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Odds & Ends Around the Track: NASCAR Fans Love Crashes Edition

Thank you FOX Sports for such touching tributes to Darrell Waltrip. After last week’s article, I know I am in the minority who already misses DW. Whether you love or hate the man, there are not many opinions in the middle on old DW. If you weren’t moved by Stevie Waltrip’s “Letter to DW” segment, I worry about your humanity. If I didn’t infuriate you with my DW reverence last week (or admitting I like Nickleback) then this week I probably will with my expose about NASCAR fans.

Living Up to Stereotypes

After NASCAR beat writer Jeff Gluck released his poll results on whether fans liked or disliked the race at Sonoma Raceway, I was left with only one conclusion. This wasn’t some shoot-from-the-hip conclusion — this is something I have been living in denial of for many years. In any walk of life, there is a good reason for some stereotypes … because, while they certainly don’t fit everyone in a particular group, they got established because there is some level of truth to the stereotype about a group.

One of my joys of working across the sports and entertainment landscape with DMIC Media is that I get to interact with many non-racing and non-NASCAR fans. They are quick to let me know what the non-racing fan’s stereotype of NASCAR fans, in particular, is all about.

But look at the data about which races other than the Daytona 500 have been the most popular with fans over the past 30 years. Talladega Superspeedway turned into the Mecca of NASCAR racing for many fans after the addition of the restrictor plate. Attendance and television ratings are higher for that event than most other NASCAR events.

Need more evidence that the stereotype about NASCAR fans might be accurate? Since the reconfiguration of Bristol Motor Speedway, the actual racing at BMS has improved by almost every standard except for one … crashes. The night race used to draw over 160,000 rabid NASCAR fans who rose as one with every crash and every driver altercation. Now, with a multi-groove track at Bristol, the crashes have gone away and so has the fan base. Meanwhile, despite attendance dropping at most tracks, Talladega continues to be the big draw as fans wait for the inevitable “Big One.”

Nobody wants to see a race car driver get hurt, especially not NASCAR fans. But NASCAR fans love crashes. Look at the top rated races in Jeff Gluck’s poll and they usually have a big crash at the end that set up a crazy finish. Many NASCAR fans raved about the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL race last year and are thrilled they are going to see the carnage-filled crash-fest again. But if the changes to the track lead to less spectacular wrecks, don’t be shocked when the fans no longer love the ROVAL. Many NASCAR fans live up to the stereotypes of loving crashes, and attendance and television rating data proves it!

Editor’s Note: Dennis has officially changed his name and gone into the Race Fan Protection Program, so please put your torches and pitchforks away.

Pulling for Those Underdogs

Last week was a huge week for NASCAR fans who love underdogs. Many years ago for Frontstretch, I wrote a piece called “The Other Side of the Garage,” profiling small budget teams in the then-Busch Series after a race at Rockingham Speedway (Busch Series and Rockingham? Yes indeed I have been doing this a long time).

I was thrilled to see the connection that some NASCAR fans had with the underdog teams. Guys like Mike and Kenny Wallace had such diehard fan bases, I was impressed. But even guys like Mike Harmon, who still manages to keep things going today, had their loyal fan bases, and then of course there is Morgan Shepherd.

Nowadays, there is even a fun Twitter account to follow called “NASCAR Low Teams (@low_NASCAR)” that does a great job following the smaller budget guys. Even if you root for another driver in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series, didn’t you smile when Ross Chastain and Niece Racing got their win to earn a spot into the playoffs (barring he gets in the top 20 in points)? Weren’t you thrilled to see Matt DiBenedetto score a top-five finish at Sonoma in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for Leavine Family Racing? The driver who calls himself “Guido” because nobody seems to spell or say his last name right is much more talented than his finishes have shown, but he keeps getting the most out of his equipment.

Back in the good old days of NASCAR, this would earn him a shot with a higher-funded team, but of course, in today’s NASCAR, his job will be in jeopardy if someone else can bring more sponsorship dollars. While there will always be a huge population of NASCAR fans who are the bandwagon jumpers for the top guys in the sport, there is a certain segment of the NASCAR fan population that will always be pulling for those underdogs.

Fantasy Insight: Chicagoland Speedway

Looking Back to Last Week’s Picks

Win: Kevin Harvick– Finished sixth

Place: Kyle Busch-Finished second

Show: Clint Bowyer-Finished 11th

Long Shot: Michael McDowell-Finished 25th

Last week, I knew one of the smaller teams would have success at Sonoma, but I picked the wrong one. This week, as NASCAR heads back to an intermediate speedway, it will be tougher for the little guys to prevail.

Before NASCAR started cutting down the horsepower, we were actually seeing more unique winners by this time in the season than the last two years when only six different teams have reached victory lane. The rules NASCAR put in place to attempt to even the playing field have had the opposite effect. Ten of the first 16 races have been won by Joe Gibbs Racing. Five other races have been won by Team Penske, leaving only one race for the other teams in the garage area. There is no reason to think this dominance will change this week at Chicagoland in the heat of Summer on a slick track.

Win: Kyle Busch-It’s his turn to win again at JGR

Place: Brad Keselowski-Two wins and eight top 10s in 10 races at Chicagoland

Show: Martin Truex Jr.– Neck and neck with his teammate for best driver in Cup right now

Long Shot: Erik Jones (25-to-1 odds) Finished sixth last time at Chicagoland and races for the team that wins the most races

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About Dennis Michelsen

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Dennis a.k.a. DMIC has been covering NASCAR racing since 1998. After spending 23 years as a professional weather forecaster, Dennis still didn't know what he wanted to be when he grew up, so he started covering auto racing full time. He is the moderator of the Race Track Business Conference - an all-day educational seminar covering the business of speed - and is the owner of DMIC Media & Marketing where he spends his time mouthing off about all kinds of sports. He is also the play-by-play voice for the professional Ultimate Disc team the Chicago Wildfire of the American Ultimate Disc League. Dennis can be heard every Saturday on The Final Inspection on 105.7FM The Fan in Milwaukee, Wis. talking NASCAR, and you can listen on the Radio.com app.

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9 comments

  1. Avatar

    All of the above. The reason the short tracks and the road courses are/were popular is that you knew SOMETHING was going to happen to liven things up, Didn’t have to be a massive wreck, but bumping and grinding is what made Nascar worth watching all those years to pretend now that ‘only the peasants’ want contact is so wrong! Stage racing has taken much of the excitement out of the road courses, bristol was ‘improved’ until it is now longer itself, and sponsors are sucking all the personality out of the drivers these days. Yes, wrecks make for excitement, bad feelings and retaliation. Isn’t that what put stock cars on the map?

  2. Avatar

    People want to see drivers do something they can’t (or won’t take the risk) to do. Without crashes, injuries, and even death, Nascar is reduced to (a quote I hate) “a bunch of guys driving around in circles.” While improving driver safety is a good objective, telling everybody you did that is just ignorant marketing. Why does anyone go to a bull fight…its not to see some guy in tights wave at a bull with a table cloth. You can’t market a ‘dangerous’
    sport on one hand, then talk about how wonderful you are for making it safer.
    The loss of popularity I believe can be attributed to the absence of fatalities since 2001. Now that you’ve all recoiled in horror, think about it.

  3. Avatar

    Wow… NASCAR fans like there to be some wrecks during the race. What a revelation. Front page news there.
    In further news, NFL fans love to see hard hits (…. he got JACKED UP”), hockey fans like to see fights, baseball fans gush when there is a bench clearing brawl, water is wet and fire is hot.

    The important part is that fans of all those sports don’t just watch them to see a wreck, a hard hit, a fight or a bench clearing brawl. But…. shit happens.

    • Avatar

      No most casual fans only do watch for the wrecks. I am only 28 and growing up through high school being a NASCAR fan all I heard among classmates is about how stupid the sport is cause all you do is turn left and the only reason to watch was for the wrecks. If Talladega doesn’t have the “big one” most casual fans will say the race was boring. Why do you think everyone wants the cars closer together? They hope that if they are closer together there will be more wrecks like the good old days. Unless these cars are sliding around….that isn’t going to happen.

      • Avatar

        I’m not a big fan of the RP tracks to begin with but I will say I do not need there to be a “BIG ONE” but a race without any contact and some bent sheet metal and a “little one” (or two) has a 90% chance of being boring. If for no other reason, no cautions usually results in everyone getting strung out and the race turning into a parade. One of the reasons I like Martinsville so much is because there is so much contact and banging, but because the speeds are slower it’s rare for a driver to get seriously injured and, since aero issues are at a minimum, in many cases the car is still competitive.

        And while I have no interest in going to an all-out demolition derby, it was nice to feed that beast twice a year at the old Bristol track. It was a unique spectacle that created situations that human beings (spectators) love…. competitors making asses out of themselves and behaving badly.

        • Avatar

          Agreed and unfortunately with this generation car it has been well documented that any contact can be detrimental.

          Regarding Bristol I will just cite my take below: “What I think made Bristol more exciting to watch was that it WAS difficult to pass, therefore, if you had a fast car, you had to GO, and that meant moving guys out of your way. Thus tempers flaring and fights and overall good entertainment….”

          I do like that you mentioned them making an ass out of themselves. We just do not see that anymore and thats a shame. I am not sure if that is a PR move, soft drivers, combination, or cause the chase implications…

          Nice to hear someone else isn’t a huge fan of RP races “sorry – thicker restrictor plate errr tapered spacer..”

  4. Avatar

    I’ll agree to a point about NASCAR and wrecks. It seems pretty clear that the casual fan loves wrecks, and only watched races for them. This was obvious to any real race fan who attended Cup or Busch races in the 90’s, when NASCAR’s attendance was growing weekly. Most of those new fans were only there to see wrecks….and maybe to get drunk.

    I have to disagree about Bristol though. I had Bristol tickets for years, and only dropped them after they repaved the track, adding the progressive banking. The racing has never been the same at Bristol, since that repave, and the grinding done to it a few years ago, hasn’t helped. The only reason there’s been anything close to multiple lanes recently, is because they’ve artificially created them using Trackbite.

    Personally I thought the Charlotte ROVAL race stunk, and I love road racing. I wish NASCAR would replace some of the cookie cutter 1 1/2 mile ovals with some natural terrain road courses, such as COTA, Road America, Road Atlanta and maybe even a second race at The Glen.

    • Avatar

      There has been much more PASSING at Bristol but less wrecking and less attendance.

      I also LOVE Road Racing but the stage stops have hurt the real road races and the ROVAL was not major league racing in my opinion.

      Thanks for the feedback!

    • Avatar

      I actually loved the roval, there was a lot of passing and bumping going on as cars tried to move through the field…then Brad and Kyle on the front row pulling another Watkins Glen restart except this time there wasnt enough real-estate to recover :’D

      Bristol has had a lot more passing and more side by side racing. However, we don’t get to often see that traditional bump and run (Kyle B put one on Larson last spring) but it was been rare that the bottom groove is preferred. What I think made Bristol more exciting to watch was that it WAS difficult to pass, therefore, if you had a fast car, you had to GO, and that meant moving guys out of your way. Thus tempers flaring and fights and overall good entertainment and news worthy highlights (you only tend to see wrecks, fights, and checkers on the 6 O’clock news if they even cover it these days)

      I actually hate super speedway racing I fall in the it takes almost no skill (only skill it takes is rear view driving at 200mph) Often the best cars get wrecked out of the race and you end up with (parity) because the slow, not win often car, was running 35th when the big one happened and finished 3rd out of 10 cars finishing on the lead lap….exciting stuff…