Drawing Attention to NASCAR in a Good Way
(Let Me Count the Million Possibilities)
This is another article that came about by accident (appropriate for racing, I guess). I was reading Brock Beard’s “LastCar” piece about throwback paint schemes and particularly the one Darrell Waltrip used in 1992 when he won a rain-shortened Southern 500 and denied Davey Allison a shot at the Winston Million.
Wow! It had been a while since I had thought about the Winston Million. That was a promotion that really got people’s attention: win three of the four “big” races of the year and take home an extra million bucks.
The day Bill Elliott got his “Million Dollar Bill” nickname
Later on it became the Winston No Bull Five (I still have a cap from that), but it was the impact “the Million” had initially that was so extraordinary. There had been nothing remotely like it previously, and it immediately became a major object on fans’ radar. When NASCAR was moving forward, it definitely helped.
(It also was a great boost for Talladega, which got its spring race included in the four “majors,” even though it wasn’t anywhere near the prestige level of the Daytona 500, World 600 or Southern 500. When the sanctioning body and track owners have the same personal bank accounts, you can do that.)
When R.J. Reynolds exited NASCAR sponsorship, nobody stepped forward with another get-everybody’s-attention promotion, and nobody has since then. I think there are a couple of reasons.
First, back in the early ‘70s and in the next 25-30 years, NASCAR wanted the focus on NASCAR, not some sponsor’s program. Second, Reynolds had to put some big money into the whole Winston Million enterprise, and there might not have been enough loose change lying around afterward to pay all the other people who’d have their hands out today.
We may have kicked Johnny Reb and his Confederate flag out of victory lane (tobacco products, too), but we’ve let seemingly millions of money-related people in to replace him.
You know NASCAR would want to skim a larger percentage than it got back in 1985, but here I’m thinking more about TV. Remember, if you own a race track, you can call your race whatever you want - the “Ron Wixlehaverhurst’s 8:05 Monday-Wednesday-Friday Twitter Feed 500” - but if you don’t grease the palms of everybody at whatever network is broadcasting the race, it’s going to be the “Late August 500 at Cloverland International Speedway,” and you can’t do a thing about it.
Sorry, Miss Georgia. Today the beauty pageant would have to pay a fee before you could kiss Fireball Roberts.
There’s nothing illegal or even business-textbook improper about this (I plead guilty to using “skim” and “grease the palms” in a way totally unfair to those who get paid to help networks make money); it just reflects a business climate where the only “reasonable” amount of profit is the most profit the law allows you to squeeze out. And when your sources of profit are shrinking - no fans are buying tickets or watching your broadcasts - you squeeze those left even harder. If somebody shows up at the door with a big sack of dollars or bitcoins, they won’t be standing alone for long.
So how do you do something you can afford to do that will get people’s attention? I don’t have an answer to that one.
What I can say is that nobody’s got anything now like a Winston Million program, and none of the latest gimmicks - race stages or the Xfinity Dash 4 Cash - seems to have caught much (positive) public attention, so maybe instead of tinkering with rules over the next few weeks, somebody in NASCAR or with NASCAR’s ear ought to think about a new possibility that could attract fans rather than driving them away.
Those of us who actually still care about this business would appreciate it.
If throwbacks will draw extra attention to a NASCAR race, let’s borrow from the 24 Hours of Lemons folks and take race car conversions to a new level. Then America might start watching again.