The Frontstretch: MPM2Nite: NASCAR Arrogance Gone Awry by Kurt Smith -- Thursday July 21, 2011

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MPM2Nite: NASCAR Arrogance Gone Awry

Kurt Smith · Thursday July 21, 2011


The recent Kentucky mess was preventable. The reaction to it was initially far too unrepentant. The blame game that followed it was unseemly. But NASCAR’s apparent attitude towards the whole thing now takes the cake.

Look for Brian France’s response to Bruton Smith’s bold answer to being asked if he would consider a refund for jilted fans: “We don’t want to.” Or more correctly, the lack of response. If France has commented on that in any way, I can’t find it in searches. But the proper response should have been to immediately get in touch with Bruton and let him know that he will be relieved from future post-PR-disaster press conferences.

Did anyone at the highest echelon of NASCAR leadership at least think that that might not have been the best thing to say after thousands of people sat for as long as ten hours in Kentucky heat to miss a race? Presumably not.

NASCAR continues to do a lot of things that, if not deliberately, certainly seem to suggest a great deal of arrogance in their attitude. That may have been understandable for a sport that was about to overtake the NFL in popularity, as NASCAR once was before the Chase completely sucked fan devotion out of the sport. But they are no longer in a position to treat their fans so cavalierly.

Fan dedication to sports is sometimes unfathomable. I live in the Philadelphia area. The Eagles stick it to their fans more every season. Season ticket holders have to pay for two meaningless preseason games. The price of parking at Lincoln Financial Field has more than doubled in the last five years. Ticket prices are, of course, outrageous — $129 for standing room on StubHub — unless you don’t mind the preseason tickets no one wants.

But every game, those dedicated fans come out, cheering on the team that’s bankrupted them. The Eagles can get away with it, for now.

Bruton Smith’s comments about not wanting to refund fans who may have missed the Kentucky race will undoubtedly be a PR disaster.

NASCAR fans were once no less devoted and perhaps even more so. It’s a true testament to the damage that has been done when the real diehards—who were once willing to sit on hard metal benches in the heat for six hours, endure the traffic that is always bad and sometimes horrendous, and go broke for tickets and hotel rooms and gas—have moved on. To lose fans that were that fanatical, you almost have to be trying.

The backlash against NASCAR for their tone-deafness on many things is unlike anything I’ve seen in any sport. The strike in 1994 hurt baseball, but the downslide was short-lived. Cal Ripken showed fans that some in the sport still appreciated them, and excitement over the home run race in 1998 reminded people why they put up with the shameless greed.

For an entity to not only deny a refund to fans who sat in traffic for nothing because of their own lack of planning, in the sport’s current climate, is astounding. Every time the sport seems to be recovering from the downward trend, they find a way to let their fans know that once they pocket their cash, they couldn’t give a damn about them.

Consider the poll of fans last November, asking if they love the Chase now, when three drivers could have potentially won the title and interest in it probably couldn’t get higher. Would not 55 percent of remaining fans still saying “I’ll never like it” be cause for perhaps rethinking clinging to this idea? This is something that doesn’t even cost anything. Losing the Chase would be simple. Instead once again, the poll is removed and articles appear on and still insisting that a mindless points reset is pants-wetting awesome. It’s great, and you’re an idiot for not appreciating how great it is.

We all remember Indianapolis 2008. Of course there was backlash. But that backlash might have been better handled if it had occurred to someone high up at NASCAR that maybe they should be showing some remorse for how their policies resulted in an awful race. NASCAR left that to Robin Pemberton, who shouldn’t have had to endure that.

It’s one thing to put on a bad race. Things happen. It is to NASCAR’s and Goodyear’s great credit that they corrected the problems and racing has greatly improved at Indianapolis. Surely they eventually figured out how aggravated paying customers for the event had to be.

The fix hasn’t helped. Each year since the Brickyard’s attendance has been declining. In this light you’d think that the sport would take steps to ensure that PR disasters like this do not happen again, and that they let cheated fans know that they appreciate their business and will make it right.

The fault of the traffic nightmare at Kentucky is none other than SMI’s for not adding sufficient parking the moment they were awarded a race, and on NASCAR for awarding a Cup race to a track that was nowhere near able to handle it. The blame doesn’t belong anywhere else, and even if it did, directing blame shouldn’t have been the reaction of NASCAR or Speedway Motorsports.

But like with Indy, that wasn’t the worst of it. I’m betting the most long term damaging moment in the Kentucky mess, in the long run, will be the words: “Because we don’t want to.”

Kentucky was much worse than the Brickyard. Most everyone at Indy at least got to see a green flag. To repeat the same pattern of delayed remorse and then to throw out a verbal middle finger at the suggestion of a refund is beyond baffling. It’s hard to understand how people this successful could think this way, but I guess that’s why I’m not a billionaire.

Loudon and Texas and other tracks have had traffic and parking problems, but they’ve done things to improve them. It is certain that Kentucky will too. People don’t stay angry forever, and if the situation improves, some might actually return.

But as for this already now “casual fan,” (now part-time writer) if I were one of the folks who sat in traffic in the heat for ten hours, wasted my vacation time and money on a hotel room that was tripled in price for the weekend, all to see nothing, and then heard the track owner say he won’t give me a refund because he doesn’t want to — while Brian France looks on — Kentucky Speedway would have no need to create any spaces for me, ever. Nor would any other NASCAR track. Had I been stuck in that mess, “We don’t want to” would be the final straw.

I’m fairly certain I’m not the only one.

It isn’t Dale Earnhardt Jr. not winning. All the fan favorites in the sport’s history had lean years and it never hurt attendance or ratings. It isn’t the racing. Downforce was a problem even at the sport’s peak. It isn’t lack of personalities. There is no shortage of emotion when people talk about Kyle Busch. And it isn’t Jimmie Johnson either; there is no way a competitor as stupid good as Jimmie is should ever cause any sport problems.

The root cause of NASCAR’s decline in popularity is nothing more or less than the dedicated tone-deafness of its leadership. You’re upset with something? Oh well.

Whether people who missed the race at Kentucky should get a refund isn’t even the point. Eventually, no matter how popular the product, a business with this attitude will not survive. If a sport’s leadership continues to dismiss fans so much so that it can chase away people willing to put a second mortgage on their home to afford a ticket, you can bet it’s bad enough to kill the sport for good.

Contact Kurt Smith

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Bill B
07/21/2011 07:14 AM

Yep, somewhere along the line (cough,,BF) NASCAR decided that the fans would eat whatever slop they served us and we’d pretend to like it.

Carl D.
07/21/2011 10:38 AM

If Nascar was a real coorporation with a board of directors and not a family business, Brian France would have been sent packing a long time ago.

Race attendance will continue to be poor, TV ratings will continue to suffer, and future network deals will be less lucrative due to France’s incompetence. I hate being so negative about anyone, but he has almost single-handedly ruined a sport I once loved with a passion.

07/21/2011 11:38 AM

I agree with Carl. What we have in NASCAR is a monopoly run by one family. If this were a true business, then Brian France would have been fired a long time ago.

07/21/2011 12:39 PM

This article hits the nail on the head! Ten years ago, I paid to attend races, planned my weekend around the race schedule, bought driver apparel and diecast. Last couple years, none of the above. I’ll watch on tv if I’m home. You can only dump on the fans for so long before they drift away. Kentucky is just more of the same old stuff from the current leadership.

07/21/2011 12:47 PM

Ditto’s all around.

Bruton probably thinks he’s only lost 10 to 15 thousand fans. But how many of those that were there are not going to show up next year because of A; this years underhanded fiasco, B; his lack of remorse and refusal to accept responsibility, C; The inadequate Concession Goods, D; The inadequate Bathroom Facilities, or E; The Terrible racing the Terrible track provided.

Take away the traffic mess and you still couldn’t pay me to sit in those stands and watch a “race” at that track.

I hope no more than 20,000 people show up there next year.

07/21/2011 01:10 PM

Very well said. Bruton says “I don’t want to” and NASCAR does nothing which implies they don’t care.

I remember in the aftermath of the 2008 Indy race, Pemberton made the comment that “not every race can be a barnburner”. I thought it was a stupid comment then, I still think so today.

Most race fans know that all races won’t be perfect, but NASCAR continues to show it’s a$$ by insisting that the drivel we see now is the best it can be.

And then there’s BZF at Homestead saying “someone told you they didn’t like the chase?” Hard to believe this is the guy in charge.

NASCAR has reaped what they sowed. They wanted to casual fan and they got it by turning off all the diehards.

07/21/2011 01:28 PM

After Kentucky I used the only vote I have.All Nascar TV broadcasts are turned off for the rest of the season.Might be forever.

Sherri T
07/21/2011 01:37 PM

Great article!

I think all the die hard fans feel the same way. Unfortunately, the casual fans are influenced by the die-hard fans whom they often ask for information and opinions, so even those casual fans are getting a shading of disappointment… it will all fall off in the end!

I’m just frustrated to see that current NASCAR management looks like they want to run the business into the ground rather than try to clean up the mess. Is the whole sport going to have to die out before someone with some brains can take over and make things better again?

Chuck Ellison
07/21/2011 02:30 PM

Its funny, I wrote an article last week that mirrors this one. I have a slightly different take on it, but its still to the same points. I am organizing the fans through twitter and facebook to do something about NASCAR and their “play deaf and dumb” approach. The only way we can change this and get Brian “No Brain” France off the throne is to hit NASCAR in its wallet in a big way….

The Mad Man
07/21/2011 02:45 PM

Great piece Kurt. You said what a lot of fans think and feel.

Don Mei
07/21/2011 02:48 PM

Egomaniacal third generation motorsport geniuses do nothing but destroy motorsports in this country. Tony George singlehandedly almost destroyed open wheeled racing in the US until his family smartened up and booted him. Does the France family have the smarts to do that? We shall see.

07/21/2011 02:58 PM

nas$car is well on the way down the road to self-destruction. Bruton Smith(mis)handled the Kentucky fiasco was shocking in it’s arrogance. Fans who had waited in line for hours (many were turned away) were basically given a huge middle finger by smith. The ticket price is only part of the package. I know, because I’ve driven for hours to attend a race. Hotel prices, food, parking, etc. It all adds up to pricy trip. I’m a one time fanatic of all things nas$car. That’s 30 years+. And then he rubs salt in the wound by saying “ no refund because I don’t want to”. I hope nobody shows up for next years’ Kentucky race. The sad part is that nas$car condones what SMI did. If nas$car doesn’t see (or care about the apathy that’s set in), then the declining fan interest will continue.

No More
07/21/2011 03:37 PM

I am in the same boat as MIracefan. Retired from going to live events. Watch on TV at home, Enjoy backyard. Check race from time to time. Race Over, TV off. Enjoy rest of day. No stress. No traffic jams, No headaches. Sleep very well.Much more money in bank account these days. Let the new generation fan feed the money hungry CA$HCAR and the MILLION & BILLION DOLLAR BOYS CLUB. (STILL I do enjoy the racing and I do like the chase.

07/21/2011 04:40 PM

for several years i drove over 1200 miles by myself to see the knoxville nationals in iowa.
with the state of nascar racing now i would not drive a mile to see a nascar race.
an ex-nascar fan..

07/21/2011 05:17 PM

I literally can’t recall the last time I watched a whole race.

I may catch the beginning or catch the end, but I stopped watching whole races a LONG time ago.

I used to NEVER miss Bristol or Richmond or Martinsville. Now, the only one I will try to make time for is Richmond.

If, like me, you’re pissed at what Nascar has done, then the ONLY way to get them to change is to NOT watch and Don’t buy.

Kevin from PA
07/22/2011 09:25 AM

If NASCAR were a business, it would go the way of Circuit City, Borders, and the other stores that thought they knew what the customer wanted better than those stupid pesky customers.

07/22/2011 06:16 PM

The problems at Kentucky this year were all Bruton and SMI’s fault they moved a race to a track that they knew would not handle the crowd and it was so much as admitted by Bruton when he stated that the fans would get home on Tuesday which he said on Friday before the race. Nascar has to pull the date until all the problems are resolved they should tell Bruton to move the race to another one of his tracks until the problems are corrected. If he refuses then you take the date and move it yourself and never give it back. If the same problems happen next year it is 100% Nascar’s fault because they seen it once and had the power to stop it.

07/22/2011 09:35 PM

I too am like MIracefan. Can’t imagine ever paying to attend a race. Really wanted to take my kids to Nationwide at Michigan, just so they can experience once, but still would spend too much. I tell my wife don’t buy me any merchandise for gifts, because I don’t want to support them. Almost never watch races, for sure not all the laps.

This sport has too much corporate money coming into it. Corporations sponsor the teams. Corps buy advertising that support these stupid TV contracts. And race fans still have high prices. As some past articles on frontstretch have pointed out, a business like Interstate Battery does not have enough gross sales to support a team anymore, but there are still BIG businesses with billions in revenue, that this is just a drop in the bucket. Almost like how the government is ran.

I don’t know. People need to vote with their wallets, and the stands need to be empty.

07/23/2011 09:53 PM

MIracefan hit the one of the nails on the head-I cannot remember the last diecast I bought. I would truly like to know how the diecast and t-shirt business is doing for ALL the drivers. I used to buy all of Dale’s cars plus the specialty paint schemes but the interest isn’t there any more. In fact, for the right price(less than used to be)I would sell everything I own with NA$CAR on right now!!!

07/24/2011 10:54 AM

There’s a silver lining in every cloud. Sitting in your car for hours on end couldn’t have been any more boring than sitting in the stands.
I went to my first race in 1969 (Maryland 400 @ Beltsville Speedway) and have been to countless events since. I watched and/or recorded every race and never missed a lap. Not anymore.
Wild horses couldn’t drag me to a Cup race if I lived within spitting distance of the speedway.

Contact Kurt Smith