Fewer Grandstands and More VIP Suites ~
Recipe for NASCAR Success or Failure?
Are you a member of the hoi polloi? (Do you even know?)
Why this outdated term wormed its way into my head the other day, I have no idea, but it almost immediately led to the thoughts I’ll share here below.
The term “hoi polloi” dates way back to Greek and more-or-less means “people,” although at some point, English upper crust types (and then their American counterparts) began to use it derogatorily for “the masses,” the common people.
See those people standing just this side of the grandstand? I’m betting they didn’t pay top dollar to get into this race. Think they could afford NASCAR today?
Those are the people our favorite sport grew up with. My guess is that, if you went to a race at Pulaski County Speedway near Radford, Va., back in the mid-50s, you might have seen a group of fans that “high-class” folks might have dismissed as hoi polloi. Same for Anthracite Speedway near Pottsville in Pennsylvania’s coal country, or the Mason City Fairgrounds in Iowa, the Texarkana Speedbowl, or El Toro Raceway in Costa Mesa, Calif. The bleachers and parking lots at those and other tracks weren’t full of people talking about polo, tennis, or even golf. Sure, there probably were some, but in general these were crowds of everybody American folks.
“Hoi polloi,” fortunately, has just about fallen off the map as a commonly used or even understood term, so today we say – with less an effort to judge – working class, middle class, mainstream American. These are fans to be proud of.
The problem is that – like health insurance and retirement – following NASCAR at the track keeps getting more and more expensive.
We talk about those bad old days about 15 years ago when NASCAR began to alienate its older fans – many of whom might have qualified as hoi polloi, and we talk about the Chase, the Car of Tomorrow, and similar sins as the reasons, but I’ll add that costs escalated during that period and put attending races increasingly out of reach.
This is a great place to watch a race . . . if you can afford it. But we need to keep places at the track for those who don’t even dream of the money this suite costs.
The crash in NASCAR’s popularity that began about a decade ago brought some prices back down, but tracks also responded by removing seats, seeking that supply-and-demand point where enough people want tickets that you can raise the prices you charge for them. (One wonders whether the perfect world for management would be a track with one seat, which sells for $15 million per race. If only Mike Bloomberg was a diehard race fan.)
To me, this is a real problem for NASCAR. I don’t think television alone is enough to turn that many viewers into new race fans, yet attending your first race to see how you like it can get expensive. When I went to my first Grand National/Cup race on something of a whim, a ticket was $5 which even then wasn’t that much for a kid to beg from his dad.
This is another of the problems that comes with making everything about racing so much more expensive. I’m glad VIP suites are there for sponsors and others who can afford them, but I want t to look out for the descendants of those folks who came out to the races in 1955 and saw Tim Flock win on the Beach-Road Course at Daytona or Junior Johnson win at Raleigh or Lee Petty take the checkers at Plattsburgh, N.Y. Let’s make sure they and their children can attend a race and maybe see the excitement as we did.
I don’t know if this actually is an old autograph or not, but I know Ned signed a lot of them, and that personal interaction creates fans.
I know it’s this way with other sports, too – priced an NFL or NBA ticket lately? – but I don’t care what happens with them. I care about racing, and I want kids today to get the bug like I did decades ago, so maybe they can look back on the sport years from now with the kinds of memories that I cherish.
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
The recent flap about Parker Kligerman’s implied criticism of Angela Ruch and her driving ability, followed by what apparently was her husband’s profanity-laden social media tirade against Kligerman, was harmless entertainment for most of us. What I missed, though, in Ruch’s response – which mainly tried to make it clear that the embarrassing rant was made by her husband under her name – was any suggestion that he consider some anger management therapy.
This is another one of those areas where times have changed with regards to his options when things go wrong – on the track or in the media – for Angela. Years ago, Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem had a novelty racing division for large luxury cars, the Blunderbust class. We were there one night when that division ran a “powder puff” race for female drivers. Entrants apparently included a couple of driver wives or girlfriends who set out to settle scores for their husbands. Somewhere, I still have a photo of a 1970-ish Lincoln Continental spinning wildly across the 50-yard line of the football field that is Bowman Gray’s “infield.”
I kind of doubt any Xfinity car owners will loan out vehicles for Ms. Ruch’s hubby to tackle those he thinks have done her wrong.
Here’s a postscript to last week’s article about my racing history research. I’ve since spent a day at the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing reading old issues of National Speed Sport News for more info on the URC-sanctioned sprint car races held in Richmond during the ‘50s and ‘60s, and that effort brought several other things to mind.
For one, when you go through racing newspapers from that far back, you can’t help but be struck by how many drivers got killed. There were issues that reported three, four or more deaths around the country in a single week. Multiple deaths in a single incident were frighteningly common.
It really drove home how successful safety efforts have been, especially over the last quarter century or so. Yes, racing remains a dangerous sport – ask Ryan Newman – but there’s no comparison between today and that period just 50-60 years ago – ask Ryan Newman about that too.
For all our problems, that’s an area where we can raise a glass in toast to the right moves.
One final note on last week’s article. I posted an addendum later in the week correcting myself on the Royall Speedway race I labeled as unsanctioned – it was in fact a NASCAR Short Track Division event. Also, I wrote about Bert Brooks winning a sprint car race and pictured him driving a midget. Apologies to all for both those slips, but sincerest thanks to John Barrick and Albert Torney for straightening things out. I neglected to mention them by name in my earlier follow-up. It’s wonderful to have other devotees of auto racing history covering your back.