‘Oh, We Miss You on the Old Side of Town’ *

Jeff Gordon has one more chance to win a Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway. This was taken at Martinsville, Va. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)

Jeff Gordon has one more chance to win a Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway. This was taken at Martinsville, Va. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

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.

Monte Dutton

Monte Dutton

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.

(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky.)

(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky.)

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.

Feast your eyes on a modern Brickyard crowd. (Monte Dutton photo)

Feast your eyes on a modern Brickyard crowd. (Monte Dutton photo)

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.

When men were men and pit crews were mechanics.

When men were men and pit crews were mechanics.

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.

Maybe one day the kid on the left will be what the man on the right was. (John Clark photo)

Maybe one day the kid on the left will be what the man on the right was. (John Clark photo)

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.

About Monte

For 20 seasons, I mostly wrote about NASCAR. I'm still paying attention, but I'm spending more of my time these days writing novels and songs. I try to blog regularly on whatever happens to strike my fancy.
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9 Responses to ‘Oh, We Miss You on the Old Side of Town’ *

  1. Hank says:

    Another fantastic entry as always, Mr. Dutton. I was having a conversation with a co-worker one evening and we both felt like NASCAR has become a prestigious yacht club and the 36 races might as well be a regatta.

    The days of a young or up and coming hotfoot getting an opportunity are long gone, as you have to bring the money just to get a chance in a “developmental” deal. By developmental, they mean an expensive rental car.

    I think adding diversity is good, drivers such as Daniel Suarez and Darrell Wallace may bring a new audience, but it’s going to take more than that to, as you say, “rebuild the brand.” When you alienate the very people who cared for you to be the flavor of the week, you turned the die-hards into the ever-elusive “casual fan” that Brian France craved from day one at the helm.

  2. bobi says:

    My favorite track (MIS) has forsaken me for millennials who enjoy foam parties. But will these people ever be real race fans? I think not. MIS tried selling super cheap seats, even now they sell $100 seats for $50 if a child is occupying it but the truth is the majority of people under 30 are not interested in NASCAR or any type of auto related endeavors. Heck, a lot of them don’t even bother to get a driver’s license anymore. In numerous studies, millennials are cited are much less “car-focused” than older generations, but go ahead, NASCAR, chase after people who aren’t interested in you; makes about as much sense as anything else you do.

  3. Dave says:

    Consulting firms are telling race tracks and sanctioning bodies not to worry about attracting new fans, just make more off the ones you have.

  4. Ron Fleshman says:

    Spot on. Tremendous post. Who is to blame? Certainly NASCAR, but also the fat cat car owners who bow to the corporations. Once upon a time, a guy with little resources had a decent chance to finish well in a race. Today, only the Rick Hendricks and Gene Hasses have a chance. Jack Roush is hardly mentioned anymore and where one a guy like Bud Moore could count on sponsorship, now finds himself out of business because the fat cats have gobbled up all the sponsorships. Once, geniuses who could turn a wrench could build a team. Today, guys like Robert Yates and Leonard Wood are back markers or out of business because sponsorships all went to Gibbs, Hendrick, or Penske.

    It’s over. When a guy like me has lost interest, the end is near.

  5. Mike says:

    Wonderful letter, Mr. Dutton, my first race was Darlington, and I was a scout, lol. Gone to several races, Wilkesboro got the shaft, I was livid, Terry retires, then throw in the p’c’ Johnny come lately, I wised up about three years ago, I watch a few laps, on Sunday, try to notice the empty stands, and walk back to my computer, cheers!

  6. John Irby says:

    Indy Car once had their self-appointed “visionary”, Tony George. His legacy was clearly demonstrated by the embarrassingly-tiny crowd who bothered to show up for Indy Car’s most recent race at Auto Club (Fontana California) Speedway. Oh, and that race scored less than a 0.2 TV rating, too.

    Thanks to the leadership of Brian France and Lesa France Kennedy, NASCAR/ISC will soon be crashing into that low business performance bar set by Tony George.

  7. Richard Rohrer says:

    Very good article. I still follow NASCAR. Sort of a bad habit I can’t quit. Much has already been said. Right now NASCAR, and F1 too, are chasing ghosts. Trying to create something “exciting” for the fans who don’t know what they want.

    Beyond that society is changing. Studies show the current 20 to 30 year olds are not as interested in cars or even driving as previous generations. One can’t modify their own car to relatively easily to match a stock car. A trend not likely to change soon.

    NASCAR did not do itself any long term favors as they ditched their traditional fan base for the “in crowd” who rush from one fad to another. While, to be fair, the traditional fan base maybe aging out, they did expose their young ‘uns to NASCAR as it was.

    The Chase began my decline of closely following. Being a simpleton, I liked the driver winning the most points over the season being the champion. All else, especially with the constant changes, just seems contrived,

    But I still follow, but don’t watch much coverage or even the racing, The commentators all seem tired. Maybe it is me

    Change, it is the only constant.

    Good article Monte. Thank you.

  8. Joe Moroney says:

    So the France family not only charged the boy scouts to attend the races they then got them to clean the place afterwards for a merrit badge…. No wonder…. Lol

  9. Monte says:

    Well, the France family didn’t own Darlington then.

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