The Frontstretch: Critical Mass: Is It Too Late To Save NASCAR? by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday April 26, 2012

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Critical Mass: Is It Too Late To Save NASCAR?

Matt McLaughlin · Thursday April 26, 2012


Over the years many have accused me of wanting NASCAR to fail or even being a part of a media-based conspiracy plotting to undermine and compromise the organization. That’s actually the farthest thing from the truth. After all, watching stock car races is how I’ve spent most Sunday afternoons of my life and I’ve derived a lot of pleasure from the sport. Yes, truthfully, I haven’t gotten a whole lot of joy from the sport over the last several seasons but there’s still that occasional magical afternoon when it all works right. You might have been delighted or devastated or even infuriated by the finish at Martinsville a few weeks back, but you surely weren’t sitting down and surely you recall what I’m talking about.

How many of you remember who won at California’s Auto Club Speedway this year?

In my most pointed tirades against NASCAR I’ve been working as a (minor) agent trying to promote change. I’d like to have today’s fan base, what’s left of it, get the same thrills and fun out of the sport I did particularly during the 80s and early 90s when the sport of stock car racing was enjoying explosive growth. No, I’m not going to tell you every race back in the “good old days” was perfect and there were occasional events in that era that were downright awful. But the ratio of classics to clinkers was a lot greater then than now and NASCAR is paying the price for it.

The sport is now enduring a prolonged contraction and I’m not immune to it. Over the last few years I’ve lost many long term readers who followed me from site to site. Yeah, I lost some of them because they thought I’d gotten too nasty or repetitive, but I lost most of them – some of whom I considered friends – simply because they’ve given up on the sport. I hear from still others who tell me their interest in a sport that once dominated their weekends had dwindled dramatically.

Some say they don’t even watch the races, they just come here to read my recaps to find out what happened.

Everyone in the industry, fans included, keep waiting for things to get better. The championship battle late in 2011 was one for the ages and reignited interest in some of the lost fans and even added new ones to the fold. I was anxious to see if NASCAR could carry that momentum forward into 2011, but even this early in the season that momentum has been squandered.

And truthfully, I’m beginning to think the sport can’t be saved any longer.

It was interesting to me that the overnight television ratings this weekend were off by about twenty percent. Of course they were comparing apples to oranges here. Traditionally this slot in the schedule has belonged to Talladega. Talladega and Kansas swapped dates around this year to give Kansas more time between race dates for their repaving project. Long term readers know I loathe plate racing but my opinion is in the minority, as a lot of fans find the racing at Talladega intense and exciting as well as dangerous.

Kansas is still considered one of “new tracks” on the circuit but it’s been around for awhile now and its one of the tracks many fans call “cookie cutters” (not an affectionate nickname) where they expect the racing will be substandard, there will be few dramatic moments, and the outcome will likely hinge on fuel mileage. Obviously mileage wasn’t a key factor in last Sunday’s race but it very well could have been. With several cars limping around with damaged engines had one them oiled down the track late in the going leading to a green-white-checkered finish the outcome likely would have been entirely different. Even if the new track surface with its variable banking is outstanding and provides markedly better racing it may be too late.

Kansas has already been labeled “boring” and a lot of fans won’t watch the tracks’ races on TV much less consider attending one. My guess is when NASCAR races at Talladega in a couple weeks TV ratings will be up notably for that weekend over whatever race was held on that date last year. Again fans have a perception that the racing is better than average at Talladega.

Speaking of new track surfaces they certainly are all the rage right now, huh?

Speeds at some of the newly repaved tracks, Michigan and Pocono in particular are way up in some early tests. It seems counter-intuitive but the higher the speeds get in auto racing, the worse the actual racing tends to become. That was certainly the case at Atlanta when it was reconfigured into a Charlotte clone and again when it was repaved. So many fans stopped attending Atlanta that Bruton Smith went ahead and cut the historical track back to one date, and there weren’t many fans left crying over the loss of that second date.

When a track is repaved it usually takes a few years for the new surface to weather-in and develop what the drivers tend to call character. Even the track owners admit their newly repaved tracks will only get better with age. So basically those fellows are saying “the racing won’t be very good here for a few years” and they expect fans to show up or watch anyway. By the time these newly repaved track develop “character” are there going to be any fans left in the grandstands around them?

It seems to me that if the track owner decides to repave one of the so called cookie-cutters they ought to go the whole nine yards. Dig up the whole damned thing and start over with a replica of Richmond or Darlington or maybe even some new configuration that hasn’t been tried yet.

Again, once a track develops a bad reputation with the fans you can’t fix things by adding a casino or fancy restaurants to the property. If I wanted to go to a casino I can be in Atlantic City in under two hours with a tailwind. On race weekends I tend to be a burger and beer kind of guy. While many fans still have a deep affection for Bristol as a track that offers up action most of the fans I know who’ve been there have never gone back. The hospitality industry in the area (and rooms are few and far between) have gotten a reputation for gouging the hell out of fans, and the cost of a race weekend has soared beyond the means of NASCAR’s bread and butter fans. Lower ticket prices are nice and much appreciated but they represent only a fraction of what it costs to attend a race with your family or friends.

Then take the track in Sparta, Kentucky. The place sold out last year which resulted in an epic traffic jam and some fans unable to attend the race even after enduring the slow crawl to the track because there was nowhere left to park. The track’s owner, Bruton Smith, bought adjoining property to provide more parking and even got the state of Kentucky to throw in some money to improve nearby highway interchanges in hopes of fixing last year’s disaster. Don’t be surprised if some of those folks who endured the nightmare last year decide to wait a few years before trying again if in fact they ever do.

Again, it’s all about reputation – and bad reputations die hard.

Scenes such as these were once reserved for morning practice on a Friday, not race day. NASCAR’s challenge is two-fold: get people to the track as well as tuning back in.

In Monday’s race recap I listed a few reasons I felt interest in NASCAR was declining. I’d given my four reasons and asked readers to submit any I’d forgotten in the comments section or to me directly. The one factor most people who responded told me, in sometimes profane terms, that I’d overlooked was the horrific quality or lack thereof of the NASCAR race broadcasts.

That makes sense to me and I’ve noticed and bemoaned the same. Tight camera angles that show only one car keep fans from seeing all the action actually going on on track making the races seem all that much boring. Gimmicks intrude on the coverage and annoy the fans who tuned in to watch a race. Pre-scripted story lines that the announcers adhere to even once those story-lines fall apart interrupt the continuity of the coverage of what’s actually going on. The incessant commercial interruptions keep even knowledgeable fans from understanding the ebb and flow of the race. Cutting to commercial even as the cameras document a strong challenge for the lead – in a race with damn few lead changes as it is – frustrates fans.

I don’t want to see that pass in replay with Darrell Waltrip speculating on what both drivers are thinking aloud. I want to see the pass live and I want him to shut up a moment and let me watch what’s going on. Frankly ,the whole Waltrip Brothers comedy tandem stunk like month old sardines about a minute after it started. FOX finally got rid of that damned gopher, but DW apparently never got the memo. The blatant favoritism Michael shows towards his own race teams (which should have precluded his being hired as a commentator) and the steady string of love sonnets Darrell sings to the Hendrick teams is in and of itself enough to get both Waltrips on a leash. At very least dump that whole “Boogity…..” chant at the start of every race. DW seems to find it necessary to remind everyone that tuned in to see “the show” that he is in fact the show.

The last time Darrell Waltrip did something of note on a race track, I was still smoking grass – not watering it.

The milk’s gone bad. Might it be time for some new blood in the booth after 11 seasons of Boogity’s, and Co-opetition?

Why is TV and the quality of race broadcasts so important to NASCAR and its future? Even at tracks that still put a large number of butts in the seats, the fact remains that most people who partake of a race will do so electronically either on the TV or through one of those other new-fangled electronic methods I don’t indulge in. Some will argue that TV simply can’t broadcast our sport, and that every race will always be more exciting at the track than on TV. I don’t disagree with that, but I know of no-one who could afford much less would attend all 36 points races. TV coverage of the races is also critically important to the track’s future health. Newer fans watching races on TV that present the excitement and drama of our sport might someday decide its time they attend their first race live to get in on the action. If FOX makes stock car racing look boring with little passing, who’s going to be tempted to lay down all that coin to go to the races?

So what’s the solution to bad NASCAR TV coverage? Unfortunately, there appears to not to be one.

The ratings are down, yet NASCAR wants more money from their broadcast “partners” to continue presenting these races. Less eyeballs on the TV screens at a higher cost means FOX and the other broadcast networks need to run even more commercials to make the finances work. I’ve been told by people close to the situation that FOX in particular loses money on every race broadcast they run. The feeling is that upside is that they get to promote their Sunday night and weekday prime-time programming to such an extent during races that it even outs.

Wow, talk about a shaky business model.

Or maybe the FOX executives are just like everyone else waiting for things to get better. Sadly, I’m becoming more convinced every day that turn around is never going to happen. Disco had its era. Blockbuster had its era. Bowling was once a big draw back in the days of black and white TV, with just three networks to choose from. The powers that be in NASCAR got so drunk on the limelight during those years of explosive growth they can’t even admit the good ship we’ve been sailing on is listing decidedly to port.

Ready the lifeboats folks, this ship is going down.

The Frontstretch Newsletter, back in 2014 gives you more of the daily news, commentary, and racing features from your favorite writers you know and love. Don’t waste another minute – click here to sign up now. We’re here to make sure you stay informed … so make sure you jump on for the ride!

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!

MJR in Springfield, VA
04/26/2012 07:45 AM

Matt I used to attend 5 – 8 races a year…The Rock, Bristol, Dover, Vegas, and Richmond were my usual haunts. I remember watching the first televised Daytona 500 on a black and white TV. Right now, we have tickets to both races at Bristol remaining in our clutches. This year we had to pass on the spring race due to overall cost and we had to eat the tickets to boot.

You hit the nail on the head several times in your article. Most (of those that are left) TV watchers can’t stand the Waltrips in the booth – what a joke! Turn them off and turn MRN on. I’d give a right lug nut to stuff a sock in DW’s motor mouth at the start of each race. His “B…B…B…” rant is ridiculous, worn out, and should be shelved. He even asked the fans a couple years back what they thought and overwhelmingly they said kick to the curb – not once but twice. His response “….oh my website was hacked and that accounted for the responses being off…..” What a bucket of hog slop.

And regarding the tracks, well I was one in the minority that liked the new racing at the new Bristol track. I thought it was a hell of a lot more exciting watching cars run side by side at speed than watching them piled up in a corner resulting in a mindless number of caution laps. If as a “race fan” that’s what you want to see – head to your local demolition derby track – hell, that’s all they do, all night long…..jump on it Sparky.

Hopefully the powers to be; NA$CAR, SMI, the sponsors, and all the folks that make this behemoth run will figure it out before they kill their beloved cash cow.

04/26/2012 07:55 AM

FACT: I can sit in a lawn chair with a packed cooler next to I-40 east heading out of Nashville on any weekday and see more exciting action than most Nascar races.

NO. I don’t want to see wrecking. What I want to see is hard side by side racing for the lead and the win.

If that means shorter races then so be it. I would rather watch an hour of intense racing than three hours of single file “points racing”.

I am SO SICK of the Nascar brass telling me that things are great. NO IT’S NOT! The chase, the top 35….it’s not working. It’s phony baloney BS.

Two years ago my 17 year old step son started showing some interest in Nascar and was asking questions. After explaining to him how the chase works (it took three tries), he said “that’s crap” and hasn’t thought twice about Nascar since.

04/26/2012 08:10 AM

I also liked the new Bristol, but then again, I like long green flag runs because they allow the fast cars to take over. The past several years, NASCAR has tried to keep as many cars on the lead lap so there can be a big shootout when they throw a caution near the end of the race. That usually just ruins several of the fast cars and allows someone who didn’t lead all day steal a win.

The television broadcasts have been terrible for years. I was at the “boring” Texas race earlier in the year, but I thought it was a great race. I was watching certain drivers come up through the field and there was passing and action all over the track. There are several big screens in the Texas infield, but every time I looked up, they were just showing Jimmie Johnson making laps. They need to go back to just showing what is happening on the track and going through the field more often. Any time a car used to pull off the track for any reason, they would show it and give an update. They ignore anyone running worse than 15th now, unless it’s a big name that had some trouble and fell back.

04/26/2012 08:45 AM

I am a long time fan and find that my interest in NASCAR is less and less with easch race. My girlfriend has sat with me as she is interested in seeing what the attraction is to racing. After about the third race she turned to me and said do they always talk down to the viewers!…What do you say to that? She is right.

04/26/2012 10:33 AM

Count me as one who likes the new Bristol… The race between Kenseth and Keselowski was great, reminded me of the old days of Pearson and Petty, using lapped traffic just right, side-by-side, the odd little bump ‘n rub, great stuff.

I desperately miss real race coverage. The only good coverage NASCAR gets these days is on TNT, with Dallanbach… And, go figure, they only cover like 4-5 races? Before handing it back to another train wreck.

I also really like the Truck coverage on SPEED… Even DESPITE Michael Waltrip. Other than his constant plugging of the Aaron’s Lucky Dog, I find him a little bit more restrained on these broadcasts, maybe Rick and Phil calm him down a bit. And Ray Dunlap is still the best pit road reporter working today not named Dick.

I miss the days of Ned Jarrett. I miss the days of Benny Parsons. And remember Eli Gold and Buddy Baker’s coverage on TNN for half the races? They were great too.

I despise the FOX broadcast and I get the feeling I’d enjoy the races more if I muted it and listened to MRN like some people do…

But as many have mentioned before, it’s not JUST the commentators… It’s their obsession with only sticking with the top 2-3 cars, and their obsession with tight camera angles and in-car views for lap after lap after lap after lap after lap after lap… I WANT TO SEE THE RACE, NOT JIMMIE JOHNSON DRIVING IN CIRCLES!!

I think back even to the late 90s, and you’d see, at all times, large swathes of the track on your screen most of the time. The camera switched between packs, and used the shots from the blimp a LOT. Even a race for 18th place, if it was a good one, was shown, and Benny or Ned would MAKE you interested in it.

Maybe the racing IS still good, overall—we just aren’t seeing it!

The only 1.5 mile race I ever watch is Charlotte, because it sometimes still has good racing. The rest I never bother to tune into. Nor California, or Pocono, and Indy is horrific. I no longer “follow” NASCAR race to race, I instead pick the good races to watch: Bristol, Richmond, Martinsville, Dover, the road courses, Darlington. And the Nationwide and Truck races at Iowa, which is a GREAT racetrack.

But despite all that, I’d still enjoy it if it weren’t for a dozen OTHER things creating a perfect storm…

1. The new car was, and still is junk, the aero push has gotten so bad. The proof? Watch the Nationwide race at California, a track that’s supposed to be AWFUL for racing, but there were 6 cars dicing for the win back and forth at the last race.

2. Stroking… Everyone needs to get in the Chase now, so instead of going for wins, they stroke their way to top 10s until it’s go time. Single races, other than Daytona, are now MEANINGLESS. In some ways that takes away from wins by guys like Reagan Smith, because you have to wonder if the “big guys” behind him were content to sit there and not race him hard for that win.

3. The races are too damn long. Back in the glory days cars were massively unreliable, and since they were still somewhat stock, that was a FEATURE of the races… To see which manufacturer brought the car that could OUTLAST everyone. With cars as reliable as they are not, three quarters of the race is now spent “riding around” to kill time.

Have you ever heard of a World of Outlaws driver “riding around?” No. It’s go time, ALL the time.

The reason this doesn’t happen in other forms of racing, like LeMans? Because caution flags are very, very rare. You can “ride around” in a NASCAR race because hey, you’re losing time to the leader? No problem, caution flies. You lose your lap? No problem, lucky dog or wave-around. The 24 Hours of LeMans, as the drivers will tell you, has turned into a 24 hour sprint race because of the cars’ reliability now, so the pace is intense and exciting. They’re going all-out every lap.

Watch a Truck Series race some time. It sucks that they’re racing on more and more 1.5 mile ovals every year, but even on THOSE tracks the racing is better than Cup. Why? because the race is 200 miles, you need to get up on that wheel and take every spot you can. Only two-three pit stops to improve the Truck, not 8-10.

4. Tires that don’t fall off. While the Hoosier/Goodyear wars were TOO far in the other direction, the fact is that if NASCAR had a tire that became truly difficult to drive after, say, 10 laps, the racing would be much more interesting and unpredictable. Just look at F1 and what it’s done for them. Many NASCAR drivers have said this.

5. Believe it or not, I’m NOT one of those who think the cars should be STOCK… Had NASCAR gone the way of STOCK cars in the mid 70s when the energy crisis hit, we’d be watching FWD Corollas and Dodge Neons racing Daytona today. NASCAR had a decision to make: stick with badass RWD, V8 sedans and start to deviate from stock, or go the route of economy cars. I’m glad they chose the V8/RWD route. BUT, I still believe they should be running stock BODIES, so that the public can identify with the manufacturers. It hasn’t been that way since the Aero-Coupe Monte Carlo days. Though it looks like the new Charger is a step in the right direction (if anyone bothers to race it.)

I’m not sure NASCAR’s decline bothers me as much as a lot of people, because I try hard to find any and all other forms of stockcar racing to watch to get my fix. You want real racing, you can still find it in the ASA, NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, NASCAR Camping World Trucks, Supermodifieds, and your local short track… And of course, the World of Outlaws Late Models and Sprints. There’s a reason Tony Stewart still races them every chance he gets…

04/26/2012 10:35 AM

wow, that was a long rant. Hope it’s good reading…

just talking
04/26/2012 10:53 AM

Nice article – thanks

Here is my rant. (And it is shorter than at first.)

I thought Red Bull’s departure from Nascar spoke volumes about the future. Red Bull lives off a particular young adult demographic, and probably knows it very well.

As far as TV, I join those so very sick of DW. Don’t get me started on his brother. But I also think none of the networks do a good job visually. Is is possible Nascar is like hockey – it just doesn’t translate that well to TV? There must be a way to bring side by side excitement to TV, I would think anyway.

The Chase has hurt racing in so many ways. On any given day a number of teams are just experimenting. A number are just playing safe and counting points.

Bowles pointed out yesterday that most teams will not sniff a top 5 or top 10. In baseball, the Orioles will not win a World Series, but they can still take 2 of 3 from the Yanks.

I prefer short tracks. It seems most fans do. We grew up going to our local track, and in most cases that meant short tracks. It stands to reason as we get older, we prefer short tracks. Why does Nascar insist on adding bigger tracks? Now we have a few bucks in our pocket and not sneaking in. Maybe listen to us?

Short track racing usually means side-by-side and “who wants it more” racing. Exciting for me. It seems a mile and quarter is about tops.

My guess is that the COT has hurt racing, although it is just a guess. Down-force racing certainly has hurt – badly.

Growing a business means trying to add new customers. But you cannot antagonize the customers that got you going. Plus they are usually the most passionate. Nascar has failed in attracting new customers, and (double whammy) antagonized the ones that got them started.

Cater to the fans that got you here. You will add more fans anyway, and they will be truer.

04/26/2012 11:00 AM

ironically, while driving into work this morning i got the itch to drive to ‘dega next weekend. however, the itch was overruled by the ad volorum tax that i have to pay for my car tag in 2 weeks. i’ll get the itch again next week when i see the haulers heading west on i-20, but i’ll hold only my dollars.

reading about the changes to bristol reminds me of the levigating that was done at charlotte a few years ago. have a feeling it will be horrible.

friends of mine are headed to charlotte area this weekend, i asked why they didn’t go up in a few weeks for the allstar race or 600….they all but said it’s not worth spending the money and time to get in and out of the track.

i do enjoy truck races, even with “MW” in the booth. maybe cause “MW” doesn’t have a dog or two in the fight.

i have fought for years leaving the sport i scheduled my life around on weekends. now, i just check in at beginning, middle and end of race, or it’s on and i’m doing other things. friends who are/were fans have left as well.

they’ve been giving away tickets to the labor day race here in ams since january.

all i’ll say is i hope brian france is happy.

04/26/2012 12:05 PM

I am like many of your readers. Have stopped watching on tv. Just read a column like yours to see what really happened. Nascar has become a burden to watch,so why punish yourself for hours and call it entertainment. Nascar died some years back, they just have not picked the body up yet.

04/26/2012 12:35 PM

Here is my opinion on why I am no longer excited about NASCAR as I was once.
1. COT – what is it, the ugliest thing on wheels, for me it resembles a large go-cart with a roof on it. IROC died because no sponsor wanted to take on such racing with the same car same set-up and same problems as COT.
2.Chase system. Practically there are about 20 COTs that can win a race. When someone blatantly states that it was a good points day finishing 10th, I ask why the hell are you racing, I thought to win was reason.
3. There is no racing, due to the tires, aero-push, the COT, a COT gets into the lead and away they go.
4. Cautions purposely flown to bunch the cars back up due to no.3
5.Drivers afraid to say or do anything in case they get fined by NASCAR or worse fired by the owner and loose all those millions they are being paid…got to be all positive whether it is the truth or not.
6. DW, loved him as a driver, but man get him out of the booth.Mikie, what is doing there, so bias that it is unbelieveable, no owner should be calling the race. Can one imagine Jack Rouse being in the booth or Hendricks…I do not think so.
7. Grew up in Charlotte, but I am now loving F1 and IZOD series. I love the idea of two tire compounds and the stategy of when to use the compound…the racing is exiting and the announcers are informative….they also will state negative comments from time to time unlike DW where everything NASCAR is perfect. DW in your horrible English ‘it ain’t’. That is another point, why do the announcers not have a command of the english language, it makes them appear very stupid when they make up words and cannot complete a sentence properly.

04/26/2012 12:52 PM

I believe NASCAR can be saved, but two things need to happen:

The broadcasts HAVE to improve, and if that means muzzling boogity then so be it. In the few races I’ve tuned into, I watch and wonder how many potential new fans tuning in will get fed up with constantly being sold products to before they tune into something else. It sure doesn’t take me long anymore…the coverage of the race has always been abysmal since Fox took over and they’ve only gotten worse.

And dump the Chase already, for heaven’s sake, how could NASCAR fans make it any clearer how much they hate it? Poll after poll shows this, and then NASCAR shuts down the polls and tells us it’s great. Total tone-deafness, and it’s been the root of their downfall, especially when it comes to Brian France’s biggest “innovation”.

04/26/2012 01:12 PM

Tyler said, “The past several years, NASCAR has tried to keep as many cars on the lead lap so there can be a big shootout when they throw a caution near the end of the race. That usually just ruins several of the fast cars and allows someone who didn’t lead all day steal a win.”

That’s the same way I have felt for years. Races are actually more exciting with fewer cars on the lead lap, because the leaders feel more free to go with different strategies late in the race knowing that they won’t end up finishing 25th if they make a bad call.

5 or 6 years ago, I loyally watched the top 3 NASCAR series race every weekend, plus most of the extra shows on SPEED. This year, other than catching a few minutes of a race here and there, I haven’t watched anything. I check the results on Monday morning and sometimes read Matt’s article to find out what happened. More often than not, I learn that I haven’t missed much.

I think the #1 problem is the tracks. Other things may need changing, too, but 1.5-mile tracks are still probably going to be boring. It’s simple logic: Short tracks are shorter, so the cars stay closer together. Bring back more short tracks!

Greg Maness
04/26/2012 01:13 PM

For the ump-teenth time I have apparently channeled Matt McLaughlin in my sleep. The man writes (almost) everything I am thinking.

MJR in Springfield, VA
04/26/2012 01:24 PM

I came back to see what other had to say. So here’s the metrics (stuff-by-the-numbers). I have to use that word in my big-boy job. Around my shop at home we call it counting stuff…..

*Hates the COT – 3 *The Waltrips – For – 1/2 Against – 3

  • Watch other forms of racing – 2
  • Hate the Chase – 3
  • Stopped watching – 1
*Stopped going – 2
  • Liked the new Bristol – 3
  • Hated the new Bristol – 0
*TV coverage sucks – 3

And the good stuff….

*Loves NA$CAR – 0 *Can’t wait for the next race – 0 *Will go to more races this year – 0 *Loves the COT – 0 *Loves the Chase – 0

Pretty sad state of affairs for NA$CAR one would think. I know people love to bitch, but one would think that in the above 9 posts (including mine) there would be some positive spin, some glimmer of hope, something sounding good. Nope!

You know, I wonder if NA$CAR has someone sitting in a room somewhere reading all this stuff? I’m guessing if they do he’s telling lots of little white lies to the bosses at NA$CAR. Goes something like this…. NA$CAR boss “So, from all your reading today are the fans still happy little camper?” NA$CAR pee-on “Yep boss, they are just dancing a jig and think we are the greatest.”

Wayne T Morgan
04/26/2012 01:29 PM

First I grew up watching dirt track racing and went to my first NA$CAR race at Nashville in 1969 even had a road runner like Petty! And over the years would go to ‘dega allot but in the last few years have gone backto dirt. Action, cost of tickets, hotel rooms and just the non stop action and amount of cars the show up. Yeah i still like it(NA$CAR) but can do without motor mouth and his brother or any one else like them Hammond in there too. Change? Open the rules back up, different body styles, change points back, more short tracks. That might help. But as I said nothing can touch a WOO show late model or sprints on a good fast 3/8th mile track.

Andy D
04/26/2012 02:24 PM

I agree with everything that’s been said here. If this were a corporation, the CEO would have been pushed out after several years of declining numbers. We know that won’t happen with the France family, so Mike Helton has to go. Something HAS to change.

TV? it was more satisfying to see the Southern 500 presented in three 10 minute segments twenty minutes apart on Wide World Of Sports than what we have today. Darrell’s contract was recently renewed, so I know that the network won’t change for the better this year or next.

04/26/2012 03:32 PM

I can’t disagree with any of the posts so far. And Matt, you’ve definitely touched a nerve.

In my opinion the overall issue is that NASCAR has left its ‘charm’ factor completely in its quest to ‘grow the sport’. The racing is as homogenized as its sponsors now. There’s no room for the small guy anymore – he doesn’t have enough dollars. So, NASCAR started to cater to the bigger sponsors – such as with the top 35 rule.

In order to exploit other avenues of income, the television rights were propagated from the tracks to NASCAR so that they could package the ‘product’ for television, radio, and digital media. I remember reading a Q&A with the then-CEO of XM Radio when NASCAR was moving from them to Sirius (back when they were competitors!). The person asked why XM was letting them go – the response was that the first 5 year agreement was $15M. When the deal was up for renegotiating, the 5 year fee was up to $123M. XM said bye…

I can’t pretend to know whether the TV deal has worked out for all the ‘partners’ (despite their unified positive public stance); but, in a sport that was always mocked for sticking a logo on almost everything, today’s level of sponsor encroachment is insideous. Fuel is now ‘Sunoco Race Fuel’, does anyone really care about the current running order of the ‘Coke Family Drivers’? Or the ‘Gillette Young Guns’? What the hell is a ‘Visa Race Break’? Can a driver be an ‘Old Spice Lap Leader’ if he uses a different deodorant? The high water mark (or low tide, if you prefer) was the whole ‘mention money’ debacle the first season with the new partners.

Fans used to relate to the drivers – they were typically home spun people who had families and bills like the rest of us. And they got to drive a car real fast for a living. They paid their dues in lower series, and earned the right to prove themselves in the top series once they got a break. Hard working people could relate to that “reward for effort” scenario.

I wouldn’t blame Jeff Gordon for this; but, his success – both on and off the track – seems to have changed that model forever. Teams started to compete for sponsor attention by bringing up some new young driver that might really need a few seasons in a lower series to build some racing chops before being thrown into a situation where they were over their head. Sort of like letting high school kids go directly to pro sports like the NFL or NBA. It can work out – but, there are usually many failures for every success. (Many people may not realize that Jeff was a very successful BGN driver before his move to Winston Cup – yes, I said it!)

Owners started getting impatient waiting for these drivers to work out – and being unable to attract (or retain) sponsors as a result. Jeff himself once said that with number of cars he wrecked in his first few years racing for Hendrick, he would not have lasted as long as he did if he’d come along a few years later.

The overall effect is that money has changed the sport. No longer can we stay at small tracks that offered the same kind of Southern hospitality that existed in the past – fans were demanding better food, luxury boxes, bigger and faster tracks, and more amenities (casinos?).

It is my opinion that NASCAR has been in a frantic push to satisfy sponsors over the last few seasons – to the detriment of the history of the sport. I don’t think NASCAR needed to stay in every 1/3 mile dirt track they ever raced on – but, I think that Wilkesboro could have been updated on the existing track footprint – and I will never really understand why the series needed to leave Rockingham. To free up a race date for facility that has twice as many seats – but 2/3 are unsold?

Of course, maybe NASCAR was due for a market correction anyway, and had they stayed on the schedule happy memories of those two tracks would also be soiled by pitiful attendance as well. It happened to Bristol – and that was always considered the epitome of a NASCAR event to attend.

04/26/2012 03:45 PM

Lets look at it this way. Go back a few years to a little one car team with no engineers, no 7 post rig, three brothers building the cars and crewing them at the track, one brother doing the engines, one doing the trans and rear gears, the other, the driver and suspension builder, one day they found themselves two and a half laps down. No lucky dogs, no cautions to help them regain laps, but they were racers to the core, back they came going not for points for some stupid artificial chase spot but for the win. They never considered riding around pissing and moaning over their bad luck that day, they were racers.
Who in the booth today would have followed that teams progress making up those laps without cautions? What driver or team today could equal that run. What you’d hear today would be Larry or Mike saying something like, where did he come from, he was two laps down, DW wouldn’t say anything cause he hadn’t noticed. But then having been shown what this driver had done he’d say something like, there’s my buddy, I knew he could do it. He should be in a HMS car. IMO NASCAR took a totally wrong turn the day this team was called into Bill Jr’s office and told not to stink up his show. Then came the greed and dollar worshiping that is NASCAR today, the over engineering of the cars, the unidentity of the cars, the four car mega teams. For myself I miss that team from little Dawsonville, I miss the innovators like Smokey and those like him. I don’t like that NASCAR has eliminated the innovators and innovations that have always made racing, racing. Just imagine how good Chad would have been back then. IMO NASCAR has castrated everything that made them what they once were. Now those small teams that were once the foundation of NASCAR are belittled as start and parker’s. Someday we may all get lucky and someone in the ivory tower in Daytona might just notice what they have done to a once great sport that had a fan base like no other.

04/26/2012 04:48 PM

Nascar apparently doesn’t understand just how important a good race telecast is to attracting/keeping fans in the stands at races. My interest in Nascar began with those 20 minute segments on Wide World. I had never heard of Nascar before then, no one in my family had a interest, yet somehow, watching those few minutes of racing gave me an interest, then a love for the sport. I still remember how excited I was when ESPN announced they would be televising the entire race season. It was the excitement of those broadcasts (yes, even with the leader one or two laps ahead of the field!) that eventually got me into a seat at Martinsville, and season tickets at Bristol. I gave up my Bristol tickets 2 years ago. First the ‘chase’, and then the COT castrated what had been the most exciting track on the circuit. Now, instead of being incommunicado in front of every race on TV, I occasionally catch glimpses of the race while I spend more of my time finding other things to do on Sunday afternoons. If something isn’t done to up the quality of the TV coverage, Nascar will be back on local dirt tracks soon.

04/26/2012 04:49 PM

Now I have been struggling through this season just like everyone else, Kansas and Texas were awful. The Waltrip brothers are grating, but I dont think NASCAR is dying as everyone thinks it is. Somehow we have this belief that everything was awesome in the 1990’s or even further back. It wasn’t there was some really bad racing, we only remember the greatest races forgetting the snoozers. There are improvements to be made to the points system and tires, but there needs to be a realization that in a flagging economy and with more entertainment choices than ever before it may be kind of crazy to think a track or sport can fill 110,000 seats every week.

It is my belief that the points should be totally front loaded. If you dont finish in the Top 10 no points. If you aren’t in the Top 10 you have to time into the field. A winner would get 30 points and the 10th place finisher would get 1. The premium currently on winning isn’t high enough.

My biggest gripe with FOX is that they don’t treat us like we know anything. Watching Speed’s F1 coverage they talk about new technology and new rules put forth by the FIA. I’m not an expert on cars, and couldn’t have pointed out a rear difuser before watching the coverage, but was educated while watching. I’m sure people who may be tuning in randomly will not get turned off because they dont fully understand something. Larry McReynolds and Mike Joy are good, and dont come off as blithering idiots like DW. The fix is to bring in a new former driver without the catch phrases, and talk to us like we have actually watched a race before.

We got off to a rough start with rain and jet dryers in Daytona. Martinsville was a classic even if the caution came out for a crazy reason. We are coming up to some of the best tracks on the circuit Talladega, Darlington, and Richmond. I say hold the faith, because really I dont want to give up on the one thing my wife doesn’t bother me while i’m watching it on Sunday.

Brian France sucks
04/26/2012 05:24 PM

Here’s my take:

1. The CoT is a pathetic excuse for a racecar, with very little leeway for ingenuity to make better

2. Goodyear brings the worst tire to the track of any of the major racing series. If the France family wasn’t greed-driven, they’d be open to brining in other tire suppliers. Alas, they have ,“The exclusive tire provider of NA$CAR…”

3. The racing broadcasts are pathetic. Fox is easily the worst. However, for my money Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty are the best out there right now.

4. The main reason is the current track selection. Greed ruined the schedule, as the Frances and Bruton could build more seats around pathetic, big tracks and rake more money. The 1.5’s, save Atlanta, Homestead, and Charlote, are abominations. California is worse. Pocono and Michigan need 1 race apiece. Iowa, Rockingham, and another shorter track (I loved Wilkesboro) need race dates, and possibly two. any new track added to the schedule needs to be less than 1 mile in length. Fans want racing, not a high speed sponsor parade.

5. NA$CAR is killing sponsorship opportunities by finding an “offical” everything of NA$CAR. Several teams could be funded off of what they rake in, effectively improving the racing and eliminating start and park teams. But then again, the France family is in the business of maximum profit, not sustainable growth.

04/26/2012 05:36 PM

Am I the only one who thinks that the leader of nASCAR and North Korea are the same person.

D . E .Tyson
04/26/2012 05:51 PM

Na$car broadcasting by the Waltrips has stopped my viewing of the “shows” If it had to compete with college football weekly I think it wouldn’t survive .

Annie Mack
04/26/2012 05:52 PM

Holy crap! I don’t think I’ve ever seen an article generate so many long-winded responses. I agree with everyone about everything EXCEPT the new Bristol. I liked it the way it was.

Doug in Washington (State)
04/26/2012 06:35 PM

Last year, I proposed a points system that would work to reduce the “points racing”/riding. It awarded points to the top 15: 95, 71, 53, 40, 30, 23, 17, 13, 10, 7, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Each position is worth approx 75% of the one ahead of it. Then add 5 for leading, 5 more for leading the most.

It would basically force drivers to shoot for at least a top 10, and riding around with wounded cars for a 28th place finish wouldn’t be worth it.

Of course, I would jettison the chase too. But the above points system would work in one anyway.

For the cars, the COT is bad but I didn’t like the prior ones either. Anything after around 1995 was too much of a spec “Dust Buster” aero mess. If you want to get rid of the “Aero Push” problem, you need to get rid of the aero grip. You do that by jacking the cars up in the air- 6-8” static clearance, 3-5” at the bump stops. Get air under the cars. That will make them handle horribly, but they won’t act much different in clean/dirty air because they’ll be bad all the time. Puts the control on the driver. You then can’t run these rock-hard tires. Soft, high-wear tires are the order.

But, what do I know. The closest track to me is a 16-hour or so drive, and it’s Sonoma.

04/26/2012 06:36 PM

Fox could save as lot of money if they dumped the Waltrips and the “Hollywood Hotel.” That name says it all.

04/26/2012 06:46 PM

The Emperor is naked. Unfortunately, as much as fans who really care have tried to tell him he is naked, the sad truth is he has also proved to be deaf.

BTW: Under the Waltrip Rule announced yesterday at Bristol if you are not able to boast a sufficient number (the actual threshold number is secret) Twitter followers your opinion does not matter and will not be considered.

Obviously, as well, under the Waltrip Rule if you are not on Twitter you do not exist.

And now a song fragment.

(This goes out to Darrell):

“…You will obey me while I lead you
And eat the garbage that I feed you
Until the day that we don’t need you
Don’t got for help…no one will heed you
Your mind is totally controlled
It has been stuffed into my mold
And you will do as you are told
Until the rights to you are sold

That’s right, folks..
Don’t touch that dial

I am the slime from your video
Oozin along on your livinroom floor

I am the slime from your video
Cant stop the slime, people, lookit me go”

Boogity. Boogity. Boogity.

(w/apologies to Mr. Zappa)

sylvia richardson
04/26/2012 07:20 PM

THE only reason i still watch nascrap is because of MARK MARTIN. LOVED THE DAYS WITH DAVID PEARSON. BUT they are long gone.What they [nascar needs most is to {SHIP} THAT DANG BRAIN OVER SEAS. HE NUTS.

04/26/2012 08:20 PM

I am sorry,I still love to watch my NASCAR racing .I don’t really understand you “FANS” that don’t watch any more.Don’t understand how you can ever call yourself a fan! I do agree 2 Waltrips in the same day is just way too much.No announcer should be calling a race when they are connected in any way to car or Driver’!

04/26/2012 08:58 PM


04/26/2012 09:40 PM

Great column, Matt. As for me, I totally agree with all the comments here – except for Bette’s. Sorry, if the product is bad, you don’t blame the consumer (fans), the manufacturer (NASCAR) corrects the problems if it wants to keep the customers. Coca Cola is the best example I can think of – they introduced “new Coke” to much fanfare and people HATED it. Coke didn’t say too bad for you, you’ll drink it and like it. They said, gee we made a mistake AND went back to making a product people liked.

Ancient – love the ditty! NASCAR, Fox, DW AND the drivers need to take a few minutes and do a reality check. When fans who watched and spent their hard earned money for years say what they think the problems are, maybe someone should shut up and listen instead of whining that the “fans don’t understand”.

04/26/2012 11:14 PM

Can’t understand why Brian
is making a mockery of the
organization his dad &
grandpa had so carefully
maintained? Perhaps Helton
needs to go at this point,
JMO!!! Also I don’t mind
Mikey,but it’s DW that needs some toning it

04/27/2012 12:06 PM

This spiral started with the first blurred sponsor decal on AJ’s Conseco car on day 1 of Fox at Daytona and has progressed to this. Fox is probably driving down the ratings to make the next contract worth less money (not less commercials). I am glad that DW was a racer, otherwise he has no purpose. Maybe if what is shown as racing on TV was something that resembled what you see at the track, the fans would not be running like someone yelled fire. Remember the good old days when the color commentators only commented? Sorry for the ramble but you struck some nerves. Good job Matt

04/27/2012 12:23 PM

Geez, I dont’ know where to even begin. I was a pretty die-hard fan throughout the 2000s. In the past 3 years or so, my interest has ALMOST disappeared. I can’t put my finger on any one thing (having two young kids pretty much kills my free time on the wknds). Overall, I find NASCAR incredibly….boring. Any of the so-called cookie-cutter tracks? I don’t even bother to tune in. I Tivo the rest of the races…and I typically will watch the last 20 laps. So far, I haven’t missed much, if anything.

People complain about the broadcasts. Well, I for one would like to see the HOUR-LONG pre-race shows disappear. Who needs that and who has TIME?

Frankly, I prefer to watch F1 and Rolex Sports Cars now. MUCH more interesting week after week, year after year. Judging by the NASCAR attendance, I’m not alone. I’m sorry I can’t offer much in the way of solutions, but bringing tracks like the Rock back may help a bit. Maybe. The problem is that too much money started flowing into the sport.

04/27/2012 05:18 PM

NASCAR is boring because:

1. The personality is gone because of multi-car owners. How many cars does Rick Hendrick touch? Owners of multi-teams was part of the beginning of this down fall. Fewer owners does nnot a good race make.

2. COT – I want to see a driver “man handle” a race car, not complain because it has an aero “something”. Chevrolet vs Ford?

3. The politics of NASCAR & sponsors. Be nice and pretend you are happy. Passion is gone. If a driver has a bad day, he disappears in his jet plane back to the mansion on the hill.

4. 1-1/2 mile cookie-cutter tracks are the worst. DO NOT WATCH. They should be against the law.

5. Cannot believe my trips to a race are down to 2 a year & there are races I don’t even get out of the motorhome. SAD – We planned to retire and travel from track to track. No longer, I will keep on working!

04/27/2012 10:02 PM

“For those of you tuning in who are new to NASCAR…”

Give it up! Those people are never tuning in again. People aren’t stupid. If you continue to treat them as if they are, you are way too arrogant and condescending to be allowed to participate in a profitable endeavor at any level.