LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 04: Ryan Blaney (12) Team Penske Ford Fusion jumps to a lead on the first lap during the Pennzoil 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race on March 4, 2018, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas, NV. (Photo by Tim Curlee/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

One of my favorite sportswriters, Jeff Gluck of JeffGluck.com, recently tweeted a question on social media. He asked about NASCAR’s continuing decline in attendance revenue, “What is the reason it continues to decline now that the economy can no longer be used as an excuse?”

Jeez, Not Another One of Those What’s Wrong With NASCAR Articles

There is little doubt in my mind that greater minds than I are busy at work trying to address that very thing. One thing I know for sure, it’s not just one single thing at play here. Calling it a “Perfect Storm” might be a bit of hyperbole. Let’s just call it a “Storm”.

The Sport is Losing Stars

Since the tragic death of Dale Earnhardt, there has been a void that many fans of the “Intimidator” have not been able to fill. There is not a week that goes by that I don’t chat with a former NASCAR fan who starts his/her answer to my question of why they are no longer fans, with “I use to be a Dale fan.” Dale’s death was 17 years ago but that pain inflicted on the sport is still being felt today.

Dale’s tragic death looms large but other stars have left the sport in the last decade. You don’t lose a Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Mark Martin, Ricky Rudd, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. without it having an adverse impact on the sport.

Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, and William Byron have the skill to capture many of the fans of drivers no longer in the sport. The question remains, will they?

The Cars

Technology advancements have equalized the field to the point where its more about the car than the driver. NASCAR President Brent Dewar told me recently that many of the newest changes NASCAR has made for the 2018 season were made to put the emphasis back more on the backs of the athletes.

The decline in on track excitement may not have started with the Car of Tomorrow (COT) but it sure brought us a new age of racing stinkness. For years, NASCAR has been looking for that right downforce formula. The new Chevrolets, along with last year’s new Camry, give hope that the corner has finally been turned.

The Tracks

The mile and a half tracks are pretty, I’ll give you that. Large concourses, lots of concession options, and pretty good sightlines are all good things, right? But who gives a crap if you have a good sandwich and good view of a product that is as exciting as watching your neighbor mow his lawn?

For many fans, the off-track entertainment options are nice and all but isn’t it all about the race? Like Bill Parcells was once quoted as saying, “I don’t wanna hear about the pain just show me the baby.” In the end, for NASCAR it should be more about the on-track event.

These mile and a half tracks have not given fans the kind of excitement that would encourage them to come back or encourage the casual fan to attend. These tracks have been a failure where it matters most. Racing.

Traditionalist vs Millennials

I often hear from fans the dislike of some of the things NASCAR has implemented recently. Many refer to these new rules as gimmicks. Have age racing and the new playoff done more to attract fans or more to turn fans away?

In fairness to NASCAR, many of these new rules were implemented as a result of sagging attendance and declining TV ratings. NASCAR gets credit for taking some action instead of standing pat while the ship continues to sink.

I think the jury is still out on many of these new rules but I would hope that tweaks or additional action is being debated among the NASCAR brain trust. At least there’s an attempt by NASCAR to do something.

The Economy

I know the economy is better, at least that’s what I read in the paper but my wallet hasn’t heard that yet. A couple of years ago after a bad storm, a large area was without power for days. There were many gas stations, seizing on the opportunity, that raised the price of gas.

People were all up in arms yelling and screaming about the unfairness of it all. You could hardly blame them. Even some States Attorney Generals brought price gouging charges against these businesses, levying large fines against them.

NASCAR fans tend to travel distances to the track, often finding the need for food, gas and lodging. When you have a free moment, go to a hotel reservation website. Look at an area where there is a NASCAR event scheduled. Check the rate of a hotel room nearby on a random weekend. Now check the rate of that same hotel for the weekend of the NASCAR event. See a trend?

I understand businesses are free to make a profit. It’s their livelihood. But for many fans whose wallets have not yet discovered that the economy has improved, the cost associated with attending a race is not yet doable.

I hate writing about what’s wrong with NASCAR articles. There’s a lot more to be excited about this sport than in a long time. Social media has allowed us to follow the drivers more than ever possible before. Technology has given us in car scanner, raceview and Hi Def clarity to enjoy the races.

There’s a whole new group of young drivers ready to carry the sport into the next decades. The cars will get better, the racing will improve and new innovations will move the sport into its next chapter. There’s a lot to be optimistic about.  NASCAR and its partners are going to right this ship.  Probably a lot sooner than many of us think.

While many will want to wallow in the “What’s wrong with NASCAR” seats, I’ll walk by you and sit in the “We’ve got a bright future” section.

Thanks for reading. Listen to WTBQ Radio on Monday and Friday mornings as I join Frank, Taylor and the Morning Show gang to discuss the current happening in NASCAR. 1110AM, 93.5FM or online at WTBQ.com. Follow me on twitter @JimLaplante

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Nascar continues to change and short track has continued to stay the same. That is the difference. Short track is still heats and a feature. It was when I was a kid and it is now that I am an adult. I can’t say one thing about nascar has remained the same from when I was a kid to now. People want nostalgia and be able to pull away from something but go back to the same old thing because of the love for it. I want to travel to a Nascar track and be taken back to the days of Davey Allison and Allen Kuiwicki (probably spelled wrong) going round for round in cars that resembled the street variants of themselves. That is not the case and never will be. That is why Nascar is dying and short track racing continues to get more popular.

  2. Thanks Zachary. I think NASCAR is changing with their end game being to grow the sport and increase revenue. I don’t think they’ve succeeded and yoyr thoughts above are something many agree with.

    Like you I enjoy my local Saturday Night short track racing. I’m wondering though if you and I might be dinosaurs.

    Loved reading your reply. Interesting to read.

    Cheers.

  3. “In fairness to NASCAR, many of these new rules were implemented as a result of sagging attendance and declining TV ratings. NASCAR gets credit for taking some action instead of standing pat while the ship continues to sink.”

    Nascar was at the height of it’s popularity when Brian France contrived the joke of what is called “The Chase”. Basically, they fixed something that wasn’t broke. He wanted socialism in the auto racing game. Now, his dream is realized…no stars…bland cars…competition yellows, and new rules, some enforced more loosely than others.

    It’s been about money with Brian. You used to be able to watch 10-15 minutes of racing. Now you are lucky to get 5 before you are gifted with 3-4 minutes of commercials you are going to see multiple times. We wanted racing, not the pomp and circumstance surrounding the race…it’s just awful. Once they have lost a generation of fans, the odds of them rekindling interest among the following generations gets diminished.

  4. ok, let’s add them up…in no particular order

    too many commercials
    constant tinkering with aero packages
    boring restrictor racing with little chances to actually “race”
    playoff system where a driver could win all the races EXCEPT the last one and end up not being the champion
    high ticket prices
    lapped traffic due to super slow, shouldn’t be on the track, dangerous to be around, get in the way cars

  5. ok, let’s add them up…in no particular order

    too many commercials
    constant tinkering with aero packages
    boring restrictor racing with little chances to actually “race”
    playoff system where a driver could win all the races EXCEPT the last one and end up not being the champion
    high ticket prices
    lapped traffic due to super slow, shouldn’t be on the track, dangerous to be around, get in the way cars

  6. So, I grew up going to all the races around here twice a year. Martainsville, North Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Darlington, Rockingham, Richmond and on a good year we’d go to Daytona. Never could get a ticket to Bristol as there was a 2 to 3 year wait at that point. Racings roots were in the south. That’s where it all began. One of the coolest things to do down here is when you retired, buy yourself an RV and hit all the tracks. Was a doable thing back in the late 80’s and 90’s. Nascar got bigger than they ever thought. They made tracks expand to keep up with the demand of the public at the time and the one’s that couldn’t.. they moved on from. AKA North Wilkesboro. Humpy Wheeler decided he would cash in on the success of NASCAR at the time and start buying tracks out west and closing dates in the south. We lost Rockingham, Darlington only once a year, North Wilkesboro and forced Richmond to reconfigure. Made martiansville add seats that stay empty now. So instead we get Vegas, Indianapolis, California etc. All bigger tracks that can seat more people… $$$$… Following along here? In the beginning it was wonderful. It was a new sport out west and people were curious. Not to mention the hard cores thought it would be fun to travel to the “new tracks”. The newness wore off, the racing wasn’t as advertised… never was on the mile and a halfs. The Westerners stop coming and the southern hard cores didn’t feel the need to travel 1000 miles to see 1 caution and an 11 second lead winner. The tracks out west are essentially dead. They won’t even show the stands unless it’s before the race. Backstretches aren’t even open at most of these tracks. Throw into the mix that now… tickes used to cost about 75 for the good ones and 35 for the “cheap chicken bone seats” to now I had to pay 300 dollars for the ALL STAR race in 98 because as luck would have it I’m in a wheelchair and can’t choose my seating nor the people that come with me. Ticket prices have soared, the entertainment value has gone down because of the tracks they run.. not the cars or the drivers. Racing has always been the same as there were always a hand full of cars above the rest. It is more competitive now however… I remember watching DW lap the entire field twice at martainsville one year…. twice. That doesn’t happen anymore. So, there isn’t much wrong with the cars or the drivers.. just the race tracks and locations. Bring it back to it’s roots and let’s lace up some more short track and 1 milers. Let the rivalries get started on the short tracks and taken out on the others. Bring back the affordable ticket prices and for goodness sakes…. Let them race without labeling it have it.

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