A Voice for the Fans ~ A Questions For Brian Z. France
I bid you welcome gentle readers, and of course, we’re always happy to accommodate our assigned reader of all things NASCAR. Today we’re going to attempt to both ask and answer one or two of the questions that readers ask or comment about here on Race Fans Forever.
You probably don’t need to be told that most of what follows will discuss the much vaunted, highly gimmicked and in my opinion ridiculous and phony “Chase for whatever.” First, let your scribe openly state that she knows exactly three people that say they “like” the Chase. Their names are Jim, Jeremiah and Al… and the latter I suspect just says it to bait me because he enjoys laughing at my somewhat fiery at times responses. One of the others is in the employ of NASCAR and the other is very close to me, so I ignore his faults, fancies and fallacies. (Note, they are all from the male of the species)
The rest of you out there seem to see the Chase for what it is, and over the past dozen years since it was foisted upon us in 2004, a vast number of fans have simply turned and walked away, and all the “tweaks” in this world are not going to bring them back because they are gone, gone, gone! Those that remain are for the most part very vocal and not a bit timid about sharing their feelings on what is widely seen as the biggest mistake ever made by NASCAR. How else could anyone explain the thousands… hundreds of thousands when viewing all 36 races on all 23 tracks… that were here and are now absent from the racing scene? In 2004, when the current Ringmaster took over the Circus, NASCAR sanctioned Cup Series stock car racing was the second-most watched sport in America. Today, we take a back seat to almost everyone we felt sorry for back then… but not too much. One friend and I used to joke about Curling, a sport played on ice with brooms, but today, Curling outdraws NASCAR races.
So, you would be justified in asking, why do I stay? Mostly because I love to write and racing is all I know aside from cooking, and with age and dietary restrictions, much of that has become a tad boring, so racing it is. That, and of course the fact that I truly love my gentle readers, too many of whom have been lost because Brian Z. France believes he is above human reproach, knows more than any living being and lives to spend the fortune two generations of his family spent their lives earning. He’s doing fine in that respect I’d guess. When those TV contracts run out, or when they are cancelled for non-performance on the part of NASCAR, he will have to start feeling the pinch of having far more outgo than income.
Are you listening Brian Z. France? We do hope so, because this aged scribe has a question for you, posed by one of my readers, and it’s one so simple you should have no difficulty in understanding and answering. You have your “Chase” and you are so fond of it that you’ve extended the concept to all three major touring series of NASCAR. The reader in question made point after point about plummeting TV ratings and such poor attendance at any given track that even with all those thousands of seats now gone, it cannot be hidden from the cameras.
Like most of us, he is left to scratch his head, wondering who in this world could see any of that as a good or promising thing, and his bewildered question, asked in a tone that sounded as if tears were already falling, was “What is the need of a Chase? Why is it necessary?” It is almost unanimously detested. It has cost untold loss of the fan-base… for what? No one has ever explained or even attempted to explain why a once great sport has a need for such contrivance.
OK Brian Z. France… or Mike Helton or Steve O’Donnell if you gentlemen care to jump in… that is the question of the day. Why does NASCAR need a “Chase?” Please, skip the “It is what it is” bit. We’ve all heard that one and it’s become a trite phrase at best.
While someone or anyone is thinking of the best “Buzz Word” answer, please allow me to point something out to you that this old lady and many thousands of seasoned race fans have known for years. Stock car racing is or was a family sport. Your Father and Grandfather knew that and advertised it as such. You, yourself have advertised it that way, but most families merely laugh at that and are not fooled. One cannot claim to be a family sport, and in the next breath tell that family to leave Grandma and Grandpa at home, as they are no longer part of your target demographic.
Here’s a very simple explanation that perhaps even you can understand. Grandma and Grandpa were your core fans. They brought their kids to the track and taught them to love the sport. That generation in earlier times, would now be bringing their kids, but they are not… and the reason they are not is because their parents… those core fans you tossed away and disregarded as expendable… were made to feel unwelcome in a sport they had loved, supported, and cheered on for decades.
You’ve made a serious mistake in underestimating “The Power of Grey.” That generation… those one-time core fans of NASCAR, have and probably always have had the largest amount of disposable income per capita. In short, they can afford to go racing. I’d love for you to describe to me the 18-year old that can afford to attend a Cup race with his own money. From the new and somewhat disingenuous advertising aimed at children, apparently someone in one of your boardrooms has figured out that kids will one day be adults, but there’s a bit of a hitch in that reasoning.
Kids today are still kids, when they are not plugged into a phone aka ultra-portable computer. For the most part, they go where they are taken by adults. Oops! Brick wall ahead! Better slow down. TV ads aimed at children are almost universally played in and around a race. The obvious problem in that scenario, the Catch 22 if you will, is that almost no one is watching the race. Our friends at Nielsen keep us informed about things such as that. The parents and grandparents of those kids are not watching the race, so it’s more than a safe bet that most kids never see those ads, and couldn’t get to a race if they wanted to do so.
Take a bow Brian Z. France. That is a situation entirely of your making, and all of the mumbling, bumbling words in this world are not going to change things from what they’ve become. All of the gimmicks and gadgets you have conjured up, tweaked and retweaked incessantly over the past dozen years and added more sleight of hand, and smoke and mirrors to, attempting to disguise racing so as to be unrecognizable from 20 years past… none of that has worked. The crowds have gone from vast to almost nonexistent. The TVs in over a million homes have changed channels and the viewers are happier wherever they are than they were with your unsound ideas of what racing should be. In short, you have made NASCAR stock car racing the “New Coke” of this millennium. Coca-Cola had the good sense and good judgment to withdraw that product and go back to what was tried and true. They heard their “fans”, the consumers, and they listened.
In all the years you’ve held the reins, everything that was sweet has gone sour. Your gimmicks have not brought in a single race fan. Perhaps they brought in a few curiosity seekers, but they sought; they saw and they are now gone.
If you truly want to bring back your old fan base or even attract a new one, forget aiming at the kids. Do something big; do something to convince those grandparents and parents that NASCAR still offers something good for the whole family.
What could you do that would get that ball rolling again? My best suggestion, and it is one I’ve heard from fans over and over again until the roar is deafening… Resign! Give over control of the sport to someone that knows it and loves it. His or her name doesn’t have to be France, and I wouldn’t dream of suggesting anyone, but step down and give real racing a chance. That’s what would bring back a lot of those that have left in tears… tears for the memories of good times and camaraderie at the tracks… tears for all that you took away.
What say you Brian Z. France? Do you care enough about saving the sport to leave it? If not, then the handwriting is already on the wall, and it reads for all the world like an obituary for NASCAR. Stock car racing will live on, but NASCAR is on life support and sinking fast.
Time now for our Classic Country Closeout, and today I’ve brought for you a few poignant songs in keeping with the sadness above. One talks of Classic Country Music singers gone to rest; another speaks of changes in America and the last tells about the way NASCAR used to be and how the fans were loved, not cast aside. Each delivers a very important message that touches the things I love most in life… America, Classic Country and NASCAR racing.
This is George Jones, with the question of the ages, “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?” Please enjoy…
And here is a great one from Merle Haggard, “Are the Good Times Really Over for Good?”
One more, and this has to be the most important one; it tells the story of “The King” and how things used to be… when times were good and NASCAR loved and honored “You, the Fans.” This is Alabama, giving us their tribute to the King, “Richard Petty Fans.”
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!