(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Beside The Rising Tide: Solving NASCAR’s Problem … Simple as 1, 2, 3

Okay, perhaps that’s a bit bold. But starting to solve NASCAR’s problems could indeed be as simple as 1,2,3. Problem solving 101 teaches us the first step to solving a problem starts with admitting there is in fact a problem.

While our dear buddy Brian France is well….um, away, dealing with his “problems” (congenital idiocy chief among them), his Uncle Jim has taken over the reins of NASCAR racing. To his credit, Uncle Jim admits that NASCAR needs some serious tweaking. That’s a welcome change from Brian’s “All is well, stay the course” press conferences, where he gesticulated wildly and performed first degree homicide on syntax while sweating profusely.

But the elder France doesn’t seem to have the sense of urgency that might behoove someone in his position. Yes, the schedule has become too bloated. Maybe we need to look at some weeknight events. Maybe some tracks should lose a date to increase demand for tickets at their other race. But we can’t do that yet because we signed agreements with the current track owners and operators.

Forget for a moment that NASCAR and ISC, which owns the majority of the tracks on the schedule, are two sides of the same coin. You want to start a stampede at either corporate office (both of which are headquartered in the same building coincidentally) just holler, “Hey, France, I found your wallet!” Jim France also seems to agree we need to put some “stock” back in stock cars and we’re not talking about the sort of “stock” traded on Wall Street.

But we can’t change the cars just yet. Maybe in 2021. And as for making the engines bear some basic architecture with what’s under the hood of modern street cars, we’ll likely have to wait a year beyond the introduction of the new cars to try that. If the smoke detectors are wailing, Fido is barking and doing back flips in the foyer and I see flames consuming the living room I’m calling the fire department right now. I’m not going to decide, “Well perhaps I’ll call them tomorrow. The window washers ought to be here soon and I don’t want the fire engines blocking the driveway when they arrive or I may have to pay a cancelled appointment fee.”

So here’s how we start. One. 1 as in 1 p.m. An hour after lunchtime. That’s what time long time stock car racing fans learned to associate with the start of stock car races.

It was a good fit. For those so inclined you got out of bed and went to church services. You greeted friends outside the church and then either went out to brunch or had it at home. Right about when the meal would be over and the majority of the cleanup work done. I hear a dishwasher starting and I’m still reaching for a remote to turn on the race. The younger kids would be dispatched to play, their Sunday duties having been handled and the menfolk and any ladies so inclined would crack a beer. Because it’s race time. 1 o’clock. Cue the ESPN Speed-world song I still find myself humming while the pre-race commercials on FOX stretch into extra innings. Hell, I used to get up and dance to that song as the anticipation of a race built. 

Forget the song? Too young to have ever heard it? Here you go. And I expect you to dance.

But not everyone goes to services on Sunday. Not everyone has a family to sit down to Sunday brunch with. I get it. Once they started having Mass on Saturday evening I’d sometimes meet up with my buddies shortly after dawn and go out riding on our motorcycles … ’til around noon. Then it was time to grab some burgers or a pizza and head home. Because the races started at 1 o’clock.

What about folks who due to circumstances beyond their control or sheer bad luck don’t live in the Eastern Time Zone? They’ll adapt. Most of my west coast friends actually enjoy getting to see stuff late morning that comes on in the early afternoon EST. It frees up a couple evening hours when the weather is nice and of course it never rains in California. No less an expert than Albert Hammond said so. Still want to argue? What’s the undisputed heavyweight champion of sports TV? It’s the NFL. And the NFL starts their early games at 1 o’clock. They must know something NASCAR doesn’t. Their ratings crush ours.

So 1 o’clock it is. Any viewers we lose on the Left Coast we can more than make up for by having operatives sneak into PST bus stations and homeless shelters to turn the TVs to the race … at 1 o’clock.

And by 1 o’clock I mean let’s get this show rolling. Say the prayer, sing the song, fire the engines, run down the starting order on the pace laps and drop the green. By 1:10 at the latest there ought to be fast, loud cars driven in anger dicing it out.

There’s few things more frustrating than listening to the current booth crews make predictions about who will run well and how the race will play out when almost inevitably their predictions are so far off base that it would be a 10 minute walk from the stadium’s parking lot for them to find some peanuts and Cracker Jack. You can catch up on that week’s NASCAR news during the cautions. Well, there is one thing more frustrating than the modern era NASCAR pre-race show.

During the Friday night of Daytona Speedweeks, I chewed my lower lip bloody watching the truck race because while there were trucks wrecking everywhere, some of them in flames, we’re not watching the race. We’re watching a commercial for a weekday NASCAR recap show we might choose to tune into to see highlights from that race, highlights we’d have seen live if they’d just can those damn self-promoting TV commercials or at least cut away from them at pivotal moments of the race.

Hey, next Sunday at 3 p.m. you can tune into FOX to see countless repeats of commercials to tell you when the following week’s race will be on. Well, it damn well ought to be on at 1 o’clock. This is stock car racing. What are you a moron?

Okay, so now we know when the race is going to start. Now we’ll discuss how long the race is going to last. That’s our number two.

It’s going to last just about two hours. Given people’s reduced attention spans and the explosion of entertainment options open to most folks not serving time for felonies or living in a storage shed in the Idaho Mountains waiting for the black helicopters to arrive. 

No, we’re not going to have a big clock counting down the minutes until the race is over. We need things to play out more organically than that. A race distance will be determined based on historic data as to how long that race will run at the new distance. If its 10 minutes short or 10 minutes long we won’t birth kittens out our nostrils. To speed things up we are going to do away with stage racing and stage breaks both of which have been as popular as new hemorrhoid creams that are administered orally. Maybe the TV people like them. The networks are at the track to document a race, not dictate its pace.

I’m a reasonable guy. I’ve been telling myself that for years and not once have I contradicted myself. There will have to be a couple exceptions. Obviously the Southern 500 remains the Southern 500. If it’s still running Monday morning (did I mention that the Southern 500 is moving back to Sunday afternoon where it belongs) so be it. Darlington was NASCAR tradition before it became traditional to be tradition and it’s only become more traditional since especially since that LA hijacking of the event that went about as well as the rollout of New Coke.

I’m on the fence about the World 600. It’d been a part of the NASCAR race schedule just about as long as I’ve held membership in the human race. But to be honest, the race often hasn’t been very good lately and when it’s not poor it’s often outright awful. Maybe we keep the name but make it the World 600 Kilometer which is about 372 miles, still a long race but a bit more palatable. And that’s from someone who still takes the metric system as a personal affront. Like I said, I’m flexible. I’m the first to admit that I’m not always right though I do remember both times I was wrong. I didn’t like it any and made adjustments so it would never happen again.

So on average a stock car race will last two hours. With 10 minutes of pre-race that leaves a 20-minute post-race show. Show the finishing order, document the points, talk to some drivers and let us know what network to tune into next Sunday at 1:00 p.m. I don’t need Darrell Waltrip to tell me what happened that afternoon. I saw it with my own two eyes.  

What about three?

Well, we’ll race three times per month and leave the other Sundays open. Oh, and we’ll race from March to September. That’s seven months with three races a month. If I’m doing the math correctly that’s about 21 races a season, possibly 22. Currently there’s 36 points races a year and two exhibition events. That’s too much. We want to pack up our bags and head back to our hollows before the behemoth that is the NFL season gets cranked up to full song.

Yep, the current schedule is going to need some radical surgery worthy of a Civil War field hospital. Let’s see. We leave Martinsville, Richmond and Bristol with two races a year. There’s been no short tracks built and added to the Cup series in decades. Every track on the schedule that currently has two dates will get cut back to one. And the two exhibition races will run on Saturday the day before the Cup race at the same track.

Fixed. Don’t say thanks, Jimbo. Just mail a big check.

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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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14 comments

  1. Avatar

    We live in the HST zone, if you are interested in NASCAR, Sunday breakfast is where it is at before you head out. The really benefit of this time zone is the other sports…the fans of other sports in my life, love it! And it does have it bennies….

  2. Avatar

    Oh my God you are spot on. I live on the west coast and 10:00 used to be Nascar time. Now I seem wonder what time races are on. Stage racing is so bad for the sport. I hate it and I think it has helped me not care so much about Nascar. While your at it get rid of the chase. If you look at all the things Brian France implemented that’s when the fan base started to leave. Not crazy about a 22 race season, but some adjustment is needed there.

  3. Avatar

    Yuck. You lost me with the two hour races. I just can’t buy into that. Also, that would kill any hope of bringing attendance at the track back up. Sorry, but I’m not driving 3 hours each way for a two hour race. It just isn’t worth the effort. And no, you won’t sweeten the deal by running the Xfinity or Truck race or qualifying or having any band short of The Rolling Stones play before the race.

    • Matt

      Obviously not everyone will like the idea but it sounds like that old adage, “The food here is awful. And the portions are so small!”

  4. Avatar

    i don’t understand why atlanta started at 2. heck green flag fell after that. i mean they say race will start at 2 pm, and then 2:20 when i get home from an errand they’re still not on the track. i’m all for 1 pm start time. people who live in different time zones seem to be able to adapt to football games and baseball games. yeah i know there’s regional games broadcasted in areas, but a lot of people shell out money for the nfl network, so they can watch whatever game they want.

    this coming sunday’s race will start at 3, i think. well that means it won’t end before 7. fox will be wanting to switch to reruns of their sunday lineup so they can start their normal sunday start at 8 pm.

    by time 3 pm rolls around sunday afternoon, i’ll be looking for a nap on the couch.

    whatever happened to that show victory lane that was on fs1? we had no post-race coverage in atlanta market sunday. little bit in v/lane then to news. i went looking for that victory lane show and found drag racing on fs1. i know stop being so cheap and purchase a tv guide that way i’ll know what shows are on tv.

    all i say is start the race on time, whatever time you have it published. 3 pm is not 3:20 or 3:30. just perpetuates the thought that is rule now that starting time really doesn’t matter.

    • Avatar

      Victory Lane has been cancelled for about 2 years now.

      Even John Roberts is no longer with Fox Sports, either. 🙁

  5. Avatar

    So, with the 2 hour races I assume that ticket prices will come down considerably? I’m not sure I want to drive 12 hours from MI to Bristol to see 2 hours of racing. The fact that a lot of the crowd drives fair distances to attend a race may make Nascar fairly unique, not depending on a ‘home team’ draw.

  6. Avatar

    I much prefer the 1pm Eastern time starts for most races, but I can tolerate 3pm starts for the relatively few Pacific Time and Phoenix starts (a lot of easterners apparently assume only heathens live in the western half of this country and no westerners ever attend church, even at Easter and Christmas).
    Two hours seems too short, but I am not sure of an ideal time duration. I much prefer that Pocono went to 400 mile races, but more than one fan who attended those races (as also, apparently, the writer did) rue the day those races were reduced from 500 miles – I guess it is an entitlement that getting drunk during a 500-mile race is much preferred over getting drunk for only a 400-mile, or even shorter, race.
    I think I prefer a shorter season, but I also like weekly races. I probably should see statistics on current and projected economic impact on tracks and surrounding communities if the number of races were reduced at various tracks. Assuming economic impart is immaterial (regardless of the protests of a track, fans, or the local chamber of commerce), I would move one of the Richmond races to Iowa (why should Virginia have four cup races, while Iowa gets none?)(my understanding is the significant difference between the Iowa and Richmond tracks is one has, depending on the wind direction, a background aroma of tobacco, while the other has a background aroma of dirt and corn…but that understanding might be wrong).

    • Avatar

      Richmond is a nascar heritage track (opened in 1946) in a nascar heritage state. Iowa is only 13-ish years old and admittedly is a copy of Richmond. I can’t speak for the racing heritage in Iowa. I’d happily swap Kentucky or Chicago or Kansas or Las Vegas or Texas for a Cup race at Iowa.

  7. Avatar

    If races are limited to 2 hours, will ticket prices come down commensurate with the cut in time? Will fans be willing to drive several hours to watch a 2 hour race? I drove 12 hours for the Bristol night race, but doubt I would if it was only 2 hours. I don’t suppose that motel prices will come down, either, will they? So, fans could end up spending the same amount of money for much less racing. I love eliminating the stages and accompanying yellow flag laps that just eat up time. That should save some time right there. I would love to go back to the 1 pm start time again.

  8. Avatar

    I can’t see the schedule changing before 2024. Matt you said it yourself France and ISC are two side of the same coin. The TV money is good till 2024.

    The France family controls 75% of 8 billion dollars. They are not going to give races or cut races till the TV contract is over.
    I don’t like a lot of what the FRANCE family does and I do think they are greedy.
    But no one with common sense would give up that kind of money and control

    What say you Matt? From one Quaker to another.

    • Matt

      Well you can strangle the goose that lays the golden eggs and make a lot of money selling Goose McNuggets short term but then you have no more golden eggs. My guess if a track in most markets goes from two dates to one, total ticket sales will be much higher for the remaining race.
      As for the TV loot right now NBC and Fox. Are willing to overpay to help grow thier fledgling sports networks NBCSN and FS1 and 2. Even getting potential viewers to figure out what channel numbers they are is a big win. ESPN used NASCAR to put themselves on the map long before they could afford NFL or MLB rights. But when the TV rights came up for bid and Fox and NBC offered stupid money, ESPN took a powder. There was a time NASCAR planned to have all their events on a pay per view network they owned. If that had happened NASCAR would now be invisible.

  9. Avatar

    I say shorten all the 500 milers to 400 miles except Daytona, Talladega, Darlington, And Charlotte, And the 500 lappers to 400 laps. Everything else you proposed is a keeper, but I need my races to be races, not sprints.

  10. Avatar

    I’m with you about the 1 p.m. start time and I would even be fine with it being 1 p.m. LOCAL time. Just so it is consistent and what happened to “you’ll always know where to find the race broadcast?”. Obviously that went out the door, too. Once upon a time I would have KNOWN exactly what time the race would start (1 p.m. as you said), what track they were racing on and what channel to watch. Heck I had the schedule printed out. Most of the time now, if someone doesn’t tell me when & where to watch, I don’t pay any attention to it. I never watch pre-race shows. They stopped being about information and became vehicle for some really stupid stuff so that ended that. I don’t waste my time with Waltrip’s.

    I can’t say that I would go for 2 hour races, 3 might be a more reasonable compromise but I certainly agree with the idea of letting the race play out organically and not be interrupted with stage breaks and other silly stoppages. I would like to see them go to one race per track. I agree with the premise that it would increase attendance at the tracks – so long as the racing itself is good at the track – maybe even if it is mediocre because supply & demand does work. I’ve pretty much been to all of the tracks that I really wanted to see a race at and I know which ones I would never waste my time or money to go to again.

    I also agree that NASCAR doesn’t have all the time in the world to make their changes. BZF wasted a lot of the tolerance of the diehard fans and there aren’t enough newer fans to make up that difference and again, people like me and my family have been there, done that and I am now a casual fan. It’s going to take effort on the part of NASCAR to make me invest my time and emotion in a current driver. There are a few who interest me but the “big name” drivers don’t and until the racing is good enough throughout the event to be interesting, I don’t plan to.