NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Holding a Pretty Wheel: Goodbye to Hollywood, NASCAR

Do you remember when everything NASCAR touched turned to gold? Those halcyon summers when the sport was booming? Everything was right in its world and it was magic.

But nothing stays the same. Summer romances fade in the winter cold, and so too has our love affair with NASCAR.

It’s easy to say it’s only about the racing, but that’s not really the truth. The truth is, there have been great races, mediocre races and completely forgettable races every season since it all began. The racing is some of it, but it doesn’t quite tell the story.

That’s because it was always only one piece of the magic.

Ten thousand words and more could be written about why the racing itself had changed. It boils down to one simple thing: the cars have changed and changed drastically over the years. NASCAR is caught between a rock and hard place because street cars have changed drastically, too. Even if cars, or the bodies, were completely stock, they wouldn’t race the same as they did years ago because they’re not the same. Modern street cars are more aerodynamic, smaller, designed for utility and fuel mileage instead of beautiful lines or general badassery.

Unless they tote out cars from 1987, they aren’t going to race like 1987. And maybe, just maybe, our glasses are all a little rose-colored about that anyway.

But those summers when it all went right, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was really, really right.

And it wasn’t just because of the racing; sometimes it was even in spite of it, because “aero push” had already entered the vocabulary and Jeff Gordon was winning too much and The King was gone.

Going to the track in those days was an experience in itself. Empty seats weren’t a thing at many tracks, and that often meant people packed in tight, with their coolers and bags and all the time in the world. Tailgating started early and ended late, with full breakfasts and steak dinners, corn hole and football games with a three-hour break for the race.

Just getting to the track could be an adventure, with hours spent sitting in traffic, only to be repeated again after the race. But nobody minded those hours, the morning still full of anticipation, a honk or a wave when somebody saw another car bearing their driver’s sticker and the late afternoon bringing a satisfied kind of sunburned tired. You left at dawn and got home after dark and loved every minute.

Racing was family. You shared something with those other fans; look long enough and you’d see someone with every driver’s t-shirt or hat or sticker. You talked racing with strangers and agreed that just about anyone would be happy with a win by the likes of Ward Burton or Ken Schrader or the like.

Collectively, you believed that could maybe happen.

The souvenir rigs held their own promise. If you were lucky and didn’t mind standing in line, you might meet a driver or two and score an autograph or a quick photo. You could find just about anything with your driver’s name on it, from the standard fare to pajamas and dog collars and just about anything you could decorate your personal vehicle with. It wasn’t all the same, you had to shop to find exactly the right thing to commemorate the day. Smokers could score free samples of the wares of the sponsors and everyone else could drink a cold lemonade to wash down a pretzel the size of their head.

And the drivers — fans felt like they knew them. Thanks to sponsors using them in commercials and several weeknight television shows dedicated to racing, they were in your living room on a daily basis. Commercials with drivers in them were everywhere, and they were memorable. Octane 93 and “I’m at the wrong track” resonate to this day with fans of the time.

It was that marketing that put drivers squarely in the public eye, and, ironically, that changed everything. Sponsors realized that millions of eyes saw their charges, and they began to shut them down, opting for corporate events at the track instead of signing at their souvenir haulers, carefully crafted interviews that would have fit right in in a corporate boardroom, but not so much with the fans who loved them because they felt like the drivers were like them — blue collar and a little rough and tumble.

To be fair, it wasn’t just the drivers who changed. It used to be a rare occurrence when you went to the track and didn’t have friendly conversations with the strangers around you. Now, it’s rare that you do. People seem less friendly and more argumentative. If you like a certain driver, you’re wrong. If you don’t like someone else’s driver, you’re wrong. The camaraderie of baking in the summer sun for several hours watching the cars go around is all but gone.

Perhaps it’s a microcosm of society in general; the sense of community people once took pride and comfort in has eroded, too.

Racing is about people as much as it’s about brightly colored cars going around in circles. From the men and women who work in the garage to the fans in the stands, through the drivers, they’re connected.

Fans need to feel like they know the drivers personally again. Sponsors need to loosen the reins and put their drivers out there, in advertising and at the track on Sunday. NASCAR has put out some excellent advertisements recently, but what about using some of the smaller team drivers in their “I am NASCAR” campaign?

Racing isn’t what it was in those boom years, no doubt. But people aren’t, either, and that’s magic that may never come around again. We were all so lucky then.

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janice

attending races changed when they stopped having the “big named drivers” at the souvenir haulers and they only did meet and greets at corporate suites or tents. you needed to spend some big money for access. never use to be that way. it also didn’t cost an arm or leg to get pit passes.

i know when i attended races, even after dale sr was killed, i’d have my gear on and the fans near me, we always had conversations. heck some of these fans, we’d see each other next year at the race and maintain contact during the year. it never failed at dover i’d end up in a sea of gordon fans.

honestly, don’t think it will ever be as popular as it was in the 80’s and 90’s. world is a much different place now.

Bill B

The planets may align in the future and NASCAR will reach those heights again, but there isn’t anything NASCAR or anyone else can do to make it happen. You can’t manufacture fans, you have to earn them.

Carl D.

Damn straight, Bill. And all the gimmicks in the world won’t make it happen either.

David Russell Edwards

It seems to me that Nascars future is gradually growing more cloudy as the society changes, In urban areas more calls for mass transit, the rise of the SUV, alternatives to the ICE, and on and on. It will be so gradual that there will be ways to it not reverse it, at least delay it for extended periods. But in the end will it matter? Probably not.

Carole Toney

Seriously? Change happens in most everything. How many cars these days are like we had in the past, it’s not only the Nascar cars. There are still fans, maybe different the older ones. Nascar is not the only sport that has changed. Move on if you can’t deal with change

Brian

They have moved on…that’s the point of the article

Kurt Smith - Ex-Frontstretch Staff

No disrespect intended, not saying you’re wrong in that sense Amy, but NASCAR’s decline was not a result of things changing and people changing or even the increase in corporate events. NASCAR’s biggest mistake was fixing what wasn’t broken (the method of determining a champion), and not fixing what was broken (horrendous broadcasts and a growing number of venues on the schedule that produce the least exciting racing).

I have been watching and enjoying the sport this year, partly because I know Brian France can’t eff it up anymore, but also because they’re actually putting some variety in the schedule and demanding more driver skill. I think the sport can make a comeback, but they need to learn the art of leaving things alone when it’s working.

Last edited 4 months ago by Kurt Smith - Ex-Frontstretch Staff
jobe

People like to harp on the championship format, but I seriously doubt that makes a bit of difference to the casual fan. If the races aren’t good on a week to week basis, there is no entertainment value in watching. The point system was always flawed and the Latford system gave us more undeserving champions than the new system ever has. The Playoff system and stages have simply become the whipping boys for the old timers who wish a return to the bad old days.

I have cut down my TV viewing of the races simply because they are boring, putting them on mute and pursuing other activities. The point system has absolutely nothing to do with that.

Kathy

You are right .. Could care less about champion points..It’s the DRIVERS …Like kids out there racing..I wanna see that guy be able to work on his car himself..
Beer drinking badass..Not pretty boys..None of them scare anybody..Car is nothing but a computer at this point..Guys be driving around the track drinking a Latte

Tony Robertson

Well said.

jobe

NASCAR is and always was a niche sport. Sure, there was a burst of popularity in the 90’s as Jeff Gordon led new fans to the sport who didn’t fit the old redneck stereotype, but it was never going to last.

In the “good old days” everybody here seems to miss, the races were only on cable. Then they moved to regular TV and fans got spoiled. Now we’re back to mostly cable coverage, which is what a minor sport deserves.

NASCAR and its fans need to accept reality. Auto racing is similar to tennis, cycling, bowling, and boxing in popularity among the general public. The best thing NASCAR can do is improve the on-track product and hopefully, the new car will be a step in the right direction. More road courses and short tracks are also a good move.

Eric Wildfire

100% correct when most tracks on the schedule are 1.5 mile cookie cutter tracks and by racing on those tracks took races away from Rockingham and North Wilkesboro for the cookie cutter tracks meant more $$ to Na$car than the traditional short tracks that build Na$car !!
when you can catch the leader ( or another car in front of you ) but then you can’t pass that makes for boring follow the leader races , Na$car is trying this year however with the Bristol Dirt race ( I would recommend moving it to a summer event over spring as it is ALWAYS rainy season in spring either rain OR even snow here in Tennessee) and the COTA track and more road course races as well as Nashville are good for the sport ~ What is NOT good for the sport is the juggernaut that the big 4 teams have on the Cup series Hendrick, Gibbs ,Penskie , and Stewart-Haas have won the majority of the races in the last 10 years and That is Not going to change anytime soon as the smaller one or 2 car teams don’t have the equipment or the $$ to invest in the equipment or top personnel to build cars to compete with the big 4 the old says of a driver-owner with a 1 or 2 car team will never happen again because of the money needed to win and be consistent during the full season …

TiminPayson

Things that started the decline. (In no particular order)
*mile and a half tracks.
*laser templates.
*shaker 7 post machines.
*manufacturer support.
*lack of manufacturer support.
*corporate sponsorship.
*lack of corporate sponsorship.
*front wheel drive.
*fuel injection.
*the France family.
*Loss of Dale Sr.
*car of tomorrow.
*next gen car.
*calling a garage door rope a noose.
*COVID protocols.
*no practice or qualifying.
*masked interviews at the end of a 6 ft. Pole.
*drive for diversity nonsense.

plus plus plus.

jobe

*An aging fan base who cannot accept change

*A fan base who believes that Dale Sr. would be driving at the age of 70

Carl D.

Plus an incompetent CEO with the IQ and personality of a minnow.

jobe

That IQ matches most of the old-time fans.

Bill B

No matter what name you use you’re still a DB.

jobe

Billie Bob, FS forced me to change my name with their new posting software. They wouldn’t accept a 2-letter name (Jo), so I had to add to it (Jobe.) And you are still a dumb son of a DB.

David Nance

Newbies and casual fans won’t have to worry to much longer about us low IQ old-time fans (Legacy fans-if you are gonna call names get with the name calling program here).

Won’t be too awfully long before all us “old-time fans” will be gone-one way or another. Then you won’t have to worry about differing opinions based not always from low IQs as you describe but sometimes from experience which new fans will eventually gain if they remain long enough.

A few more years down the road it will be you and yours talking about the good old days and pining about when racing was real.

It’s called the circle of fandom.

In the meantime you can prepare by realizing that in the rapidly changing world we call NASCAR soon a change will be coming that you won’t like or will cross your line.

The realization will finally hit that not all change is improvement and change for the sake of change isn’t what is going to move the sport in a positive direction.

Since 2006 16 million have moved on, positively responding to your clarion call- “if you don’t like it leave” leaving the sport with 3-4 million who tune in to watch/endure today’s product.

What folks tend to forget is a significant portion of those who remain are us dreaded and apparently much despised old-time fans. This is reflected in our aging demographics who they have no problem taking our money but don’t want any contrary opinion that may come with it.

When we move to better things how much more niche-ness will this sport become? Or will that vacuum be filled by the sudden influx of new fans streaming to the sport not because the product improved but because apparent threatening differing opinions are no longer present?

It will be interesting times..

And as far as Dale Earnhardt. Before his death experienced fans realized he had a few more years left behind the wheel before he would move to full time leading DEI (if not more) In that capacity he would have continued to influence if not lead the sport.

I’m not sure what the sport would look like today but I’m confident it wouldn’t be what we have today. I don’t see RTA, Charters and all the other contrivances seeing the light of day much less becoming mainstream in a Dale Earnhardt NASCAR.

As a racer and an industry influencer he would have done his level best to ensure NASCAR never lost sight that good racing grows the sport. That’s where he would have made his mark and we would have seen his benefit in his post-driving years if he had not been taken away too soon.

Let me ask this-do you think NASCAR would be better off today with Dale Earnhardt still in the sport?

As more and more of my layer of the NASCAR onion gets peeled away just remember that puts you closer to the outer layer.

Your day is coming.

Before you know it, there will be a fresh crop (hopefully more) of newbies coming behind who will disagree with your views drawn from your experiences and diss your opinion.

It will be here before you know it.

The main point I took from the article is people have changed. Truth reinforced by comments.

Have a great race weekend!

Craig

Great comment, also when Bill Jr had to step down because of health issues, that’s when everything went to Hell in a hand-basket. Maybe Dale Sr. Could’ve slowed all this down a little, and kept somethings the same…+

jobe

You vastly overstate Earnhardt’s influence on the NASCAR POTB. Every time, I read that some fan says “I stopped watching when Earnhardt died,” I just roll my eyes.

The fact is Dale Junior has a greater impact on the direction of the sport than his father ever did. He is much more of a leader that Senior.

Last edited 3 months ago by jobe
jobe

You vastly overstate Earnhardt’s influence on the NASCAR POTB. Every time, I read that some fan says “I stopped watching when Earnhardt died,” I just roll my eyes.

The fact is Dale Junior has a greater impact on the direction of the sport than his father ever did. He is much more of a leader that Senior.

Do I think NASCAR would be better off with Earnhardt around? My answer is a resounding NO. His death did, however, force NASCAR to vastly improve driver safety which is his biggest legacy, which is ironic in itself, since he cared little about following the advice of safety experts during his career.

Last edited 3 months ago by jobe
Jim

What’s so bad about a older fan ?old fans and new fans can learn alot from each other and keep growing the soort the disrespect of older or newer fans is a problem to

Wendell Murray

Screw you

David Edwards

Could it be that the degree of incompetence was exasperated by the aging fan base which wanted things to continue on like they had in the good ole days.
Any attempt at change was unnecessary in their eyes.

Eric Wildfire

2 things that have hurt Na$car
Dale Earnhardt Sr. death
No practice or qualifying

The older drivers rely heavily on practice to dial their cars in before the race with Covid restrictions being lifted there is no reason to continue with no practice and especially no qualifying

jobe

NASCAR is limiting practice and holding qualifying on the same day as the race to save money. It may have started with COVID, but how they are going to keep it, so the drivers of all ages are going to have to get used to it.

And seriously, how about you get over Dale Sr.? He wouldn’t be racing now anyway.

Jim

How about we show our respect for the drivers that built the sport just like the NFL players or any other legends in any sport

jobe

Respect is one thing. Obsession is another. The NFL makes no attempt to stay in the era of Johnny Unitas.

Billy Bob Bodean

True. So very true

Tony Robertson

Perfect.

Ray Heemstra

that was a very intelligent well written article she got that article exactly right very intuitive insight i don’t think i could add anything to that except maybe also the personalities of the drivers has also been toned down to which all you need to do is look bck even ten years ago when tony Stewart still raced and just recently the last great personality to “retire” (for me personally) was clint Boyer and of course J.J. but he was always a quiet introverted personality

Mike Latino

The good old days were the good old days for a reason. The racing was good and the TV was good. And then as my Dad used to say, If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. And that’s exactly what Nascar did. And it hasn’t worked. Sixteen drivers going for the championship? Stage racing is a joke. If stage winners were so important why not have the winners do a 10 lap shoot out to see who the real winner should be. Then there was, Boys have at it. Only they didn’t let them have at it. And TV now thinks it is more important than the race. Everyone in the booth is a clown. Yes I like the good old days because it was real racing, and that’s all the TV talked about. I miss Ned and Benny!

Dan Collins

Bring back Rockingham and cleanup the lucky dog rule.Yes you need it in some form for safety sake but to get a lap back when you are a mile behind the leader because there is a wreck on the restart is ridiculous.

David Henderson

For one thing, Fox needs to broadcast all the races. NBC’S announcers do not stop talking thru the whole race. It’s like they are the stars. For another thing, NASCAR seems to change the rules every week. They are always restricting the engine power in all the series, or the spoiler or the gearing or just about anything else you can think of. I like ” CRANK IT UP ” but even that is shortened by you guessed it commercials!!!. The announcers are not the stars, the cars & drivers are .Those loud mouthed people need to shut up more often.It seems they are analyzing every turn of every wheel on every car. Yes NASCAR has changed. Mostly commercial now. They talk through the flyover. They talk through the DRIVER’S, START YOUR ENGINES. Same in N.H.R.A. Oh well I guess that’s it. I started watching 2-3 years B4 D.E.SR. died. Alot has changed

MrBill43

Want to know another reason? NASCAR turned political with BLM car, Bubba garage incadent that wasn’t and the overreacting to Kyle Larson, this added big time making 4 of us cancel our seats to several race tracks.

Ken Jenkins

One of the BEST THINGS that died along with Asshole, was the Backwards, Redneck Racism !

Wendell Murray

Up yours snowflake

Ric

Agree 100% it’s not what it used to be and probably never will be. They aren’t “stock cars” any more. They are purpose built race cars that are very tightly controlled. One of the important aspects driving this, no pun intended is the safety aspects. Using factory built cars with typical racing modifications from the past would create a situation where even the talented drivers of today could not survive some of the crashes we currently see.

We may be approaching something akin to the IROC series that was run many years ago. But factory built cars like they ran in the 60s and 70s can never return. ☹

Vinnie G

I drove NASCAR modifies in the 80s and early 90s I was proud to race and say I was a part of it . now I can’t watch it .it’s become so left with political correctness it’s over for the sport ,stick a fork in it it’s over by there own doing with there stupid rules and cookie cutter cars on the mile long cookie tracks . BORING.

Jeff Runk

Bye Bye Miss American Pie Drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry ! The day the music and Nascar died was when Dale Earnhardt lost his life !

Ken Jenkins

Only the Severely Uneducated, continue to believe that NASCAR “was or required” D.E. Sr !

Kelli Wheaton

I’ve been a long time fan. In my opinion, I think what has been a negative in Nascar is not letting drivers be themselves in interviews. They all say the same thing after a race as if reading from a script. “I want to thank … Sponsor….) Instead of taking a few more minutes to let their personalities show. Larson, whom I love is the worst one. His answers are so monotoned. The only 2 with personalities that show through, despite the script, are Wallace and Kyle Busch.

Mike W

Interesting article. In all the years of attending races I have never met a fan hell bent on defending his/her driver to the point of confrontation, nor have I ever had an experience where other fans are not willing to say hello or carry out a conversation. I took 5 Cuban-Americans to the Daytona 500 this year and they left in awe at the hospitality and genuine good nature of race fans.
At the 2020 Daytona 500 where it got rained out on that Sunday, the lot 7 parking lot (for those of you who have been) know that it is a grass field. The rain was so severe that the majority of people in compact cars and even pickups were stuck in the mud. Fans of all different drivers and ethnicities came together to pull and push vehicles out of the mud. It was just good people helping good people.
As far as drivers attitudes towards fans. I think it depends on the time frame with the drivers current state of mind. Joe Gibbs ran an autograph session for Brandon Jones and Christopher Bell at the 2018 Homestead finale. Bell was not overly friendly. He signed our stuff and seemed annoyed while Jones was more than eager to sign anything we asked and give t-shirts and photos. The souvenir haulers also had appearances by different drivers that had some long lines but were worth the wait.
Overall, NASCAR is the only sport to this day that has the closest fan/star interaction of all the sports. Try walking into the locker room or the Dallas Cowboys and asking for an autograph. Your rear end will be promptly escorted out with probably a night in the slammer. As my dear friend used to say, “If you don’t like NASCAR, there’s a good chance NASCAR doesn’t want you anyways.”

Eddie L Vibbert

Just as it happened with the Indy 500, the big name drivers & rivalries are pretty much gone. A bunch of drivers no one really knows or cares much about anymore. As for Indy, a bunch of foreign formula one drivers that people aren’t familiar with. At least that’s how it went for me. When Gordon retired from Nascar, so did I.

Michael L Gade

Maybe they have 1 or 2 cheaters race, where they all have the same engine and the rest is wide open as long as the safety rules are in place. People would come to see what the crew’s and team’s come up with. I think it might lead to better racing instead of Nascar and it’s shoe box rules!! Nascar is not all knowing. People like variety in life.

Tony Robertson

Thanks to the likes of Nascar forgetting where it came from
By change it’s was to please the very few who could careless about Nascar but only to stir up trouble for there sake and there race. Bubba. W.

Tony Robertson

And I used to attend and spend my money on Nascar but those days are done I don’t even watch it no more, if I catch it on the news who won
Oh well, if not then oh well, never forget where you come
From…

Jesse Gilson

NASCAR went down hill when the tried to engineer the final points standings. They did this after Matt Kenneth won a championship without winning a race and did so by almost a full race margin. Unfortunately while this eliminated consistently dominant drivers like Matt and Jeff Gordon, but replaced them with an equally dominant Jimmy Johnson. Now we have the elimination style playoff system and cars that bear very little resemblance to anything that an average wage earner could afford. NASCAR became big when the cars could be bought by the public and the drivers were people we identified with and admired. They can’t restore that under the present system.

Tom S.

NASCAR is a joke now! The drivers are cookie cutter bland corporate stooges. And yes…..they lack real racing skill compared to those (old guys). If you want to call it stock car racing, get back to stock cars! These things they run today practically drive themselves and let’s be honest here…..these drivers are a bunch of cry babies. They couldn’t wheel an 87’ Monte or Thunderbird for 400 miles.

MikeinAz

The last few years have been descent, but now that the convicted felon, Larson and Chevy are winning everything again, I’m just about done with nascar. I didn’t watch the all star race last weekend and it didn’t bother me one bit.

I’d bet Larson was glad he used that forbidden word and was suspended for a year because his comeback could not have worked out any better.

Super Dave

Great atricle Amy and it only took 5 comments before it got Fakebook ugly over here, thus proving your point that people are just not friendly these days.
As a die hard fan of NASCAR from the mid 80s I can only comment on my experiences but to me, the end was switching title sponsors after 30+ years of Winston keeping them afloat because smoking wasn’t “in” anymore. In the last 30 years they have had a grocery list of sponsors to the point where they now HAVE to have multiple title sponsors because nobody wants any part of them, them being NASCAR.
The charter system has effectively put a halt to any new or privateers joining without very very deep pockets and some affiliation with one of the big 3 teams.
The very best racing that sanctioning body has is the truck series racing and anything at your local track. The two upper series are just not very good. What was one must watch TV, is now just an afterthought.

Greg Parks

Me and my friends started going to Nascar Races in 1975. Our first race was Talladega. After that we were hooked. That same year we went to Michigan and back to Talledega. In 1976 we started out going to Daytona, then to Talledega, then Michigan, back to Talledega. This went on until 1988. Not interested going so much now. The good old days of Nascar are long gone.

Raymond Balderacchi

Great job Amy perfect analysis 😊

Ryan

Main decline I have felt from NASCAR popularity is whining little cry baby drivers out there now. If it isn’t Logan’s it’s Wallace. All I hear from most of the drivers is, “this is to dangerous” “we need to change this so I don’t break a nail” etc etc etc. Go race in days with SR and Petty and them and show me your nutz!

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