The Frontstretch: NASCAR's Roots Disappear; Its Future, Busy Awaiting Where They Land by Thomas Bowles -- Monday November 19, 2007

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NASCAR's Roots Disappear; Its Future, Busy Awaiting Where They Land

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Monday November 19, 2007


Brian France, there's something I think you should know: my grandmother was always right.

What does that have to do with the future of this sport we all love? Absolutely everything.

As I went through my rebellious teenage phase growing up, I would always seek out the beloved matriarch of our family when I thought I needed advice. Of course, think would be the operative word here; my stubborn mind was too closed-minded to be offered up a change of pace. Still, I went to my grandmother anyway - mistakenly thinking I'd get an automatic wave of support for making decisions that were, in hindsight, incredibly stupid.

It never happened.

Instead, her years of wisdom doled out advice that all too often landed along the lines of, "What you're doing is wrong." Of course, it was absolutely the opposite of what I was thinking - and that caused the defect of words going in one ear and out the other. I was too headstrong, too young, too full of my own ideas to look at the world through the eyes of someone that already had all the right answers. And all too often, I wound up wishing I would have listened. Mistakes were made, experience was gained, and looking back, my biggest regret is that whenever my grandmother opened her mouth, I never actually paid attention in the way I should have.

The lesson I'm sending this message is simple: there's a reason we're often told to respect our elders. And as the sunset dawned on the 2007 season Sunday night at Homestead, to me that's the story of the sport right now; far beyond that of Jimmie Johnson's respected yet expected second straight title. It's a tale of abandoned tradition, of people, places, and things aging to the point they're no longer a part of the fabric of a sport they love; an older generation of racing fans and personnel faced with a number of changes that they simply don't agree with.

The result, of course, is a wave of elders leaving the sport in droves; some through the natural order of things, but far too many forced out of the loop. At least my grandma never turned her back when the worst unfolded; but unfortunately, these people are turning theirs, and at an alarming rate at that.

Look what a terrible mess that we've made
The sun beats us down as we search for the shade
And yes, it is true, death is everyone's fate
But we made it this far, it's time to celebrate

In one sense, celebration was an emotion based out of respect for how many things were officially changed from "is" to "was" after Sunday. The Car of Today is now officially the Car of Yesterday, put out to pasture after ushering in the Golden Era of the sport back in 1981. The second-longest driver/crew chief relationship in the sport today - Matt Kenseth and Robbie Reiser - no longer exists. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will no longer drive a car that used to be owned by his father. Robert Yates will no longer be involved in owning a car, period.

It was that retirement, along with Rudd's, that seemed to rouse particular interest; such exits were filled with a poignant sense of longing for the past. At 51, Rudd walks out the door shortly after legends like Labonte, Elliott, Martin, and Wallace all stopped driving full-time in no less than a three-year span. Unlike them, he took a one-year hiatus before deciding to return to the sport, ready and raring to prove he still had something left in the tank after time to figure out his future. Yet by the end of the season, Rudd looked like a lost soul, in a world he no longer fit into and relieved he was allowed to exit, stage left, at the earliest possible opportunity. His era was over; apparently, it wasn't even strong enough to ever override TV's focus on a championship battle that had all but ended one week earlier. Behind Rudd was Yates, the 1999 Nextel Cup champion whose twenty-year tenure of running championship equipment had ended with him selling out to survive; while the team will be owned by son Doug in part, its heart and soul have undergone a transplant that's made the team better known as "Roush B." The move allows a true independent and a hard-nosed racer to be replaced by a seven-team powerhouse and a driver in Travis Kvapil who has yet to prove his worth in the Cup series.

That worries me. Indeed, this is not your father's NASCAR; but frankly, it's likely your father is no longer watching.

A report on television ratings released this week was a snapshot of a ratings machine in sharp decline; that much, we all already knew. But hidden within depressing realities was a number that made you realize just how much the sport had changed; the biggest percentage of those turning their backs were the audience listed as over 55.

That's right; NASCAR's version of the AARP is fed up with the way the sport has catered to the younger crowd, disillusioned and disenchanted with how the races of 1977 or even 1987 bear no comparison to what we saw across the board this season. Their generation no longer represented, personal favorites long sent packing into their own racing retirement, these men and women no longer had the patience or the wherewithal to believe the product they were watching was capable of improving with the proper guidance and support. That's a big indicator of how badly the changes occurring in NASCAR this decade were perceived in some circles; even the staunchest traditionalists from other sports hang on at times, viewing compromise on certain issues an inevitable possibility. But for these disillusioned souls, their versions of best case scenarios had already been thrown out the window a decade ago, their time no longer worth a sport they felt was beyond saving.

While viewership for those over 55 is way down, the numbers for those 18-34 remained flat. It's a number trumpeted by everyone under the sun as to why the health of the sport couldn't be better; but exactly who are these people, and what do they want out of racing? Are they merely going to follow the sport for a few years, then disappear - no matter what NASCAR does to either attract or appease them - or are they newly racing zealots, supporters that will fill the stands for upwards of the next 30 years?

I'm part of that age group, and I honestly couldn't tell you the answer. But make no mistake about it; France is sold on their presence. He won't tell us why, but it's right up there with all the justifications for why the Chase and the Car of Tomorrow and owning all the race tracks is exactly the right thing to do.

I'd challenge that, but it's a waste of space; France will do whatever the heck he wants. Just don't expect him to listen; he's already got all the right answers he needs.

Or maybe … just maybe … he's just removed everyone else that could have told him that he's wrong.

Just because
You place something high enough
The harder it can fall
But you knew that.
You’re a know-it-all

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Beyond the Cockpit: Alexis DeJoria On The 300 mph Women of the NHRA
A Swan’s Broken Wings Equal NASCAR’s Next Concern?
Thinkin’ Out Loud – The Off Week Season Review
Pace Laps: Swan Racing’s Future, Fast Females and Dropping Out
Sprint Cup Series Facilities Can Build Upon Fan Experience by Looking to Their Roots


©2000 - 2008 Thomas Bowles and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

J Furjanic
11/19/2007 07:42 AM

If they broke the numbers down further, it’s probably in reality 45 and over abandoning the TV.

This summer, given the choice of riding the motorcycle, or watching the race, the bike won and the DVR did NOT get turned on.

Given the choice between watching the STeelers and the race, the Steelers win (again no DVR on the race).

If NA$CAR wants the fans that brought them to the dance to come back, they need to look back:

1)Drop the top 35 lock in
2)Drop the cha$e
3)Keep some of the COT (POS) safety features, but make them run factory sheetmetal (Win on Sunday, buy it on Monday).
5)Use the NA$CAR ladder to bring up new talent. Anyone at their NA$CAR local track doesn’t have a prayer of moving up through the system anymore.

What a sad state of the sport!

11/19/2007 10:24 AM

Declining attendance
Bad racing
Small teams losing sponsors
Small teams closing down
The Chase
Fast qualifiers going home
Top 35 rule
What do they all have in common? Brian France.
Damn, I wish someone would have cloned Big Bill and Bill Jr.

Brian France Sucks
11/19/2007 10:37 AM

Ten easy ways to fix what Brain France has ruined:
1. Darlington: Southern 500, Labor Day weekend
2. Rockingham: at least once a year
3. Shorter races
4. Start Sunday races at 12:30 EST
5. Make rulebook available to fans/public
6. Shorten the Chase and go back to last year’s Chase points format, 10 cars only
7. KY Speedway wins its lawsuit and I$C and NA$CAR have to break up
8. Get rid of one Pocono and one Fontana race; they’re boring and no one attends CA.
9. Get rid of the top 35 rule and make it the top 20 rule
PS 11. Get rid of the CoT; it will ultimately cause an even greater decline in viewership, its ugly, slow, and handles like a tugboat.

None of this will ever happen because Brian Franc is a mental midget, but we can only hope. Maybe someone else will start a better series and the big dogs will leave the France morons and actually race.

11/19/2007 11:01 AM

Now that the season is over , it might be a good time to consider some options for stock car racing in the future . Brian France and his brigade of incompetent yes men , Helton , Darby , Poston , insist that the sport is in fine shape . Onward and upward they say . Well, tens of millions of people disagree sharply .
If we’re not lucky enough to see the board replace Brian , then lets’ look at another option . Consider a marriage of convenience between ARCA and Bruton Smith . Smith owns plenty of great race tracks , and could easily afford to build more if needed .And he hates the Frances . ARCA has run a succesfull stock car series for almost as long as Nascar . All of the cars that we all love , and are now replaced by the dreaded COT , are available and will likely
be sold to the ARCA teams . I suspect a number of current Nascar teams would jump at the chance to go to a series like that . Might take a year or two to get off the ground , but it sure would be great to have an alternative to the mess thats known as the Chase .

11/19/2007 11:43 AM

I hate the chase, but having said that, it’s not going away, so maybe they can tweek it a bit. Give more points for wins, give the top 10 drivers the choice of pits.

Get rid of ESPN. The tv coverage there is awful.

Keep the rule of 35. I don’t think that any billionaire should be able to come in and get a free pass. Toyota said it wanted to have 1/4 of the cars in Cup. That’s 10 or 11. Okay, they stated with 5, now they have added Gibbs and HOF. All those teams including Waltrip, want to add more cars. That’s just dandy. What is next? Honda? (You know, made in America!) No. I say protect the people that have put their money in the sport for years. I wish they coud figure out a way to protect Wood, Petty, at least for a few years. No one wants to support them if they don’t improve, but to just let a new guy in town come in is terrible. NFL,MLB,MBA, etc protect their teams. No one, even Mark Cuban cannot start a new football team and field it in the NFL, no matter how bad the Dolphins are.

11/19/2007 08:39 PM

Top 35 in points locked in to Cup race, 20-25 Cup drivers each week driving the Busch race, a lot of the rest of the field made up of old cup drivers and never was’s, ie Hornaday, the Greens, Bodine, the list goes on, get the picture?
Some of the Cup drivers are getting older and retiring or put out to pasture—Jarrett, Rudd, Marlin, Nemechek. These open wheel drivers are not getting it done. Montoya did not have the rookie season or the ability of Jr, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, or Jimmy Johnson in their rookie years. Some of these guys are just not going to make the grade.
Simple question:
Where is the next generation of drivers coming from?

Larry Burton
11/19/2007 08:53 PM

Thomas, I agree with what you said. If I had only listened to some of my elders instead of being so hard headed, I would be retired now living very comfortably. But Brian thinks he’s a legend in his own mind and nothing except old age and experience will ever change that! Trouble is, by then it may be too late for NASCAR. When you see so many writers, columnists, and fans complaining about the same things, evidently you must have a problem.

William Willea
11/20/2007 08:09 AM

All chase champions should have a * on it
saying (champion of 10
races not a whole season). A TRUE CHAMPION IS ONE AT THE END OF THE WHOLE SEASON WHO IS AT THE TOP!!!! I think the chase is stupid and so is who came up with the idea.

11/20/2007 09:43 AM

Well said Mr. Bowles!!

Very well said!

Do you think Brian reads this type of press? Or is he just the idiot we all think he is?


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