Vito Pugliese · Thursday August 1, 2013
Well, it’s the week following the Brickyard 400, and what is everybody talking about? Right, that dirt track Truck race from Eldora.
It’s appropriate that the Brickyard 400 followed ESPN’s announcement that they are bailing on the sport they built from the early 1980s through 2000, and then again starting in 2007. They cited an aging demographic, and difficulty finding sponsorship for the races. The latter I can believe; despite recent inflated economic figures that contradict startling reports such as the manufacturing hub of the western hemisphere going bankrupt, and 4 out of 5 Americans near the poverty level, things still aren’t that great when it takes $20 million a year to show up to the track and not make a fool out of yourself.
As for the aging demographic and lack of new fans, you can pin that one solely on the geniuses who fiddled around with 30 years of unbridled success, coupled with a goofy looking car that Vin Diesel would have rejected out of hand, as well as the Mario Kart points gimmick which changed more often than Robby Gordon changed crew chiefs and car manufacturers. Sports Illustrated in 1994 had a cover emblazoned with “America’s Hottest Sport”, with the No. 4 Kodak Chevrolet streaking by. Kodak recently filed for bankruptcy, but luckily NBC was ready to step up to the plate and revive their NASCAR coverage which ended in 2006.
Coupled with their recent addition of Formula One, are NBC and NBC Sports Network primed to become the ESPN of the 1990’s as we move into the second decade of the millennium?
Hopefully NBC and NASCAR take a lesson from Tony Stewart’s experiment at his dirt track. You know what gets fans interested about the sport and talking about it again in the same sort of manic tone that has been heard for the last two weeks? Keep it simple, the product on the track is what sells tickets and attracts new eyes to the sport.
Bragging about grille inserts and headlight stickers from grocery getters and rental cars, does not do anything but distract from the obvious issues that have required attention for the past five years. That is not meant to sound all bleak, gloom & doom, and spouting the same sour grapes that many have re-hashed since the economic downturn of 2008. What that dirt race on a Wednesday night proved was that NASCAR is still relevant, still viable, and tweakable to fit the changing landscape of sports entertainment.
Between the Wednesday night Truck race at Eldora and the 2012 Daytona 500 that ran on Monday night, the ingredients for success have been laid out; the sweet spot lies somewhere in between.
Ryan Newman’s Brickyard 400 was as timely as they come. He and crew chief Matt Borland reunited again from their tenure together at Penske Racing, have picked up where things left off since he and Jimmie Johnson raised the bar to a new level during their rookie campaigns of 2002. While Newman is allegedly in scramble mode looking for a ride next year, I don’t think it’s as dire as it is being made out to be. He was long rumored to be leading candidate to replace Kevin Harvick next season, and this win probably helps more with sponsorship rather than proving himself to Richard Childress.
I suspect we’ll see the No. 39 in Victory Lane at least one more time this year. Remember all those races Newman and Borland won together on pit strategy and fuel mileage by running smaller carburetors, sacrificing a couple of peak horsepower for a significant gain in fuel economy? Much is made about Newman being an engineer, but when that mode of thinking and creativity is coupled with another engineer in Matt Borland, expect to see more of the same that we saw at Indy as the year winds down and 2014 begins to take shape.
I still can’t believe Dodge halfway through 2013, is still nowhere to be found, heard of, or even mentioned in any breath returning to Sprint Cup, Nationwide, or the Camping World Truck Series under the Ram banner. As a lifelong Mopar nut, it pains me to no end that the third leg of The Big Three is still absent from the premier motorsports divisions in North America.
I read a tweet this week that read, “Following up Indy with Pocono is like following up Valium with chloroform.”
Kind of hard to disagree with that one. Again, this is a perfect time to adjust the schedule and avoid consecutive lack-luster, low-impact, parades that occur at this time of the year. Before The Chase came along, Talladega was ran in July – and let’s face it, what we wouldn’t give for a replay of the May race again right now. Mix in Martinsville, a new road course that is designed for racing (i.e., the carousel course of Infineon) and not to place seats (i.e., the current layout of Infineon), head to Road America, Montreal, SOMETHING out of the ordinary for a change. And spare me the argument of “well it only holds 50,000 people…”
With the way that tracks are scrapping grandstands like Fred Sanford, it doesn’t sound like attendance is really an issue to worry about at this point. Besides, the tracks get a good chunk of the TV money anyway, so it isn’t like they’re banking on the gate to turn a profit.
What is needed now, is freshness, innovation, and something to spark conversation. We don’t need to fiddle with the Chase again, unless fiddling means doing away with forever and ever. No, we don’t need to be running on dirt, but what Eldora continues to reaffirm, is that when fan interest is piqued, they will respond en mass. If they really want some world-wide buzz, why not run a Cup race in conjunction with the Circuit of The Americas Formula One race in Austin, Texas?
That track is big enough to race cement trucks on, and Texas Motor Speedway is consistently a Top 5 track attendance wise, so there would be butts in the seats for sure. Moreover, you could expose Formula One Fan to the Left Turn Only circuit with our rudimentary 1980’s throttle body fuel injection systems and solid rear axles. Even the gang from Top Gear made the trip over from the UK a couple of years ago to TMS to show the rest of the world what NASCAR is all about.
Well, Hammond came….and as all Top Gear fans know, he really is an American after all.
Connect with Vito!
Contact Vito Pugliese
©2000 - 2008 Vito Pugliese and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!