NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Random Off-Week Scanner Chatter

The off weeks on the NASCAR circuit are always a natural time for me to clear out the non-time specific questions that float into my inbox. Even though we’re only four weeks in (could someone please explain that to me again?) this week is no exception.

Shoot me your questions, comments, frustrations, irritations, aggravations, insinuations, contemplations or all around thoughts – and I’ll get you in next week. Or during the next off week.

Without further ado…

Q: If the fastest three in qualifying replace engines, what would be their starting positions and why? – Mike Thomas

A: If the fastest three qualifiers had to change engines in between qualifying and race day, the polesitter would start 41st, the second-place qualifier would start 42nd and the third-place car would roll off 43rd (provided they were the only three that made an engine or car change).

NASCAR should have this procedure defined in the rulebook, but they haven’t yet put it in (and yes, we have an official copy). You’ll have to trust us on this one….

Q: Matt, can you give us the rundown about when the legends race is at Bristol? What’s the full field, and is it televised? Also, Bristol’s banks are now variable, but what exact degree of banking is that? – Devin and Mary Chisenhall

A: Televised? Shoot, this is can’t-miss-TV… of course it’s being televised! ESPN2 will have the Scotts Saturday Night Special on Saturday night at 6:00 p.m. ET.

The lineup of 12 includes Harry Gant, David Green, Jack Ingram, Junior Johnson, Terry Labonte, Sterling Marlin, LD Ottinger, Phil Parsons, Larry Pearson (subbing for his dad, David), Jimmy Spencer, Rusty Wallace and Cale Yarborough, by God. 35 laps in late models – all former Bristol winners.

It’ll be a cool bunch in the booth, too, as Dr. Jerry Punch will lead the father/son announcing team of Ned and Dale Jarrett.

And the banking at Bristol varies from 24-30 degrees in the turns. Heck, even the straights are banked at 16 degrees – that’s more than the turns at Auto Club and Kansas Speedways!

Q: Attendance is down at every venue thus far into 2009. Fans unhappy with the CoT are blaming the new car while disregarding how dire our national economy has become. Is there a comparable metric to show that all consumer spending is down and that disposable spending on NASCAR tickets might likewise be affected? – Andrew

A: I rewrote this answer three times before I settled on something tangible for us NASCAR honks. You can go to any financially-geared website, from Yahoo Finance to the Huffington Post and you’re going to be inundated with enough stats, facts and figures to make an argument about how the market and/or consumer spending effects, well, everything. Problem is, there are so many differing percentages, beliefs and theories that it’s impossible to know beyond the shadow of a doubt which damn stats are right and, if so, why do they not correlate.

So, after chasing my tail for a couple of hours, I turned to the one man and his subsequent company I felt could give it to us straight: Mr. O. Bruton Smith and Speedway Motorsports Inc. In SMI’s Annual Report, risk factors are listed for potential investors. What I found told me all I needed to know:

“Many factors related to discretionary consumer spending, including economic conditions affecting disposable consumer income such as employment rates, rising fuel prices, difficult consumer credit and housing markets, interest and tax rates and inflation can significantly impact our operating results.”

That, in my mind, confirms the notion that disposable consumer income affects ticket sales – it’s all but spelled out in the company report, after all. And with consumer spending down across the board while wage inflation remains subdued and the price of commodities continues to rise, it’s only logical to assume that people have to cut certain luxuries (such as going to the race track) out in times such as these.

Now, is that a 100% guarantee that the reason interest in the sport has waned over the last couple of years? No, of course not, and I think that’s what you’re really asking: Is it the economy or the product? That, despite my best efforts, was an answer I was unable to obtain. Although my personal feeling is that, like water, the sport has found its level with the fans. Done are the days of exponential growth, and that’s more than likely due to a fad having run its course with those that jump on a bandwagon.

Oh, and I couldn’t resist sharing this if I’ve still got you: Other risk factors listed in SMI’s Annual Report were a lack of competitiveness or closeness of championship points races, driver popularity, rule changes by NASCAR, a deteriorating relationship with the sanctioning body and the Car of Tomorrow. Yes, SMI actually listed those. Ya gotta love Bruton.

Random thought of the week: Do you ever find yourself wanting to “take the guy low” while on cloverleaf exits, or is that just me?

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