Back in 1978, CBS announced that their network would carry the 1979 Daytona 500 with flag-to-flag coverage and pride. With help from NASCAR giant Ken Squier, four hours were set aside to bring The Great American Race into the limelight.
Those in the racing world know how sacred opportunities are. Taken ones line the road to success. Forgotten chances are along the road to another year of desperation and regret. Making or breaking the baby-faced, public reputation of racing was a crucial task.
Everyone knows the yarn spun from that afternoon; Richard Petty slipped into Victory Lane after Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison wrecked. Though the ordeal was somewhat settled quickly, Allison’s brother, Bobby, came around after taking the checkered and confronted Yarborough. Then the wrestling and punches came.
The quote “Cale kept hitting my fist repeatedly with his nose,” mused by Bobby Allison while explaining the fight, has to be the greatest statement uttered by any driver. Even better, he escaped the situation without being slapped with the $80,000 fine distributed to his brother and Yarborough.
NASCAR garnered interest that Sunday afternoon, posting a 10.5 Nielsen rating, with the last half hour peaking at 13.5. Everyone at CBS and NASCAR knew that they had a one-way ticket to one of those golden opportunities.
That’s when the rat race began.
In an era where ‘simplicity’ is confused with ‘stubbornness’ , and ‘tradition’ is substituted with ‘lack of progress,’ things are sliding downward in the wrong direction. TV broadcasts are struggling for viewers. The number of empty seats at racetracks are growing by the weekend. Racing’s most popular driver is struggling to find sponsorship. Though the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing has been around since 1948, in the public eye since 1979, it’s dying.
And the only people to blame are those within the sport itself. Of course, the faltering economy plays a part in this, but there’s no denying the role of those who answer to NASCAR’s beck and call.
Today, money is everything. It oils the gears of a running, hungry world. Lack of money equals sputtering and inefficiency. When money becomes tight, we, as humans, work to maintain our standard of living. Sometimes, however, maximum limits are quickly exceeded with another goal in mind.
A huge track owner dropping a schedule-changing bombshell, attempts to drum up races and carnage, and lack of attention to important issues all reveal that the sport is playing the corporate game. Playing it correctly equals more money, helping the sport survive.
The central theme is the craving for new fans, grand exposure. To get that, publicity is needed. However, how can the sport market when it’s in a hard place right now? (For clarification, ‘a hard place’ is referring to teams struggling to figure out a brand new car and catch up with teams who have already figured them out.) Some tracks don’t bring out the best in the Gen6 car as much as others do, and that is perfectly fine. It’s the fact that people want results now is what makes the plan falter. In a world where the entire internet is at our fingertips, who has time to wait for solid data, right?
The next best thing? Media ploys. Headlines telling stories of our sport’s ‘power couple’ having an on-track dispute, Mr. Bruton Smith wanting to take a race away from Charlotte, and how sponsorship is hard to find appear everywhere. Fans click because drama is intoxicating. Sure, a few stories here and there are fine; that’s what the media is meant to, write to get views that get them -wait for it- money.
But, there is a time where the constant avoidance of real issues becomes a catalyst. What about the lack of SAFER barriers at tracks? How about the overbearing amount of cookie-cutter, one-and-a-half milers? What about Cup drivers destroying younger guys in Truck and Nationwide races? Can we make the racing ‘better’?
The truth is, those issues have been around for a while, and, until now, they haven’t been of much importance. Though the fans can be somewhat picky, they do have valid points. NASCAR needs to address these issues before fans leave. Simply put, those old, dedicated fans aren’t as important as bringing in new ones. If they disappear, the sport may not realize what has been lost before it’s too late.
So, how exactly can NASCAR make a much needed comeback? A series of changes, listed below and explained, can help gain ‘better racing,’ the respect of old fans, and (possibly) the mainstream success they desperately want.
Make smaller engines: For years, Robert Yates has been pushing for engines to be smaller. It’s finally time for the manufacturers to listen. With smaller engines, overall speeds are decreased, and the racing gets closer. It’s the battling promoters and fans dream about.
Adjust the schedule: The fact that half of The Chase is made up of cookie-cutter tracks isn’t right at all. Also, some 1.5-mile tracks don’t produce the type of racing that’s able to support a great turn out the second time around. Cut some dates and paste them onto more deserving tracks. Get Iowa in the Cup series. Take the Trucks to Myrtle Beach. Do something.
Sell the sport for what it is: Not every race is going to the a bawl, although marketing executives would love it to be. Cut out the ideas of random red flags and field inversions during exhibition races. Let racing be racing. Let the passion of the drivers shine through. Is that so hard to understand?
When the Daytona 500 was first broadcasted back in 1979, there was an opportunity to open the eyes of millions to the world of racing. Over time, that same concept has been rehashed and obsessed over. That opportunity has become the sport’s kryptonite, causing more problems than solving them. Instead of letting the action on-track make the stories, stories are being made about things outside racing fans’ interest.
In a high-speed world where it is believed that a lack of money and popularity is an issue, the fact of the matter is that the hunger for publicity and cash is where NASCAR is going wrong.