The Frontstretch: Would Keeping Tradition Help NASCAR Keep Fans? by Amy Henderson -- Friday July 5, 2013

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Would Keeping Tradition Help NASCAR Keep Fans?

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday July 5, 2013


Tradition is a part of every culture; scientifically speaking, culture doesn’t exist without tradition. Those things we do, repeated over time, help define people throughout time and across the world. On a more personal level, they help shape who we are when they’re part of our childhoods and are passed on from one generation to the next. In a nutshell: tradition is important in defining people and cultures everywhere.

Tradition abounds in sport. From golf to baseball, fans can see and do many of the same things their fathers and grandfathers did decades ago. That’s part of why sports are such a big part of Americans’ lives — those traditions are important to fans.

Darlington may be Too Tough To Tame, but its traditions were tamed rather easily — almost a decade ago, NASCAR eliminated its traditional Southern 500 date on Labor Day Weekend.

So why has NASCAR thrown it out the window?

Once upon a time in NASCAR, there were certain things fans could count on, even while sponsors changed and the sport grew at a sometimes dizzying rate: The Daytona 500. The Rebel 500. The World 600. The Firecracker 400. The Southern 500. More recently, the Brickyard 400. Even while other races changed sponsors and names, a select group of prestigious ones remained the same, year after year. Because of that continuity, many of those races became legend and the storylines stemming from them were woven into the tapestry of the sport. Those races, traditional both in name and in their place on the schedule, were annual staples.

And now, with the lone exception of the Daytona 500, they’re gone.

Some have been renamed; the World 600 became the Coca-Cola 600, the Firecracker 400 goes off on Saturday night as the Coke Zero 400, and the Brickyard 400, while it carries the original name now, was re-labeled as the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard for a time.

Others are long gone. The Rebel 500 was renamed by various sponsors and the Darlington Spring race was finally called the Southern 500, which was traditionally run not in April or May, but on Labor Day Weekend. The true Southern 500 no longer exists; NASCAR runs in Atlanta, not Darlington on that weekend now (and to Atlanta’s credit, they never tried to steal the name, probably because fans would have gone berserk).

I get it that tracks need sponsors to help pay the bills, but it’s such a shame that many fans would deliver only a blank stare of you mentioned the Firecracker 400 to them. The race is run on the 4th of July weekend, so the name had meaning. Surely, it would be possible to allow a sponsor and keep the old name; Darlington did (and still does). Why are we NOT running the Coke Zero Firecracker 400 on Saturday night?

NASCAR, like most other sports, is in itself a tradition for many fans, or it used to be. Fans became fans because they went to races with their fathers and grandfathers. In turn, they passed that on to their children. That NASCAR is struggling to get a foothold with its fan base these days should be a warning bell — if the fans are disinterested and alienated to the point where they no longer want to come and bring the next generation, the sport is in trouble.

Tracks, too, should consider keeping the traditional race names. Will a fan come because of the name of the race? Probably not, but he or she will talk about it. “Remember that World 600 when…” and that kind of discussion gets others interested.

Now, part of that is on NASCAR — in order for tracks to either shun a sponsor or make certain demands of sponsors in regards to naming rights, they need money to support themselves. NASCAR’s fees and the track’s required portion of purses have gotten very high — perhaps they should be infusing some of this cash so that tracks can pursue different avenues of marketing overall (and to encourage smaller facilities to host the Nationwide and Truck Series. Speaking of tradition… those series were meant for short tracks).

Rockingham may have gotten NASCAR racing back, but one tradition returned won’t be enough for fans looking for more.

The sport has changed so rapidly and so much in the last decade that a small return to tradition here and there would go a long way with a longtime fan base that is feeling hurt and unwanted in this era of the sport. Racing, at least in some series, on more traditional tracks has increased recently with the trucks at Rockingham and now Eldora. That’s a start. It seems as though it would be simple to require that those certain races carried the proper names, including the Rebel (not Southern) 500. Returning Darlington’s race date to the Labor Day weekend would go even further.

No, it’s not your father’s NASCAR anymore… but the sport does need to take a hard look at the traditions and fan loyalty that launched it into the 21st Century and think about bringing a few of them back. They’ve taken so many over the years by taking the old tracks off the schedules of national series, moving dates that were once sacred, changing the names of what were once the biggest races in the game, moving the season-ending banquet, changing points systems and everything else they could think of in an effort to gain new fans, that the old fans wondered what happened to their sport. They found other ways to spend Sundays, and the family traditions that had been 50 years in the making faded away.

To a scientist studying a culture, that change in tradition would signal the dying out of one culture and/or the birth of another. Is that really the direction a sport should go in a culture that embraces its sports as part of its own tradition? That just doesn’t seem healthy.

And Another Thing

  • I have to wonder when the word “criticism” became synonymous with “hate.” If a media member criticizes something a driver does, one a fan likes, that writer obviously has it in for that driver and is on an agenda. Ditto on praising someone the fan doesn’t like — suddenly there’s an agenda there, too.

It’s not limited to NASCAR, either; if a teacher is critical of a student’s work, parents wonder why the teacher has it in for their child instead of talking with the child about the quality of his or her work. If a supervisor is critical of an employee’s performance, the employee complains that the supervisor just doesn’t like him or her.

Sometimes it’s not personal, folks.

  • Is it just me, or does the fact that sixteen teams all had the same infraction at Daytona call into question the roof flaps rule? I’ve seen the rule, but I still wonder why prompted those teams to think they could work within a grey area there. One or two, I’d say it was a blatant cheat if there was an advantage gained. But while I can believe that 16 smart crew chiefs would find a grey area in the rule book and work in it, I find it harder to believe that 16 crew chiefs all discovered the same blatant cheat at the same time and brought it to the same race. Remember the funky rear window on the No. 48 a few years back, or the wonky fuel filler on the No. 29? Can you imagine fifteen other teams showing up at the same race with the same infraction despite those teams not sharing information? Neither can I. At least for now, I want to know more before calling out 16 race teams.

  • On the other hand, if they were all doing something to overtly flaunt the rules, then NASCAR needs to step up to the plate and suspend Paul Wolfe, whether the infraction is the same as the one he’s on probation for or not. This is his third rules infraction of the year, the second while on probation after serving a suspension for the first.

After all, when Kurt Busch was suspended for violating his probation, it wasn’t for the original infraction, and if a crew chief is stupid enough to have the same infraction twice during the same year while he’s on probation, well, he’s not going to last long as a crew chief anyway. It’s time for NASCAR to bat down the hatches and come down on any violation of any rule for a driver, crew chief, or other person on probation.

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Beyond the Cockpit: Alexis DeJoria On The 300 mph Women of the NHRA
A Swan’s Broken Wings Equal NASCAR’s Next Concern?
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Pace Laps: Swan Racing’s Future, Fast Females and Dropping Out
Sprint Cup Series Facilities Can Build Upon Fan Experience by Looking to Their Roots


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07/05/2013 02:48 AM

Tradition in many ways these days is a sticky wicket. I believe-though I don’t know this for a fact-that younger people-and I am outside the preferred age demographic that business/advertisers covet-don’t have as much of a care for tradition as someone outside the 18-34 demographic does. Just an opinion.

On the subject of NASCAR and tradition, like all businesses, NASCAR has to find where the line is between reaching out to new fans and trying not to alienate the current ones. And, in my opinion-that of a fan of various types of racing for more than 2 decades and sports in general for almost 4 decades-they have failed badly.

From The Chase to the Lucky Dog to the seeming phantom cautions when certain drivers are about to be lapped to taking races away from certain tracks to chase what they hope is a bigger payday for NASCAR to seeming favoritism toward certain drivers/teams, the sport has clearly, in Hollywood parlance, jumped the shark. I realized this when, several years ago, I was reading the official NASCAR Preview and there was an ad for NASCAR brand luncheon meat. I kid you not.

Can the slide be arrested? I’m not sure it can be. For starters, NASCAR would have to admit that some of it’s decisions were wrong, and I’m not sure Brian France is the kind of person who is willing to do that sort of thing. We’ll just have to see.

As to your second point-which at least on some level relates to the PSP/KP comments-I have been involved in this many times. All of us on some level believe that we’re right and anyone who disagrees with our brilliant point of view is not only wrong, but is a moron, cretin, dullard, is unpatriotic, should be shot, arrested, deported, should have a lobotomy, etc. Part of this, to me, is the fact that as a society, we no longer respect dissenting opinions to our own-I know I don’t sometimes. We no longer talk TO each other, we scream AT each other, in an attempt to drown out what we disagree with with name calling, insults and vitriol to attack those we disagree with. And, again, I have been guilty of doing so as much as anyone. Can that be changed? I seriously doubt it, but I can certainly try to change myself.

As to point #3, the alleged cheating, we’ll just have to wait and see what NASCAR does, if anything.

07/05/2013 07:05 AM

I’m glad to know that someone else has noticed that, suddenly, not to cheer for a certain driver means you ‘hate on’ them. Fans have cheered for a favorite driver since Nascar began. Why someone voicing the opinion, for instance, that Jimmy Johnson is bland, means they ‘hate’ him, is taking a personal opinion to a new level. Kyle Petty didn’t ‘hate on’ Danica…he gave his personal opinion. People are allowed to do that. I was impressed with the way she handled the entire episode, not accusing anyone of ‘hating’. And forget Nascar ever doing anything than ‘updating’ traditions. Their greed will never allow their income to dfecreas, even as it bankrupts the sport.

07/05/2013 07:58 AM

The actual NAME of a race isn’t a real factor. The question is: Is the racing good and exciting?

This whole “hate” thing (the use of the word) came from the hip-hop culture and the black community. And there is a difference in “hate” and “bias”.

07/05/2013 08:03 AM

The problem is the sponsors. At some point, NASCAR ceded control to them to the detriment of the sport. Every watch the Masters on TV and wonder why NASCAR can’t do that? It’s because the folks that run the Masters dictate when commercials run, when coverage starts, and when it ends. The result in an amazing viewer experience.

Sue Rarick
07/05/2013 09:45 AM

From looking at the list of cars it looks like it was the Ford and Toyota TRD) teams. The exception being McMurray’s.

Big Guy
07/05/2013 10:30 AM

Ah “Hate”. I don’t like Jimmie Johson so I am, therefore, a hater. It initially came from the Black culture and has been adopted by the liberal/progressive left and applies to anyone who disagrees with them.

Kyle Petty!

Even if Kyle wasn’t a color analyst, he would have the right, as an 8 time winner and finishing in the top five in points twice, woulde have every right to be crtical of the “Danica” Hype.

I don’t think Danica has led 490 laps of a 492 lap race yet. I do believe that Kyle Petty has.

Get the crowd back?

Do away with.

The Chase.

Double File restarts.

Not racing back to the Caution.

“Debris” Cautions unless it’s the deck lid of one of the cars.

Did I mention the chase.

The Lucky Dog.

Restrictor Plates.

The Chase.

Limit teams to two cars. Consider Sattelite operations to be part of the two cars.

And finally….. The Chase.

Carl D.
07/05/2013 12:29 PM

Most of the changes you mentioned as moves away from tradition were implemented during the Brian France regime. They’re not going away until he does. Just to be clear, I don’t “hate” Brian France, I just think he’s a complete idiot who’s mismangement of the sport has almost destroyed it.

I know that I am in the minority here, but as a life-long South Carolinian, I’d much rather sit through a night race in Darlington in May than a Daytime race in early September. The S.C. heat in early September can be absolutely brutal.

07/05/2013 12:31 PM

When NASCAR got away from it’s tradition of racing being fun and exciting and turned it into dull and boring, well, yeah, they have lost fans. Trying to do away with many of the traditional races and tracks in favor of more and more D-shaped ovals in the “new” markets, which made fans made and produced boring follow the leader parades – lost them fans.

Various iterations of the spec car (anyone remember the defunct IROC series) hasn’t helped. I’m in favor of safety but I want the safe car to be able to race side by side and pass.

Thank you for your comment about criticism vs hate. Yeah, it’s become such nonsense that you can’t disagree with someone without that someone saying you “hate” the person or thing you are criticizing.

That sort of nonsense stifles conversation and debate and therefore limits change and potential improvement.

I don’t like every driver – half the fun of talking to NASCAR fans used to be the debate about drivers. I guess that’s another tradition that has gone by the wayside in favor of the everyone gets a prize generation.

If that many teams had an issue with tech for the roof flaps, why didn’t NASCAR notice it before this race?

As far as tradition, I’d like to see the chase disappear and see if the racing would improve if the championship was decided over a full season again, rather than having only the 12 chosen being able to do it. Once upon a time, EVERY race was important as far as winning it, now it’s just a seeding exercise. When did NASCAR become tennis?

07/05/2013 02:45 PM

As Mike pointed out the Masters dictates how their coverage is conducted. If the Masters operated as NASCAR does then we would see the “Aaron’s Lucky Dog Mulligan” being used, landmines, and quicksnad traps being used.

NASCAR, like many businesses, forgot “Business 101” and instead of embracing the formula that suddenly made them so popular they instead started figuring out ways to screw it up at every turn. For business people out there we call this “thinking short-term verses long-term”

A good example of this is back in the late 90’s when NASCAR had to attach their name to_everything such as the official toilet paper of NASCAR! Really?! Did the world really need this? The money paid to NASCAR would’ve been much better off sponsoring a team but NASCAR took alot of sponsorship money that could’ve been used to fund teams, (granted this was the late 90’s/early 00’s when every compnay wanted to sponsor something, anything in NASCAR).

The greed got to NASCAR, (France & Co.),and they went for the short-term approach which brought us to where we are today. Hence why we have the tight shots of cars as the Great Waltripo points out. Who would every think that a sport that is so reliant on sponsorship would also be selective in its coverage of the sponsors to the point where they are showing the cars whose sponsors have paid them. Now there is something to get your head around.

It is bad enough that this happens in just about any show you watch now, for example watch just about any television show where a guitar is shown and note how the brand name is taped over. Back in the day, (what day I do not know), this wouldn’t have occured because honestly the guitar(s) were not the focal point of the show. At some point though some marketing guy thought “I know how we can get some extra revenue! We’ll contact Fender and ask them for money for using their guitars in our show, if they won’t pay we will tape over their logo”. To me networks look like idiots for covering up logos or blurring out logos of companies that do not pay for “advertising” during their shows. This is just one example but take a look at any of your favorite shows and you’ll see this quite a bit. Is this where NASCAR is heading?

Unfortunately, as Amy nicely points out, today NASCAR can’t figure out what the problem is, in fact I’m not sure they recognize that there is a problem.

As for the television coverage, while the networks have their own agenda,(revenue from commercials), they must adhere to the direction from NASCAR if they want to continue to cover the races which is why we end up with the poor coverage we have with people in the booth who parrot the views of NASCAR, (Waltrip for example).

As for the gimmicks…don’t get me started. sigh

If you really want to wind me up start talking about how NASCAR screwed up the once thriving Busch series! When guys like Randy Lajoie were running only in the Busch series even though he had many offers to move up to Winston Cup, even with Mark Martin and his Winn-Dixie entry winning damn near everything, it was a great series. Lots of single car owners with alot of drivers working their way up to the top series.

The Great Waltripo
07/05/2013 07:15 PM

I’m really looking forward to this weekend as the Indycars are running Pocono again. Open Wheel is starting to get it and trying to make a comeback, while Nascar has been pushing Danica in a bid for more viewers.

Us old timers have been pointing at the problems of Nascar for over a decade, and at one point were derided in a column here on Frontstretch as being the “Cool Kids” who had to let in the not so cool kids for the sport to grow. Remember that one Amy? We were the problem and feared change to our regional southern sport and did not want to share with the rest of the class. How’s that all been working out for Nascar?

Nascar must remember who brung them to the dance, quit trying to squeeze every dime from the fans and work with the broadcast partners to bring back real racing coverage like ESPN back in the ’80s and ’90s. Back then we had wide angle shots where you could see the pack coming out of the turns and down the straights, along with coverage of hard racing back in the pack for positions. Ned and Benny were not all about themselves and we never had shrill catch phrases bandied about from the booth. Yes, we did have “Buffet Benny” for a while, but it did not take away from the on track action. The in car cameras were also used to add to the racing action, compared to today where it is all about getting the sponsor logos shown front and center.

I would also suggest getting rid of a date at Kansas and giving it to Iowa Speedway, along with bringing back the spring race at Rockingham. (Remember when Kyle Petty was “The Man” at the Rock in the early ’90s?) I would also suggest that Nascar work at getting more “Stock” back in the cars by trashing the spec engine and getting back to stock blocks that the teams can tweak and work with in a search for more horsepower. If the fans can buy something on Monday that really won on Sunday it will create more interest in the series.

I would like to see these things done, but I am afraid Nascar will stay in it’s death spiral until it bottoms out like Open Wheel did a few years back. I’m a 40+ year fan of Nascar, but have to admit I don’t even bother to turn it on anymore, as it has become for me unwatchable. I will be tuned into Pocono Sunday, that one should be good and the Indycar broadcasts have been miles ahead of Nascar this year.


Contact Amy Henderson

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
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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.