Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, July 10, 2015, 9:18 a.m.
It is not my intention to recount my one unfortunate weekend at Kentucky Speedway. Sure, there was the traffic nightmare, and the best example of a track thinking all it needed was a Sprint Cup date, and everything else would just take care of itself.
Sure, it was the only place in twenty years and a little over 500 races where something was stolen from me. A “photographer,” wearing no credentials, struck up a conversation with me in the press box. I didn’t like him. He didn’t like me. I took my camera — thank God — and left for a while to take photos of the traffic jams, and when I returned, the best pair of binoculars I ever owned was gone. I am ninety-nine and 44/100ths percent sure he’s the guy who swiped them.
I didn’t go back the next year — looking for that son of a bitch was a bad sole reason for returning — and I haven’t been back to any track in the two-plus seasons since.
That being noted, I like Kentucky and Kentuckians. It’s why I made the Commonwealth the scene of the new novel, Crazy of Natural Causes. I envy Kentuckians their rugged spirits and feisty natures. They deserved better from their race track.
Kentucky Speedway, between Louisville and Cincinnati, Ohio, not far from the banks of the Ohio River, is a great example of a track that blew its big opportunity. When it had a chance to be a sensation, it left thousands, stopped in traffic for hours on the way in and the way out, saying, “Not no more I won’t. I’ll never make this mistake again.”
Locally, it’s an observation I’ve often made regarding restaurants. If a man opens a restaurant, he’d better make sure he’s ready to go when the doors open. If not, most people won’t complain. They just never come back.
It happened at Indy when the tires failed and interest waned. Traffic hassles hindered Atlanta, where now the hassles are over, in part because a new road was constructed, but partly because, by then, it was too late. People in the nearby metropolis and its sprawl just got out of the habit of going. They started rationalizing away their unwillingness to go back to a sport with races and racers that had left them behind.
Besides, it’s on TV. TV is no substitute for being there, but it sure is more convenient.
Tracks are investing millions of dollars … in tearing grandstands down. If I were them, I’d cut the rates drastically on the back straight so that people would flock to the cheap seats. Darlington hooked me on racing back in the days when the back straight was packed with Scouts: Cub, Boy, and a few Webelos, maybe even some Bluebirds and Campfire Girls. My daddy thought ten or fifteen bucks a head was highway robbery, so we sat over there in the sun, an Igloo cooler with his beer, my Pepsi, and a Sunbeam bread loaf refilled with pimento-cheese and egg-salad sandwiches, between us.
That’s the reason I love racing today, but most of the NASCAR tracks are now tearing the grandstands down so that they can “rebuild the brand.” Translation: with fewer seats available, they can charge more money for the ones they’ve got left. They’ve got interactive attractions and fan-friendly experiences, all of which come with a hefty price tag.
All those Boy Scouts built the “brand” at Darlington because lots of them grew up like me. From where do the next generation of fans come? Country clubs and gated communities seem to be NASCAR’s answer. Working-class heroes are on the wane on the track and in the grandstands.
I hope it comes back. I hope I want to go back. I just don’t see it happening. I’ve got a perspective here at home that those at the track miss. When I sit around and talk to the kids who play football, basketball, baseball, and soccer, NASCAR isn’t even on the map. Lacrosse is bigger. Ten years ago, I used to hand out caps I’d been given at the tracks to kids from Clinton High and Presbyterian College. That market’s gone.
Where I live, NASCAR has always been big. It was mainstream in the South when I was six years old. It became that way in the whole country. Here in the old home place, though, it’s retreated into cult status. It might as well be Idaho. The fellow who runs the local dirt track tells me he’s making a comeback. A night race in NASCAR doesn’t hurt the gate as much as it used to. They watch the hometown heroes sliding around and around, clay caked to their overalls, and “To hell with NASCAR!” is about as much a rallying call as “Remember the Alamo!”
Someone needs to consider that “brand” with a long-term perspective now, while there still is one.
One reason to buy my new novel, Crazy of Natural Causes, in advance is that it will help me build momentum. A better one is that, by doing so, a download will be promptly sent you on July 21, the release date. Better still is the fact that advance orders are going for a mere $3.49. Consider it here: http://www.amazon.com/Crazy-Natural-Causes-Monte-Dutton-ebook/dp/B00YI8SWUU/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1436215069&sr=1-1&keywords=Crazy+of+Natural+Causes
It might even help me build my “brand” if you’d read one of my previous books: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1
*Tom T. Hall, of course.