(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Voices from the Cheap Seats: Circus Tents Wrong Way to Go for Souvenirs

One change that is looming on the horizon, a change that I have given a lot of thought to but have yet to righteously pontificate about, for the NASCAR fans that are left is NASCAR’s planned replacement of the classic souvenir hauler for a exciting circus tent!

I say “NASCAR’s plan” because, in case you did not know it, Motorsports Authentics (MA), the company who runs the business, is a subsidiary of none other than International Speedway Corp (ISC), which we all know is the conjoined twin of NASCAR and run by the geniuses we like to loving call the France family.

Here is the short version of how this is coming about.

Back in the heyday, when NASCAR was still riding on popularity surge of Dale Earnhardt, Sr.’s death, as late as 2008, sales for Motorsports Authentics were in the $2-billion-a-year range. By 2010, that had dropped to $1 billion. In fact, in 2009, in an effort to avoid a embarrassing bankruptcy, MA had to renegotiate its licensing agreements with the teams. By 2010, after cutting over half of its 400 employees and becoming more streamlined, it is apparently still not making enough money to feed the kids and are now looking to do away with the 20 or so souvenir trucks and replace them with circus tents sometime during the 2015 season. If you were wondering, the breakdown of the renegotiated agreement (which will remain the same after the change) is 15 percent to the tracks (most of which ISC already owns), 10 percent to the teams and drivers with the rest going to MA. That is the short version.

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)
Will fans even be able to get their favorite merchandise at the track anymore? (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Now, the reasons for its demise are varied and debatable, some of which are loss of interest due to inflated prices, poor management (do you really need a separate truck for some of the lesser teams?! What’s wrong with combining a few?) and the overall decline of the popularity of NASCAR, mainly by running off the diehard fan in favor of the casual fan, just to name a few. But that is neither here nor there, at least for the purposes of this diatribe.

My point is simple: part of the mystique of attending a race is visiting the big shiny trucks! Some of my best photos of myself and others, has been taken with a souvenir truck as the backdrop. It’s a common occurrence for most race fans. Who in the hell wants a picture of they or their loved ones in front of the Jeff Gordon circus tent? The big pretty truck is part of the draw. Most times, if you didn’t plan on buying anything, you end up getting SOMETHING, sort of like going grocery shopping when you are hungry.

And what about the younger, up-and-coming fan? I, with my oldest grandson now at 5 years of age, have been formulating plans in my mind to take him to a race or two in the next year or so and seeing the look on his face as we get to souvenir row was something I was looking forward to. Unfortunately, unless I take him in the next eight months or so, I will never get to see that look. I seriously doubt that a tent is going to leave the lasting memory that a big shiny truck will.

But it’s not just the kids that will be affected. Even me, being the grouchy, sarcastic, (insert adjective and noun of your choice here) that I am, I still like to look at the trucks even if I don’t buy anything. I just don’t think a circus tent is going to do it (whatever “it” is) for me. Nor do I believe is it going to do it for your for everyday, run-of-the-mill race fan. Something will just be missing. Isn’t one of the main points sales is to have something to draw them in?

Of all the things that is wrong with NASCAR, in this time when it is trying to win the fan base back, this is simply a wrong way to go. The trucks ARE the draw. The trucks ARE part of the memories (past and future). The trucks ARE a part of NASCAR. Tents are not. If I want tents I’ll go to a revival or my local car dealer’s tent sale.

Yeah, I’ll go once, just to see how bad they can screw things up. Kinda like looking at a trainwreck. Then I’ll shake my head and never go back.

Circus tents are for, well, the circus!

Stay off the wall,

Jeff Meyer

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Jeff is one of the longest-tenured staffers at Frontstretch, starting his second decade as the resident humorist and pain-in-the-butt that keeps NASCAR (and his fellow co-workers) honest. Writing Voices From The Cheap Seats, every Tuesday, his BSNews! Segments along with alter ego “Stu Padasso” have developed a large following. Jeff makes his home in Tennessee and is a Bristol groupie, camping out for the August night race every year since he can remember.

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12 comments

  1. Avatar

    One other reason for the steep decline, the internet. Why buy all that crap at the track and then lug it around all day. Much easier to order it from home. You don’t have to worry about the lines, them not having your size and the selection is much wider. I still buy my fair share of Gordon stuff, but I haven’t bought something at the track in years. The only way I would now is if I saw something that was not offered on the internet.
    Not sure how the circus tents will work out but the fancy trucks will be missed. They are part of the scene that makes going to the track special. You’d think it be worth keeping them for some of the more popular drivers that still have lines.

  2. Avatar

    They may as well have just one big tent, because all the merchandise is so similar anyway. Gone are the days of Team Caliber diecasts or most any other unique team-specific items. Now my Tony Stewart hat is often just your Brad Keselowski hat in a different color.

    Aside from the rise of the Net, the way the sport is covered doesn’t help either. Anyone outside of the chosen few (and anyone who supports one) is not-so-subtly treated like a third-class citizen by both media and Kool Aid drinking fans. And I say this as a longtime fan of one of the big names. Who besides a decades-long Petty fan is going to support Aric Almirola when all he/she gets to hear is how the guy doesn’t belong? Cheered for AJ Allmendinger since he was a CART rookie? Screw you, he doesn’t even get Hendrick engines.

    It’s just not an environment that’s going to sell much.

  3. Avatar

    Hey….If you like your Nascar, you can keep your Nascar! Right, Summer?

    Join me in contacting TMZ ( or any other similar organization ) to get them to investigate Nascar. Let’s get the story on yellow flags, bias, rules changes, Hendrick, etc.

  4. Avatar

    Souvenir Row is definitely one of the perks of going to the race. However, it seems like the business model isn’t working. It’s probably much more cost effective to haul all the stuff in few trailers and setup tents. I just hope they do it in a unique way. Maybe each team should have its own tent, and put logos or something on them. They could also air condition them. I would like being able to walk around a large tent and get closer looks at merchandise before buying.

  5. Avatar

    I always enjoy going to the trailers when I get to a track. It is fun to walk around and see what there is to offcer.

    I do agree with Tim S though that one of the big problems is that everything looks alike. I used to be able to buy a unique looking hat and I have a collection of them but now, the hats look the same except for the drivers number and a few differences in color. I haven’t bought a new hat in ages – I wear my old ones. Also the pricing, whether at the track or over the internet, is pretty expensive.

    I’ve been to some of the bigger tracks – Daytona comes to mind – where they already had a tent up for various gear. I always found it to be a far more annoying experience than standing in line at the trucks, but maybe that is just me.

    As you said, Jeff, NASCAR did a fine job in running off a lot of the long time fans as “not worth their while” but they would still like it if they spent $ for chatchka, huh. Yeah, that is pretty much the way of the New and Not Improved NASCAR.

    I would definitely miss the trucks at the track.

  6. Avatar

    They are not TRUCKS….they are TRAILERS. The trucks (also known as TRACTORS) are what pull them. Hence the term Tractor Trailer.

  7. Avatar

    It was a tradition on race morning at Charlotte for our entire infield gang to head outside the track to buy our souveniers at the haulers. I have a friend who bought so much Ricky Rudd stuff that he had an entire room of his house (the Rudd Room) dedicated to his favorite driver. We won’t miss the shiny haulers because we all quit going to the Charlotte races since none of us are Jimmie Johnson fans. And though we bought plenty of t-shirts, hats, and can koozies, our homemade “Win or Lose, We Will Booze” sign was way more special than any overpriced trinket we could have bought at the track.

  8. Avatar

    Na$car most likely has bought a tent Co. That is the way they work things.

  9. Avatar

    Its such a simple idea…why screw it up….A couple of years ago I wanted to purchase a bass pro hat of Truex for my wife. I looked for his trailer….You would think sponsors would value the trailers over a tent…I can see combining two drivers into one trailer with the exception of the top four or five drivers….

  10. Avatar

    For my wife and I the souvy trailers are a big part of the NASCAR experience. Those trailers are part of the show that is NASCAR, and lord knows the quality of “the show” itself, has deteriorated in recent years due to track repaves, the aero dependent cars of tomorrow/today (whatever), perpetual changes to the chase playoff system, cookie cutter mile and a half tracks, yada yada yada. Nascar needs to keep in mind that those trailers ARE the fan experience and the enjoyment of the event because the on track product and lack of amenities at the tracks isn’t justifying the heavy ticket prices. I love NASCAR, but it aint what it used to be. If they want to lose this hardcore fan since 1993 and the hundreds upon hundreds of the dollars I spend annually, Get rid of the trailers.

  11. Avatar

    Let’s face it. NASCAR is exactly like a circus… THey move from town to town.. with their concessions and food truck. Set up and put on a “show”// Break down and do it all over again. Overpriced everything.. but they havent quite figured out how to get animals involved yet. .. so
    tents are appropriate for the caravan that is NASCAR.