Will Nascar ever stop pandering to the couch potatoes?

The now familiar sight of empty seats in the cup series has continued into the chase. But it was truly shocking to see the entire section of turn 3 seating naked for all the world to see. That’s in addition to  the swaths of empties scattered throughout   the stands at Dover recently . There is absolutely no doubt that the non recovering economy is a huge factor in this. And at the same time, neither Nascar nor its car owners seem to care about its current car destroying double file re-start system. In a very subtle way, the rich of Nascar’s ‘ruling elite’ mimic the bankers and congressman who are perpetuating misery on the unwashed masses….the same ones who nowadays cannot  afford to take their families to the races near as often as they used to. Yet….Nascar has no problem destroying 1/3 of the field week in and week out.  Simple solution: single file re-starts with less than 50 laps to go. Which will not happen, because Nascar is obsessed with its  pandering to the mythical holy grail of television land; the  jaded, couch potato “race fan”, who also becomes a “football fan”, basketball, etc and etc. The powers that be down in Daytona have come to the conclusion that what these “fans” want to see are wrecks, its just that simple. And since there is no lack of money at the top, the car owners keep feeding the wreck monster whenever it gets hungry…which is pretty much guaranteed to happen when you bunch up a whole lot of extremely talented and oh so hungry drivers who will run over their mothers to gain a spot for those 5 precious  points , never mind what they will do to win the race.  Yes, there is plenty of money to burn at the top, while the rest of us agonize; “race tickets or can we put the roof repair off a while longer.”

I think that is only part of the problem, there is something else going on here.   While some of the empty stands are most definitely  economically driven,  I think that over the last decade, for whatever reason(s), a whole lot of Johnny come lately folks have joined the ranks of the dedicated fans that makes up the core of Nascar’s support base.  These are the folks who look at you with a blank stare when you ask “have you been to your local short track?”  Who think  the ‘entry level’ of the sport is the Nascar truck series.  Who, in fact think the entire SPORT of auto racing is “Nascar”. These are stick and ball people, and they are very sensitive to the notion that the outcome of sporting events might be manipulated. Now…the rest of us knows that Nascar manipulates the outcome of its races all of the time, and has been doing so for a very long time. Yellow flags for invisible magic pixie dust  have long been a part of the sport. And if its suits the purpose, carnage on the track will have nothing to do with the last few laps of green flag racing. The hard core, we  accept this, bitch about it at times, and we “fuggettaboutit”. But, as Nascar is finding out, our sport does not play well with others.

Every sport has its rules committee, every sport tinkers with its rules from time to time. The sport of Auto Racing ( and that’s what it is, its NOT the sport of Nascar), does so as well. But…only in Nascar is there the primal urge to constantly tinker and micro-manage things with the obsession that the outfit in Daytona does. Every year, there is the annual “overhaul”.  We are being promised that the chase will be “tinkered with” yet again. Why?  Formula 1, the World of Outlaws, and the Indy Racing League  are all having compelling points battles without the artificial hokey of the roulette wheel of “the chase”. Only in Nascar’s premier division can one drop 10 spots in one race. Last year Kyle Bush went from over 300 points ahead to 200 behind…in two races!  Was this fair? Of course not! Did it draw “race fans”? See empty seats and falling TV ratings for the answer to that one. And what if the 48 team is heading for #5? As they certainly seem to be. What will the reaction be if the 48 car disappears into Nascar’s ivory tower and there magically becomes illegal there?  How many tickets do you think that’s going to sell? Do you think anyone would buy it? Me neither.  All of this is being sensed by the vast audience Nascar has been pandering to, and they are voting with their remotes as well as with their dwindling dollars. The Knoxville nationals were packed, we all came to the middle of nowhere in sweltering August for 4 days of racing, and it was good, honest racing at its finest.  Race fans will go where they perceive  the real racing to be. We do not need  silly rules and formats, and nether does Stock Car Racing. The sooner Nascar gets that thru its thick heads, the better off their bottom line will be.

Art Dahlberg

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