The Frontstretch: Winning Back Longtime NASCAR Fans : Part I by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday January 3, 2008

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Winning Back Longtime NASCAR Fans : Part I

Thinkin' Out Loud · Matt McLaughlin · Thursday January 3, 2008


Editor’s Note: This is Part One of a two-part series by Matt McLaughlin on fixing NASCAR’s future. Part Two will be posted Friday.

Towards the end of last season, Brian France gave a press conference concerning the state of the sport of NASCAR. Not unexpectedly, given his position and lack of mental ability, for the most part Mssr. France assured everybody all was well despite the sagging TV ratings and blocks of unsold seats in the grandstands. But France did state that NASCAR was determined to keep and win back the longtime fans who have been the backbone of the sport all these decades, those who have been jumping ship in record numbers over the last few years.

That's a Tectonic shift in corporate policy, as such longtime fans have been routinely ignored and alienated for years now. In the past, NASCAR “corporate think” seemed to be, “Aw, let them old-timers go. There are plenty of folks lined up to grab them seats anyway, and we'll have a better class of wealthier and less rowdy followers at the end of the day.” Well, that didn't work out too well, did it? New fans can be a fickle bunch. The same problems that caused them to give up old interests and sports to give NASCAR a shot can drive them away from stock car racing just as readily. Blame it on MTV, blame it on You Tube, USA Today, the Internet, or whatever else – but it just seems that these days, folks don't have much of an attention span anymore. They want their information and entertainment in bite size-easily digested nuggets. A four hour race after a ninety minute pre-race show that is a thinly disguised infomercial just doesn't cut it in this Brave New World of "what have you done for me in the last five minutes?"

Well as a card-carrying, hidebound traditionalist who also doubles as a saddle-weary and scarred longtime fan, I offer the following pointers to the NASCAR powers that be on winning back the old-timers who once kept your trough full.

Lower Prices – Most longtime fans still work for a living, many of them in “blue collar” jobs. Not to put too fine a point on it, but ticket prices to NASCAR races are fricking obscene these days. It's no longer a choice between a race weekend or a weekend hunting in the mountains, it's become a decision between a race weekend and a summer family vacation. Not only have tickets to Cup races become too expensive, often to get them fans are forced to buy tickets to other events at the track they may not wish to or even be able to attend. So, the first step is to do away with these damned "season ticket" plans in deference to the working man; split it up so fans can pick and choose what they want to do.

Of course, the price of a ticket is only part of the expense of a race weekend. Some tracks, most notably those run by Bruton Smith, have tried to rein in the price gouging of local hoteliers who have resorted to inflated rates and demanded lengthy minimum stays on event weekends. It behooves track general managers to work not only with the hospitality industry but with local Chambers Of Commerce to get costs under control for race fans. Let the local politicians know that if the gouging continues, those coveted race dates might just leave the area all together. To show good faith, those track GMs might want to take a look at their own concession stand prices, which amount to legalized larceny as well. Yes, race tracks can try to wring every last dime they can out of each fan that attends a race – but it's not good for repeat business.

Gimme Back My Cooler – Given the high concession prices noted above, race fans have traditionally packed their own coolers with food, soft drinks, and of course, good ol’ beer. Well, back after the tragedy of 9/11 that right – which many fans and myself consider inalienable – began to erode. Tracks limited the number and size of coolers a party could bring into the stands, claiming that it was in the interest of “security.”

Of course, fans saw right through that gambit and responded with outrage. At least other new tracks didn't even try that ruse; they simply banned coolers altogether, admitting they wanted to force fans to buy at the concession stands. Oddly enough, a lot of those same tracks are having difficulty selling tickets these days. Hmm… could it be that fans have decided if their coolers aren't welcome, they aren't welcome either?

All these years after the fact, let's compare terrorist attacks committed by cooler toting bad guys at the tracks that still allow full size coolers to the tracks that limit the size of coolers or ban them all together. Oddly enough, the score is zero to zero.

Gimme Back My Color – Today's generation of race car drivers contains some incredibly talented individuals. I'm an old timer, but I'm not going to say the latest generation of drivers couldn't run with the heroes of my youth (As long as the newcomers were allowed to have power steering, of course). But it does seem to me that drivers in the days of yore were a lot more colorful and interesting than today's crop of drivers; “old time” fans increasingly complain the new generation of competitors is too vanilla.

I've had a peak behind the curtain, and I know that some of the drivers fans complain are too bland are actually pretty colorful guys, some with wicked senses of humor. But in an era where a driver serves as a corporate spokesperson in a clown suit, they watch what they say and what they do. Even one moment of unguarded emotion could have them fined or even suspended.

At this point, it's time for everyone to loosen up a little. Sponsors need to remember that racing is a physical and emotional sport, not lawn croquet. And NASCAR needs to stop penalizing drivers for every emotional outburst. If drivers want to push and shove each other while discussing one another's ancestry, let ‘em do so. If drivers want to rub and bump on the cool down lane or to discuss an on track incident, let them have some slack within reason. To date, I have seen nothing in the last decade that even approaches the sort of beating and banging Bobby Allison and Richard Petty used to do routinely. That’s a problem, because it was rivalries like that Petty/Allison feud and the one between Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip that put a lot of butts in the grandstands. Naturally, that sort of stuff can't be allowed to happen on pit road – where crew members and officials might be hurt – but on the track, a few instances of bad temper give everyone something to talk about for the rest of the week.

Don’t get me wrong; I'm as uncomfortable as anyone when kids hear bad language on TV (to be frank, if I had kids I might not even own a TV these days). But it is the job of the network censors to keep that language off the air more so than it is that of the driver never to issue a colorful phrase or two after an altercation.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
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
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


©2000 - 2008 Matt McLaughlin and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

JD Bawlsac
01/03/2008 07:59 AM

Is this just smoke and mirrors or does NASCAR have a heart for the fans who brought it to the forefront in the Sports World. The loyalty of the “Old Time” fan needs to be respected and held close to the heart of NASCA
R. They are the foundation that the present day NASCAR was built from. I am planning to spend the money I’ve put aside for going to my “CUP” events this year and buy a Season Pass to my local short track “Wall Township Speedway” it has been there for over 50 years and is really strugling to survive. I’ve been enjoying the racing there for 46 years now. My Dad work in the souvenir stand every Saturday Night when I was 12. I spend every Saturday Night with him watching the local hero’s trade paint and make the hair standup on the back of my neck. I thank my Dad for giving me this great experience to share with him. He’s gone now but those early memories still live on everytime I go to the track. I loved watching the few early NASCAR races on TV with him. Now I’ve been a long time fan that has been disillusioned with the current state of NASCAR. I’m going home where not everything is “PC” but it’s real. I smell, hear and see the past in the local hero’s of today. I hope NASCAR will look back over it’s shoulder and see were it came from and but the heart back in NASCAR.

01/03/2008 08:51 AM

Kudos Matt. Last season I saw feeble attempts at showing a glimpse of rivalry almost weekly. They were so feeble that they appeared to be scripted and more spoiled brat reactions to a minor scrape than anything else. I simply don’t see anything like Yarborough/Waltrip. If today’s drivers are colorful, they sure hide it well. There will have to be major, major changes before I come back full time. I haven’t gotten over Darlington, The Rock, and North Wilksboro yet and I don’t accept Chicago, California, Las Vegas, Texas, and the rape of Atlanta. I certainly don’t accept the poor TV coverage and announcers that are so obviously afraid of NASCAR that they cheer the party line. I don’t accept the obviously uneven enforcement of “rules” either. Things were better when they didn’t even make an effort to enforce much of anythihng. In short it will take more than cheaper tickets and allowing coolers to get me back.

01/03/2008 09:07 AM

Amen and Amen. I’m another “old-timer”, and I could not have said it any better, or clearer. As typical when someone realizes how much money can be made, Nascar got greedy. Tried to replace the common fan with a boutique, and as par for the course, boutiques are for the specialized, and they are numbered in the few. Yes they may have more money, but that doesn’t mean there are more of them. If the average cost of going to a race for the weekend was $250 dollars, instead of 1000-1500, think about how many others could go, and also, how affordable it would be to us “commoners” to hand down this tradition to our kids (by the way that means more money). The only reason I watched nascar was because my dad did, and I wanted to be wherever he was, and into whatever he was. If it becomes less than affordable, eventually, Nascar racing will continue on it’s present course of alienating the common fan and in turn we will hand our dollars over to the grassroot hometown tracks and enjoy racing as a sport again. That may be bad for Nascar, but on the other hand great for our local hometown tracks. I for one, still enjoy Saturday night racing, and I’m sure the local tracks are willing to take my dollar, and give me a better product in return.

01/03/2008 09:54 AM

I agree with all you said Matt. I look forward to part two, because it has to include the LACK of actual racing that we get to see on TV. Thats all I want. You can put in the commercials as long as when it comes back on, we actually see more than one or two cars. There is racing going on- but if they don’t have the right names, they aren’t shown and that’s a LOSS! I don’t like the fancy TV gadgets (colored air and cut away cars). Just show a good race and the rest as they say would be history.

Joe Mama
01/03/2008 10:42 AM

These are all good ideas but the ticket and hotel prices really need to reflect supply and demand forces. The prices are that high because up until a few years ago the stands WERE full. The problem is that now that demand has shrunk why haven’t the ticket prices come down. Greed is the only answer I can come up with.
I can’t wait for the next part of this article because I think the prices are only a small part of the alienation of old NASCAR fans. The REAL issues are with all the changes that have been forced on us in the last 4 years – The Chase, COT, Top 35, later start times, loss of Southern 500 in Darlington, etc, are the real cause of the alienation. These issues are all the result of one idiot’s decision making process whereas the price issue is the result of many individuals decisions (supposedly based on supply and demand).

Barry Kentrup
01/03/2008 11:20 AM

I have a real problem with the cooler issue. My wife and I go to several races each year and have purchased NASCAR sanctioned soft-sided coolers with our favorite driver’s number and colors.

These coolers are not too big and not to small. Someone did a great job of sizing them for a raceday. Mine we use for water and the scanner stuff, stopwatch, binoculars, etc. The wife also carries some water and a few snacks, sometimes a sandwich or two.

These items were designed to go to the races; were purchased after 9/11, and were sanctioned by NASCAR. I want my investment back or permission to take this cooler to the track.

Joshua Woods
01/03/2008 11:41 AM

I agree totally. NASCAR has sold out to the yuppy crowd and now they are regretting pushing out the old diehard fans. There will have to be a lot of changes for most of them to come back. Coolers and ticket prices are the minor ones. I look forward to the next part in the series.

01/03/2008 12:02 PM

Your right on the Money. I used to go to several races a year in the late 80’s and 90’s. We would get a large group together of 8-10-12 ppl and head to a race. We quit in the late 90’s when the cost become out of hand. When it cost 500-800 per person to go see a race at Bristol (because you have to buy both Busch and Who-ever the sponsor of the cup race race is) It was time to call it quits. slowly but surley we just got away from it. I miss it, but I like my money even more these days ! I hardly watch them on TV anymore.

01/03/2008 12:31 PM

I couldn’t agree more. I have purchased a family pass to my local dirt track for half of the price I would normally spend at Las Vegas for race weekend. As for the consession food, I cannot afford it because I have already spent all I could on the tickets. I am also dissapointed in the racing itself, what happened to the actual bumping and banging that use to be a common scene in racing? Has safer racing become boring racing? It has in my book!

01/03/2008 02:04 PM

I use to go to several “races” each year, not any more, it’s too expensive!!! I went to Atlanta in Nov. 06 with FREE tickets, but a “cheeseburger, fries & soft drink” was $13.00, that is totally RIDICIOUS!!! Any local fastfood stop will sell it for $4-5.00 and it’s $13.00 and not as good at the track? I feel very sorry for the folks in NH, since Bruton Smith just paid so much to buy that track, they’ll be paying out the $%# for tickets and food!!! I SAY SCREW GREEDY NA$CAR & the GREEDY TRACKS!!!!!!!

01/03/2008 02:21 PM

you might want to look up the word “Teutonic” …

01/03/2008 02:37 PM

I definitely agree. Most drivers are so vanilla these days. They are afraid to curse or show their anger. Because if they do either, they are fined. People complain about 4-letter words and so forth. Here’s my two-cents about it.


Why should we all have to suffer because of your little brats?

01/03/2008 03:54 PM

Oops. make that “tectonic”

Managing Editor
01/03/2008 04:17 PM

Whoops! Thanks Jon … Matt acknowledged this as well, and I fixed it for future readers.

Thanks everyone for reading and writing in!

01/03/2008 04:50 PM

I agree with you totally. Another reason we “old-schoolers” are leaving the sport in droves is Brian France. His attempt to make NASCAR like the NFL has been a complete failure. Remember when you couldn’t wait for the night race at Bristol? Remember when Dale Sr. was just trying to rattle Terry’s cage? Those days are over now and it’s just another race because the chase has taken the racing away. No one wants to be left out of King Brian’s playoffs. The sad part is that he thinks everything is great. He can just blame the low TV ratings and the empty seats on Dale Jr. not having a good year.

David Taloy
01/03/2008 10:05 PM

Great thoughts Matt, as usual. You left one, NASCAR could begin by weighing the cars AFTER the race with the driver in the car. Seems all of the new drivers have to be little bitty skinny guys. Can’t dare have a big guy in and pay a 100lb weight penalty. Then if you are a little skinny guy you may have to ADD balast to the car to get the weight up to where it has to be. Some dirt tracks still make guys running aluminum heads to add 40 lbs to the front of the car. End the little skiny guys only club

01/03/2008 10:37 PM

I couldn’t agree more Matt. It’s unfortunate that in some arena’s, our country fights for freedom of speech, but in other areas, such as NASCAR, it’s discouraged. This is 43 guys in the most souped up cars known to man, raging testosterone, running for big $$ and bragging rights, and they are supposed to be polite gentleman? Give me a break – do people show up to watch hockey games, or the fights that break out during hockey games? The refs there let them go at it, until somebody gets vulnerable and might get hurt. Why can’t NASCAR do the same?
There has been such a focus on “cookie cutter racing” and to try to “even out the field” that the fun of being industrious and inventive for crew chiefs has gone by the wayside.
We want our good old racing back. Let them bump and bang, let them speak their mind, and for God Sakes, make it fan friendly – if I can watch Track Pass online or HotPass on Direct TV, what do I need to come to a race for?

Freddy F
01/04/2008 07:59 AM

Look what happened to IROC. And even toward the end they actually started to have a little racing going on.

The real problem is that Brainless Brian doesn’t care what happens, so it will never be fixed. I’ve been a season ticket holder (ugh) to several tracks for a long time, this year most are going up for sale on ebay. I’ll go to Darlington where they still appreciate you (no thanks to I$C) and I can’t wait for the ARCA race at The Rock! Yeah, it will be a wreck fest with 50 cars, but at least they are allowed to RACE. And it will be at one of the BEST tracks of old. I doubt they will be giving tickets away ala Cali-bore-nia in an effort to fill the seats…

I see more and more of us still going to the tracks and enjoying what we still can, getting together with others like us, but I also see more and more sitting at their RV at race time watching on TV and having a good ol time. I’m soon to become one of them. I’m sick and tired of the rude “fans” that have jumped on the band wagon the past several years (although with the demise of Bud and the 8 hopefully most of them will disappear too). And hey, as an added bonus I’ll be able to go to the can without standing in line for two hours and missing half the race…

01/04/2008 09:14 AM

Your thoughts are well founded, as well as those of your readers who’ve responded. For me, another old timer, the “event” has lost all of it’s luster and interest. Talk about prices, back just a few years ago, I would take my camper up to New Hampshire for both races, along with a friend and his trailer. From this, a whole bunch of us (wives, kids, other friends) would make a complete weekend out of it, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It was a great show. The Bahre’s then decided to charge for the spots we put the campers on. Did they charge $25? No. $50? Of course not. They went from $0.00 to $100.00! Add that to the cost of the overly priced Sunday and forget it! Now as to the product on the track, I have two issues. As much as I have respect for the operation and it’s owner, the one thing that to me epitomizes the problem with NASCAR is the Hendrick’s operation. Too damn squeaky clean (24 & 48) too damn willing to bend rules (48 last year 24 previous) and the most whinny, complaining drivers on the circuit. They remind me of the guy in high school you beat up just because he’s a d*&k. Lastly, the one thing that drove me away completely is COT. Kill it now or it will end up killing the sport completely. Win on Sunday, what the hell am I going to buy on Monday?

01/04/2008 10:33 AM

Excellent article, as always, Matt! I’ve been a fan since 1988 and had up to 12 sets of tickets in 2001. When the cooler restrictions came down, we got rid of all the ISC tracks except Richmond. Little by little over the next couple of years, we dropped back to only Dover and Martinsville. Then when ISC acquired Martinsville and somehow obtained a liquor license immediately, they managed to ruin that track experience as well. The last time I was there, the people were up and down the aisle the entire race to get beer or overpriced concessions, or just because they were the “new” short-attention span “fans” and couldn’t stay in their seats more than 30 minutes at a time. That pretty much blocked my view from my aisle seats and ruined the race for me. With the Lucky Dog, Chase, etc, we finally dumped all our NA$CAR tickets after 2005. I haven’t regretted one time not being at the track! I still watch most of the races on TV (except for the Labor Day “event” and a few of the new ISC cookie-cutters), but we now spend our money and vacation time attenting 15-17 USAR Hooters Pro Cup races. They don’t charge for camping, the tickets are always $25-$30 and it doesn’t require two days of vacation to get to the races (since they are one-day shows). But the best benefit is that the drivers are regular people and race their hearts out every Saturday night!

Adam B
01/05/2008 10:22 PM

Thank you so much for speaking for the fans who built this sport. As an old school fan It has really been sad to watch this sport become what it is. Please keep these storys coming we need more voice becuase this is what the true fans really want. DO you hear us Brian France?

David Thornton
01/06/2008 07:11 PM

Could have not said it better myself. NA$CAR has forgot ite root fan base. I guess we are like old race tracks. Just shut us down and we will rot away.