The Frontstretch: NASCAR Mailbox: Leffler, Less Seats, And Loyalty by Summer Bedgood -- Thursday June 20, 2013

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NASCAR Mailbox: Leffler, Less Seats, And Loyalty

Summer Bedgood · Thursday June 20, 2013

 

So … who is excited for some road course racing this weekend??

Now stop. You. Yes … you. Raising your hand. Would you have been raising your hand, say, five years ago?

If you answered “no”, you are one of the many race fans, reporters, industry members, etc. who are friends of mine that feel the same way. I, too, hated road course races, thought that two races was way too many to have on the Sprint Cup schedule, and that if they never raced on another road course again it wouldn’t be soon enough.

However, the last few years have changed my opinion dramatically. Between some of the great racing, great finishes, and, admittedly, some easily write-able storylines that would be discussed even weeks after the race I started to see the light. I found myself thinking, “Man, that was one of the best races of the year!” or “Wow, what a fun race!” every single time the checkered flag waved, and even more surprisingly found myself looking forward to the next one.

What’s even stranger … I didn’t even give road courses a chance. I never believed, “All right, I’m going to watch this race without assuming it will suck and see what happens.” There was never a thought to watch the race without preconceived notions. These twisted tracks changed my mind the old-fashioned way: my shoving some of the best races of the year back in my face, slapping their knee, and shouting, “How do ya like THEM apples?”

They’re delicious. Oh, and that crow tastes mighty gamey as well. After several years of being a grouch about any track that didn’t boast exclusively of left turns, I have since become a road course racing fan. And I believe that if you have been watching the last few years, with a keen eye you feel the same way.

Now, on to your questions:

Can you tell us what life insurance for a driver costs? ddrrtt

While I don’t have an exact dollar amount, I do know that life insurance for race car drivers can be a few thousand dollars for a million dollar insurance policy. The premiums can change on a case-by-case basis, and with racing becoming safer and the drivers becoming more athletic, it’s not altogether unlikely that these premiums will lower ever slightly. However, they remain astronomical for even the local level drivers, where the safety standards are not near as high.

I know a local driver here in town who has looked into purchasing life insurance, but simply can’t afford it because it’s so expensive. It’s why after horrendous crashes such as Tim McCreadie’s back in the Chili Bowl, in 2009 family, friends, and fans work to raise some money because, as I’m sure can be expected, health insurance is astronomical as well.

Though NASCAR drivers and their seven-digit salaries can usually afford to insure themselves, your local drivers more than likely cannot. Some insurance agencies, upon the driver disclosing this dangerous “hobby,” have a risk associated fee that they tack on to the monthly premium, if they decide to cover the driver at all. Many insurance companies just choose not to.

Race car drivers have a number of reasons why they may not have a life insurance policy. Some are superstitious and consider it a bad omen, while others simply cannot afford the price tag their high risk careers bring with it.

Simply put … it’s not good. Assuming this question has stemmed from the recent incident involving Jason Leffler, over his insurance policy (or lack thereof), it doesn’t take much thought to consider why he didn’t – or couldn’t – have any actual life insurance for his son Charlie. After all, he didn’t have a major NASCAR ride, sprint car racing doesn’t pay near as much as the big leagues, and being able to pay that amount out of pocket was obviously not an investment that Leffler found wise.

While I have a hard time believing Leffler literally left little Charlie with nothing, I don’t at all judge him for not having that safety net.

Daytona is cutting 45,000 seats from the racetrack with these new renovations. I can’t help but think this is just another sign the sport is dying. If Daytona can’t sell out, who can? Will

I think it’s less a sign that the sport is dying and more of a sign of the times. Look, I’m sure there truly are fans who don’t tune in or come to the track anymore because of the Chase, the drivers, etc. I’ve already ranted about my thoughts on that in previous columns.

However, you can’t deny the incredibly dramatic drop in ratings and attendance happened at pretty much the exact same time the economy tanked. That’s not coincidence. It’s also why both ratings and attendance both rise and drop depending upon the week as the economy struggles to improve.

Daytona International Speedway is removing 45,000 seats along the backstretch as part of its $400 million renovation project. Seats that once were always full for the 500 now serve to be little more than banner holders for other events, like several other tracks on the circuit.

I think Daytona is making these changes for safety reasons, economic reasons, and to make the experience for the spectators who do show up worth their while. In other words, not only are they trying to make the most of some of these tough times, they want to plan for the future. Daytona plans on being around for a while.

Let’s also not forget that this renovation is an incredibly expensive expenditure, with Daytona using their own money to bring it to fruition. $375 million to $400 million is the estimated price tag on this hefty project, which includes expanding some of the fan entrances, themed restaurants, and the additional “vertical transportation”. Or, as us common folk like to call it, “elevators.”

It all sounds like a great idea to me, and I’d love to see other tracks follow suit (as the budget allows). Honestly, I can’t wait to see the finished result.

As far as them needing to cut a ton of seating to allow these changes — including the backstretch seating which pretty much just serves as a place to hang Budweiser banners — I think they know that it enhances their ability to actually have sellout crowds again when they don’t have more seats than people. Clearly, the times have changed and not as many people show up as they used to. NASCAR will survive, though, and perhaps when things get better in our nation, they will also get better in our sport.

Do teams really steal other team’s personnel? Seems like Hendrick is just as shady as the fans already know they are. Rob

Yes, it really does happen. It’s this brand new thing called “business”. Have you heard of it?

Let me give you an example. You work for a company in what you would call a dream role. Just put yourself there for a minute, assuming you aren’t there already. Now, pretend that you’re really, really good at your job. Your company grows exponentially from your contributions and you are incredibly valuable to the company, to the point that its competitors begin to take notice.

One day, you get a phone call from a person in a key hiring position at one of your competitors. They offer you a substantial more amount in pay for you to come work with them, including more benefits and a long-term contract with an organization that has a history of success.

That company you were with? Penske Racing. The company that called? Hendrick Motorsports.

Now … would you take it?

If you said no, you’re lying. If you were Pinocchio, your nose would stretch from New York to California. You’re fooling yourself, maybe, but not us.

You see, if you are good at what you do, it will certainly attract everyone’s attention. I can guarantee you that this exact scenario happens on an annual basis, if not much more often, because teams in NASCAR want to do whatever they have to do in order to gain an advantage. It is just the nature of the beast.

Brad Keselowski aroused the anger of both Rick Hendrick and Joe Gibbs this week after he claimed they stole personnel from Penske Racing in the offseason. His car owner, Roger Penske was none too pleased with the comments either.

There is nothing wrong with this practice, either. Neither side of the aisle is wrong. The team is not wrong for seeking out more talent, and the talented individual is not wrong for taking it. You do what you have to do in order to survive in a competitive climate.

Was it wrong for Matt Kenseth to move from Roush Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing? Was it wrong for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to move from Dale Earnhardt, Inc. to Hendrick Motorsports? Was it wrong for Joey Logano to move from Joe Gibbs Racing to Penske Racing?

Was it wrong for Brad Keselowski to move from a Hendrick-affiliated team to Penske Racing?

Oh, you forget about that, didja?! Yep, that’s right. If you think back to only a few short years ago, Keselowski was a driver for JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series and would have possibly gotten the opportunity to drive a Sprint Cup Series car for HMS if he waited long enough. But he got an opportunity he couldn’t refuse from a certain Roger Penske and he went with it.

It’s the same exact thing with the crew members, except it doesn’t come with the star power and the headlines. If it’s not wrong for a driver, how do you consider it wrong for the crew members?

Now that I’ve answered all of your questions, it’s time to answer mine. My question for all of you: Should loyalty matter in a sport as competitive as NASCAR? Why or why not?

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Carl D.
06/20/2013 09:29 AM
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45,000 less empty seats for Daytona to clean the seagull poop out of is a good idea. It’s not like they were going to fill them with fans anyway. I don’t think fan amenities will make much of a difference. If they’re not going to do something about the racing, the rest is, as Sarah Palin would say, lipstick on a pig. If they’re not going to fix the racing, then here’s a novel idea… sell me a ticket for 10% of the it’s face value, and then let me come in and watch the last 10% of the race. I won’t have missed a thing.

I don’t think Keselowski was complaining that something should be done to keep teams from raiding other teams. I think he was just pointing out the reality of the situation and how it affects a team’s performance. He didn’t say it very well and frankly, he’s paid to race cars. He’s young and still needs to learn when to keep his mouth shut. It’s a lesson all young drivers have to learn.

Bill B
06/20/2013 09:33 AM
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Please explain the concept of bad economic times affecting ratings. Specifically, if a lot of fans are tight on money wouldn’t tv be the cheapest form of entertainment and cheapest way to follow the sport they love. And if that is the case then shouldn’t ratings rise during tough economic times? (Especially for the Fox portion of the schedule which is broadcast on free over-the-air tv).

I’d be very interested in your theories of how that works; fans use of free access declines as disposible income declines. Seems illogical so please explain why/how a bad economy should negatively impact ratings for a free program.

Bill B
06/20/2013 09:36 AM
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Carl D.
I think Kesolowski crossed the thin line between “telling it like it is” and whining.

JP
06/20/2013 10:38 AM
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FOX had steady ratings across the board…some races saw an increase in viewers. It was the Saturday night races that saw a dip in ratings from last year. So the bad economy did force a lot a fans to stay home and watch the race on TV.

The first two races on TNT have seen a decline of 13% from last year. For one..it’s vacation time, two…it was Pocono and Michigan, and three…“FIVE TIME” is so far ahead of the other drivers so there’s not a lot of drama to see.

It will be interesting to see if ratings hold steady or increase in the near future as taxes, gas, and health cost rise.

DoninAjax
06/20/2013 11:06 AM
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Before they cut the seats, maybe they should stop alienating the fans and see what happens. Maybe get rid of the Emperor`s brainstorm the chase? Give them real race cars to drive? Stop manipulating the races with phantom “debris” cautions at certain times (which are pretty obvious)? Find a new golden boy? Did I mention get rid of the chase? And get the TV networks to televise the race and not make a movie with a script.

Carl D.
06/20/2013 11:18 AM
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Bill B:
Yeah, a little of both. Brad definitely should have kept his mouth shut. Bitching to the media about it was as useless as it was petty.

JP:
I don’t know if Jimmie Johnson’s dominance has hurt race attendance and/or TV ratings, but I’m sure it hasn’t helped. Keep in mind he didn’t win the last two championships, and his lead this year will all but evaporate once the chase starts. More than anything, it’s the fact that the racing is not as competitive as it should be, and as far as the ratings go, there’s just way too many commercials for most folks to sit through.

Bill B
06/20/2013 12:25 PM
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JP,
You are really taking a short-term view there aren’t you?
The economy tank in 2008 therefore the ratings numbers you should be comparing are pre-2007 to post-2008. Saying the rating didn’t drop between last year and this year is kind of like closing the barn door after the cattle have gotten out. The fact that the ratings haven’t dropped further just means that NASCAR ratings may have hit the bottom.

Dane
06/20/2013 01:00 PM
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I’d be very curious to see what the ratings would look like if DVR’s weren’t around. I used to always plan my weekend events around the races so I could watch them live because I couldn’t get enough NASCAR. Now I go about my life as usual, enjoying my weekends, and watching the entire race in about 1.5-2 hours right before I go to bed. If I didn’t have a DVR I probably would only watch parts of the race – the racing just isn’t worth it to me anymore.

Earner
06/20/2013 03:17 PM
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It sure seems the actual racing is the problem (chase is a mitigating factor)I Know I’ve been a fan for many years & the racing has very often turned into a ride around parade (chase factor & no rewards ealy on for going for it) Not all race’s are going to be great. More gimmicks is NOT what is needed. The racing @ Dayt & Dega is not really affected much by this type of racing. (it’s worse) I go to some race’s & I can tell you we will never go to Dayt or Dega due to this. The 1.5’s are faily dull & we don’t plan on any more of them(Dull-D) for a while.Loved Pocono & Dover. (parts are dull but real racing is not crashing)

JP
06/20/2013 05:39 PM
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Bill B.,

I was giving my opinion on the state of Nascar NOW. The economy stinks and is a huge factor regarding fans in the stands. It’s certainly not the ONLY issue.

Like so many others, I’m not crazy about the coverage on FOX, but the fact remains that they did very well in the ratings. As long as that is the case, why would FOX dump the current TV crew?

But I think when Nascar sees a drop at Daytona and ‘dega (of all places), then there are alarms going off.

I’m hopeful this will lead to some much needed changes….but I’m not holding my breath over it.

Ken
06/20/2013 09:08 PM
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I am one fan that has never warmed up to NASCAR road racing. Road racing is great if the cars are designed for it. NASCAR cars are not. They are even more skippable than the 1.5 mile boring tracks.

I don’t blame crew members and drivers for accepting a better offer from other teams. The problem is that it widens the haves and have nots and makes the competition even more lopsided. The lack of competition is the biggest turnoff with the racing now. It is very unusual to have anyone other than a Gibbs or Hendrick/Hendrick supplied team lead and win the majority of the races. Why watch when the outcome is pre-ordained?

Your idea that the drop of interest in racing is because of the economy doesn’t pan out. As Bill said, the TV rating should have exploded if the economy kept the fans from attending the races. However, I must admit, the Waltrip and Wallace brothers have gone a long way in turning off race fans from watching on TV.

glenn
06/21/2013 11:30 AM
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so in one comment we whine about JJ leading by so much it ruins TV viewership and interest, then the next person says that the Chase is ruining everything. guess what? the chase is the thing that evens the playing field. Does anyone on this page ever say something positive? At it’s worst NASCAR is still fun to watch, and EVERY sport is struggling with attendance lately. Less seats is a good idea, amenities are helpful but expand the remaining seats also, no more benches. Stadium seating is great.

GinaV24
06/22/2013 08:10 PM
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While the poor economy may have affected fans attendance at races, IMO it is the poor racing, the chase and the spec car (see poor racing earlier) which have led to many people not following the “sport” with the enthusiasm they once did. Plus, remember that Brian France wanted desperately to market NASCAR to the “casual” fans at the expense of the die hards. Well, he was successful in one thing, he turned a lot of those diehard fans into casual ones – myself included. Then you have the poor TV coverage – ratings continue to be down for Fox especially if you compare the numbers to pre-chase stats.

Me, I’ve always loved watching road courses. However since the tv coverage from TNT will be commercial laden or covered up with “we know drama”. The thing is that I saw my first race on TV and became interested enough to go to the track. If I were in that same spot now, I wouldn’t know how to make heads or tails out of the race and sure wouldn’t be excited enough to spend my hard earned money to go to a race.

As far as Daytona rebuild, I’m glad that ISC has to put up their own money rather than being able to foist it on the taxpayers. We’ve been to Daytona twice, IMO, that was enough to experience RP racing. I agree – give me a ticket @ 10% of the cost since that is about the amount of the race that was interesting.