TV Versus Watching in Person ~ What Kind of Race Fan Are You?
When I attended my first race all those decades ago – and yes, automobiles had been invented by that time, so it was stock cars and not horses – I had never watched one on television.
I had probably read about the Indy 500 in Sports Illustrated, but my interest had been piqued by a NASCAR story in – of all places – a baseball season preview magazine.
Whether it’s Bristol or a Friday night quarter-mile, this is where I want to be for the racing action
In those days, about the closest you could come to televised racing was that weekday evening sometime in the fall when a local civic club would rent a Richmond venue and show – for a small admission charge – a documentary of that year’s Southern 500. (Most of those documentaries are available today on YouTube.)
That personal history means I learned to watch races as an in-person fan. I watched a couple of events from the infield, which requires a different mindset, but from the beginning I liked being in the stands (albeit the cheap seats), which means that I kept track of what was going on at the front of the field, but I also paid attention to several other cars, regardless of where they were running, and I watched for any potential drama in the pits or even the stands, where the drama was usually fueled by Budweiser or Blue Ribbon, not Pure Firebird racing gas.
I think that’s why I never became a dyed-in-the-wool, cancel-everything-else-and-reserve-the-time-for-the-race fan of televised events. To me, TV just took that 360-degree view I enjoyed and cropped it to a primary focus of about 15 to 20 degrees, with brief views of other small pieces of the pie.
To me, that eliminates too much of the potential drama landscape.
Today, of course, that puts me in the dinosaur minority, and it’s a situation that’s not going to change willingly, because without TV money, NASCAR’s racing becomes a much smaller and much less lucrative enterprise, which nobody who depends on the sport for a living wants to see.
It was great to watch, but the Allisons-Yarborough fight at Daytona turned NASCAR into a TV sport, and this fan doesn’t think that’s been a good thing
It’s all the fault of Cale Yarborough and the Allisons. It was their fight at the end of the 1979 Daytona 500 (first major NASCAR race broadcast live in its entirety) that slammed the door on such a broadcast just being a novelty that would wear off eventually. Instead, CBS’ groundbreaking effort attracted the attention of then-still-new ESPN, which had lots more time available for live broadcasts, and live races were off to the races. The economics of racing would soon change forever.
My alternative is clear: attend a race in person. But as I age, the hassles of a major event – and the costs – drive me to local weekly tracks instead, where the racing is more attuned to watching in person, anyway.
The problem, from this geezer’s standpoint, is that NASCAR’s efforts to rescue racing from its decade-long free-fall are almost entirely designed to make televised racing better. The obsession with passes for the lead is all about watching the race through that limited, narrow slice of the pie provided by a TV camera, which is cool for the TV viewer but leaves untouched the other 340 degrees of potential drama for the fan in the stands.
Battles for the lead are great; they’re necessary, but they’re not all there is to the best fan experience at the track
To me, it’s like making a huge baseball rule change that only affects the pitcher and catcher, ignoring its impact on the other seven players on the field: fine, maybe, but incomplete.
I still want to see the other stuff going on, to choose what I watch, to be able to change my choice whenever it suits me. We’re almost to the point with interactive TV that it could happen: think about a screen that has a panoramic view of the speedway with a star, dot or other indicator of every place a camera makes close-up views available. You have a controller and can toggle back and forth between those areas, plus there’s an “instant replay” of sorts for each of them, in case you miss were looking the other way when the move of the race took place.
I don’t do pay-per-view currently, but for that kind of tech, I might be persuaded to change.
In the meantime, I’m off to a SuperCup Stock Car Series this weekend (last weekend by the time you read this), followed by more sprint car racing the following Saturday night. I’ll be watching racing the way I learned to watch it, and that’ll be just fine, thank you.
Put me in the stands at my local track (Lincoln Speedway in this case), where I can see everything happening, and I’ll have an experience you can’t match watching TV
No Loose Lug Nuts this week, just a strong suggestion to find racing somewhere to attend in person. That’s what I’ll be doing.