The Overlooked Consequences of Change

The campgrounds aren't what they used to be. This photo was taken on Sprint Cup race morning at Bristol in 2010.

The campgrounds aren’t what they used to be. This photo was taken on Sprint Cup race morning at Bristol in 2010.

On this rainy Sunday, I find myself unable to avoid tackling this issue because I’ve put quite a bit of thought into it. Last night, aerial shots on television revealed that the NASCAR race at Richmond International Raceway was sparsely attended. It’s a recurring theme.

It must be frustrating for NASCAR officials who seem unable to move the needle on the sport’s decline no matter how hard they try. They’ve introduced a new car that looks more like the cars that populate the highways of the land. This represented not only a massive investment, both by the ruling body and the teams, but also a renunciation of the entire premise of the previous model. The Car of Tomorrow, implemented piecemeal in 2007-08, was largely generic because NASCAR wanted to eliminate variables in terms of competition and believed brand loyalty was no longer important. NASCAR wanted to stress its drivers over its cars. Inexplicably, the manufacturers at the time – Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota and Dodge – went along with it.

When the current car, the so-called Gen6, was rolled out, NASCAR officials sounded as if the COT had never existed. “We want NASCAR fans to know that brand loyalty is back,” said NASCAR president Mike Helton, leaving the obvious question hanging in the air. Where had it gone? Ignoring the fact that sameness had been an intentional matter of policy, Helton sounded as if these generic cars had just gotten out of hand and NASCAR had to step in and do something.

To their credit, they did. Unfortunately, so far, it hasn’t produced tangible results. Since NASCAR seems to be unable to use the word “mistake,” more alibis are required. Borrowing the old line from the Clinton presidency, “It’s the economy, stupid,” all is neatly rationalized. Attendance is down, so the culprit must be high gasoline prices and price gouging in accommodations. It’s a factor – never mind price gouging by NASCAR itself — but it’s far from the only reason.

In the 1990s, it wasn’t unusual for 20,000-30,000 fans to show up for qualifying. Now it’s closer to 200-300. Attendance in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series is more off than the Sprint Cup races.

Here’s my observation. The chief difference in the crowds is the difference in the campgrounds. There aren’t nearly as many people lining the hills around Bristol Motor Speedway now as there were during the boom times.

Gas prices have fallen recently, but never mind that. Adjusting for inflation, gasoline was higher in the years after the 1973 Arab Embargo than it is today. A dollar a gallon in 1973 is more money than four dollars (at the moment, it’s closer to three) today. You can look it up.

What no one wants to acknowledge is that stock car racing has gone out of style. NASCAR will counter this with its alleged marketing surveys. They are flawed since, by and large, they deal with the staunch fans who remain in relatively large numbers. Surveys would be more pertinent if they dealt with the people who have left than those who stayed. NASCAR, flush with evangelical zeal, went after new fans, ignoring the fact that they were doing so at the expense of those who were already in the fold. Now it has alienated many of the most loyal fans, and many new ones have moved on to some other fad.

All that being said, NASCAR is still a powerful part of the American sporting mainstream, which wasn’t true before the 1990s. It’s just not what it once was. The deficit isn’t nearly as much in the absurdly priced hotel rooms as in the camping spots.

Watching on television isn’t nearly as good as being there, but it is considerably less expensive and more convenient. Fans who used to attend eight to 10 races each year now go to two or three. The fans who brought their tents and customized schoolbuses have been either priced out of the market or gotten old enough that wandering around half-drunk and unwashed for three or four days isn’t quite as appealing as it once was. It has occurred to them that they can grill out and drink beer in the privacy of their homes, watching gigantic high-definition TV in stereo, for a lot less cost and a lot more convenience.

Here’s what NASCAR needs more than anything else: a younger generation of hell-raisers to replace the ones who have succumbed to advancing age.

Which brings me to another observation that comes from being home – my job covering NASCAR was eliminated in January after 20 years on the beat and 16-1/2 at the Gaston Gazette – instead of at the track.

One of the advantages I’ve always considered valuable is the fact that I live in my hometown. I’m shocked that I don’t miss being at the races more, but I’m well on the way to being a Clintonian (Clinton, S.C.) again.

Most people have their perspectives skewed by changes in their lives. People who go to college tend to hang out with others who went to college. Lawyers hang with lawyers, but local businessmen and factory workers (what few are left) also hang with other people who are like them. I’ve been kind of an anomaly. I live in a town of 8,000 people, but I used to travel all over the country. Though I was never rich and famous, I dealt with people who were.

That’s why I say that NASCAR just went out of style, not with its loyal fans but to just average people. Ten years ago, I’d sit on a plane next to a fellow and mention in passing that I wrote about NASCAR for a living.

“I love NASCAR,” he’d say, and there’d be no reading on that flight. I’d be fielding questions about Junior and Jeff and Tony and Jimmie. By last year, when people found out I was affiliated with NASCAR, the typical remark would be, “You know, I used to really like it, but to tell you the truth, I don’t pay much attention to it anymore.”

I used to stop at a convenience store, and the kid behind the counter would find out I wrote about NASCAR. He’d say, “You don’t need somebody to carry your bags, do you?”

Last year that kid would say, “Oh.”

In Clinton, the change is even greater. On Friday night, I was playing music at the twice-monthly jam session at a Mexican restaurant, El Jalisco, here in town. Ten years ago, the kids here loved NASCAR. There was one woman I saw wearing a faded Dale Earnhardt Jr. T-shirt. I asked her if she was a NASCAR fan, and she said she liked Junior but didn’t watch the races much. This was partially obvious since, at that very time, the Nationwide Series race in Richmond was going on.

That kids don’t give a damn about NASCAR anymore is as clear as the sky outside is cloudy right now. I don’t believe they care about sports in general as much. I believe their love of football is more grounded in “Madden” on a Wii than in actually watching the games.

Once I asked Brian France how he was ever going to make people who went to work each day on the subway develop the great love affair with the automobile that facilitates the love of watching automobiles race. He said the answer was computer simulation. He said the kids would play video games and that would make them love NASCAR.

Watch what you ask for. You might just get it.

On Saturday afternoon, I drove to the post office. A few blocks away, a kid wearing headphones walked across the street right in front of my truck. I had to hit the brakes to keep from hitting him. It wasn’t too close a call. I didn’t have to blow the horn. I looked at him as I drove by. I don’t think he ever knew I was there. He might as well have been a zombie. He was probably paying attention to Li’l Wayne.

Thirty years ago I had a discussion with a high school football coach who had fallen on hard times after winning a state championship a few years earlier.

“Times change,” he said, “and it’s the hardest thing in the world to keep up with it. Playing football just goes out of style, and you never see it coming. All of a sudden, playing in the band becomes fashionable, or getting a job and buying a car, and before you know it, it’s hard to get enough kids out to field a team.”

The decline isn’t irreversible. Trends rise and fall. Another factor is that NASCAR lost sight of the market for its product. The sport based its projections on how much it needed, not how much it could charge. Why did ticket prices get so high? NASCAR was trying to upscale its fans to meet its demands. It wasn’t a matter of how much the market could absorb. It was a matter of how much money NASCAR needed. The whole idea was that the sport was growing so fast that middle-class fans would be replaced by rich ones. The old fans would just have to pony up or watch on TV.

The latter part of that plan worked.

91 thoughts on “The Overlooked Consequences of Change”

  1. With all due respect, Mr. Dutton–which is none–what you appear to be reporting here is that NASCAR races are sparsely attended because these dadgum kids won’t get off your lawn. Please, just stick to shilling your half-baked novel on Twitter.

    1. As I do not know you, I do not lack respect for you. I can only wonder why you would bother reading someone for whom you have no respect. But … thanks, anyway.

      1. I think you make some good points. I’m still a huge fan. I just can’t go as much as I would like due to hotel prices. The other biggest reason I hear for people not going is they can’t bear to go since we lost Earnhardt.

        1. I had a friend who passed away in 2009 and she told me not long before she died that the last race she watched was the 2001 Daytona 500. We used to hit 4 or 5 Cup races a year back in the late 80s and early 90s.

    2. WOW. Absolutely nothing in your post made any sense at all. Mr. Dutton is well-respected by folks who not only love & understand NASCAR but enjoy well-thought-out & well-written posts. Perhaps you should return to your regularly-scheduled reality tv programs & posts about the Kardashian family.

      IMHO – just HAD to tweak your nose & use an acronym ;) – this post nailed it. Somewhat tip of the iceberg but I’ll bet a “Part II” is coming!

    3. T.R.’s post had nothing to do with Mr. Dutton and everything to do with T.R. and his issues.

      Have to agree with Monte on this. Times have changed. Not as many kids are into cars as they used to be. NASCAR tried to expand their audience by putting mile and a half tracks in new markets such as Chicago and other places. It created initial excitement in those areas but soon enough, an aeropush race will get old.

      IMO, they need to continue to get the cars to look more like their showroom counterparts as well as move races to shorter tracks such as Irwindale which produces real stock car racing excitement.

      The market will eventually stabilize. It’ll never be as large as it was when it peaked around 2006 but that’s fine. Millions of eyeballs each week still represents a sizeable audience.

  2. LIKE WHAT YOU SAY …BUT THERE IS A LOT MORE…NASCAR SOMEDAY WILL COME BACK TO THE FANS AND ASK WHAT DID WE DO TO TURN YOU OFF….OLD SAYINGIS DONT GET OFF YOUR HORSE YOU RODE IN ON….WHO CARES IF A ROD IS 3 GRAMS LIGHT……GIVE THEM EXTRA POINTS FOR INGENUITY…LET THEM PASS IN THE GRASS….

  3. You are so right on…
    I’m 67 and cannot seem to get my grandsons interested. They have so much else to get their attention spans after homework is done. Races are too long, at too many look-alike tracks, I feel. They ride in Honda minvans, yet see no Honda cars on televised races.

    Also, poor-taste ED commercials during races are worse than what are on the national major network evening 6:30 PM newscasts.

    Economy is still tough!

  4. Great job on summarizing the problems Afraid the solutions won’t be as easy. First race live 1960 last one 1988 Don’t miss it live anymore but don’t miss many Sundays in front the TV

  5. Thanks Monte. You have put into words what I have seen over the last 20 years. I to have seen the people who would bend your ear for hours talking about the races, now they don’t care. I recently had a book update go to NASCAR for review. It came back with every reference to the COT crossed out and changed to “Gen5″ car. I’m sure you have seen plenty of “NASCAR speak” in your days. I miss your work.

  6. Great column, Monte. I’ve been waiting for you to write this one for a while now.

    I wish the above wasn’t so true. It’s gotten to the point that admitting that I am a NASCAR fan is embarrassing, so I don’t. It’s gotten to the point that I am embarrassed for the telecasters for being so self-aggrandizing that watching a race is more work than play. And it’s way past the point where I have any respect for a self-absorbed sanctioning body that has gorged itself on anything it could at the expense of everything that put it in a position to do so.

    I’m still watching the races, for now, but even though I live within an easy drive of Bristol and Charlotte, I have no desire to go to races anymore. Hopefully that will change someday, but it won’t be soon.

  7. Well written…..I have been a racing fan all of my life and now find myself watching from home thinking the ticket prices are too high and that Nascar has lost something….I am not sure what…but something is definitely gone.

    1. Well, I did do some research, and I believe I’m correct in comparing the rate of inflation. Other than that, it’s a matter of when you make the call on what the prices were. I first started buying gas when I got a restricted license in 1973. I’m sure gas was 39 cents when I first started driving and that it went up to about $1 fairly soon. By 1975, it may have leveled off. I’m relying on what I looked up, and there may have been a small mistake or at least a citing of one particular date when you looked up another. With that concession, I stand by what I wrote. But it’s a rather minor point in my blog. Thanks for your interest.

        1. Thanks for the information. I think perhaps the point I made should have been cited as 1973 (maybe a typo, even) because the price skied to about a dollar (here; higher elsewhere) in the months after the embargo.
          I stand corrected, though.

  8. Great read, Mr. Dutton. Couple the fact of changing trends with Brian France trying to attract new fans by offering up the likes of Ray Lewis and Fifty Cent and it’s not good for business. The good ‘ol boys is why the sport exploded. That’s why people watched and attended. Southern tracks and drivers. But year after year, Nascar and it’s marketing studies keep trying to change the sport into something it’s not. I often wonder what would have happened if Cale had gotten his TRAC series running.

  9. I think you bring up some interesting points. I’m a younger fan who grew up with NASCAR in the mid-90s. While I partially attribute my decline in interest to the day Dale Sr. died (I was a huge fan of his), it kept declining well into the 2000s. Before I knew it, sports like football, hockey, and baseball started getting my attention after never having it before.

    Fast-forward to today, it’s been a good 5+ years since I’ve made an effort to watch as many races in a season as I can. What I do hear about races comes via SportsCenter, and its usually because something major happened.

    I had a moment a few years ago where I started to realize how much I wasn’t watching NASCAR, but more importantly, how much I wasn’t missing it either. It was a sobering moment. The newer cars this year sparked a little bit of interest in me, but not enough that I would spend my own money to go to a race. Watching it on TV is like hearing a NASCAR 101 class that’s been going on for 10 years. (Yes, I understand what tires are and why they are important. Thanks. Also- I’m tired of hearing about that 32nd place car that just got lapped for the 5th time.)

    To be quite honest, I’m not sure what NASCAR would need to do to get my attention back at this point. As I grow older, I have less time to explore new things as I build a career and family, and my interests are getting pretty rooted in the stick and ball sports. It’s a shame.

    1. Yes, it’s almost unbearable to watch the broadcasts.

      Waltrip is in the Tim MCarver, Joe Buck, Joe Morgan school of awful broadcasters.

      I’m not 5 years old, don’t talk to me like I was. I don’t want to hear your boogity BS. Nor your gushing over every Hendrick driver…

      It’s possibly to have excellent auto racing coverage….It doesn’t get the ratings but Leigh Diffey, Wally Dallenbach, and Townsend Bell are EXCELLENT in their IndyCar coverage.

  10. I attend five races a year — have for the last 10 years or so. I guess I could be considered a “new’ fan; I didn’t fully latch on to NASCAR until the 1994-95 range, and I didn’t actually attend any races until 2002. I love the sport more today than I did back then, and I would rather lose a limb than give up my NASCAR tickets for whatever reason. The empty seats in recent years have been disheartening, and I realize there are a myriad of reasons for it — no one individual factor can be pointed at as THE reason — and I want to know a) how to get them back, and b) how to bring in new fans.

    I was in the stands last night at Richmond, and though there were plenty of empty seats (surprising, since the crowd at Martinsville earlier this month was far better than in recent years), I saw one thing I found heartening: kids. I saw more children at the race last night than in the last, say, five years. I hope that sticks, that a new generation of fans is cultivated.

    Will NASCAR return to its late 90s-early 2000s form? Most likely not. But it still has an important place in the American sports landscape, and I want the sport to capitalize on it. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, and when I have children, I will introduce them to the sport as well. I still think NASCAR has a lot to offer, and I want to share that. The sport’s far from perfect, but I don’t think just walking away with a shrug is the answer.

  11. Words of wisdom-I live in Nascar country and would no longer walk across the street to see a race. I went to the Winston cup museum in Winston-Salem awhile back and everything looked different-glory days ? Best of luck to you-following you on twitter these days.

  12. Dead on w most of your points. Greed from all concerned, kit cars, horrific broadcasting, all part of the problem. It all starts with Brian France. The California kid who’s daddy made him come home to run the family business. All marketing and no product focus. Getting rid of him is the first step. Next is waltrip inc. What part of the younger gen hears those two bozos and thinks NASCAR is cool. Relevant tech is next. Hybrids, smaller engines, turbos, electronics. Cost is the same. Millions already spent on working within ridiculous kit car rules. That will also bring new owners. My 2 cents after going to 100′s of races of all kinds over the last 35 years

    1. Thanks to all for the kind remarks and even for the one unkind one so far. It helps me to know how all of you feel. Between comments here and on social media, the response has certainly been overwhelming.

    2. Yes greedy dictator Brian is problem #1.
      Boring too long races is a very big problem.
      Waltrips are a problem. Can’t stand them.
      Constant ads and sponsors mentions have become overwhelming.
      Putting races on cable channel many people, including me, don’t have (ESPNNEWS) is a problem.
      Corporate perfect champion JJ is a problem. Brad K is a breath of fresh air. NASCAR needs more drivers like Stewart and BradK instead of JJ, Edwards types.
      Need to move young drivers up to cup and get drivers like Labonte to stay home.
      Get cup drivers out of NW & truck so young drivers can shine.
      That BS from Bruton at Kentucky 1st race was a huge setback.

  13. I’ve been priced out of their market. I can still afford to go see the Super Late Models in the southeast. But the combination of hotel price gouging, gas prices and ticket prices means I can no longer do the Cup deal. I went to Bristol in 2011, price matched the campgrounds before staying in a North Carolina hotel for less money and making the commute. If NASCAR doesn’t address these issues they’ll have to enjoy the decline.

    T. R. must be Brian’s pen name.

  14. I attended the NASCAR race at TMS in April of this year. I saw empty seats everywhere, the seats on the back straight looked to have a couple hundred fans.

    My observation is that NASCAR is gasping for air and trying to stay afloat. They seem to be putting more emphasis on driver issues than the quality of racing. They promote driver altercations and veiled threats the drivers toss at each other. The whole race weekend is being over produced not unlike a televised wrestling event. I have been to the race when attendance was over 200,000 and 138,000 or less.

    Why pay to see both a Nationwide race and a Sprint Cup race? Half the field in a Nationwide race are Sprint Cup drivers anyway. I think as far as racing excitement goes, you can’t beat a truck race. Those drivers put on a great show even though the purse falls way short of the other two series.

    In years past it would take me two plus hours just to get on the highway, this year I was miles away from the track in less than fifty minutes.

  15. Great column, Monte. You hit all the nails right on the head. It’s a shame that NASCAR is so arrogant. Can’t stand to listen to Brian France at all. This guy “runs” the sport but doesn’t even show up to the races and obviously none of the cadre of France, Helton, Pemberton, et al watch the tv broadcasts or they’d know even better why there is less interest. We used to watch practice, qualifying and every minute of NASCAR programming we could find – because it was fun and interesting. Now, the tv broadcasts are stale and terrible to watch. Fox has become the Waltrip Brothers show, not a race broadcast. This year, I tried watching but decided that I could get better information using trackpass, the radio feed and twitter than wasting my time trying to follow the snippets of racing in between commercials or loudmouths. And if anyone thinks I’m picking on Fox and the Waltrips, well, I have become just as disenchanted with ESPN’s coverage since although Bestwick is a very good PXP guy and I like DJ and Andy, the rest of the cast of characters leaves me too annoyed to bother watching.

    I’d watch more Nationwide races if it weren’t for all the Cup drivers slumming in the series and stinking up that show.

    I’m afraid that I’m one of those people you referenced above – I used to be really interested, but not so much any more. I still follow it, will probably do that until Gordon retires, after that, I’m done and NASCAR will have lost another fan.

  16. I agree they lost site of their core fans. To me it’s sad to see empty seats covered by sponsor banners…why not take some sections charge $15-20 and let people bring their families. Give the blue collar fan the opportunity to come back? That to me would be worth the cost and what better way to market your product. Better to have stands 50% full at $100 ticket or more full at lower price. Track owners and NASCAR have shown ignorance in this area.

    Hotels still gouge, food prices are high the core fan from the rural areas has been devastated by loss of manufacturing jobs. NASCAR has to work with track owners, vendors, hotels to make more affordable but it will never get back to where.

  17. It still comes down to greed on the part of NASCAR and the track owners. Call Charlotte and ask about overnight camping. Its not available…they make you stay a minimum of 4 nights? The race is one night so why would I want to stay when nothing is going on? And they want $120.00 for those 4 nights to tent camp? ABSURD!

  18. There’s a long list of reasons the sport has declined in the past 10 years. I think one of the biggest problems is the way its being shown on tv.
    For several years now it seems all the focus is on drivers running only in the top 10 and the guys in the booth talking about that driver and all his accomplishments instead of finding the best racing on the track and telling the viewers about it.
    How can I get my friends interested in nascar when all they’ve seen on tv is a lot of single file racing and commercials?
    It also doesn’t help that most sports fans watch ESPN, and nascar has always been treated like second class citizens not only by the people who talk on air, but upper management. NASCAR NOW at 1:30am??? And most of the time it doesn’t even come on then.
    Also, a few years ago the CEO of NASCAR said he doesn’t watch every race, much less attend every one, so why should we?
    I Love Nascar and will always be a fan, but until you show people side by side, drivers 13th-20th racing their guts out for track position lap after lap instead of the top 10 spreading out single file, you can’t grow the sport.

  19. Well said Monte. We’ve had the pleasure of meeting you a few times in the garage during the “Better” days. I still think a big factor is, as with every racing serious since the wheel was first discovered, money and technology came in and screwed it up. It now costs 10x the price to run a Championship caliber team as it did when I first got in back in 93. More so because that team came from at most a 2 or possibly 3-car operation. Is the racing 10x better? Is the experience 10x better? And yet, where does the money come from? Eventually, us fans. “Back then”, whatever driver you followed had a merch trailer on the track midway. Whatever driver you followed had a $3 1:64 Racing Champions diecast you could eventually find that displayed that car’s paint scheme for the entire season. Now furthermore, the business model of a driver shopping a sponsor to a team was unheard of, and yet today if I had someone willing for fund me, I could probably have had a ride at Richmond this weekend. Obviously if I knew all the fixes Brian and the gang would be paying me a hefty consultants fee; but I still think there’s an insurmountable issue that’s allowed NASCAR to become MLB– where the big money teams will practically always dominate and the Pittsburgh Pirates will always suck; rather than the NFL where the sanctioning body exists for the benefit of the teams, and where the teams pool their financial resources so the Detroit Lions get a piece if the Dallas Cowboys sell merchandise. Now someone’s going to call me a “bleeding Socialist” but who out there didn’t love Regan Smith winning Darlington in the 78 car? Nobody expected that. We need more stuff to happen where fans will say “dang, how did that happen? I should have watched that one!!”

  20. One thing you didn’t mention is how the younger generation is not interested in cars. Fewer and fewer young adults are getting a license to drive. Check it out…it’s true. The car culture is not dead but like many things is dominated by Baby Boomers not Gen X, Y, etc.

    Personally, I go to only one race per year. Used to go to 8-10. Don’t camp; never did. Used to hit lots of qualifying days too, just as day trips.
    No more. Top 35 rule made qualifying a who cares event plus most tracks started adding races after qualifying so instead of paying $5 or $10 to see qualifying you have to pay $30 or $40 and stay into the evening for a race you’re not interested in seeing.

    I know NASCAR needs younger fans, but much of my early attraction to NASCAR was because it was mostly adults and southern adults at that (if you get my drift, which I realize is not pc…sorry!) When I first started attending races it had a certain cache; my friends and coworkers had no idea what it was. I liked that aspect of it. To me, part of what ruined it was the whole “going mainstream” thing. It was better as a regional sport. It could’ve thrived as it was, but it got too big for it’s britches. It just ain’t fun anymore.

  21. I think you are very correct in the fact they have not taken care of their middle class fans and I would also say their fan base outside of the east coast. Growing up in a minnesota family that loved football I was drawn to NASCAR. I went to one race in a decade and have since attempted (As a college student) to try and make a race once a year. I’ve even turned some of my friends and fiance on to NASCAR, they love it.

    Sadly, too much money is involved. In 2011 my fiance drove to Kentucky for the cup race. Yes… the race that was so unprepared they ran out of food in the concessions, had no parking people or parking spots. They turned fans away as a result. what did Bruton Smith say? Screw you fans who had a bad time. As a result I will never again go to a smith owned track.

    NASCAR isn’t exactly expanding itself. If I lived in Washington state I would never be able to attend a race. Unless I wanted to spend 2000 on plane tickets alone. Too much money is involved to get Iowa speedway on the cup circuit and that’s the closest track to Minnesota. And Iowa sells out every nationwide and truck race. NASCAR doesn’t care.

    Its because NASCAR stopped caring that I have lost a lot of respect for it. look at race view? They “improved” it over the winter and STILL hasn’t been fixed. they removed every feature I liked about it. Next season, I’ll buy only the scanner.

    NASCAR has big problems to resolve… and I don’t think they’ll fix them.

    1. Kentucky 2011 was a debacle, to be sure, but Bruton Smith’s response was anything but “screw you” – he, NASCAR and the state of KY spent tens of millions getting the problem fixed and, by all accounts last year, they did. That should go into the column for things NASCAR did right.

  22. Thanks for the blog, I think you nailed it with your analysis. I think the racing is better than ever ( I go back to the mid ’60′s) and the issues of today are mostly economy and convenience based just as you explained. As far as the younger generation goes, it is not just Nascar that has a problem, the entire future of our USA has a problem with that. It looks bleak in so many ways, but that is entirely another story and Nascar is a victim of this crumbling society. Keep writing and I’ll keep reading!

  23. Reasons for NASCAR Sprint Cup decline:
    1. The cars and drivers are so good it makes for boring races.
    2. Many races on same type tracks make for a sameness, ie: I’ve seen this race before.
    3. More road races would solve the sameness and boring race problems, ie: Austin, TX
    4. Regarding dwindling attandence NASCAR asked DW to say, “the empty seats are the fault of the track owners who overbuilt the grandstands”. Waltrip actually said that on-the-air!

    Reasons I don’t go the NASCAR races any more:
    1. Free TV
    2. I take naps while watching Free TV
    3. Free TV saves me much trip expense, gas money, over priced ticket cost and I am home when the checked flag falls.
    4. If it was not Free TV, I wouldn’t subscribe to pay TV.

    PS: You are correct about less kids at NASCAR Sprint Cup races.

    Neil Upchurch
    San Antonio, Texas

  24. i started watching nascar back in the middle 80′s. just me. it was something to do when openwheel wasn’t on. it was actually fun after awhile and i grew to like it. i have always found with racing…the less i knew, the more i liked it. racing makes very little sense to begin with. it has diminishing returns from the get go….it’s wasteful…it’s life threatening and mostly it’s too goddamn expensive for the average person to go. i stayed with nascar for sometime, more than a casual interest but less than FANatical.
    my interest in nascar started to erode when nascar officials started hold THEIR press confrences before the drivers and teams held theirs. the constant whinning and bickering amongst people in the know became unbearable. it was embarassing as all hell and the final straw was (a few years ago) on toyota entering the sport……their engine plans that were submitted in confidentiality to nascar were leaked to gm and ford. this isn’t a sport anymore is it? it’s a friggin circus and when a part that is undeweight by the weight of a penny gets you smashed in the mouth…….? i just couldn’t do that anymore. 1000 cautions a season for absolutely no reason except to pack the field and cheat a leader out of their hard won advantage so the so called “fans” can have a melee at the finish. when people make comparisons between the w.w.e. and nascar it is way more than just a comparison. it should be outlandish to even think it, and you know what….it used to be.
    now it’s the norm. nascar put nascar here. no one else could have done that. losing earnhardt didn’t do that. losing petty didn’t do that. bonnett, alexander, nemecheck, irwin……none of those bodies stopped nascar until the one guy they could never lose died doing it his way. nascar has the same issues facing it now that all major league racing faces. except…..everyone else gets it. they do not. they have a joke format for the championship (number one reason people left the sport) and have lost their ability to even look caring towards the everyfan. socialites and movie stars did not make this sport. hard driving and legitimate competition did. they have successfully removed that and this is what they have left.

  25. Nice article. I watched NASCAR on tv growing up, but never got any more interested. Then, a few years ago, I came across the SPEED channel and was intrigued by all of the “strategies” that went on. I went to my first dirt race last August and my first NASCAR race in March. So, as a sorta new fan, I can tell you that I do find the costs prohibitive-hotel, food, merchandise, travel. NASCAR also promotes itself to have the most accessible stars. While I was able to meet my favorite driver, it took lots of time and energy away from my experience at the track. I don’t see the drivers as very accessible, unless you bring big money, are a sponsor, or are part of a specific charity. What was deemed as a “meet and greet” was more like waiting in line for hours to barely say “hi” to someone, perhaps get a picture, and be herded off. I think maybe NASCAR and its stars have gotten “too big for their britches” and need to come back down to what this sport was founded on- the working class and old fashioned competition. Give them a significantly smaller budget to work with, a time line, and let the drivers duke it out. May the best driver win!

  26. I think you have hit it on the head Monte. I live less than 20 miles from Bristol, the place where you used to wait 3 years on a waiting list for a ticket to the night race, or pay big bucks. Before the Spring race I was waiting in my usual barber shop as the two barbers discussed sports. I have been covering the races for over 18 years as a photographer. One of the other patrons who knew me asked if I was shooting the race that weekend. The other patrons and the barbers looked stunned and one of them said, “Is it that time again? Used to be everyone was all excited when Nascar came to town, now no one one even notices.” I have noticed that about my area as well. I basically live in redneck central where Nascar used to be a god. The people here feel that the sport has left them and it’s roots. As most people that feel that way would, they have turned away from what they term that “preppie” sport. Most say it’s too expensive to go. But many say that it has gotten away from what once made it great. Saturday night at the short track, drivers free to say what they want and every once and awhile, a good fight. In other words, It just ain’t fun anymore.

  27. Good stuff and all very true. Don’t forget to throw in the fact that the unprecedented dominance of one Jimmie Johnson became a turn-off for a lot of people who got “tired of seeing the same guy win over and over” and they stopped watching. I’ve been to every Brickyard 400 and I don’t think there’s another race that has seen the percentage of empty seats rise year after year the way the BY has. I will always go. It’s my NASCAR race at my track. I wouldn’t miss it. And yes, everything they say about it is true. “It’s seldom a great race.” “The track isn’t built for those cars.” Yep. You got it. Don’t care. There are other NASCAR races that are part of my “racing bucket list” and I will see them. It’s RACING. And I am a RACE FAN. IndyCars, F1, NASCAR, sports cars, whatever. My kids could care less. A lost generation. Their kids will probably care less than they do. How does racing of all types flip that switch in the minds of kids that make them want to experience the site, sound, smell, and feel of a vehicle travelling at an incredible rate of speed? And then do it all over again the next weekend?

  28. Think this is the first article I have every read that mentioned what I believe to be the real problems that confront Nascar, or perhaps just stock car racing in general.

  29. I was a fan since I was 12 years old in the early 90′s…

    I completely lost interest when they installed “The Chase”

    If I want to watch someone sneak into the playoffs and steal a championship I’ll watch NHL or NFL. They made the races less important and it let someone like Jimmie Johnson be an unworthy multi-time champion.

    This is why I have become far more interested in IndyCar. Shorter races, better racing, better personalities with the drivers, and NO CHASE.

  30. Good points. But speaking from personal experience, the economy has wiped out any budget to see “live” racing-even camping is out of the question, let alone the high priced hotel gouging that goes on race weekends. The people who stay in hotels probably haven’t been hit as hard, but a lot of the campers are probably just not able to even do that now. And the whole idea of the teams or drivers throwing punches, running the length of the pits to attack other competitors, well, that’s just too much like WWF for me-staged, accepted, and encouraged, all for the sake of the “show”. Also, how many kids do you know are pining to drive a Chevy, Ford, or Toyota? Most of them are into Hondas, turbos, and drifiting, not what NASCAR is putting forth in it’s generic offering. I think it’s time has come, and passed with the PS/X-box/Internet generation, and now it’s just a slow ride to the bottom.

  31. Kudos Monte, for another winner. I’ve always admired you for telling it “like it is” as the saying goes. It doesn’t hurt my feelings that you’re telling the same story that I’ve been telling since circa 2003, 2004 and on into infinity. Change is indeed the enemy. Folks, most of them anyway, are creatures of habit. We buy Fords because we’ve always bought Fords. Ditto Chevy and Dodge. Being of the pre-Baby-Boomer generation and still retaining the memories of a small child in WWII, precludes me from including Toyota here, but feel free to do so if that is your habit.

    Many will interrupt at this point to interject that change is inevitable. Surely, it is when speaking of diapers, but changes in life are usually subtle and go almost unnoticed. They don’t walk up and slap us in the face with a leather glove, then throw it to the ground in challenge. Day does not suddenly become night; there is a subtle softening of light until we realize it’s gone and we cannot continue to read without man-made illumination.

    Now, step back to 2001. Dale Earnhardt is lost at Daytona in February. If anyone thinks that did not adversely affect NASCAR, think again. NASCAR’s silly “Most Popular Driver” thing notwithstanding, Dale Earnhardt was probably the most recognized and most popular sports figure in the WORLD, not just the country, and he was mourned as such. His death cast a pall over the sport that lingers to this day, as many of his devoted fans simply had no desire to go racing without him.

    Now add the loss of 30+ year sponsor, R.J. Reynolds in 2003. They can tell you that Nextel took over where Reynolds left off, but they would be lying. Ralph Seagraves and T. Wayne Robertson were among the best marketers ever to shake a hand or make a deal. Nextel couldn’t come close… and almost as soon as Nextel came, they were gone… now it was Sprint on all logos, and on that “thing” they call a Cup. That is even harder to deal with, as there already ARE Sprint cars, and have been for decades.

    Fast forward to 2004 and NASCAR, media and fans are introduced to Brian France, son of the then head of the family, Bill France Jr., and told that he will be steering the ship from that day forward. For most folks’ money, he steered it right into a reef and it’s been hung up there ever since. He brought us “The Chase”, which most fans almost violently opposed. Tough! Deal with it. Then of course, it’s been necessary, in his mind, to change the format of The Chase at least twice, and the way the points are awarded along with that.

    2007 brought the death of Bill France Jr. and the onset of the “COT” or Car of Tomorrow, which most of us saw as the Car of Horrors instead. NASCAR never being an entity that is willing to say “Oops”, they plowed ahead with that pudgy little mistake until this year, when, as pointed out earlier, it suddenly ceased to exist upon the introduction of the Gen-6 cars. That’s nice, but unfortunately, it’s too little, too late. When NASCAR decided to write off the old fans, of which I certainly am one, they missed an important part of that calculation… our children. Someone noticed children at Richmond. That is a good sign, for you see, when we stopped coming, we stopped bringing ours. Now they have children, and because they were never taken to the races, have no inclination to take theirs. My girls play Lacrosse and cheer for hockey of all things… in Georgia. If at Grandma’s house, the younger one will watch a race with me; the older one finds other occupations for her time.

    Someone should have warned Mr. France that it will take about twice as long to build back a fan base as it took to kill the golden goose he was handed. He essentially lost not just one generation, but two.

    Monte, there is one point you didn’t touch on here, but as you said, there is more to come. I’m speaking of the fall-off in the TV ratings, which discouragingly mimic the empty seats in the grandstands. Just in the few responses here that touched on it, the problem is clear and for Heaven’s sake, someone has to tell the Emperor he is naked! Until he passed away in 2007, my husband used to mute the TV and ask me to call the race for him. Why? Because he simply could not abide the broadcasters chosen in the “new” TV contracts. Believe me, I have absolutely nothing in this world against Darrell Waltrip, but he is clearly the reason… at least the main reason… that folks are tuning out in favor of weeding the garden or similar tasks. He has a voice with the tonal quality of shattering glass, and Larry Mac does not lend a calming effect to that. Poor Mike Joy, who is a very good announcer in his own right, can seldom even make himself heard over the cacophony of just plain noise proffered by the other two.

    Like you, I have had the experience of telling someone that I write NASCAR columns and receiving that endearing and heartwarming answer of, “Oh.” Years back, they would scramble for writing materials to jot down the website and check me out. Today, it’s “Oh.”

    Keep up the good work Monte, and keep that chin up as well. There are a lot of us out here missing you and pulling for you, in your writing and your singing.

    1. Lots of great thoughts there, PattyKay, but the notion that Dale Earnhardt, Sr. was the most recognized and popular athlete in the world isn’t even close to being accurate. At the time of his death, the most popular athlete in the US and the world was almost certainly Michael Jordan.

      There’s no doubt that Dale Sr. is a critical piece to NASCAR history, but he never transcended sports the way Michael Jordan or even Tiger Woods has. Outside the US, he was probably less known than almost any Formula One driver, since that is, by far, the most popular form of motorsports on Earth.

      1. Jordan and Woods “may” have been bigger in some ways, but neither could steer the direction of their sport as effectively as Earnhardt.

        1. It’s irrelevant to the original discussion, but are you serious? Michael Jordan has been retired for 12 years, and yet the shoes with his logo on them have approximately 75% share of the basketball shoe market. You could drop him almost anywhere on Earth and people would recognize him, even at 50 years old and more than a decade since he last played. You could have dropped Dale Sr. anywhere on Earth except Canada or the US, the day before he died in 2001, and he could have walked the streets like an average person.

          I realize Dale Sr. is a god to many people and that it’s hard for those same people to realize they’re a small percentage of the total group, which is my whole point. Jordan transcended sport. Dale Sr. never did.

          1. I’m not talking about selling shoes or goats or pigs. And I’m not talking about how big he was worldwide. I’ll give you all that.

            I’m talking about steering the direction of the sport. Earnhardt had NASCAR’s ear and the ear of everyone in the garage and everyone in the media. I seriously doubt that the NBA would have based much of their policy-making on the yearnings of any individual player.

      2. Perhaps my wording was slightly incorrect. The thought I meant to impart was the impact Dale left in death. Neither Jordan nor Woods have reached that point, but they will. Only then will there be a way to compare. Will thousands or even millions stop watching basketball when Jordan is gone? Oh please! Will there still be tears, prayers and candlelight vigils held WORLDWIDE 12 years after Woods is gone? I think we all know that answer. In death, Dale Earnhardt became far larger than life. Don’t take my word; ask Sports Illustrated.

        No more arguments gentlemen. Have a lovely MayDay… which comes only 2 days after Dale’s birthday… still celebrated even though he’s gone…

  32. No need for me to go on and on about what problems I’ve had with Brian France’s NASCAR. I’ve done that before. But I think if you were to compare NASCAR to the stock market, what we’re looking at now is opportunity. When I moved to North Carolina from Iowa sixteen years ago this sport was booming. At that point the middle class was already priced out. Think about what it would have taken for your average truck driver to take his kid to the Bristol night race. If you didn’t know someone it wasn’t going to happen. All that has changed. We’ve been in an extended “bear” market now. NASCAR is desperate for fans and it wants us. Look at the changes made just since last season. This new car alone is an acknowledgement that they screwed up, even if they won’t openly admit it. Who cares? I can go to the Bristol website. I can pick my seats. I can buy the tickets. And I have first shot at those same seats next year and for each year so long as I choose to renew. Who would have thought that fifteen years ago? Everything goes in cycles. It won’t stay down forever. Take advantage of the opportunity while you still can. I am.

  33. The fact that the world of NASCAR no longer has a need for a writer of your skill says it all. Your stuff was the best, Monte…Hell, it still is.

  34. Well, the Darlington tickets that I re-new every year for I don’t know what reason just went on ebay tonight. The 1300 mile round trip from Northern NJ with gas and what not just isn’t in the budget. I’ll be saving for the Bristol Night race in August and make that trip. One race a year and I’m within 2-3 hour drive of Pocono and Dover. I was surprised to see empty seats in Richmond, too. I don’t know why though.

  35. NASCAR started out as a traveling circus enduro. Let’s put these “stock” cars out on the track for 500 miles in the heat of a Darlington SC Labor Day and see which one can get there. Now that purpose is irrelevant, one or two might blow up in a 500 miler, 3 or 4 might wreck, and 2 or 3 might start and park. The rest will just drive around until the last 50 laps. So let’s just run 50 laps and be done with it.

  36. A lot of this was NASCAR losing the “green” discussion early on. NASCAR got bunched into the global warming issues (cars are bad). NASCAR also hasn’t been able to translate the video game racing (sims racing) into actual attendance at the track. Also not finding a way to have a frat night and taking more advantage of the college campuses located in some of the track regions by giving student discounts and having a frat party area. There are ways to get the colleges interested–NASCAR really hasn’t deemed this a problem yet.

  37. You make many good points. I think one point that is missing is how easy it is to get Nascar info today. When I first starting following the sport in the early 90′s, I couldn’t even find out what the Daytona starting lineup was until the race started. The local (New York City) papers had absolutely no mention of the Duel results. I use to get the weekly Winston Cup Scene and that was how I kept up with the sport, and then watched the weekly races to catch up on the rest of the news. Now with internet, twitter, Nascar sirius radio, we know everything about nascar instantly we can totally immerse ourselves in nascar all the time, without a need for a fix on the weekends. If we miss a race or two a year, it’s ok, we are probably checking twitter and know what is going on without having to watch. Or we can watch later on DVR, or find out what happened with lap-by-lap recaps on the internet.

  38. Instead of watching the race from Richmond, I put it on the DVR and went to the local track for a 200 lap super late model race. After qualifying, 1/2 hour before dropping the green, the brought all 25 late models and drivers to the front stretch, opened the gate, and let everybody on the track to talk to the drivers. I watched girls line up to get autographs from the two women in the field. I watched boys line up to get autographs from the two women in the field. There were four classes, it cost $25 to get in (adults), hamburgers were $3. Parking was free.

    Somehow, that experience seems more connected to the average racing fan than NASCAR. I took my Father-In-Law to the spring Phoenix race in 2012 … his first comment was “you paid $90 for this ticket, and we’re sitting behind a pole and I can’t see the first turn?” That was after paying for parking, after paying Ticketmaster for fees and a fee to print the ticket on my own printer. Think about that one for a moment.

    When something becomes expensive, expectations change.

    NBA tickets are too expensive for the average person. However, the home-viewing experience has improved, significantly. Basketball and Football are tailor-made for high-definition. Hockey and Baseball are not, the in-stadium experience is far better in Hockey/Baseball.

    NASCAR is not necessarily better in person than years ago, and has not benefited from high definition like other sports have. This is a tough problem to be in. If the at-the-track experience prices people out (like it does in the NBA), then the television experience makes it reasonable (and free) for everybody else. But if the television experience results in hyper-tight coverage of single cars with brightly colored sponsors painted on the car, and a third of the race is missed due to commercials (whereas an English Premiere League game is broadcast entirely, commercial free, on ESPN), then television suffers. All HD has done for NASCAR is allow me to more easily read the Zest sponsorship on a car.

    Then you have everything mentioned by everybody else above, all valid.

    We need the at-the-track experience to be more affordable, more personal, like what I mentioned above.

    We need the television product to align better with the expectations brought to us by high definition. It shouldn’t be a surprise that HD has been dominant for nearly a decade – and during that time, NASCAR has slumped.

    And if we want younger fans, we need the sport to connect to younger people using their favorite device … a smartphone. There needs to be some serious innovation in that realm, innovation that results in fans 5-10 years later.

    1. Agreed. I LOVE going to baseball games but i will never go to another NFL game again. Of course, alot of that is that I prefer not to freeze my tail off at a game. A Monday night Patriots game in December was not a smart move!

      Also, IndyCar lets the fans wander around in the pits with the cars, drivers, and crew. The IndyCar drivers are so open and will take the time to have conversations with you. Especially guys like Hinchclife, Newgarden, Kanaan, Allmendinger, etc. It’s easy to see why danica left for NASCAR…Her personality matches up better with the boring drivers NASCAR has to offer(Kenseth excluded..that dude is hilarious).

      I have tickets for the IndyCar Poncono race with infield for less than just a seat for a cup race. Good deal to me!

  39. Well written piece. Sadly, spot on.
    I knew there was trouble a-brewin’ when, during a tv report on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway re-do circa 1995, they talked about the seating capacity and the sight lines and number of toilets and the concessions stands and luxury boxes and sponsorship opportunities…… and never once about the track itself, the configuration and banking (….or lack thereof) or what kind of racing it would produce (…or not produce).

    As N. Wilkesboro, Rockingham, etc were shuttered, over-fed, money-blind fools like Darrell Waltrip would say, “We have to grow the sport.” That phrase marked the beginning of the end of NASCAR. Greed, greed, greed.

  40. I watched more of the Richmond race last night than any other in maybe the last 12 months. I used to watch the whole thing, from the start to finish.

    The old ESPN telecasts used to show what happened on the track during cautions. I knew when I went to the track what I was seeing and why.

    Now the telecast has to have a “narrative”. Last night FOX went to the buffoons in the broadcast center as the last caution was being cleaned up. And they spout cliches and their opinions. I don’t care what Michael Waltrip thinks. Show me what is happening on and around the track, and let the events tell the story.

    And I have to mention Jimmie Johnson; while he is talented, he is so dominant he makes the races boring.

    The proliferation of cookie cutter 1.5 mile tracks into “new markets” doesn’t help. Give us back Rockingham and North Wilkesboro. They were lucky Darlington did not get eliminated, its proven to be great.

    NASCAR abandoned the fans that made them what they – were. I’ve been a fan for decades but I’ve lost interest.

    And I haven’t been to a track in at least 5 years. And Monte, yes, the economy is a big reason-still.

  41. Great blog. I’ve told you this in person, but the Chase and Hendricks Motorsports are part of the equation. Domination is not taken very well among fans. Lots of Junior fans still remain rabid, but, yes, in smaller numbers. Over the last few years, the most common reason I’ve heard for not going to certain races is, “I’m not wasting my money to watch Jimmie Johnson win.” Also, the ten-race “playoff” has made each individual race less important. Only Daytona reigns as an important race. That and the rest of your list and you have to wonder how stupid the boys in Daytona Beach are. Will it come back? No as long as people refuse to spend $1000 to watch the same characters win.

  42. Monte
    I touched on this in one of my articles. My Dad’s generation had those wonderful prewar Fords. He raced a rail Midget with a war surplus Willys eng. that he bought for 50. then sold the starter, & gen. for 5. Thus having 45. in a brand new eng.
    My generation came of age in the ’60′s when we had the wide variety of cars from the ’50′s to pick from. I had the Stud Duck, my 53 Studebaker Starlight Commander. My first race car was a 55 Plymouth.
    With the cars available to kids today, it’s no wonder that there’s not much of a car culture. Those who are attracted to cars are much more likely to be into Tuner Cars, or Drifting.
    That, plus the attention span of most kids today, (now my age is showing) the typical NASCAR race just isn’t going to cut it.
    Not to mention the greed, that dumped the majority of short tracks for the Cookie Cutters, who’s seats they now can’t fill because of the racing they produce. This is a problem that feeds on itself.

    It’s pretty easy to come up with answers to make things better for us old, longtime fans. How to bring in enough young fans for the next 50 years, not so easy

    dawg.

  43. Spot on, but I would expect no less from you. The causes of NASCAR’s troubles are multiple, and no one easy, silver bullet is going to knock them all down. The sport has its moments, but in a few short years, you would have to have the insight of Mr. Magoo not to see there’s a problem.

  44. Good article, I say it doesn’t scratch the political surface that Brian France has demostrated time and time again which is a huge problem..the true fan has turned away in disgust overall. But I still watch it now and then..albeit the shell of what it used to be sad.

    1. Many thanks to all of you for the overwhelming responses. It would be more instructive to NASCAR officials to read your responses than the blog itself. Please know that I read every one of them, but if I replied to each, I wouldn’t have time to blog again today. I appreciate you taking the time.

  45. This is a good read and I agree with a good portion of it. The struggle of NASCAR is killing short tracks as well. I co-promoted a track last season and you can clearly see that missing demographic that you mentioned.

    Honestly I think the sport needs some sort of format change to make it more exciting. People are into extreme sports and action. 4 hours going in a circle at tracks that are all the same is not extreme to the casual race fan or more importantly that person friend who dragged him there to begin with.

    Drastic measures are the only thing that will help at this point, until it becomes “cool” to go to the races again.

  46. Monte,
    Talk about hitting the nail on the head. The smartest thing Brian France could do is read this and, as you said, the responses from the fans. But it would also require him to comprehend what is being written. Sadly I don’t think that is possible. Ten years of decisions, bad after bad, have resulted in where NASCAR is today. The desire to have TV ratings similar to the Red Sox /Yankees playoff series in 2003 was instrumental in bringing the Chase, perhaps the worst decision made by the sanctioning body – ever. The thing that had always appealed to race fans during the explosive growth of 1984 -2001 was that NASCAR wasn’t like the other sports. And overnight it became just that the same as the others. Qualifying? No need to watch if everyone is in the show. Put a wing on the back of the car? Great idea. The list is endless. And it is as true today as when the organization started it starts at the top. And as for the drivers, Richard Petty used to stay at the races for hours signing autographs. He wrote the book on how to treat fans. Hundreds of drivers followed,and many became rich beyond their wildest dreams, they still owe him. He won all the time, yet was loved by the fans. He understood. Blaming the economy is getting a little old. If there is a downturn in the economy, it means you must make choices. People choose not to go to the races. And the dismal TV ratings of the last five years are an indication its much more than the economy. That Brian France quote about the computers and kids speaks volumes. As does his quote about the Hamlin decision being his call. The family of Tony George was able to stop the bleeding. Who will stop this?

  47. I’m in my early 20′s and just started following NASCAR this season. I’ve had a lot of odd hobbies and interests in my life, and when I got into NASCAR I thought “Finally, an interest that’s considered normal for a young American male!” Nope, everyone my age that I bring up NASCAR to laughs and makes the typical left turn jokes.
    While I didn’t follow NASCAR when I was growing up, my dad always had some kind of race on TV so I was very aware of it. I remember NASCAR being very popular and a cool thing for kids to be into in the 90′s. Now I’m lucky if I can find NASCAR stuff, even at a store like Walmart where you’d think it would be abundant.
    Oh well, I don’t care much what my peers think. I plan to go to both Michigan Sprint Cup races this year, and would like to go to more if I could. NASCAR has turned Sundays from days of dreading returning to class the next day to the day I look forward to all week. Anyway, my point is that there are younger people getting interested in the sport, they’re just few and far between. Who knows, maybe I will eventually bring some others along with me.

    1. I hope so. NASCAR has a hard time understanding that many of its critics love the sport. I know I do. It stands on its own merits. It doesn’t have to be so manipulated.

  48. Did anyone care to notice the primary sponsor on the 29 car, which won last weeks race?

    Bell Helicopter?!

    Well Hot damn! I’m sure the average fan has a spare $5M in the bank to get one of those cool Bell Jet Rangers! And as we all know, NASCAR fans are fiercely brand-loyal.

    This tone deafness in sponsorship speaks volumes about the sad state of this sport.

  49. YES, NASCAR attendance is down, some of the best news yet !!

    Does it hurt YOU that the tracks have to actually compete for your business, that they are offering promo packages and discounted ticket prices that are quite likely the most reasonable of any major professional sporting event today?

    At Talladega this upcoming weekend they have a two day ticket offer (CUP and NATIONWIDE races) albeit it is sitting on the Allison backstretch for a mere $49.00 AND kids 12 and under get in for FREE, so for < $100, Mom, Dad and little Johnny and little Suzy can see 2 full days of RACING entertainment.

    If your so inclined you can also take advantage of FREE camping spots, FREE parking and you can bring your own food and beverages into the facility.

    Take that same $100 to any other major league sporting event and see how far it gets you. Now try to bring in your own snacks and beverages into the stadium and see how far you get.

    Last weekends race at Richmond had a $45 ticket offer as well as $60 ticket that included rental of "Fanvision" audio/video scanner. A pretty sweet deal for a Saturday night short track showdown under the lights featuring the best stock car drivers in the world!

    As @Thomas Gronstal stated in his comment previously, the Bristol race was 1 the people waited in line for YEARS for a CHANCE to buy a ticket, today you can buy tickets on their website right now starting at $80 for the Aug classic and I would wager that anyone that attended the spring race this year had opportunities to buy tickets likely well BELOW face value if they wanted to chance dealing with a ticket scalper

    It won't bother me 1 bit that the Frances ISC or Smiths Speedway corp will make a few million less in revenue than in years past.

    The fact that the traffic getting in and out of the venues is better, the lineups at the concessions and washrooms are shorter and the best thing of all is that i am not sardine can packed into a seat with no room to move about are only more benefits that lower attendance brings.

    So to all those "NASCAR fans" who are NOT attending, Thanks and please continue to stay away!

  50. I really enjoyed your article. One point that you touched but didn’t really elaborate on was that NASCAR is much better at the track than on TV. I actually think that is a very big part of why they are unable to gain new fans. Their camera angles are too tight and there is no sense of speed, the commentators are encouraged to constantly promote NASCAR and the sponsors and therefore sound like salesmen the whole race, and then they cut to commercials every 5-10 minutes. I tried to show a NASCAR race to 5 people who had never given it a shot this past Saturday: 3 of them fell asleep, 1 of them kept talking about other stuff, and the other was complaining about the left turns the entire time. If they don’t enjoy watching it at home, they aren’t going to go to the track.

  51. I’m close to the prototype fan NASCAR has lost lately – I’m 30 years old and have been a fan for probably 15 years. I’ve been to maybe 10-12 races (Sprint, Nationwide, Trucks combined) and used to watch just about every race religiously. I live 15 miles from Kansas Speedway and haven’t been to a race there in 7 years I think. I find myself watching less and less and I can’t point to any single thing. Here’s a few of the reasons:
    - Time of day: most races are Sunday afternoons during the best weather of the year and the last thing I want to do is sit inside for 4 hours watching a race.
    - Length of race: every race is at least 3 hours long and usually more like 4. Far too many of the races are parades that put me to sleep. Like Dale Jr. and other drivers have said, most races should be 300 miles or less.
    - Boring technology: the biggest innovation in NASCAR in 30 years (safety equipment aside) is fuel injection. The cars are boring, COT and Gen-6 both, and there’s no way for teams to push the technology envelope forward.
    - Boring qualifying: I can’t remember the last time I watched qualifying for a NASCAR race.
    - Boring tracks/length of season: those two factors are connected. If most of the tracks that have two races were reduced to one, the season could be shortened to a length that makes sense. Valentine’s Day to Thanksgiving, essentially, is way too long. Places like Kansas and Michigan have no need for two races anymore.
    - Formula One: F1 doesn’t have as many teams but it addresses almost every issue I ticked off above. Races are 2 hours max, the technology is incredible and qualifying is critical to the race.
    - Other racing series: if I have time to watch other racing, I’d rather watch Grand-Am/ALMS, World Challenge or multiple other road race series.

    I want to love NASCAR again, but don’t see it happening.

  52. Monte – I’ve worked every series known to humankind, plied the trade at races worldwide. What Brian France has done to NASCAR is sad. Tried to watch my DVR of Richmond and realized there were 4 minutes of commercials to 3 of racing much of the night. The culture of NASCAR has changed – and not for the better. Trying to get an interview with a Cup driver is like pulling teeth. They’ve become arrogant and entitled, which is a turn-off for even the most fanatical followers of the sport.
    And you’re right about kids these days – they don’t care about motor sport unless it’s something like Formula Drift, which takes place quickly and accompanied by music.
    IndyCar is suffering from the same malaise as NASCAR, only more heightened… so is NHRA – empty seats at the U.S. Nationals last year nearly had me in tears.
    I hope all the sanctioning bodies realize they’ve GOT to change if they want to survive.
    Thanks for writing this and thanks to all who’ve voiced their very worthwhile opinions.

  53. Monte is a great writer. Creative and entertaining. In one way I think he gives too much credit to NASCAR, even in his criticisms. I am a short track fan, dirt tracks to be specific. Sprints and mods, wheel to wheel. Back in the day I loved the whole three tiered system of champ cars, sprints, and midgets on the USAC trail. I got to see my heroes race on dirt and asphalt in different cars. I would submit the good old USA is an oval track nation, so when Roger Penske and his merry band of CART men abdicated the oval track tradition in favor of faux Euro-road-courses, NASCAR stepped in to fill the void. I will be the first to admit the Petty, Allison, et al, era was somewhat exciting. Not now. They took Hurtubise out of INDY in handcuffs when he protested the corporate takeover in the late 70′s. NASCAR has embraced the corporate take over, the hat dance, the STEPFORD driver. And . . . . . the racing is boring, even with the WWF aura thrown in. I would not walk across the room to turn the channels of my TV to a NASCAR race, let alone walk across the street or drive hundreds of miles to watch a NASCAR race. Apparently others feel the same way. But, I will drive three hours in each direction to Williams Grove for a sprint car race. NASCAR is grasping at straws now, the same way CART people were scratching their heads a few decades ago, wondering what went wrong, underestimating the racing public. YOUR PRODUCT IS BORING! IT IS AN AFFRONT! Gen6, COT, The Chase, it is all like putting lipstick on a pig!

  54. Monty, You hit the nail on the head, word per word. Brian France has absolutely ruined the sport. Don’t worry what others are saying, I was an avid fan for over 40 years and can’t even stand to watch it anymore. A lot has to do with a couple announcers who can’t keep their mouths closed long enough for others to watch the race. Very Good article !!!!!

  55. Old I am. Been going to auto races since 1948 in the northeast. I grew up with a racing family as neighbors, in fact the father was a promoter. Most everything said is spot on but what are we racing ?? Are we racing, not really, they are now equal in every way. No driver, crew chief, or owner can be innovative, the result is what we have. This is politically correct racing, everybody in the club qualifies. Want real racing today, go to the Knoxville Nationals where every car passed is points and every lap counts, no matter who you are. I now watch the last 50 or so laps if I have nothing else to do. I used to have my ear glued to a radio and when TV came along would watch it all, not anymore. Put it back to real cars, real drivers and real innovation by the crews.
    Thanks for the chance to rant.

  56. I watched every weekend whenever it was televised from the 70′s (Wide World of Sports) thru the 80′s & 90′s (TNN and ESPN). As some have said above me, the “Chase” lost me completely. The sport went from competition and strategy to fabricated drama for TV ratings and moremoremore$$$$$. I went back to my local dirt track and get real racing each week at an affordable price. I’ve been done with NASCAR for years & don’t miss it at all.

  57. So many interesting thoughts on one subject. Too bad the powers that be don’t seem to care what is being said outside of their little frame of mind. Auto racing, all forms, doesn’t have to add more forms of entertainment than what is happening on the track. If I’m going to hear music, I’ll go to the proper venue. Who cares about the “monkey show” at the so called “Hollywood Hotel” or, worse yet, what ol’ racers have to say. If I go to two or three races a year that’s it; it is what I can afford. The TV suits me now. Better yet, I turn down the TV sound and turn up the radio broadcast, like I do when my home teams are on national TV. But NASCAR isn’t the only frame of reference in trouble because it changed its format. The Indy 500 “snake pit” on turn one is gone and has become a fan/family friendly site. They’ve gained a few hundred people at the cost of losing thousands of college kids and similar ilk who paid good bucks to party one-day a year at a race. Auto racing of all kinds is slipping back to what it was at the beginning a regional sport.

  58. This thread made me think a lot and one item I haven’t heard discussed much as a root of Nascar growth problems is EASE of being a fan. (The NFL has the same problem in the HDTV era but it’s much, much easier to go to an NFL game (assuming you live near an NFL city) compared to a Nascar race.) It takes a high level of commitment to go to a race notwithstanding the cost. If you aren’t hard core already, or captivated at your first race, you’re not likely to come back. It has to be WORTH the effort to go. I think this is largely lost on TPTB.

    Case in point – my 5 yr old son LOVES racing and has watched races with me since he was 2. (It’s pretty awesome.) We went to the Kentucky night race last year for his first race. He loved it. But we’re not going back. Why? The chain smokers sitting all around us (ridiculous). The pitch black loooooong walk to our car at midnight. The filthy, disgusting restrooms (it’s NOT okay to ever have to step around multiple piles of feces at a major sporting event.) The long wait for a scorching bus to get us there before the race. It’s NOT okay to treat your paying customers like they are in the third world. Would this be acceptable in any other major sport?

    Note what I didn’t say – the racing itself. Or the price/cost. Or the seat locations. But it’s just TOO many negatives to outweigh the positives… not with HDTV available. And ALL of those items could be fixed if Nascar and/or the track put effort into it.

    I consider myself a hard core fan back to the #3 Wrangler days for Dale. If you can’t get me to go – and I do have a track in my back yard and 3 others within a 3 hour drive – how can you possibly expect to catch new fans and keep them with any decent retention percentage?

    Another example with my son. He’s been a Kyle Busch fan (I know, it’s tough for me to stomach too) since he was 3. Why? Because he knows what M&M’s are. What were the first two other cars he recognized by sight and driver? #20 Home Depot and #48 Johnson. Why? Because they have those awesome racecar carts at the stores. Kids identify with consistent brands that they can understand. The younger fans are who you need to grab for the future. Make the marketing and the race event more kid/family friendly. (Side note – I really think that the proliferation of one off deals has also hurt Nascar – it’s harder to identify with a driver.)

    Off my soap box.

  59. Broke my heart to see thopse empty Richmond grandstands as hard as I used to work to help keep them full. It’s a different time, Monte, and the powers that be these days don’t seem to have a clue and could care less about “how we used to do it.” However, what we used to do worked pretty damned good. Great races and full grandstands.

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