The Product Is Encumbered and Therefore Not Marketable
I bid you welcome gentle readers, and as always a cordial “Hey there” to our assigned reader of all things NASCAR. I do hope your part of this frozen tundra is warming up a bit. My phone told me it was 46º upon awakening this morning. Our highs haven’t made that temperature in this New Year. Single digit temps in Georgia tell me that it’s time to have a talk with Al Gore about this “Global Warming” thing. It’s working about as well as the “Chase/Playoff” fiasco in NASCAR.
Ah yes, NASCAR… I remember it well. I remember having to call and reserve seats a YEAR in advance for our selected races, and do the same for accommodations somewhere in the same state. These days, one can walk up to the Daytona 500 on race day morning and secure some pretty fine seats… for a price, of course. The product has grown stale and full of gimmicks and trickery, but the price remains right up there.
Around this time every year, I take a look around at what’s happening in the sport of auto racing and share with you, my gentle readers, what this scribe feels is the actual “State of the Sport.” With “Media Day” and Speedweeks fast approaching, Brian France should be doing the same instead of leaking and then denying involvement with the purchase of the Carolina Panthers. Of course he’s “involved.” Either that or NBC is up to some shenanigans with “fake news.” They sounded pretty sure of their “sources.”
But… that’s football, and this scribe, once an avid fan, hasn’t watched a single game of NFL this entire season. If it weren’t for the fact that I enjoy writing about racing and even more so the interaction with my readers, I’d probably have done the same with NASCAR’s version of racing long since. Let’s just take a stroll through some of the more obvious reasons for the low attendance and pathetic TV ratings.
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, NASCAR used to race back to the caution flag. In 2003, Brian France’s first move as CEO was to proclaim that over and done. At the time, I had really no objection to that, until it was coupled with something called the “Lucky Dog” rule, which amounts to a free pass around the track every time the caution flag is displayed… even today’s competition cautions that everyone knows are coming.
Then came 2004, and with it the “Chase.” When fans stated en masse that they did not like the idea of a playoff in NASCAR, we were told “It is what it is” and not to call it a playoff. Well, OK. Attendance remained level through 2004 as most of us gave it a chance and wanted to see what the change would bring. We came; we saw and in 2005 the attendance began to drop… slowly at first, but as we all know, that trend has continued for another dozen years. With the downturn starting that early, it’s clearly not a direct result of the economy, as Mr. France would have us believe.
Also in 2005, enjoying his new-found “Power”, Brian bought a website many will remember as RacingOne, for the express purpose of firing NASCAR writer Matt McLaughlin. That website is known today as MRN, and technically owned by ASC… Americrown Service Corp., the food service used by ISC at every one of their tracks. How’s that working out for you Sir?
In 2007, NASCAR introduced the Car of Tomorrow, or COT. One close friend described it as a “Pregnant roller-skate.” I coined one line that will be with me forever. “Squat COT, beautiful, it is not!”
The “Chase for No Sponsorship” as my alter ego, the Lady in Black rightly dubbed it in 2004 continued to evolve, from 10 to 12 to 16 teams today. The point system itself changed from the dependable Latford system to “Onesies”, because we were told it was easier for the fans to understand. Then, it moved to whatever nonsense it is that came about with “Stage racing.” Points are flying everywhere; earned then erased… except for some earned in the stages, which remain with the driver throughout. I don’t claim to understand it, and I’m sure that’s the point. Fans are not supposed to understand it. Just take NASCAR’s word for it.
6 years to admit the COT was a tragic mistake, and surprisingly… or maybe not,
the loudest complaints came from the manufacturers of the various brands still
in racing. The COT was a total Spec car, and they all looked identical save for
a decal on the front of the car that was a bowtie, a blue oval or whatever that
thing is that signifies Toyota. In 2013, NASCAR introduced what they deemed to
be the 6th generation of race cars under their sanction, or “Gen-6”
as it was quickly renamed.
The link is to an article I wrote some time ago comparing all 6 generations of both cars and fans. Bookmark it but by all means read it. It’s one of the best this scribe has ever offered and very informative.
At the end of the 2013 “Regular season”, we suffered through “Itch-gate”, an effort by Michael Waltrip Racing to ensure a spot in the “Chase” for Martin Truex Jr. Ironically, Truex would have made it without the help, but wound up shut out because of it. Four years later, he is our 2017 Champion and MWR is no more.
We now find ourselves in the era of “Playoffs” as we have been directed to call that part of the racing season when nothing is sacred and all measure of a team’s or driver’s accomplishments are erased, only to start over after every third race until only 4 are left and we then celebrate the Homestead-Miami Champion. The real Champion was the guy leading the points after Richmond. Happily, this year it was the same guy, Martin Truex Jr.
Somewhere back there, NASCAR stopped announcing attendance figures. No big loss, as most were grossly inflated anyway, but the seats were full. As we progressed through the reign of Emperor Brian, that all changed. Seats that were full and in demand in 2004 are no longer empty because they no longer exist, and that has happened at every track on the circuit. Daytona might have “Risen” but she rose with only 101,500 seats. In 2003, NASCAR quoted attendance for the Daytona 500 as 200,000. Race fans, that’s a LOT of seating gone! Out in Phoenix (Soon to be ISM Raceway), I have friends that were summarily dismissed from their infield parking place, reserved for many years, and offered one not as good for a much higher price. They won’t be returning, but the track will be ready for concerts and other unrelated activities… unrelated to racing, that is.
Richmond tore out their entire backstretch a few short years ago. Before the alterations, the track seated over 112,000 race fans. 60,000 of those seats left all at once, and now they are resurrecting what they’re calling “Richmond Reimagined.” That entails preparing much of the space surrounding the track to accommodate things other than racing. They call it “Improving the Fan Experience.” All I can say is that in my day, what the fans came to experience was the RACE! Everything about the race itself is special; the on-track action to be sure, but so much more! Just being at the track is special. The sights, sounds and smells… all are special. It’s like a journey down the rabbit hole and finding oneself in Wonderland! The roar of those rumbling V-8 engines that you can actually feel as they roll past; the smell of raw gasoline and burnt rubber, intermingled with hot coffee, hot dogs on a grill and barbeque being sauced… the nearness to whoever is “your” driver… and the opportunity to watch him perform up close and personal… it’s one thrill after another!
One more time, I want to reiterate that all of the pretty accoutrements, comfy wide seats, rock concerts and electronic play-toys in the world will not bring a race fan to a race track. Only good racing will do that. Really Mr. France, pretty is nice, but the on-track product is encumbered and therefore not marketable. Two words – Aero push! Lose the splitter; raise the cars up at least 5 inches off the ground all the way around; give ‘em back some spoiler and watch ‘em race. You’ve tried every other gimmick on the planet and the results have only been still more empty seats. Why not try my gimmick and see what happens? I double-dog dare you!
Time now for our Classic Country Closeout and today I’ve chosen Episode #1 of the old Porter Wagoner Show. The date here is 1961 and it’s still in glorious black and white. Special guest on this show was Hawkshaw Hawkins. You might remember that Hawkshaw was the husband of Jean Shepard, and was taken from us in March of 1963, when a plane crashed killing all on board including Hawkshaw, Patsy Cline and Cowboy Copas. Thank the good Lord for replays of old shows such as this one. In a small way, they live on. Do enjoy:
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!