A Voice for the Fans ~ Where Have All The Race Fans Gone?
I bid you welcome gentle readers, though today, I’m not sure to what. This past weekend, the NASCAR Cup race took place at Richmond International Raceway, a very old and venerable track located in Richmond, the capital city of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Sadly, from my point of view anyway, the race was not well attended from all that could be gleaned from brief views of grandstands obviously not full or even close.
Running concurrently with the race on Saturday evening was a College Football game, but not just any game. This game, between the University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech, was being played in the infield of Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee, which perches directly on the Virginia/Tennessee border. Yes, that would be the same Bristol Motor Speedway owned and operated by O. Bruton Smith and host of two Cup races on the NASCAR circuit each year. That stadium, much to the chagrin I’m sure, of the promoters of the Richmond track, appeared to be full to the brim.
>Inserted on Tuesday morning<
NASCAR Sprint Cup racing from Richmond earned a 1.5 overnight rating on NBCSN Saturday night, down 12% from last year (1.7) and down 44% from 2014 on broadcast network ABC (2.7). The 1.5 is the lowest of the season for a Sprint Cup race. Keep in mind NASCAR faced unique competition from Saturday’s Virginia Tech/Tennessee college football game, which took place from the Bristol Motor Speedway racetrack (3.8). (From Sports Media Watch)
Tennessee won the football game handily, while Denny Hamlin, a native Virginian, took the victory on the race track. The race itself wasn’t special, and quite frankly wasn’t very exciting unless your fire is lit by watching almost a full quarter of a 400-lap race run under the yellow flag. 89 laps of caution on the night and a long red-flag interruption were split up between the record 16 individual cautions for any number of reasons, only one of which was debris
Most were for single-car spins and too often, the car in question had been righted and driven off when the flag flew.
Note to BZF: No flag is necessary when that occurs.
There was one caution however, at lap 364, which quickly became a red-flag condition, called for a wreck primarily between Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman, but catching up Carl Edwards, David Ragan, Chris Buescher, Brian Scott, A.J. Allmendinger and Dylan Lupton before the dust cleared. Lupton’s #83 wound up atop the #31 of Newman in the fray and fire from the cars of David Ragan and Tony Stewart lit up the night sky and woke up the few still in the grandstands. Nope, it’s not my place to assign blame. What occurred is easily visible from the video, so draw your own conclusions. It’s just a shame that so many innocent parties were included.
I’ve spoken with a friend that was at the race, and she had a wonderful time… one always has a wonderful time when at the track… but she said it was terribly hot. I guess it was, but I’m quite sure it was equally hot over in Bristol, so I do hope all those folks had thought to shower and replenish their deodorant before leaving for the track, because they appeared to be packed in there quite cozily for a real “up close and personal” experience.
For those of us at home, the race scarcely needed to be run except to establish who was in or out of NASCAR’s phony attempt at “Playoffs!”
OK, you just knew I’d have to do this, didn’t you?
Gentle readers, for those of you that are new to these pages or to my writings, you must understand that what is now lovingly (by some) referred to as NASCAR’s Playoffs did not exist until 2004, which I have often cited as the year that racing began to die. Many of us tried, patiently at first and then with growing exasperation, to explain to the sanctioning body that we have no leagues or conferences within the structure of Cup racing and therefore, legitimately, there is no one to play off against. Still, Brian Z. France wanted his “Playoffs”, so he made them up as he went along.
The first announcement of the “Chase” came at a press conference on January 20, 2004. Amidst what was a virtual snowstorm of questions from members of all branches of media that day, here is the question and detailed answer that is pertinent to this discussion:
Question: Is there a seeding process for the Top 10 with ten to go?
BRIAN FRANCE: “The seeding process is how you finish after the 26 events. That's the seeding process. You did see that we did reward if you finish first, you have got a 45 point lead over the 10th place competitor after 26 and five points for every position in sequence, so we have we won't call that a seeding because what we're not going to call this is a Playoff. It's not a Playoff. It's not a single elimination. It not a win or lose and you are out. Not a best three out of five. It's better than all that because it still has consistency; still has 10 tracks over two and a half months to compete. We think we have got something that's better than the Playoffs.”
Please understand, I take no credit for the poor English or lack of sentence structure in the statement. That is a direct quote from the transcript of that press conference.
As to “consistency”, the rules have changed every single year but the last one since 2004. It has now reached the point where so many get to compete that it’s not impossible to imagine someone that really finished as low as 30th in points being called “Champion.” Really? In this scribe’s constitutionally guaranteed opinion, all that serves to do is cheapen the whole thing and insult those from racing’s better days, who were awarded that title on the basis of excellence over an entire season, not by being the luckiest guy at Homestead. (If anyone thinks it’s not about luck, please consult Joey Logano and ask about Martinsville last year.)
Therein lies the real reason that there were so many thousands more fans at that College Football game in Bristol on Saturday night than there were at Richmond, a track that as little as 5 years ago still filled 112,000 seats with the fannies of race fans. Today, some 60,000 of those seats no longer exist, and those remaining still cannot be filled, even though this race is billed by NASCAR as the most important of the year, excepting Homestead.
Why, you ask? Because that football game means something! Even though it’s early in the season, every win and loss counts toward a “real” playoff system. In College Football, there are far too many teams for each to face all others in a single season. Thus, the best in each conference, judged by won/lost record, gets to play the best of another conference. Elimination truly means “try again next year”, not next week, and it continues until a single Championship Team is decided. In short, ALL the games count, from the first of the season to throughout the playoffs. That, gentle readers, is why Bristol was full and Richmond went wanting.
The folks that used to be fans… the ones whose fannies filled the seats at Richmond and at every other track on the circuit… those old-timers now referred to as “Core fans”, but in 2004 were simply called “Unwanted” have voted… with their purses, their feet and their TV dials. Isn’t there anyone out there capable of reading the results of that election? Keep smiling Brian. Nero fiddled while Rome burned, so there is precedent.
Here at Race Fans Forever, we do things a bit differently, since we are not subject to the rules dictated and frequently changed or broken by one Brian Z. France; we crown our own version of a racing Champion, judged solely by who has earned the most points as of the close of the Richmond race. Well then, here are the top 30 in points as of the conclusion of the Richmond race. You’ll note, they read somewhat differently from what will be presented to you as the “Chase Grid.” That is because these are real, earned in competition points… not made up on a whim by someone who has the power at the moment to decide such things.
Your scribe apologizes that we have not kept records on how that would read under the old Latford Point System, but I’d venture to say that it wouldn’t be far afield from that accounting. Many folks bemoaned the change from Latford to what I’ve always called “counting by onesies”, but if one does the math, one finds that the new and old are very close to a 1-4 ratio. No, it’s not exact, but close enough that this old lady could accept it and choose a different, more important battle to wage when necessary. Contrary to the opinion of some, I don’t complain about everything!
And so, with Richmond in the rear-view mirror, we here at Race Fans Forever are proud and happy to Call Kevin “Happy” Harvick our 2016 Champion. Congratulations Kevin, and may the racing gods smile upon you for the next 10 races. If they do and your luck holds out all the way to Homestead, maybe NASCAR will acknowledge that you should have been Champion all along… or maybe not.
And so, more Country is what we have for you now. No ratings problems or lack of attendance for this one. This is an episode of “The Country Show” from 1956, featuring a line-up of Country Music stars of bygone days guaranteed to jog the memory and play a tune on the heartstrings of anyone lucky enough to have been alive in that wonderful time in our history. Please enjoy…
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!