NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Happy Hour: Some Ad Campaigns NASCAR Could Be Running

Recently I witnessed an ad for the upcoming race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Maybe you’ve seen it. It’s a typical spot run on television by speedways, with drivers feuding, a shot of Jimmie Johnson, etc. But at the end, there was this grabber: “And now you CAN get tickets to Bristol!”

Why is a racetrack bragging about how they aren’t selling out anymore? Doesn’t just saying “tickets are available now” sound better? Who would know?

And it struck me that NASCAR’s marketing people (I know this commercial was run by BMS, but NASCAR has the same attitude) can’t stand that Johnson and the No. 48 team have gamed their precious Chase playoff and won four titles in a row. NASCAR acts as though they’re doing their level best to convince everyone that the Tiger Woods of their sport really isn’t the face of NASCAR, and we have so much excitement besides Johnson. Really! We do!

Four straight titles is a phenomenal achievement in any sport. Four straight is unparalleled dominance. And until Johnson came along, it had never happened in NASCAR. Yes, I know, they’re Chase championships and don’t seem to mean as much. Even if I sympathize with the argument, you can’t blame the No. 48 team for winning with the rules as written.

Some of NASCAR’s commercials ought to revolve around who can stop him. Maybe run ads showing the year numbers: “2006: Matt Kenseth couldn’t beat him. 2007: Jeff Gordon couldn’t beat him. 2008: Carl Edwards. 2009: Mark Martin. Can anyone stop Jimmie Johnson?” And show the No. 48 passing each of the drivers as the announcer is talking.

And sell him as a winner too, as the driver you want to be a fan of. I’m amazed that Johnson doesn’t have the biggest fan base in NASCAR.

In fact, why not go through the other dynasties in sports? Show the Yankees, Tiger Woods, the old Boston Celtics or Edmonton Oilers. Maybe mention that four straight titles had never been done in NASCAR before, not by Dale Earnhardt, not by Richard Petty, not by anybody, and can Jimmie make it five?

We can argue whether a dynasty is good for a sport — personally I think it’s good for a sport when someone topples a dynasty — but NASCAR can’t get caught up in that whole mentality that people don’t like Johnson winning to the point of changing the Chase rules yet again. Good or bad, a dynasty is what NASCAR has to work with right now. It could be turned into a positive thing for the sport with the right marketing. Yet we’re seeing more ads featuring an Indy driver in the Nationwide Series, someone who has yet to finish a race on the lead lap, than a four-time champion.

When it comes to a place like Bristol and the night race, show some of the history. Run a spot with Earnhardt spinning Terry Labonte, Gordon nudging Rusty Wallace out of the way for a win and the Kyle Busch-Edwards battle from a couple of years ago. For the love of Pete, do anything to help people forget that drivers need a “good points day” at the Bristol night race these days. That isn’t the fault of the speedway or Bristol fans. Remind everyone that every driver wants badly to win this one.

Same thing with an Atlanta race. This track needs a boost and deserves it. You can’t show the history of Labor Day races, obviously (see the bullet hole in NASCAR’s foot), but you sure as heck have some great history to draw from. Alan Kulwicki’s internal calculator winning a title literally by inches; Kevin Harvick and Gordon’s battle following Earnhardt’s death; Edwards’s dramatic first Cup win. You don’t even need to show the ugly replay of Carl’s road rage this year (but you know that’s what ESPN is going to do).

Brian France has expressed concern over Cup drivers in the Nationwide Series. Hey, you’re the marketing guy, Brian… maybe Nationwide ads could focus more on Trevor Bayne, Justin Allgaier and Steve Wallace and less on Brad Keselowski, Edwards and Busch. The best way to do it? Show Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson when they were young hotshot Nationwide — er, Busch drivers. Let people see that the superstars of tomorrow are in the Nationwide Series now, even if that’s a shaky assertion at best right now.

As far as the Camping World Truck Series, as much as I think the quality of the racing there should be able to sell itself, I recognize that it’s not a perfect world. I would have to look at the numbers more, but my theory regarding the Truck Series is that three races in a weekend is market saturation for anyone but total racing addicts.

So the best thing in my opinion would be to separate the CWTS from the other two series as much as possible. Maybe show a few scenes of Cup drivers roughing each other up a bit with the announcer going berserk, then have Ron Hornaday or Todd Bodine come on the screen and say simply, “WUSSES.” And then show some of that hardcore beating and banging that the Truck Series is famous for. Some aspects of Truck racing make it better than Cup (like not having a Chase and somehow still producing close season finishes), so that should be promoted.

One thing NASCAR shouldn’t be doing is trying to connect the NASCAR of old with the NASCAR of today. People who became fans just 10 years ago barely recognize the product on the track today, and NASCAR can’t have it both ways. Respect the history by not reacting to every departing fan with a rule change, rather than by spending millions trying to sell old fans that it’s still the same NASCAR. It isn’t. People know it. And running such ads will only irritate disenfranchised fans.

Finally, I know we can’t go backwards when it comes to advertising, but way back when, I really enjoyed the ESPN ride-along spots and the ads with the addicted fan that puts a window net in the door of his car and tries to bribe an officer into writing “190 mph” as his speed on the ticket. Those commercials had something NASCAR is missing a lot of these days — humor. They were funny. It was emblematic of a sport that didn’t take itself too seriously. This is, after all, supposed to be fun.

Brian France would do well to focus on the marketing aspect of the sport, which is clearly his mindset, and leave the regulation of it to folks who consider more bells and whistles to be a distraction from racing’s real greatness.

Kurt’s Shorts

  • OK, so Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman were fined for badmouthing the sport, which is not unheard of. I won’t even say NASCAR is out of bounds doing it. But what it does display is sensitivity to criticism, especially the dreaded WWE comparison. It comes across that NASCAR is upset not because they were criticized, but because there may have been some validity to the criticism. Just my $.02.
  • I like Marcos Ambrose a lot and hope he stays in the States, but I am also very, very happy for Bobby Labonte taking over his ride, as reported in our newsletter. Bobby’s a champion and great ambassador for the sport, and he deserves much better than has been his lot lately on the track. It would be great to see him competing for wins again.
  • Gateway is one of my favorite tracks and a place that I long thought should get a Cup date, so it was distressing to see Dover Motorsports giving up on keeping its two Nationwide and one Truck Series events. Sigh. But this is an opportunity to put these events at tracks that always produce great racing….
  • My good friend Ron St. John, former blogger and alias “Trucker” at That’s Racin’, passed away yesterday at home with his family. If it’s not too much trouble, dear readers, please keep Ron and his family in your thoughts and prayers. He was a good man.

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