The fans of NASCAR have already been subjected to the first weekend of the year with no racing from the top-three touring series. For those of us who write or broadcast about the series on a weekly basis, we constantly hear about all of the things that are wrong with the sport. The new car has no identity, the racing is single file, there’s no passing, the drivers have no personality. Television ratings are down, the stands are partially empty and the economy is making it more difficult for smaller teams to get to the track. With all of that considered, those of us who live and breathe this sport have been antsy and irritable for at least a week because there wasn’t a race this past weekend.
NASCAR is different than it was 10 years ago, there is no question about that, but it is still what we the fans love to see. We can’t wait for them to sing the national anthem, we love seeing what kind of planes are going to be in the fly over, and we cannot wait to hear those awesome words “Gentlemen, start your engines!” Stock car racing is in our blood and it is what draws us to the track, the television or the radio for 38 weekends a year. Seeing the cars, the colors, smelling the fuel and rubber, being surrounded by other fans, it all gets our blood flowing and piques our excitement every time we think about racing.
Are there things we’d love to see changed? Of course there are. A personal pet peeve would be to see them take everything below the front bumper off of the cars. Many people feel that the sport started on its slide down a slippery slope when they added the air dams below the bumpers back in the ’80s. Even though that was well before the boom of the ’90s when the sport became national, it changed the cars and began the process of taking away the individual identity of the cars and their connection to their manufacturer. While it was miles away from the current car design, it was the beginning of the homogenizing of the cars and certainly led to where we are today.
Most of us would also like to see them get rid of the cookie cutter, mile-and-a-half tracks and bring back the short tracks. It’s hard to really say why the shift happened, but mostly it was because the people who build the tracks built the cookie cutters because it was their belief it was the best venue to allow the fans to see the races. In hindsight it would have been nicer to have them be 3/4-mile tracks, but it is what it is.
One of the greatest things about the truck series, when it first came around, was that the vast majority of the races were on short tracks and allowed for the closest proximity racing and the most rubbin’. Some people argue that the trucks have lost some of their luster because they’ve gotten away from those roots, similar to NASCAR in general, and gone more to the cookie-cutter tracks.
That said, the potential is there for NASCAR to get back to the basics. The track owners could even help with that process by reconfiguring their tracks to be 3/4-mile tracks. Obviously that would be a huge expense and very well might not be practical at all of the mile-and-a-half speedways, but it would be nice if they’d at least consider it.
There are plenty of other things that bother individual fans about NASCAR these days and most of them are out of their control. One thing that is in their control, and there is no doubt that the people making decisions are noticing, is that people are staying away from the tracks and not turning on their TVs in the numbers they used to. The keepers of our sport have taken notice and are trying hard to listen and make changes to the sport to return the interest and the fans. Continue to let the people in charge know that you would like to see things changed and give them ideas. It is one thing to complain, but if you aren’t going to offer a solution, you are no better than the problem.
There is no question that NASCAR is different, and while it is different, it is still the sport we love and cherish. The drivers are still our heroes and the coliseums that host the events are still the cathedrals that draw us from miles away to watch stock cars go as fast as they can and drivers cheat death every time they get behind the wheel. It may not be perfect, but it is a great sport and it is the one that we can’t wait to see get back on the track this weekend.