The Frontstretch: Dude! Where's My Race? by Amy Henderson -- Thursday March 8, 2007

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Dude! Where's My Race?

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Thursday March 8, 2007

 

Laundry. Write Column. Grade papers, feed cats, bake brownies, vacuum, work out. That's a random sampling from my "to do" list this week. Other than screaming that I might kinda sorta need a life, it's what's missing that's telling. No "Watch race" on that list.

Sure, I watched the Busch Series race from Mexico City, but it was a long race, riddled with cautions and a lot of drivers whose names barely registered on the radar. I enjoy road racing, but I've heard the complaints of "boring" road courses. There was some excitement, and NASCAR used some late full-course cautions to attempt to make more of it. There was controversy around the victory, but was it enough to keep fans watching?

The answer to that might be "no." Not only were television ratings down for this race compared to a year ago, but I wonder if the current schedule may actually cost NASCAR some of the new fans they so desperately covet.

If I were new to NASCAR, like the minions of fans who have jumped on the bandwagon of late, this off-week might have made me lose a little interest. If I had just started watching NASCAR this season, which kicked off with an exciting Daytona 500 and a predictable if not brilliant California race, I might have been disappointed this week. Not only did most of the "big name" Cup drivers stay home (which, while not a bad thing, is not ideal early-season marketing), but the race was not the type of racing the new fan might associate with typical NASCAR.

Later in the season, this would be a great way to give the new fans a taste of the Busch Series at its best. This early, it's less than sound strategy. Although I watched the race, I admit that doing so was not a priority the way it is when there is a full docket of races over the weekend. For established fans, it's probably just a blip on the radar. But if I had just tuned in for the 2007 season, and felt apathetic about the off-week, I might not plan my Sunday around Las Vegas this week. The Saturday Busch Series race might slip my mind altogether. I might become a fan, but maybe the fan who tunes in when there's nothing else to do, not the diehard fan who makes sure there's nothing else to do.

Not only is the Nextel Cup off week this early unnecessary to the teams, who would be better served with a week off later in the season during the marathon late-summer-to-autumn stretch, but it is a poor marketing strategy for a sport that has seemingly abandoned its roots and longtime fans in favor of the new fans. If they don't make the schedule more accommodating to these people, they may lose them before they even have them. NASCAR has already scrapped good racing at exciting tracks in favor of mediocre racing at flashier venues where the racing is secondary to location and empty seats abound. It is imperative that they capture the new fan early in the season if they even hope to continue the explosive growth they've enjoyed of late. And a Cup off-week filled with only a Busch Series road course race loaded with inexperienced drivers and field-fillers just won't do it.

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