I expected a bit more of a hullabaloo over NASCAR’s recent decision to cut race purses by 10% in all three top touring series this season. NASCAR officials stated in this era of declining ticket sales, and thus revenue, the track owners needed a break to return to profitability. Of course, NASCAR, the race officiating body, shares office space with the International Speedway Corporation (an entity also controlled by the France family) which owns a bunch of tracks including Daytona, Talladega, Kansas, Fontana, Watkins Glen and others. I’m certain that the move has nothing to do with the recently announced 95% drop in ISC’s revenues last year (Jezum Crow, Auntie Em, say it ain’t so!) from $134 million in 2008 to $6.8 million in 2009. (While ticket sales are down, most of the loss is apparently because of declining souvenir royalties from the Motorsports Authentics division.)
I’m not sure the big teams, who rely more on sponsorship dollars than winnings, are going to feel too hard a pinch, but some of the smaller operations that scrimp and save just to make the next race are going to feel the hit. So it would only seem fair that if race purses are being cut 10%, so should the length of each race. Less miles on the racetrack means a smaller tire bill, less wear and tear on the drivetrain, and a 10% smaller chance of wiping out a car in a wreck.
While they’re at it, NASCAR needs to shorten the season by 10% as well. I’d make it a nice even four races. Of course, those of you who have endured my ramblings a few years know the four races I’d choose to ax. First off, I’d eliminate Watkins Glen and Sonoma. The cost of preparing road course cars for just two events a year, especially now that the big teams have separate cars for both events, is prohibitive. We’ve come a long way from the good old days where to prepare for a road course, a team would take its Martinsville car and move the filler neck to the other side of the vehicle. Plus, the purses at the two road courses have never been exactly generous.
Moving on to the oval tracks, I’d get rid of one date at NHMS as well. That place is a long way from the team’s Mooresville, N.C. home. And yes, naturally, I’d ax one of the Fontana dates. The fans out in California just haven’t embraced the races well enough to justify having the teams haul all the way out there twice a year – nor has the quality of the racing at Fontana often made the trip worthwhile.
Getting rid of those four races would cut down on travel, transportation, lodging and other logistical expenses, becoming a huge advantage to the small team owners. But I guess if the tracks are going to cut purses 10%, they ought to pass some of that savings on to their valued customers. (They love you, fans, they really do. They say so all the time in press releases. Then they get you to come to a race and it’s such a hassle, bore and huge expense, you vow you’re never going back. I hear that from you fans all the time.) So, let’s start with this 10% solution. Every expense a fan and his or her family faces during a race weekend gets cut 10%. 10% off tickets. 10% off beers and hot dogs. 10% off RV parking. And while we’re at it, 10% more room in a grandstand seat so normal-sized adults don’t feel like they’re being packed into the steerage class. Eventually, track owners will find a price point that fans are comfortable with, and they’ll start coming back to the races. That’s going to help alleviate a lot of the problem with declining interest in NASCAR racing, though only as long as what NASCAR likes to call “the product,” the actual on-track racing, is at least 10% better as well.
Our beloved phone company title sponsor of Cup racing can also help. I’d suggest that they take 10% of all the championship money they plan to pay out to the top 12 this season, and instead take that 10% of the funds and distribute it evenly among the teams that make a good faith effort to start and run every race to its completion. Guys like Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Kyle and Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon might be the big draws at the turnstiles, but there has to be some competition for the super-teams to keep up interest in the sport. Spread the wealth around a little, and maybe it will make for better racing and an occasional surprise winner. Even if most of them are wearing “Goliath” t-shirts, everyone likes to see David slay Goliath just occasionally… shall we say, perhaps, 10% of the time?