Home / Beside the Rising Tide / Beside the Rising Tide: NASCAR, The Price Is Right
(Photo: Matthew T. Thacker/NKP)

Beside the Rising Tide: NASCAR, The Price Is Right

Dear NASCAR,

Well, you certainly caught us all off guard last week with the news you’ve put out feelers about selling the whole Magical Mystery Tour that is contemporary NASCAR racing. After much deliberation I’ve decided that I’d be the perfect new owner. No, I haven’t got much of a financial stake in the sport (Mama didn’t raise any idiots; I am self-taught.)

But I do have a deeply emotional investment after more than five decades of hardcore fan ship/writing/reporting. Thus, I feel the need to further my involvement without making too big a commitment. You remember what Junior Johnson once said about the difference between involvement and commitment? Pointing to his bacon and egg breakfast, he noted the chicken was involved with the breakfast. The pig was committed.

Thus, I stand ready to offer you one hundred US dollars ($100) for the whole party package. I can pay it in one of those newer, big face hundred dollar bills so you know it’s not counterfeit, though admittedly the new bills do Ben Franklin absolutely no favors. He was a not a good-looking man to start with and his mom must never have insisted he get a haircut because he looked ridiculous. If you prefer, though, I can make full payment in ten $10 bills. They can be slipped into a greeting card envelope and shoved under your doorstep so that your ex’s lawyers don’t have to know about it.

Naturally, I am cc’ing Goldman Sachs with this offer. I feel like they and I go way back. It was, after all most of my tax dollars that contributed to their $2.9 billion bailout back during the last economic crisis. After all, they were too big to fail. Funny thing there. The people losing their homes to foreclosure weren’t too small to bother with. I don’t know why I’m suddenly feeling the urge to whistle “Little Pink Houses” but I am….

I am fully aware that the amount of this offer is substantially less than you or the G and S boys might have been daydreaming about but here’s the thing. Even if you slash prices, it’s tough selling deck chairs on a sinking ship in the north Atlantic. Those half price buffet dinner coupons aren’t much of an incentive when the meal is to be served in an octopus’s garden under the sea.

And look at the bright side. If those troublemakers over at the Race Team Alliance come storming the Bastille, as seems to be their intent, you can simply send them a turnip, a length of medical tubing and a plasma bag. “Can’t get blood from a turnip” is the oldest civil trial defense on the books.

Now naturally, y’all have a lot of time and energy invested in this racing deal and you want to be sure that whoever takes over for you is going to do the right thing by the sport. That is my heartfelt intent. So what will I do? Well in short, all the things you are doing and have done to the once great sport of stock car racing over the last decade and a half, I’ll plan on doing just the opposite.

Under your watch, TV ratings for and attendance at NASCAR races is down about 50% over the last five years. I mean that’s the bottom line, right? You can sugarcoat a cat turd anyway you like with all the mumbly-jumbly crap about “consumers digesting the sport through different means” but it’s still not a Baby Ruth bar. Any feeble attempt you’ve made to straighten NASCAR’s ailments out are just a matter of locking the barn door after the horses are all done up and gone. Those newer, more affluent fans you coveted; well, they came, they saw, they blew out of Dodge without a backwards glance over their shoulders. (Sort of like Dodge did, come to think of it.) I think it was Jerry who once wrote; “Like a steam locomotive, rolling down the track, they’re gone, they’re gone and nothing’s going to bring them back.”

I’m under no delusion that my new NASCAR is going to depose the NFL as the king of the hill in American sports. I’m not going to even try. What I am going to try to do is to win back the sport’s once loyal longtime fans you jettisoned like three-day-old shrimp. They’re the ones who mined and paid for those silver spoons you were born with in your mouth.

I ain’t saying there’s not going to be some pain felt as we contract our sport back to a more manageable level. But we’re all going to share the pain, so no one suffers unduly or alone. So here we find ourselves with a bunch of racetracks, perhaps most of them, which sell out less than half their tickets to races that were once sold out months in advance of the events. The laws of supply and demand would seem to indicate with demand down, supply needs to be cut too. Rather than playing to half-empty grandstands twice a year we’ll cut all the tracks with the exception of Martinsville, Bristol and Richmond back to one event a year with the grandstands hopefully just about full.

Yep, shortening the schedule has got to be a priority. Round about early September every year, if you listen hard you can hear what sounds like a buffalo stampede. That’s casual NASCAR fans abandoning the sport to follow NFL games. We need to have packed up the tents, put out the fire and called in the dogs before the NFL regular season starts.

Well, I can hear some of you squealing piggishly, that won’t work. That’s right when our playoffs start. (You did get the memo that it’s the playoffs now, not the Chase right? It seems sometimes in NASCAR racing the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, perhaps because some of you have assumed such an awkward position with your heads up your bums.) Well, I’m sad to say it doesn’t matter if you call it the playoffs or the Chase or “Free beer and fried chicken time”, it’s just not going to work. Some of you might need a paper and marker to sketch this one out, but I’ll give it a shot.

In the stick-and-ball sports whose papers you seem so desperate to copy off of, throughout the regular season at every event one team faces off against another. It is highly likely that the two NFL teams pitted against one another in the Super Bowl may not have played a regular season game against that opponent. Thus, it’s a legitimate question which of the two teams is better.

Now, in NASCAR racing all the best teams (and the ones who show up to fill the field) “play” against each other every week. Thus, Johnny James has routinely beaten Gordy Jefferson like a cheap drum week in and week out all season. There’s no fairness in making Jefferson the champion just because he got on a roll for three of the last four races and won the final one. You’re practically telling drivers just stay within the top 16 in points for the first 26 races and then really bring your “A” game for the last 10.

Gee, I wonder why you’re having trouble selling tickets to the first 24 races? No, actually I’m not wondering. I know. That was sarcasm right there. The current system is like devoting hours to reading a really good suspense novel only to have the last five chapters replaced by a math textbook.

It’s also not helping matters any that once the really good drivers have a win to lock in a slot in the Ch…er, playoffs, they don’t really need to do much else for months at a time. If every baseball team that won a game sometime during the regular season qualified for the post-season we’d have a hell of a mess on our hands every September. There needs to be a points system which rewards race wins to such a degree that the drivers would run over their own wives to win rather than finish second. (Well, maybe not that much of an incentive though if my initials were SB I’d never turn my back to the track anyway.)

There should be a decent size bonus for top-five finishes as well. Rather than have stage bonus points (I’m sorry, did I forget to mention that whole boondoggle is as over as the Tide Pod Challenge?) drivers should get bonus points for leading laps. What we’re looking for here is drivers running flat out to win and lead races.

We also want to give drivers who have a few bad weeks a chance to get back in the game. Thus, any finishes below 21st would earn a driver and team zero points. Everyone is going to have a few bad weekends. Heck, I’d be open to the idea of letting drivers drop their two worst finishes (in a 22-race schedule) at the end of the season when tallying up the final points totals. That might be a little too gimmicky, though and I am no fan of gimmicks. Let me poll my fellow longtime fans and get their feelings on that idea.

Sorry. As noted above, the three-stage race format has got to go. I recall when you trotted that pony out, you swore it was for the race fans so they got to see better racing throughout the event… not just at the end. Yeah, OK. You actually did it to give the presenting networks additional scheduled commercial breaks. And you felt compelled to do so because fans were flat calling you out about all the bogus “debris” cautions you were throwing to get some commercials in and spice up things at the end of the races.

Repeat after me. Though the temptation can be strong sometimes, you are there to officiate races, not orchestrate them. Yep, you trotted out stage racing, your new one-trick pony, and waited for the applause. Turns out what you got was a bunch of people hollering; “That ain’t no pony! It’s a camel.” To paraphrase a bit here, a camel is a horse designed by morons.

Now, about the cars themselves. Work with me here. It’s not that hard. National Association of STOCK car racing. Stock is the operative word here and in this instance it doesn’t relate to what you buy and sell on Wall Street. (Most race fans are more concerned with prices at the supermarket, not on the stock market.) Ford and GM are building some badass cars right now (as are our friends at Dodge and I am determined to bring them back into the fold even if it means locking their Italian overlords in the trunk of a parked car while we draw up the contracts.)

Yes, I know the days are long since gone when you could go down to the local Chevy or Ford agency, buy a car off the lot, paint some numbers on the side of it and go racing. Safety equipment needs to be added. Independent rear axles need to be converted to solid. In oval course racing, a wet sump oiling system isn’t going to work so the engines will have to be converted to dry sump. But right now, the Big 3 are building some really high horsepower engines. Maybe they even have too much power so we’ll ask them to ditch the superchargers and but keep multi-point injection, coil on plug ignition and roller cams.

Racing is supposed to improve the breed, right? I’d like to see those stock-based engines capable of running 1,500-2,000 race miles without an overhaul as a start towards significant cost reductions to make the sport less dependent on sponsorships which are fewer and harder to come by. Ideally, I want to slash the cost of fielding a competitive team by half over the next two years and then slash it in half again over the following two years. As we return the sport to health with increased TV ratings and attendance, maybe we can get some new sponsors to come aboard or even bring back some that have left.

As for Toyota? Well, sorry they don’t make a rear-wheel drive, high-performance coupe or sedan. They are, of course, welcome to stay in the Truck Series since they do, in fact, build V-8 rear-wheel trucks. Damned ugly ones but they still fit in the “Stock” category. Oh, and once you’re on the way out the door could you please tape a “For Rent” sign on the front door of the stately NASCAR headquarters? We have no need for that sort of opulence. Nor do we have need for employees whose sole function isn’t to improve racing, attendance and TV ratings.

To be honest, I’m not much for Florida anyway. I don’t need to live anywhere where the average age of the population is prehistoric and where every August and September, it seems a big old Cat 5 hurricane is determined to blow the peninsula back to its prelapsarian state for the alligators. I don’t even do well around brown woods snakes. So I want nothing to do with alligators, two-legged or four.

As part of cost savings, I’m going to work for an annual salary you wouldn’t bother to stoop and pick up off the floor as you staggered out of a Daytona bar. I’m a simple man and I’ve got simple tastes. I think the head of NASCAR’s salary ought to be based on the median average salary of stock car racing fans. Yeah, I’m going to need that Dodge Challenger Hellcat company car, but that’s at least partially because I’m selling off the corporate jets, too. What do planes have to do with a series that races cars? And I need something fast to drive because I intend to get to the track before the fans and leave after them so I have plenty of time to discuss what they want to see and how we’re doing moving NASCAR forward.

You know, maybe it’s already too late. Maybe I’m throwing my hundred bucks down the drain, but I care so deeply about this sport I’m willing to gamble it can be saved. Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? It ain’t over until we say it’s over. Who’s with me?

Respectfully,

Matt McLaughlin

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About Matt McLaughlin

Matt McLaughlin
Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.

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29 comments

  1. Great article, but it is all too late. According to Sportsmediawatch.com, last week’s Kansas race lost to Top Rank Boxing in the same time slot, .35 to .32 in the key demographic of 18-49 year olds. It looks like the only remaining motor sports fans will soon all be using three-wheel tricycles. Maybe we can race those.

  2. Speaking of drivers running over their wives, did you know that Sheila Elliott was arrested for running her Mercedes over her husband Ernie, forcing him to climb “underneath a trailer for safety,” an arrest warrant shows? Presumably they are still happily married – or not.

    Anyway, that makes the Busch Brothers Thanksgiving Day feud seem like small sweet potatoes. And it is why Bill tells Chase, “we don’t talk about Aunt Sheila.”

  3. It started with that day in 2003 that NASCAR announced the Southern 500 was being moved to Fontana. Don’t forget at the time, Brian France was rumored to be part of a group looking to return the NFL to the Los Angeles area. With that the snowball started rolling down the hill and hasn’t looked back.

  4. Great tongue in cheek article. One of the best I have read. Would be nice to see some of the stuff come to pass but France just wants to get out while he can make a billion or so from the sale of the product. I don’t think he has ever cared about NASCAR, only the money that it made him. His Dad and Grandfather were the opposite. They loved cars and racing and nurtured the sport. Brian simply ran it into the iceberg and now the water is about knee deep in the wheel house. It will be interesting to see what happens with the title sponsor after next year. Bet he wants to sell way before then.

  5. LOL! I don’t know if it is sarcasim or what, but no one mentioned your Germans bombing Pearl Harbor statement.

    • Another good one Matt. I’ll toss in another 100 if you promise to let me wave the green flag once. Amy, if you haven’t seen it, watch Animal House. Funny movie.

  6. Send the letter Matt, registered mail, with return receipt. Maybe find a way to include signatures from us old timers that are struggling under the weight of carrying the sport because we care about it and not the cooperate greed that is Daytona’s reason, which is starting to unravel. NASCAR has perfected the aeronautical intercourse on a rotating pastry that is both the fans and the sport. A once great racing series humiliated by BOZO the would be king. All hail BOZO.

  7. Mike in Oro Valley

    Rather than tend to the Golden Egg, NASCAR cooked the Goose that laid it. Counting those empty seats I used to sit in one. I grew up in Kansas went to U of KS just a few miles south. I didn’t even DVR the Kansas race and missed nothing. Which is what I expected to miss.

  8. Matt, the best point was the cost savings. Stock tin, stock motors. Ditch the hangers on in the corporate offices.

    24 race schedule with an April to September window. Up the anti to a deuce, Matt, I’m good for a C note.

  9. Why do people insist the schedule has to be shortened? That’s DEVALUING the sport. 36 to 38 races is what the schedule needs. Supply needs to stay because demand IS there; reducing supply never works.

    What the sport really needs –

    1 – Eliminate the playoff format.

    2 – Go back to the Latford Point System, increase race-winner points, increase points for most laps led; make winning and laps led count for the title directly.

    3 – Keep the segment format; four segments (quarter, halfway, three-quarter, full finish) with 20 points for segment winners, 9 for second down to 1 for tenth, five points for most laps led per segment, race stays under green segment to segment.

    4 – Work to lower sanction fees for tracks.

    5 – Go back to 500 mile distances on the bigger tracks (Pocono, Michigan, Fontana, Indianapolis, etc.) – 500 is a superior test of competition and racecars than shorter distances.

    6 – Phase in the restrictor plate-draft duct package for all tracks in all series; make the draft more important than handling and keep the HP within what the tracks and the racecars can handle.

    7 – Start working with teams on spending controls – it is team spending that is driving up costs.

    8 – Start switching some TV money from Winston Cup to the other series (Busch-Xfinity, Trucks, K&N/ARCA, Modified Tour).

    9 – No more night racing for the major touring series; they have seriously damaged local tracks.

    10 – Instead, work with cross-promotional efforts with local tracks, such as Daytona Speedweeks working with local tracks like New Smyrna etc., Talladega working with the local dirt track and BIR, Pocono working with Jennerstown, etc.

    11 – Start reigning in officiating – no more yellow line rule, start-finish line determines order, keep pit road open when the caution comes out, etc.

    12 – End sponsorship exclusivity deals – encourage “rival” sponsors to work with teams, tracks, etc. – bring back STP vs Purolator vs Valvoline vs Exxon-Mobil etc., Holly Farms vs KFC, Gatorade vs Pepsi etc.

    13 –

    • I have to ask about #9. If no one is watching the race on TV (as per constant ratings decline) how is the race hurting local tracks?
      You’d think if all the fans that stopped watching and attending races were inclined to go to local tracks, the local tracks would be doing great.

    • Oh my gosh a voice from the past, the Winston cup and restrictor plate comments gave you away. Are you mo longer a fam of the 43??

    • Michael, do you work for Bill France? Every one of your suggestions make a bad France decision of the past even worse. Plate racing is a joke and everybody knows it, especially when no-talents like Dillon and Stenhouse win them. Stage racing is another joke, but you want to expand it. All it really does is provide more commercial time and less racing. The Latford system needs to be overhauled but not with points for leading laps without winning. If you can’t close the deal, suck it up and do better next time. 400 miles races take an eternity to finish. Today’s ADHD crowd will never accept longer races. The 600 is an old gimmick that should have died a decade ago.

      It seems you are a fan of gimmicks, so today’s racing is already nearly perfect for you. Pony up the big bucks and assure BZF that you will keep his legacy alive and well until it is dead and buried. Just being old doesn’t make you wise.

      • He said race stays green at the end of segments. That cuts down on the TV time outs but opens the door for the 23, 55, 51, 72 etc. to scratch the itch on their arms.

        • Sorry, I missed that. Apologies to Michael, but I can’t see NASCAR giving up the precious commercial time for a 20-minute caution that requires no cleanup.

  10. The Playoffs did not destroy NASCAR. Bad racing destroyed it. Watch someone (who has had superior lap times for an eternity) try to pass for the lead for a few laps and see how his car hits a wall of air a few feet from making the pass happen. All you need in NASCAR racing is a series of restarts, where the real racing goes on. Throw the caution every 20 laps during the first 2/3 of the race and then throw one every 5 laps thereafter. Or fix the aerodynamic issues. You do employ engineers, don’t you, NASCAR? Same with restrictor plates. These are no longer safety features, but devices to make the racing look more interesting than it actually is. Have those same engineers design a car that will not become airborne at unrestricted speed and dump the plates.

    Then get rid of the NXS Series and in honor of Amy Henderson, call the new Series the Underdog House. All of her favorite drivers could take turns running into each other, while leaving the professionals at the Cup level to run their races without moving chicanes blocking their way.

    Dump Chevy and keep Toyota. Chevy makes the worst cars on the planet (now that the Yugo is gone) and Japan introduced quality, reasonable prices and durability to the American car industry which had gotten fat and happy selling self-destructing land yachts.

    Finally, scrap the playoffs. Ironically, years ago, I suggested that the problem with the Latford system was that it placed no premium (zero, zilch, nada) on winning. Now even Matt McLaughlin has come over to my way of thinking. (And I DID think of it first, Matt.) Give the winner a healthy, even massive, bonus. I would NOT give bonus points for leading laps or finishing in the Top Five, because that defeats the purpose of the Smarter Than Yo system by rewarding losing.

    And I will up your ante to $200, even though I just totaled my personal car (qualifying me for the Underdog House), because I am a good and generous person.

    • I will add for emphasis that unless and until the aero problem is fixed, no amount of gimmicks will save NASCAR. Racing is supposed to be about passing. If you want follow the leader, stand on a freeway overpass for 4 hours. You will see more passing and it’s free.

      All of the other ideas are subordinate to the need to improve the quality of racing. More races, fewer races, different championship systems. more short tracks, the end of Indy, Daytona and Dega may help, but fans pay to see racing. And we haven’t seen more than a few laps of it except after restarts for years.

      And with Chevy and Ford leaving the U.S. auto market except for a few token gimmicks like the Camaro and the Mustang, turn the entire sport over to the Asian companies that still make and sell sedans for real, not for show. NASCAR buys more Camaros and Mustangs than the general public does. Keeping those models technically available to the public shows how cynical and crass GM and Ford really are – as if we needed any more proof.

  11. I’m with you, Matt. I have a Benjamin I’m willing to kick in if it helps, though I was hoping to use it if the France family decides to unload ISC as well. It’s not that I want racetracks, I just want to demolish Kansas, Joliet, and Homestead, and lower the banks at Daytona and Talladega so we don’t need those damned restrictor plates. And since ISC doesn’t own Indianapolis Motor Speedway, you’ll have to break the sad news about the Brickyard 400 to the George Family.

    • Matt

      Yeah, I’m down with that. How about we try this with the remaining tracks. Admission is free to the race. You choose what you want when leaving afterwards. I think most NASCAR fans are honest people. If you provide them with an afternoon of entertainment and don’t fleece them at the concession stands or make them stand in a line an hour to use a restroom that requires waders to navigate and they’ll contribute a fair price. If nothing else the optics would be a lot better with full grandstands once again.

  12. The perfect letter Matt ! I don’t know if I would describe ( not label) your writings as cynical or sarcastic, but, your take on things NASCAR makes perfect sense to this long time reader. I myself convey thoughts in this fashion sometimes on issues, but there is always the opinion of others that I am being rude, negative, non-forward thinking, or just plain mean. To me, it is being realistic and I believe you, I and many others have an unrelenting wish that NASCAR could still turn out all right. Lets call it the view from the other side. Keep using the music lyrics along the way, and I might send you a $100 to help with your purchase. My favorite song of all time is the sound of 43, well 40 anyway, race cars on the backstretch of the first lap, up against the chip, before they let off for turn 3.

  13. As much as I wanted to applaud the article I really can’t bring myself to do it even as a parody. As far as I’m concerned I’m tired of people thinking that eliminating the Chase/Playoffs is going to magically return Nascar to its glory days. In short “It ain’t”. Nobody goes to or watches a race because of the points standing. And I wonder how many of those long time fans that built the sport won’t be seen again until the trumpet blows?

    And remember if there is a problem with the driver not giving a 100%, then there is a easy answer. Same one as they use down at the Quickie Mart. “You’re fired”. Works every time.

    But you are correct about a lot of things, get out before football season, and stage racing being the foremost. But hey, an interesting article particularly taken as humor.

    • Getting rid of the chase/playoff won’t fix NASCAR and may not bring the ratings and attendance up, but it will make the championship format the right one for the structure of this sport. As Matt alluded, all 35 teams compete against each other every week. We already know who is better than who by season end (they’ve been beating the rest of the field for 36 weeks and the points show it) and giving someone who isn’t a chance to usurp the rightful heir to the crown is bullshit.

      • I respectfully disagree. The fallacy in the current system is allowing those who are not part of the “playoffs ” to compete. This is an unadulterated money grab, trying to have a playoff yet get the sponsors money. Ultimately the sponsors will walk away from that.
        To put my old school hat on for a moment, the whole championship brohaha is BS, its completely fabricated to give people something to talk about between races. Back in the day nobody other than the participants gave a crap about it. Its just a creation of the marketers in Daytona and the media who needed something to write about.
        Now I feel better.

        • I agree with that overall but I’m not sure what you are suggesting. Getting rid of the championship overall and not having one or only having the eligible drivers on track.
          If it’s the former then NASCAR would be the only sport without some type of championship format (that I know of).
          If it’s the latter then good luck getting people to watch a race on a 1+ mile track with only 4 cars racing.

          • All I am pointing out is the hypocrisy of, as I said trying to serve two masters. Get every dollar they can, whether it be from sponsors, teams, fans, whoever, while at the same time have a “playoff” only open to a select few.

            I really have no objection either way, just no half measures.

          • I wouldn’t object to the elimination of the championship, or at least its lessening in significance.. Golf and tennis have some sort of convoluted formula for determining a champion, but nobody but the diehards knows or cares who wins it. The average golf or tennis fan wants to know only two things: who won the Majors and where did Tiger finish? NASCAR has no Majors and it also has no Tiger Woods. But putting the emphasis on winning races rather than points would be a step in the right direction.

          • And for the sake of all that is good and holy, NASCAR should give Chase Elliott a win, so that the sport would at least have a chance at a Tiger Woods equivalent. I am one of those who believes once he wins the first, the rest will come in bunches. In a Ford.

  14. funny i was thinking about what would happen if a “go fund me” for the purchase of na$car. wonder how much fans could raise to out right own the series.

  15. Please do Matt! You would be perfect for the job.