The Frontstretch: Should The Fans Stick Around? by Kurt Smith -- Friday September 26, 2008

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Should The Fans Stick Around?

Kurt Smith · Friday September 26, 2008

 

If you wanna be a star of stage and screen,
Look out, it’s rough and mean,
It’s a long way to the top,
If you wanna rock ‘n’ roll
AC/DC, “It’s A Long Way To The Top”

Big money got a heavy hand,
Big money take control,
Big money got a mean streak,
Big money got no soul
Rush, “The Big Money”

The Dover race caused me to do something I hadn’t done for quite some time. I dropped everything I was doing and tuned out the conversations around me, captivated by what was taking place.

Probably much to NASCAR’s surprise, the Chase had nothing to do with the great racing. You could argue that the new car played a part—it is visibly much more difficult to pass with it—keeping Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, and Carl Edwards close to each other for many laps. I won’t speculate further on that. And the close quarters at a shorter track makes the argument against the cookie-cutter speedways’ prevalence in NASCAR, as if it needed to be made. But what was most responsible for such a quality show, one that is the exception rather than the rule?

It is the same things that have always made for the best races. Drivers who have spent years honing and practicing their craft, learning how to draft, how to set up for a pass, how to put that imaginary egg under the gas pedal. Engine builders pouring their hearts and weekends into creating just that tiny bit more speed. Crew members that spend indeterminate hours preparing for maybe five bursts of 15-second efforts where imperfection is not an option. The arduous, continuous pursuit of excellence. It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll.

So are exhibitions like Dover worth tolerating all that NASCAR fans have been griping about in recent years?

Some people question why some of us continue to cover a sport that we seem to hate. It’s a fair question. I’ve asked it plenty myself. I don’t utterly hate NASCAR these days…it still has its moments as Dover showed…but I certainly don’t love the so-called “evolution” of the sport since 2003, if that makes any sense.

It is a great privilege to have one’s rants about NASCAR published, especially in a free speech forum like the Frontstretch. To be linked on Jayski is the pinnacle of motorsports journalism, even if Pete Pistone is too. Do not think that I don’t consider myself fortunate in that regard. As dedicated as I have been, and still am, to writing something people will enjoy reading, you’ll have to forgive me if my interest as simply a genuine fan—which was how I got here—needs some Viagra.

Being a fan of major sports is probably the most supreme exercise of conflict in America today. The thrill of the greatest moments in competition inspires us. The hand of greed that is always involved sickens us. In my hometown of Philadelphia, Eagles fans soar on cloud nine if their team defeats the Cowboys. The Eagles are well aware of this when they charge $20 just to park at Lincoln Financial Field—a $512 million venue. Never mind what people pay for beer or decent seats. Who cares? It’s the Eagles!

That true appreciation for athletic feats frequently gets stained by greed is nothing new, of course. You can read about owners of baseball teams back in the 19th century and be amazed at their chutzpah. That doesn’t make the ugly side of major sports any less palatable, especially as misguided management grows exponentially with the popularity of any sport, even to the point where a racing team that has exhibited true greatness in 26 races had their efforts wiped out by some bad luck in two. In the name of “creating excitement”. Big money got no soul.

Sports’ greatest moments make fans vulnerable…and create a big, big market for its participants to charge the top dollar, to obtain “fair market value”, rather than to provide the best product at the best price, like every other business in just about every other industry must do. The sports and entertainment industries are almost unique in being able to be successful this way. Only in footwear are entities actually encouraged to charge the highest price they can manage.

Can one good race at Dover make up for a season full of lackluster events?

But it’s understandable that otherwise sane people tolerate the rampant suction of our wallets at a NASCAR race. There are few more effective adrenaline shots on this planet than the sound of the engines firing after the grand marshal gives the command. Seeing it on TV, while exciting in its own way, does not compare. The rumble that courses through the chest of everyone in the theater is at once deafening, beautiful, and awe-inspiring. Just the sheer volume instills enthralling anticipation of what will happen next.

The only greater thrill comes about five minutes later…as the crowd manages to roar louder than even the engines as a usually unknown official waves a green rag over the best racecar drivers in the world and cars rev up to ludicrous speed. As anyone who has attended a race knows, the thunder of 43 racecars roaring by is something that cannot be captured with tools as inadequate as a word processor.

When the asphalt gladiators begin to battle, nothing else matters: the traffic and parking hassles, the exhorbitant hotel prices, the grumblings about the changes that have been made to the sport. Once the race starts, there is no tangible price we can attach to the spectacle we are witnessing. My numerous grievances aside, even today I would still not argue that fans attending a NASCAR race get their money’s worth pretty often.

But that is no longer the case all of the time. The fans at Indianapolis this year most emphatically did not get a worthy product.

There have to be limits. Every entity involved with NASCAR, or any major sport for that matter—the networks, the hotels, the local communities—is well aware of the amount of money the sport brings in. What I have described above is something people will sacrifice quite a bit for. As James Earl Jones said in Field of Dreams: “They’ll hand over the money without even thinking.” How much is too much? Are people in Indiana willing to endure that again and still remain fans?

And how much is too much for a longtime, traditionalist fan? In five years, NASCAR looks absolutely nothing like it once did, and when people complain they are often (but not always) told to suck it up. Fans can understand the sport needing to grow and evolve, but they are perfectly entitled to suggest that the sport’s current direction is not one they like.

My apologies to anyone who expected a definitive answer from the article’s title. I can’t and won’t answer these questions for anyone, especially being in the fortunate situation of following the sport for a partial-living. But my interest as a fan has undeniably waned. It isn’t so much the new car or the loss of great tracks or even the Chase. The most irritating aspect of it all is that nagging feeling that NASCAR doesn’t seem to give a damn what its most devoted customers think. Of all of the “innovations” of the Brian France era, you’d think just one would be to find a way to give fans more green flag racing on TV, and for more than one race out of the season.

For those of you out there tired of my complaining who want me to stop the negativity about your sport, I understand. I really do. I have been on the other side, defending NASCAR from people who I realize now sound just like me. It once mildly annoyed me that my father, a dedicated baseball nut who in my mind has not been nearly as outraged as he should be about steroids, repeatedly informed me that NASCAR, a sport he once enjoyed more than I did, is “pro rasslin’”. I now tend to think that, in the sense that NASCAR is so often about the show and not the real competition, he has a point.

Some of us accept the reality that times change; others are rejecting what they believe to be an inferior product. I hope people realize that my disdain is not towards those who still continue to be devoted to what is left that is good and right about the sport. It’s directed at the bottom line mentality that not only gave us the playoff, but that lost five Carolina races and probably has Dover and Martinsville in its sights in the future.

With all due respect to all opinions, I’ll highlight what’s great about NASCAR when NASCAR does.

Kurt’s Shorts

  • We all remember Greg Biffle’s disputed win at Kansas Speedway last year. Commentators after that one were coming up with rule twists so convoluted that they could have pronounced Richard Petty the legal winner. Let’s hope the weather spares us such aggravation this time around.
  • Now that Tony Stewart is in the Chase, he probably won’t be coasting to the finish line in the first recorded incident of Stewart being out of hot gas.
  • This just in: following the announcement of NASCAR’s new drug testing policy, sales of Golden Seal root skyrocketed in the Charlotte metropolitan area. And not a moment too soon. If Shane Hmiel had just known when to stay away from Dr. Giggles for a few years, he could have made enough money to have a lifetime supply of Pop-Tarts and Cheetos, not to mention several backup copies of Dark Side of The Moon.
  • OK, now that Kyle Busch’s title hopes are finished, as I went out on a limb and predicted after Loudon, it would be great to see him win three or four more races. Can you imagine if a guy had 12 wins and finished sixth in the standings?

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
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Douglas
09/26/2008 06:50 AM
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Qoute: “The most irritating aspect of it all is that nagging feeling that NASCAR doesn’t seem to give a damn what its most devoted customers think.”

AMEN!

Mark
09/26/2008 08:30 AM
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It’s not a nagging feeling…. I thinks it’s just pure fact. Eventually NA$CAR is going to run out of that all important factor that make them run…. the Fans. Once they go away, the money goes too. I truly and honestly believe that NA$CAR thinks they have got it right, man they could not be further from the truth. LISTEN to your fans… they are not happy, not getting what they “paid” for and certainly not going to stick around just to see if it gets any better.

I’ve been a die-hard fan for 30 years. I’ve been to more than a hundred races, used to turn off the world on a Sunday afternoon, begged, borrowed, and jumped through hoops to get to a race. That’s begining to wane. And that’s not my fault, I’ve tried to be a good fan…. really. I was at Dover last week, that was the way racing should be. NA$CAR listen up, learn, it’s not too late….. yet.

Bill
09/26/2008 09:11 AM
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Your all a bunch of babies
Ever been to a baseball game where the score is 12 to 0.
That sucks just as much.
Do me a favor, dont go to the races anymore.
That way, the tickets will be cheaper for the real fans.

Ed
09/26/2008 09:18 AM
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Hey Bill, I don’t go to races anymore. Are the tickets cheaper? Don’t count on that happening. There are alot of empty seats these days, but tickets aren’t cheaper. Good column Kurt

midasmicah
09/26/2008 09:47 AM
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Due to the fact that I can no longer afford to attend a race in person, tv will have to do. It’s fortunate that I have cable (some people don’t). That allows me to watch the sport. And looking at all the empty seats in the stands it would seem that NA$CAR would get the message. Even as a longtime fan, I’m finding my interest in the sport waning. And this is from a person that will watch almost anything race. No, NA$CAR doesn’t give a damn what we think. That should be obvious. And like you I hate coming off as negative, but it’s getting harder not to. Thanks for listening.

Douglas
09/26/2008 10:00 AM
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And more:

NA$CAR threw the “baby-out-with-the-bath-water”, so-to-speak, when they alienated the old time “core-fan”!

NA$CAR thought they could make more money with the “wine & cheese” crowd, and thus started to change their racing strategy accordingly!

What NA$CAR failed to realize, is that once they catered to this new & “fickle” group, they lost all their identity, and of course their “core-fan” along with it.

When the wine & cheese group got tired of cars going in circles, NA$CAR then began their descent into the current “dismal” times!

The wine & cheese crowd is gone, and the core fan is gone!

NA$CAR is now competing with all other sports and entertainment venues, like the movies, and TV even, for it’s fan base!

And folks! This fan base is not coming on board anytime soon!

The racing is not good enough to keep and hold any one’s attention! And the oldtime “core-fan” has been severely burned and has found other things to do!

IF! And WOW is that a BIG IF! NA$CAR started listening, maybe, just maybe, us old diehards would return, and return in earnest, but don’t hold your breath!

I am always reminded of a “MASH” episode, (and this relates to our beloved Brian France), Winchester is chastising Radar and says to Radar, ala Brian, “you know, the dictionary never had an definition for STUPID until you came along”!

dawg
09/26/2008 10:12 AM
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If a tree falls, & no one is there. Does it make a noise?
How about if long time Knowledgeable fans continue to bitch, & NA$CAR doesn’t listen. Do we make a noise. You bet we do! Bitching, means we still care, still think the obvious problems can be fixed. When we are silent, even if the arrogant suits decide to listen. If there is no noise, it will mean we have given up, & moved on. Our silence will speak much louder than our voices. That is if anyone from Daytona ever really decides to listen.

Bill B
09/26/2008 10:45 AM
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There comes a time in a relationship where you take a step back and say, “Is this still the same girl I fell in love with”? That’s where a lot of NASCAR fans are right now. BF has made so many wholesale changes so quickly that all fans have, at some point, questioned if this is the same NASCAR they fell in love with. I can say without a doubt, NO it is not. I have loyalty to my driver and that is what is keeping me watching every lap of every race, qualifying, practice, etc. and going to at least one race a year. My driver will probably be retiring in the next 3 to 5 years. When that happens I will be re-evaluating my relationship with NASCAR. I’m not saying I will totally abandon it but there are a lot of degrees to fandom and I doubt I will be a diehard, 100% involved fan if things don’t start changing (back) for the better.

midasmicah
09/26/2008 12:24 PM
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Here, Here, Bill. The driver I follow is 41. I’ve been following him for a long time (early nineties). It’s no longer exciting racing. It’s racing for that corporate dollar. When Burton retires, I don’t know if my heart will be in it. I left baseball behind a long time ago because the money involved seemed to be more important than the product on the field. Thanks for listening.

Gordon81Wins
09/26/2008 12:35 PM
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AC/DC and Rush…it doesn’t get any better than that.

jim
09/26/2008 06:06 PM
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Nascar some where along the way forgot their first rule ..be yourself..a lot of good points, almost like the financial mess, they wanted huge growth,

JIM HOOD
09/26/2008 08:23 PM
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tThe best thing that Na$car has going is that most fans are way too young to know what real racing used to be.I do. If they ever find out, they will be gone, then sponcers will go, tv will go and maybe thats as it should be to bring racing back.

RJ
09/26/2008 09:13 PM
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Some seem to jump on the bandwagon of whoever is winning. Then there are hard core fans who watch a team no matter if they are 53 wins and 110 loses or 110 wins and 53 loses. There there are fans who jump on the winner bandwagon then complain how not every race is entertaining, geez how entertaining was in in the 60’s when the King or the Silver Fox had the entire field lapped 2-3 times. Kyle is melting down just like he did at Hendrick, and the other teams have caught up so I doubt that he will win 50% of the remaining races.

Kurt Smith - Frontstretch Staff
09/27/2008 01:51 PM
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RJ, I endured the Orioles 0-21 start of 1988, and I remained a devoted Orioles and baseball fan throughout all of the crap people gave me about it. I’ll thank you to be careful who you call a “bandwagon fan”.

Kurt, I know what you’re saying. Down here in Tampa Bay, we always see a spat of bandwagon fans as soon as the team sells from the cheap ba.. err original owners and they finally become competitive. The lone exception though seems to be the Rays this year. Hopefully we’ll get that bandwagon full next season. Unless they’re playing the Yankees, Red Sox or Cubs, you can just about hear crickets in the outfield. And it’s an indoor stadium, so there’s only like three of them.

I used to follow the O’s when I was stationed at Fort Meade back when Earl Weaver was running the show. Great place to watch daytime baseball then head over to HammerJacks at night.

RJ
09/28/2008 01:36 PM
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Kurt it must have hit a nerve, I looked at my post and no where did I see your name mentioned, I even looked twice and your name is not mentioned. Look for yourself, again, your name is not mentioned. Get off the guilt trip, if the post was directed at you I would have put you name in the post just like I did for this one!!!!

FS_Amy
09/28/2008 09:50 PM
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There are times when I think I could give it up. I’m certainly frustrated with NASCAR as a sanctioning body and they way they run things. But the reason I can’t walk away is simple-I don’t care how NASCAR does, but I do care about the people on the teams from drivers to gasmen. I could never just walk away. I care too much about the people who just want to race, who pour their hearts and souls into making their car go faster and just this week, finding a little bit extra. THEY are why I can’t walk away.

RJ
09/29/2008 07:10 AM
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Amy it is a lot like local racing, people that enjoy doing what they are doing, no matter if they finish first or finish last, it is the thrill of be part of it. I think Nascar tries, do they get it right all the time, no sometimes they miss the boat, hopefully they learn from that and get better. My opinion is the first 3 races of the chase have been some of the best racing all season, or at least the last 10-15 laps have been. Now if you are a bandwagon Kyle B fan I am sure they think that Nascar sabotaged his car all three times, rather than just be a victim of bad racing luck.

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