The Frontstretch: Is the NASCAR Bubble About to Burst? by Jeff Meyer -- Wednesday June 7, 2006

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Is the NASCAR Bubble About to Burst?

Voices From the Heartland · Jeff Meyer · Wednesday June 7, 2006

 

There is an old saying that goes something like this:

What goes up, must come down.

This bit of worldly wisdom, thanks to the laws of physics, applies to everything on our planet, with the possible exception of gas prices, which apparently obey their own special laws. NASCAR, though, has no such exception.

For years, NASCAR has continued to grow and grow, fueled mostly by the personalities of stars like Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, and Jeff Gordon, just to name a few. For the last 35 years, these three men, among others, are examples of those who have carried the sport.

As a kid in the early 70’s, everyone wanted to be Richard Petty. Red, white and blue STP stickers were everywhere. My friends and I had them on our bikes. Older brothers had them on the rear or side windows of souped up jalopies. Whenever you saw the number 43, the first thing that came to mind was a blue and red Dodge Charger.

While Petty raced into the 90’s, the 80’s saw the emergence of men like Earnhardt. Earnhardt led the craze of new faces that dominated the sport in a time when electronic technology and communications were changing the way the sport was viewed almost as fast as a lap at Talladega. Earnhardt in particular latched on to his “bad boy” image, utilizing his “Intimidator” nickname to take the marketing of drivers to a new level.

As time went on, the era of the ‘90s ushered in the likes of Jeff Gordon. Young girls swooned. Marketing boomed. Technology was now changing faster than a lap at Bristol. This thing called NASCAR had become huge.

While NASCAR was already in the midst of an exponential growth spurt, there is no doubt in my mind that the tragic death in 2001 of Dale Earnhardt shot it into space. The man WAS NASCAR. The incredible growth caused by that aftermath gave NASCAR more money than GOD.

NASCAR itself began changing, to keep up with the marketing times and to keep the cash coming in. A new, hipper CEO named Brian France, announced billion dollar television deals. Fresh young drivers are marketed as not only racers, but outright sex symbols. NASCAR openly caters to the young, trying to shed its "Red neck" image. Times are good.

Through all of this, NASCAR forgot one thing; people are fickle. By 2003, television ratings started to slip. Brian France, eager to maintain record profits, develops the new "Chase" format in a direct and blatant attempt to usurp the NFL as king of the Fall ratings.

2004 looks pretty good. Ratings have gone back up. The new "Chase" format seems to have worked. 2005 is even better. NASCAR is enjoying record ratings growth. Brian France, so impressed is he with his own creation, briefly toys with the idea of legally rearranging the letters of his first name. Brain France is more to his liking!

Now, it is 13 races into 2006. The television ratings have been DOWN from last year’s for ALL BUT 3 RACES so far, some remarkably so, and not just the ones that were affected by rain. The bosses in Daytona must be choking on their caviar and demanding to be told what is going on!

Listen closely, Daytona bosses, and I will tell you again; people are fickle. Especially the young ones you have tried so hard to bring into your coffers the last few years. They just don’t have the attention span. Remote control technology baby! Satellite and Cable TV! Flip, flip, flip, FLOP!

Now, I’m not saying ALL the younger generation kids are that way, but that is the way society is nowadays. It’s instant gratification; they want “it” NOW! And even when you give “it” to them NOW, they are soon bored with “it” and move on to something else newer and cooler.

Multitudes of fans that are of the "older" generation (and by older I mean 35 "" 55+) have been openly insulted by NASCAR and called "red neck" and "too white". Many, tired of the insults and loss of traditions, have simply given up on NASCAR, or at the very least, only give it a passing interest. It is a shame.

Mark these words. In a marketing sense and in exponential growth, NASCAR has been running the high line a long time. Now though, the tires are starting to wear. They better bring her in and make a few adjustments, or they will soon find themselves hard in the outside wall!

Stay off the wall, (If you can, NASCAR)

Jeff

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nate
06/08/2006 07:42 AM
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How sadly true. When one looks at the men and the cars of the past, where they took a real man with hard muscles to herd them around the track, and where the driver was able to take a mediochre car and through force of will push it to the front, then what we have now is Pablum racing. Bland to say the least. When a race car gets a slight hit and it throws the aero off enough to ruin the rest of the race, then something is bad the matter with the whole concept. When they conveniently throw the yellow for a car spinning off the track or for the elusive debris and it changes the entire outcome of the race, who among us do not believe that they are managing the sport. I guess I am an old fogey, but having followed the sport since the 50’s and yes being at the CNE speedway in 1958 when Richard Petty made his first official start, then maybe I am not the person NASCAR wants to please. The only problem is that I am at a stage in life when I can pick and choose where to spend my time and entertainment dollar and what I am seeing is not what NASCAR was founded on. Living in Canada, we would travel a long way to see either a closed circuit TV race or even go to a track miles away to watch an event. Now quite frankly, there are times when I would rather work in my shop or go out with the wife than sit around for 300 boring miles of a 500 mile race. The last real driver left in my opinion if Mark Martin, who can drive the wheels off anything he sits in and even manages to win a few. When he is gone from cup, who do we have that is anything even near to his talent and demeanor. The so called personalities are all smoke and mirrors and for the most part are not consistent in their abilities to run up front. God, I would love to see a guy like Kenny Schrader in a top ride, because here is another old timer who can get the job done with the right equipment. So Mr. France you go right on appealing to the young and the restless, because us old guys, who remember what the sport is really all about are not going to be around to fill your pockets forever.

BETTY
06/08/2006 08:46 AM
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I CAN TELL YOU ONE THING THAT IS WRONG WITH WATCHING RACING ON TV IS THE DAMN COMMERCIALS. THEY RUN 9 LAPS AND THEN GO TO A COMMERCIAL. HOW SAD IS THIS??????

kelly daugherty
06/08/2006 10:49 AM
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how true!!! but, Brain (and I use that term loosely) has brought it to this point. and once that “car of tomorrow” hits, people are going to quickly lose interest completely. NASCAR has ALWAYS prided themselves on the “what you see on the track is what you see on the street” mentality, and I for one, don’t think the racing has been as horrible as people think. NA$CAR just needs to worry about racing and quit worrying about how to market themselves, that formula worked before “Brain” became the head honcho. If I may, I have a list of reasons NA$CAR is getting too big for themselves and why people seem fed up:
1. the car of tomorrow concept (if I want to see a damn wing and front splitter on a car, I will watch the IRL)
2. the inconsistency of the rules (slugger labbe gets a 4 race suspension AND a 25 point penalty for violating a rule. fine, but remember the “spirit of the rules” bullsh*t they were spreading when chad “the cheater” knaus was caught at dover last year??? he got NO points penalty!! slugger=same thing, BUT since he doesn’t work for Hendrick (the evil empire) he got a penalty!!) another case in point: why is it that Jr. got a 25 point penalty for cussing on TV and Chad “the cheat” Knaus did not for BLATANTLY jacking the rear window up after inspection at daytona (obviously they wanted to cheat)
3. the hollywood effect: I could care less if Ben Affleck or Pamela Anderson is at the race, just race!!
4. NA$CAR being wishy washy about people like Kyle Busch: he has already been called into the office too many times this year, why don’t NA$CAR quit worrying about hurting someone’s shot at a championship?? as far as i’m concerned, he should have been suspended for that ignorance at charlotte (i’ll never call it Lowes). but for some reason, NASCAR doesn’t want to jeopardize a championship chase (which they have already done by not suspending the whole 48 team for the Daytona fiasco)
5. corporate sponships of race tracks: I have no problem with Lowes sponsoring a track, but it becomes a little more than a little fishy when said track has it namesake car winning almost every race (gee, wonder why ratings were down for the 600 this year, go figure…......and if you don’t agree with me, ask all of the people at the track that were wearing the “anyone but Jimmie” shirts, obviously they are a little fed up too).
well, that just scratches the surface, I am sure lots of people have more than I do, but hey, this is just one man’s opinion, like it or not!!

Patrick Gorman
06/08/2006 11:04 AM
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Bravo! Couldn’t have said it better! Been a fan of Na$car since the 60’s. No more! I’ve had enough even b-4 the foreign invasion.

Mark
06/08/2006 12:48 PM
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Me too. I have had enough… I “was” a fan since the 70’s. This year will be my last. My driver is leaving, the cars are changing, and the prices are way out of line. It was fun while it lasted…. Will the last fan out please turn out the lights and bring the flag.

bob
06/08/2006 02:33 PM
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the bubble broke when they let the forgien cars in. toyota is not a north amercian stock car automobile racing company. too many commercials and cable tv hurt the rating, but the final straw was bringing in the toyotas. they will spend every dime it takes to dominate the sport just like they did in cart and then indy. as soon as that happens they will pull out just like they did in cart and indy and leave nascar in shambles just like they did with cart and indy.people lost thier jobs at gm, ford, and mercedes/chrysler and now we are supposed to watch toyota kick our butts out of nascar also. shame on darrel and mikey.

Chris
06/08/2006 03:03 PM
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I totally agree..I’ve been a long time race fan and have to say that every year its harder to watch. This “Car of Tomorrow” concept is really nothing more than turning what little remains of different car manufacturers into an “IROC” series. Some time ago I was actually happy to see NASCAR grow the way it did..then with growth came the ugly side. Very good drivers were being put out to pasture purely because they were over 40 and weren’t “marketable”. Now we have guys that are pretty darn young but are marketable but lack the experience or maturity it should take to race at the top level. I’m not that old..(in my opinion anyway), but I had respect for drivers that actually could turn a wrench as well. NASCAR cares only about the bottom dollar to the point where they are actually hurting the long term success of their own business..(come on..does the world need NASCAR endorsed baloney?). You only have to look at the BUSCH series..(or what’s left of it), to see what I mean…

T.L. Headley
06/08/2006 03:16 PM
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I am growing tired of the rattle-trap criticism of NASCAR for “allowing” Toyota into the sport. Are we so afraid of the foreign manufacturers? Do you honestly think Ford, GM and DAIMLER-CHRYSLER can’t compete with Toyota?
I also am growing tired of the incessant whining about commercials on the broadcasts as well as the claims that NASCAR somehow “fixes” the races.
First, the races are broadcast on “commercial” television. These companies are entitled to make a profit. Commercials are their way of doing so. If you want no commercials tune in to your local Public Television Station. And for someone who claims to be a FAN of NASCAR to complain about advertising it ridiculous on its face—every car on the track is a rolling billboard. It has always been that way.
As for NASCAR fixing the races, I would rather the yellow fly when there may (or may not) be debris on the track than run the risk of losing another Dale Earnhardt or Adam Petty. Also, yes, JJ has won far too often at Lowes Motor Speedway, but he is a top-five car week in and week out. So it is not too much of a stretch to think he would win often at a track he likes. Dale Jr. loves Daytona—‘nuff said.
And last, frankly I don’t care whether Toyota or Honda or even Kia comes on board—racing is still racing, and like the late, great Dale Earnhardt said, “You either want to race or not, I want to race.”
I can think of nothing better than for a Monte Carlo to cruise to a win towing a few Toyotas and Hondas.
I will close my rant by saying if you want to see real racing, why not support your local track on Saturday nights? That, after all, is racing the way it used to be.

Robby
06/08/2006 04:03 PM
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In my opinion, the situation is not irreversable, however if Nascar and the France family don’t listen to the early chirps of the tell tale birds, it will soon be out of their hands. Does the France family know this is an issue, or do they just not care? That’s my concern. It’s more likely too much is on thier plate, and/or too many promises have been made. I’m not throwing the gavel at them for trying to grow the sport, I just fear greed has taken over….too many hands are in the pot now. Major sponsorships rule, just like in our government system where big business runs the show. Why such a push toward diversity? I’m not racist, but anyone can watch the sport if they want to, right? Why shove it down everyone’s throat, almost seeming desperate in the process? We have plenty of tracks in our home counrty that need attention, why mexico, and canada? It’s all about the ratings, and bottom dollars. Nascar has to deliver the ratings these cable companies have paid for and that Brian France has promised, period. Instead of aproaching this with an open mind I believe the France family have goals of thier own, and unfortunately, pleasing the ones who helped them get to where they are, is not one of them. I helped them get to where they are now, just like most who will read this, but now I feel disrespected, and dishonored. I may be a redneck Earnhardt loving, beer drinking, stay up late to watch the last few laps, race fanatic, but sadly I will not allow myself to be a Nascar fan anymore, until things change. R.I.P. #3 Forever

Gary
06/08/2006 04:37 PM
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NA$CAR died with the demise of the Southern 500 and Rockingham, and the stupid and insulting chase for the chump points scam. THAT IS NOT RACING. After 40+ years following the “sport” of racing, I will not give them the time of day anymore for thier BS “entertainment”. Todays NA$CAR is nothing but just another stupid, scripted and irrelevent network sitcom. Good riddance to them all.

stick
06/08/2006 05:48 PM
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I will no longer watch once the Rice Burners start running in the cup races.Toyota will bring in piles of money and force the big three out,just wait and see.

LARRY STANLEY SR
06/10/2006 08:23 AM
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AMEN! SOMEONE PLEASE TELL THE POWERS THAT BE THAT THE VAST MAJORITY OF FANS DONT WANT TO SEE RED HOT CHILLE PEPPERS BUT GEORGE STRAIGHT OR BROOKS & DUNN. WE WANT TO SEE STOCK CARS NOT IROC. SOME ONE BETTER WAKE UP OR MY DOLLARS WILL GO ELSE WHERE.

Jason
06/10/2006 02:24 PM
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A lot of things are wrong with NA$CAR, but the one that gets to me the most is these ridiculous caution flags for “debris” every time the race starts to get boring, or some big names are in danger of getting lapped. I can’t understand for the life of me why this obvious tampering can be allowed to occur every weekend. Where is the uproar from the fans and media? Every caution flag changes the entire complexion, and thus the outcome, of the race….and to think that many of the caution flags are strictly for entertainment purposes is maddening to a long-time racing fan like myself. I realize the drivers, owners and crew chiefs have probably been given the “You need us more than we need you, so keep your mouths shut” speech by the powers-that-be, but Matt Kenseth is the only driver who has had the guts to speak out about it. If this type of thing happened in any other sport, the stands would be empty the next week, but NA$CAR fans continue to watch because they either don’t care or are in denial like commenter #8. Enough is enough. Maybe one of the reasons TV ratings are dropping is because more people are waking up to the sham that this once-great sport has become. Like Honest Abe said, you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all the time.

JOHN WYCKOFF
06/15/2006 09:26 AM
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To all the fans out there screaming about Toyota coming to NASCAR. I have been involved in the auto parts industry for well over 25 years. This country hasn not had a truly american built vehicle for almost 20 years. Ford for one thing has been in bed with Toyota for a few years now. One other interesting note is that Toyota has hired almost as many AMERICAN workers as Ford, GM, and Chrysler has layed off. NASCAR has totally alienated the fan base that got them where they are today. I would not be surprised if one day the powers to be wake up to find out that some the wiley veterans from the series have started their own racing series where you run what you brung.

 

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Recent articles from Jeff Meyer:

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