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Voices From the Heartland · Jeff Meyer · Thursday August 9, 2007
Ever since Brian France took over the reins of NASCAR, he has unabashedly stated that two of his primary goals for the future of the sport were as follows: be as popular as the NFL, and capture that elusive creature known as the "casual fan."
Those are undoubtedly mighty ambitious goals for a man who is so despised by the very fans of the sport over which he presides. Things have gotten so bad as of late that even the President of the United States, when he wants to feel good about himself, compares his “approval ratings” to those of France.
The first goal, known to everyone else on the planet except France as pure folly, sadly will never be realized until the France family actually purchases the league in its entirety, throws away the rulebook, officiates all its games as in the same manner as racing, and renames it the NASCAR Football League. Not all has been lost during this personal quest, however. For example, NASCAR would now command respect that is equal to, or more likely surpass, that given to the sport of professional wrestling.
The second goal of capturing the “casual fan,” I must admit, has always been, until recently, a mystery to me. Just what constitutes a "casual fan?" Is it someone who dresses slightly better than the longtime fan upon which the sport is founded but oddly, vehemently hated by France? Is it the fan at California Speedway that, while not actually watching the race from the stands, casually glances up at a monitor strategically placed as he/she dines on cuisine prepared by Wolfgang Puck? I just never knew. Until now!
As fate would have it, I actually met a "casual fan" just the other day. Well, to be totally honest, I didn't "just" meet him – I've known him for 27 years! I consider him to be one of my best friends. There have been times that we have shared a residence together and, if memory serves me correctly, I have even been his "best man" in at least one of his weddings, possibly more. So, imagine my surprise to learn that he is now a "casual" NASCAR fan! I was utterly and totally shocked – and I will tell you why.
A little background for you first: this is a man that owns all things Bobby Labonte and most things Tony Stewart. This is a man that, for years, tried to drag me to a race back in the early to mid nineties, a trip which never seemed to work out until after the new millennium. This was the man that, when it did finally work out for me to go, was jealous of ME because my first NASCAR race (and every year thereafter) was the "Holy Grail" of races: the Bristol night race.
This is the man that has the connections to get as many Bristol night race tickets (at cost) for us and our friends and even people we're not too fond of, as we need them. This is the man that is on the yearly renewal list for tickets to Michigan and Darlington. This is the man that, when I go to his house, I have to ask him to turn on the TV for me because I haven't a clue as to which of the seven remotes to use or the sequence you need to use them in order to get a picture on the screen. This is the man that has DVR, DVD, UHF, VHS, HDTV, big screen, small screen, TiVo – as well as the APR associated with financing such things. If the program has racing in its title on his system, trust me – it's being recorded. Doesn't matter if it's opossum racing – we can sort it out and erase later, and it is still recorded. Don't want to miss a thing!
I know what you are thinking. This guy sounds like a racing fanatic, and that may have very well been true in the past, but now he is a "casual fan." How do I know? Recently one Sunday, my phone rang. I answered it, and the conversation went something like this:
Me: "Not much. Why? What are you doing?"
Him: "Mowing the lawn and drinking."
Me: "Ahhh, I see. In other words, your dog is hiding again!?"
Him: "Yeah, go figure. Seems that every time I get on the mower she disappears. Why is that?"
Me: "Dunno. Self-preservation perhaps? Heyâ€¦"
(Bear with me. This is the edited version! Word count restraints prohibit the full text.)
Me: "Why ain't you watching the race?"
Him: "I'm mowing and drinking! â€˜Sides, it's gotten to the point that I don't care if I watch it or not. I'll hit the highlights later. See all I need to that way."
Him: "Hello? Hello? You still there? Where'd you go? Hellooooo?"
It was at that moment that I realized I had met a "casual fan." I also realized, all my NASCAR writing aside, I must be one myself – because try as I may, I had no argument to his logic.
So congratulations, Mr. France! You have your "casual fans." Enjoy â€˜em while you can.
Stay off the wall, (but email me if you are looking for tickets to this month’s Michigan raceâ€¦seriously)
©2000 - 2008 Jeff Meyer and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
You hit that one exactly right! I just realized that I, too, after years of being a slave to any and all TV race coverage, am well on the way to achieving “casual fan” status! All the hype and gimmicks (most of all the ‘crapshoot’) have sapped my interest to the point where I no longer care if I actually watch a race or not. But I’m not giving up my season tickets to Bristol yet. I’ll wait another year to see if the ‘chase’ manages to create another ‘follow the leader so I don’t interfere with the chase guys’ parade.
Thanks, Jeff, like SallyB, this has caused a self realization that I, too, have become a casual fan. Once I would get almost depressed because I had to be away on Sunday afternoon and forgot to set the VCR. At first, I began fast forwarding through the race to catch the highlights. Now I don’t even have the VCR plugged in and only switch over to the race for the last few laps. That way I am set up for the end in the unlikely event that it is exciting and I will usually get an idea of the latest installment of the weekly NASCAR soap opera, “As the Drivers Turn.” In many instances such as CA or MI or Chicago, I don’t even make the end of the race. It’s just too boring. It’s easier to just read the Frontstretch and Jayski to get the details. Eventually, I will become such a casual fan that I won’t even do that. I’ll just watch the Sunday night news. By the way, most of my old NASCAR fan buddies are now casual fans as well.
Well said by both Jeff and SallyB. NASCAR fan since before Petty (Richard) drove a Ford, I guess I became a casual fan when I gave up my Bristol tickets last year.
Congratulations Brian on a job well done! Before becoming a casual fan my life revolved around your sport. Never missed a TRUX, BUSCH or CUP race no matter which one of the 7 stations it was on. Taped ‘em all if I couldn’t watch live. Had a garage full of magazines and race papers.
Cancelled all the subscriptions. Now can’t watch TRUX (refuse to pay the outrageous cost to get SPEED-thanks again Brian), ain’t seen a Busch race since I don’t know when, and will only watch Cup if its convenient (and not on FX). Listen occasionally to Claire B. on my recently purchased XM on which I got to listen to race coverage one year on it-thanks again Brian.
So I guess now I’m a casual fan.
Thanks Brian F! You’ve accomplished something your father and grandfather couldn’t do . . . you made me realize that there IS more to life that your sport. Thanks again.
All my NASCAR writing aside I feel the same as Jeff—geez, and I’ve been trying to figure out what’s been going on with me all year and why I could care less if I see the races. And pretty amazing that everyone else feels the same way I do…
I must have become a casual fan too. About 40 laps into the Brickyard 400, I got up and went to the store wearing a racing shirt. The guy behind the counter asked me why I wasn’t watching the race. I just looked at him and shrugged, I’ll catch the end of it, I said… not much goes on in the middle.
I was glued to the t.v. in the late 80s and throughout the 90s not missing a lap of any race. Back when a 1:00 pm start to a race was actually the start of the race, not the countdown to the countdown of the pre-race show… then the race starting at 2:30.
Part of this comes from the instant gratification we can get from the internet. Instead of having to wait until the next morning and a write up in our local newspaper from the AP… we can read about it minutes after the race is over, even while the race is on. We know too much about the cars now… we know so much that we know how little the driver has to do with their performance as the car they are riding in. It takes all of the drama out of it. So in a sense with the networks trying to add drama, they are taking the drama out and making us fanatics more casual… and the casual fan they are trying to get are still watching baseball, and football.
Hats off to Jeff Meyer ladies and gentlemen!!
This may be the best article that I’ve read on Frontstretch. However, I am somewhat of a newcomer to this site. But, none-the-less this is hands down the best that I have read.
And here I thought the “casual fan” was something like going “snipe hunting”. Good job Jeff.
Great article, Jeff!
Yep, I’m now a casual fan, too. I check before the race to see how everybody qualified (and who made the race), and check again Sunday or Monday to see how they finished. That’s good enough. I might watch a race if I’m too tired to do anything else. Other than my interest in seeing how the newcomers – Juan Pablo Montoya and Toyota – fare this year, I’ve really lost interest. The racing has become completely boring, and the best Brian France can do is try to implement new gimmicks to create artificial drama.
It’s too bad I’ll miss the NASCAR show this weekend – I’ll be at the Knoxville Nationals, watching racing…
I agree 100% I am becoming a casual fan but I don’t want to give up just yet.Maybe I need to start a website “fans for better racing” or something. There has to be a way to unite the fans and make a statement to nascar. What would Nascar do if fans united, enough is enough, and refused to turn on the tv. If ratings dropped like a rock things would have to change. I don’t know how to start such a movement, but if the casual fans united, we could grab Nascar by the throat and demand changes.
I can echo all that is above. To be even more precise, I finally got tickets for the Bristol race last year. I sure won’t do that again! Went three times in the 90’s to the Glen, turned down a FREE ticket this year! If it’s possible to dislike someone more than I dislike Bush, it would be Brian France. I still spend a lot of time at the weekend short tracks, so very much better than anything NASCRAP.
The commercials that we are forced to watch 101 times are the same ones we watched 101 times every single weekend. The worst is watching a Nascar race and watch a Nascar commercial. We are already watching go advertise on another cahnnel.Everything is becoming so fustrating that we also are starting to be casual fans. My son and his wife slowly lost interest and no longer go to any races and now this year they don’t even watch any races. So much for the younger crowd Nascar was trying to reach. We are looking for a pontoon now to go out on Sundays instead of watching races and we are looking forward to football season. Both of us end up falling asleep on and off during races we do try to watch. We were trying to make all the tracks (except the road races)and we have alot done but we may lose total interest before we make all the tracks.We used to go to the same 2 every year and add 1 or 2 each year but now we dropped 1 of the 2 that we went to and are only adding 1 new track this year. Cost of flights, Hotels, rental cars, food ,and etc. on top of the high ticket prices to watch a boring races is becoming a waste of money. We go home feeling cheated.
I became a “casual” Nascar fan on Feb 18,2001
Don’t worry, fellow “casual” fans. Brain France will grow tired of his little toy and move to bigger and better things. He’s only got about 3 weeks left, though. Once football season starts it’s “So long, NASCAR. See ya in Daytona.”
I too have become a casal fan..It used to be impossible to pull me away from a Truck, Busch, or Cup..(yeah, I said it..), race. I’d watch all the laps..in the last few years though its dropped off. Even my wife who I would’ve described as a casual fan knew who was leading the points and even would watch races if nothing else was going..plus she didn’t need to be told what loose or tight was, or have some silly draft tracks thing. The only race I still wouldn’t miss now is Bristol, especially the night race. Sadly NASCAR has sucked the life out of this race..I didn’t think it was possible to make Bristol a follow-the-leader race where everyone beame so damn polite. Anyway, while I try to catch as much racing as I can it’s not like it used to be where I’d plan my day around it.
I couldn’t agree more.
After growing up at IMS in the 50’s and 60’s, I’ve spent the last almost forty years using as much of my spare time, money and hobby space as possible to feed the racing need.
Now, however … ? I’m slowly losing the desire for my AMS season tickets, my first Bristol was last year’s suddenly Chase-ified ho-hum night race, and I gave up on the Brickyard after eleven years of paying more and more for less and less.
Now I often find myself with better things to do than suffer through endless hours of tabloid coverage, screen-hogging and often useless video graphics, and cameras that manage to capture more off-track nonsense than on-track racing.
Thanks for opening my eyes and putting a name to my unfortunate condition. It may improve, but I’m just about done with pouring unappreciated money into BF’s pockets. Not when my local tracks put it to so much better use.
Ah, my dear Jeff. After 39 years of living, breathing, and devoting my life to NASCAR and stock car racing, even writing about it for 3 plus years in an effort to fight for a return to the sports values, I finally found myself in the roll you so eloquently described.
All I can say is it breaks my heart.
Zetch got it right. Whether we realized it or not, many of us lost a lot of interest that day in February ’01. Like him or hate him as long as The Man was on the track it was going to be interesting at the end – whether he was among the top five or six laps down he was probably going to play a role in the outcome. Additionally, I believe Dale’s influence with the Frances kept things more race-related. Since 2001 NA$CAR has become sanitized entertainment with the almighty dollar as the only goal and I no longer consider it a sport.
As someone mentioned a day without an audience would be good but it is not going to happen. On-site fans are not going to buy expensive tickets and then not show up. And while TV ratings are generally down there does seem to be enough controversy created from time to time to bring a fair group back for the next episode.
When all is said and done, we, the “older” fans, have outlived our usefulness – we don’t fit the demographics anymore – so nobody is listening to us as we suffer in the “new modern era” and wish for the days of old.
I was feeling ok about myself till I read that post! Now I’m gonna have to make an appointment with my therapist! Thanx alot! LOL
Well stated Jeff. I would hope someone at Nascar is indeed looking at their fanbase. Basically, I was the hardcore fan who drove 7 hours to see the Southern 500 on Labor day, and once Nascar changed that, my interest waned. Nascar throughout the 1980’s, always stated they did not want to become like a “stick and ball” sport, but incrementally, Nascar has. My belief is that it started about 5-7 years ago with “offical Nascar” logo interfering with the 15 and 90 teams attempt to get sponsorship.
So essentially, instead of watching qualifying, I wait for it to be posted on the internet.
Now, since I work Sunday evenings, and the decision for Nascar to start the Daytona 500 (after a 2 hour prerace, Why!!) at about 4 p.m., I’ve turned to the internet and MRN.
Also, for those who remember.. Terry Labonte was sponsored by Sunoco for a year or two, and I do not recall the Union 76 management getting up in arms over it.
As a word of encouragement, you may now be a “casual NASCAR fan” but you’ll always be a “hardcore racing fan.” Just find your local race track and get involved. The local tracks still have great stories. Some are just struggling a bit but most still put on a good if not great show. Not to mention, ask around a bit and youâ€™ll find a team that could use your help.
My feeling is the NASCAR will continue to decrease in popularity, but if youâ€™ve been around racing long enough, you knew it was coming. Thereâ€™s an ebb and flow to the popularity of racing organizations. It wasnâ€™t that long ago when Indy was on top. Whatâ€™s next? Who knows? Regardless, maybe itâ€™s time to get off the couch and head down to your local track on a Friday or Saturday night.
Recent articles from Jeff Meyer:
BSNews! Bruton’s Plans Extend Beyond Bristol’s Track
Top Ten Reasons Fans Failed To Show Up At Bristol Sunday
BSNews! NASCAR CEO Given "Special" Award Amidst Lavish Fanfare
Fan Coun-ci-What? Just What Is It That NASCAR Wants To Study?
Top Ten Reasons People With No Sense of Humor Write In And Complain About These Lists
Want to know more about Jeff Meyer or view his complete article archives? Then hop on over to his archive and bio page.