Voices From The Heartland · Jeff Meyer · Wednesday November 29, 2006
Editor’s Note : This column originally ran on September 21, 2006.
If you read the Top Ten list posted yesterday here on Frontstretch.com, you now know that the news is out that I am forming a Brian France Fan Club. Members will get the chance, among other things, to be the head of NASCAR and deal with all the duties that come with it. Since this is my club, I am going to go first. (Before I begin, keep in mind that in the spirit of “been there, done that,” I am going to skip the diaper changing of Brian’s kids…at least until the grandkids come along.)
So, as the grand poombah of NASCAR, what would I do? First and foremost, I would "tweak" the Chase…tweak it to the point that it no longer exists. When the new format was first announced, I held off on my judgment until the end of that year. At the time, I decided that it was marginally OK, but reserved the right to change my mind at any time.
While the Chase format did make the end of the year mildly more interesting, it was never a secret that it was contrived solely to increase television ratings to compete with the NFL. At first, the ratings did increase, and the Chase was hailed as a success; but by this year, the ratings for ALL NASCAR races have gone down across the board, with only one or two exceptions. The reason for this, I believe, is due to a couple of simple things. One, the newness of the Chase format has worn off for the casual fan, and two, the television coverage itself is downright disgusting.
So, in lieu of trashing the Chase format, I would simply get rid of it, instead making a change awarding a win with at least 75 more points than second place. The possibility of one driver locking up the Championship early would be greatly reduced, unless he/she were drastically ahead of the rest of the field…in which case that driver should probably be the Champion, anyway. Think about this: Tony Stewart could win all the remaining races and still not be listed in the record books as finishing in the Top 10 in 2006. What would that say about the validity of the current Chase format? To me, it says it’s a publicity stunt that needs to go.
Moving on, I would work to make changes in the way NASCAR is portrayed to the average viewer, both through changing the TV coverage and encouraging the personalities of the drivers to shine through. It is my belief that the one race that started the growth explosion for NASCAR was the 1979 Daytona 500, the first start-to-finish live coverage of a NASCAR race on TV. What made that race so appealing to the television viewer was not who took the checkered flag, but the last lap crash and fist fight that happened between Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough. The viewers simply loved it, and clamored for more. Of course, viewers clamoring for more is what makes sponsors and networks salivate; it's that simple. Give the viewers what they want to see, and they will view the races without a problem.
In that instant in 1979, NASCAR became sort of the “reality TV” of the sports world. Here was a world of tough guys in tough cars going head to head on the track and in the infield. NASCAR should embrace that. Everyone loved Dale, Sr., not only because of his skill behind the wheel, but also because of his "bad boy" image. NASCAR itself could be the "bad boy" of the sports world…not the "entertainment show" it has become. The most important thing, again, is to give the viewers what they want to see.
Perhaps the biggest step I would take to save NASCAR is to bring the Labor Day race back to Darlington! California never has and never will sell out its dates, no matter how good the shopping is under the grandstands. While I do believe it is a good thing to expand racing to other parts of the country, don't do it simply because it is the 2nd biggest "market" in the country. Moves such as this only convey greed on the part of the NASCAR powers that be. It is OK to try things…but be flexible. If a second date in California isn't working out, move it back to Darlington. If the Northwest doesn't want to pay to build you a new track, race in a place that WANTS you, such as Kentucky or North Wilkesboro. Real fans see through all the NASCAR generated propaganda and see that simple greed is the real motive for these changes, not diversifying the fan base at tracks where fans don’t even come.
Another change, and probably the most controversial, that I would make is that EVERYONE must "time in" to the starting field. That’s right; no guaranteed spot for anyone, not even a past champion’s provisional. There are 43 spots available, and the 43 fastest times get to race. If you don’t make it…sorry, try again next week!
Those are just a few of the changes that I would make to save NASCAR. If you want to join my new Brian France Fan Club, let us hear what changes YOU would make. Just remember…the diaper changing experience is optional.
Stay off the wall,
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