Time for a Talk with the Boss
Dear Steve Phelps,
Good luck, friend. There are lots of people out there who might be attracted to NASCAR if the right competitive package comes out of the changes you’re pretty much assuring us are coming. There also are a lot of lifelong fans who love the hell out of this sport but feel betrayed by what’s happened over the last decade or so. They’re kind of wounded, and they’re hesitant to put full support behind your vision. Don’t forget us. We can be the margin of success while we’re still around, and that gives you more time to attract the next generations.
I Googled “old NASCAR fans,” and all the computer gave me was pictures of young fans and some older drivers. Well, let’s just say that I’m talking about people who’ve followed the sport for a long time, but maybe not long enough to remember this.
Here’s what I think will get us back on board.
I don’t know how you accomplish drastically cutting costs and getting the sport back to being STOCK CAR RACING, but you’ve got to do it. Otherwise, we’re just Formula 1/Indy with clunky cars. We have to be different.
Likewise, ditching the charter system won’t be easy, but it’s necessary to open racing back up to local heroes and local interest. We may never return to the country gas station with the Cup car parked outside, but we have to be closer to that than to the Gibbs/Hendrick/Penske/Stewart-Haas monsters that control the sport and are strangling it. Say a prayer to Junie Donlavey, and maybe he’ll give you some ideas.
You’ll need a larger burn barrel out back to accommodate the other things that need to be trashed: stage racing, the current rule book, the after-the-race inspections in North Carolina, vanilla wafer developmental drivers, etc. Believe me, though, people will see that fire and pay attention to what you do next.
Fans will identify with and support REASONABLE rules. The current system doesn’t meet that standard. Please fix it.
(Please note that I did NOT include the playoff system on the “toss-it” list. I know some people hate it, but some don’t, and even those who do can’t explain why it’s so awful for a driver not at the top of the point standings to win the Cup title, but it’s OK for an NFL wild card team to win the Super Bowl. Fix the other stuff, and the playoffs will be fine.)
Here’s my main pitch. You’ve mentioned wanting to co-promote Cup/touring series events with short tracks, and that’s a great idea, but you need to devote some serious energy to revitalizing the short tracks first. Years ago, NASCAR-sanctioned short tracks were the cream of the crop, and everything else was just “outlaw,” but today the unsanctioned tracks are where the action is – along with most of the big events. For years NASCAR siphoned sanctioning fees from short tracks while offering very little in return. You took away more and more Saturday nights for Cup races, and you abdicated any leadership role in keeping those tracks healthy. Today the paved short track that’s healthy and has good fields of cars is a rarity, and co-promoting won’t help that situation unless you address the underlying problems at the Saturday night speedways as well as the big tracks.
Another lesson: My Google search for “short track late model racing” turned up almost all photos of non-NASCAR dirt tracks. We need to get NASCAR and paved short track racing back on top, and that’ll require some NASCAR leadership.
Be a leader. Get all the stakeholders together and hammer out new rules that will make racing cheaper (There’s that “cut costs” again – must be an echo in here.) and bring more teams to the track. Spend lots of effort recognizing young drivers – at their own tracks and on network telecasts. Make them heroes, and their fans will increase. Then you have people to whom you can aim co-promotion efforts.
We long-time fans have been really critical, Steve, and sometimes we’re unreasonable, blind, and maybe even wrong. But we’re still a base you can work with, and we CAN be lured back into the fold. I think it’s worth the effort, and I’m ready to listen to any and all suggestions. We’ll give you a chance. You just need to show us that you care about us as much as we care about this sport.
P.S. – If fans indeed want more short tracks, consider my Wednesday or Thursday night “NASCAR Classics” series on tracks near that weekend’s regular racing. You might just get us – and others – hooked.
Steve, we hope what you have planned makes you a winner, too.