prolific whiner.

Have a nice day.

11/07/2008 08:54 AM

The Old Guy:

this isn’t about the drivers not being able to handle the grind (although I agree it must hell toward the end), it’s about the fans not being able to handle it. And I’m one of them. You forget that in the era of 60 races a year, in the 50s, 60s and even 70s, only what, ten (?) of those races were even televised, and many occured on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday nights when people couldn’t go to watch. It didn’t matter to the fans because the majority of them only got to READ about the results in newspapers.

I would really like to see a reduced schedule as well… And also shorten most of the races, leaving 500+ mile races to marque events.

Make it 28 races… And make the last 8 The Chase, if it has to stay. The key is to only give the IMPORTANT tracks two race dates. My ideal season (except that it involves the Chase) would be something like this:

1. Daytona 500
2. Las Vegas 300
3. California 300
4. Rockingham 400 (they need it back now more than ever)
5. Atlanta 400
6. Bristol 300 (day race)
7. VIR (they need another road course IMO, and it’s right before Martinsville)
8. Martinsville 400
9. Texas 300
10. Talladega 400
11. Homestead 300
12. Darlington 300
13. Charlotte 600
14. Pocono 400
15. Michigan 400
16. Sears Point
17. Indy 400
18. Chicago 300
19. Louden 300
20. Richmond 400
21. Kansas 300
22. Darlington 500 (Labour Day?)
23. Watkins Glen
24. Bristol 500 (night race)
25. Talladega 500
26. Charlotte 400
27. Dover 400
28. Daytona 400

Now if I had my way virtually all the 1.5 mile cookie cutters, as well as California would be gone anyway, they suck—but this is a realistic season too. It starts and ends at Daytona, as historic as that would be… And the playoff sees a couple 1.5 milers, Darlington, Talladega, Bristol and a road course. Much more well rounded than now.

11/07/2008 09:18 AM

Hey John sure, shorten the schedule, then NA$CRAP can double the prices of tickets right!

Nope! NA$CRAP could have enough fan base to run 50 races if they wanted too, they just need to provide real racing to us!

And Amy says: “ Cut races from tracks that aren’t filling the stands—California, Atlanta, and either Texas or Michigan.”

Hell, thats EVERY race track, maybe the Daytona 500 excluded! Lets dump the Daytona July race then! That certainly does not fill the stands!

Ron DeFlora
11/07/2008 09:29 AM

Simple solution to this problem. Keep the 36 Race schedule, but give teams two bye weeks, something like what the NFL does. Limit the number of drivers that can be off a particular week to 4, as not to affect the size of the field. Maybe do it by car owner, so childress has 2 off weeks, DEI 2 off weeks, hendrick 2 off weeks, etc.

11/07/2008 10:59 AM

nah, nah, attendance is not the issue, NASCAR just needs to get used to the fact that crowds will be lower with the economy the way it is right now.

And Doug I realize this won’t actually happen, NASCAR might lose a few bucks in the short term, and god knows they never sacrifice short-term profit for long-term success. :(

11/07/2008 11:03 AM

I think a lot of you missed the point of what Jr was saying. This was not about him not wanting to race…it was about the waning interest of fans, the stands being half full, and the TV ratings falling. Nascar’s greed has taken priority over providing a good product. They have introduced the COT which provides lousy racing, filled the airwaves with meaningless programming to keep our interests peaked, and simply bored us to death. Have you ever heard the phrase “less is more”? In any entertainment, you need to ‘leave ‘em wanting more’.

Moreover, the employees at the shops work extended hours daily with about a week or two off during the off season. Jr has seen the divorces caused by no family time and the failing health of some of the workers. His interest is in keeping Nascar a quality company that provides a quality product around for a long,long time.

It’s a shame, but Brian France isn’t interested in racing. He has so many irons in the fire, he doesn’t have the time or the desire to keep Nascar alive and well. I’m not sure how Big Bill produced a grandson like this, but it happened, and here we are with what we’ve got. You better be glad there is a driver who will stand up and voice the same opinion that Big Bill would.

don mei
11/07/2008 12:24 PM

Oh the NERVE of Junior!! The INGRATE!!! Having the temerity to actually express an OPINION about what might be wrong with NASCAR and why they are losing fans!!! My god what is this world coming too!! The boy should just shut up and drive!!! Maybe FIFTY races a year!! Yessir! thats what we need! MORE races to watch a parade of those POS’s they call the COT!!! LOL!! God…doesnt anybody but Ginger get it??

Kevin in SoCal
11/07/2008 12:39 PM

John, you forgot Phoenix, and Iowa should be in there too, making 30 races. Bristol should be at least 400, not 300. Other than that, excellent job.

11/07/2008 02:44 PM

I guess it would be nice to make millions a year and have to only work twenty eight weeks a year. where do I sign up at?

11/07/2008 02:47 PM

woops… and here I was thinking of Phoenix all morning, and I forgot to put it in the damn list! Replace Kansas with it. The hell with Kansas.

Kevin in SoCal
11/07/2008 04:11 PM

No, John, I disagree. Every track gets to have a NASCAR race at least once. Keep Kansas, add Phoenix and Iowa, make it 30 races, and its perfect.

Larry Burton
11/07/2008 04:42 PM

Except for safety, the COT has been a complete failure in what it was suppose to achieve. Take Sunday’s Race at Texas, very few lead changes at all with one driver leading half the race or more. This was not what was suppose to happen with the COT. And Nascar has already annouced no changes for 2009. Ain’t it amazing how everyone but Nascar can see what’s right in front of them every week!

11/07/2008 05:44 PM

I just read a column from espn regarding how no driver seems to be good enough for na$car. Look, we all have our favorites AND we are entitled to our opinions. Although I’m not a diehard jr. fan, I have nothing against him. He’s a good driver. BUT I get tired of media people taking fans to task for voicing our likes and dislikes. Without us fans writers like Ed wouldn’t have a job. Remember than next time you start bashing fans, Ed.

thomas dalfonzo
11/07/2008 09:22 PM

Let me put in my two cents on this issue. I say that all of the current NASCAR oval tracks should have only one race. With the room you’ll have then, you give Cup races to Kentucky, Gateway, Memphis, Nashville, Milwaukee, Iowa, Rockingham, North Wilkesboro, and the Texas World Speedway, being that they deserve Cup races. You can also build new racing facilities all over America and give Cup races to those.

Douglas, you are definitely right. With as many races that NASCAR has, NASCAR should give the fans real racing. But with the NASCAR sanctioning body as screwed up as it is, that will never happen.

Amy, you say “NASCAR needs to trim the fat”. Get rid of Brian France, Mike Helton, and John Darby. That’s trimming the fat for you.

What do you do then? Somebody should tell me how I can take over NASCAR.

11/08/2008 12:04 AM

Please Amy, don’t give me that crap about dumping the second Texas race because of attendance. We have the 3rd largest facility in the world that had 170,000 people still there. The fans there are absolutely in love with NASCAR and I don’t hear all the complaining that I hear online. It is really starting to make me sick. Y’all wouldn’t be happy with anything – chase or no chase, COT or no COT, Jimmie or no Jimmie. Maybe, just maybe, we could attract new fans if the old fans were more positive.

11/08/2008 05:39 AM

Na$car has a commercial, “be yourself” …They ought to go back to what brought them all their success. To much money and technology hasn’t made the racing better and them they find that they need to ask sponsors for more money. I agree the season has become long, but its the race on the track that will keep people coming.Back in the mid 80’s 20 guys had a shot at winning. People still go to races now they go to their local short track

11/08/2008 09:10 AM

Here’s my two cents: by shortening the season the tech guys will have a chance to maybe turn the beast of COT into something really race worthy. Also increase the testing oppportunities for the teams as well as Goodyear.

11/09/2008 01:09 AM

Amen Jr.!

Of course, many fans have been saying the same thing for some time now.

Only nascar MIGHT listen to Jr. ‘cause they sure don’t listen to the fans.


Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
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