Would More Fans Watch if a “500” Was a “Triathlon?”
(This is part of a series of articles with ideas for reversing NASCAR’s downhill slide. Nobody’s likely to listen, but eventually somebody may not have any choice.)
I don’t follow baseball that much anymore, but I know there are still some fans out there hoping that the designated hitter will disappear one day. Few sports are as resistant to change. That’s why I was surprised to read that in some minor league games, baseball will try a major change intended to shorten extra-inning games: each extra inning (for each team) will begin with a runner on second base.
At first I thought it was a joke, and my anti-change-self reared up in opposition. Then I read Joe Torre – as sharp a baseball guy as you’ll find – react with, “You’re just trying to play baseball.” Of course the Sporting News jumped all over Torre, but when was the last time that radical publication espoused change? They’d probably like to “uphold baseball’s integrity” by going back to the 1800s, when the batter was out if a fielder caught the ball on one hop.
(Stop rambling, Frank, and tie this into NASCAR racing somehow.)
I like that somebody in baseball understands the game can’t be frozen in time, any more than NASCAR can. Every sport changes its rules, sometimes in ways more incidental (where the ball is spotted for a kickoff or extra point) and sometimes more fundamental (designated hitter and three-point shot). NASCAR’s first big change of the Monster era – segmenting races and adopting an incomprehensible point system – isn’t a really fundamental change and won’t have the desired effect. That’s unfortunate.
The problem is, at the end of the day, it’s still a single race with a single winner, only now it’s even longer (because of the breaks). That’s at a time when the length of events is becoming an issue in racing and baseball. If you’re going to make a significant change to the product you want people to actually watch, you need to do more than that.
Here’s doing more: The 24 Hours of LeMons is an
endurance road racing series for cars that are supposed to cost $500 or less.
My guess is that this guy spent a little extra on the “flip” job, but he certainly wasn’t boring, and his outside-the-box car gave fans something different to watch.
How about, instead of chopping one race into three parts, you create different racing formats each week? It could work like this:
1. Keep a few 500-milers (or whatever length), few enough that they’re something special.
2. Take some other events and split them up into twin-features or even triplets, with multiple winners and multiple points.
3. Maybe have a mini-Chase format once or twice, with a full field for 50 or 100 laps, then only the top half of the field, then a sprint at the end with 12-15 cars.
4. Hold multiple-course events on the same day – this is the one I really like. You could go with a short-track 100-lapper first (enough big tracks could configure that in the infield), then a race on the infield road course, and finally a 100-lapper on the superspeedway oval. You could call it the Monster Triathlon.
Points could be configured so they were awarded fairly (and they certainly would be less confusing than the current mess); tracks would still have the fans “in the building” long enough to squeeze all their extra cash out of them and leave them thinking they’ve gotten their money’s worth, and TV would have a more digestible product (with breaks long enough to do outrageous TV stuff to keep casual viewers amused and watching).
If you wanted to go REALLY outside the box, at a couple of events you could do something like pick a fan to match up with each driver, and have the fans compete in look-alike go-karts between the “real” races, only the fans’ performance would count in the final points. That’s “made for TV.”
Here’s another idea: Give the crews all day Saturday
to build a car out of junkyard parts, then race it on Sunday.
(No idea if that’s what happened here – another LeMons race, I think – but it’s a pretty interesting car/truck/whatever.)
My imagination isn’t good enough to explore the possibilities fully, but somebody has to do just that, because a steady diet of long races doesn’t appear to be an in-demand item for tomorrow’s fans. We, the current hardcore fans, love 500 miles, but we’re going to be gone sooner than we’d like to admit. For a 20-something who didn’t grow up in a NASCAR family, maybe a 3- to 4-hour race isn’t a selling point.
At the same time, for what tracks charge to see a race, we’ve got to do something that keeps people occupied and reasonably entertained for a few hours, and a 50-lap feature ain’t gonna cut it.
Other sports have survived and even thrived by making fundamental changes at times – changes that, in many cases, are still decried by old-time loyalists years and even decades later. Nevertheless, most of these changes have been good for the sports. Racing – specifically NASCAR racing – needs to look at possibilities similarly outside-the-box (and the caution clock isn’t one of those).
ABOUT THOSE POINTS
Like just about everyone else, I think the new NASCAR point system is ridiculous, but then, as an older fan, I’m used to it. If you aren’t, take a look at Jayski’s excellent summary of past point systems.
Take a special look at 1974. I remember that one. It was designed to make everybody run all the races (at a time when some teams just went to the best-paying events), but nobody could figure out why any team’s points added up as they did, and it died a quiet death after one season.
You’ll never get a point system everybody likes – maybe NASCAR should just make it a deep dark secret, like the purses.
Check out the photos below for some fun facts about past points:
Here’s some fun with NASCAR’s old money-based point
system. In 1965, Larry Hess (later infamous for driving the Rambler shown
above) finished 16th in Grand National points,
with 10 starts and three top-10 finishes, while Tiny Lund’s #55 won a race, had eight top-5 finishes and 17 top-10s, yet was only 21st in points. Go figure.
One of Richard Petty’s championships came in 1974 when
his points total was the result of the amount of money he won, multiplied by
the number of races he ran, divided by 1,000.
Got that? The system produced a landslide Petty win with 5,037.75 points (yes, fractions were part of this system, too) to 4,470.3 for runner-up Cale Yarborough.
Third-place David Pearson had fewer than half as many points as Petty, and seventh-place Buddy Baker had one-fifth the winning total.
The beginnings of the current points system were adopted the next year.