The year was 2003. I was a year removed from going to my first NASCAR race, the Coca Cola 600. My friend and I talked about going to another track even though we loved going to Lowes Motor Speedway and all that it had to offer. Since we had friends who had season tickets available for us we decided to have the 600 as a backup in case other tracks didn’t pan out. We narrowed it down to a couple races that we really loved. The Bristol night race and the night races at Richmond. Much to my surprise we could not get a ticket to any of the three races. Even though we were calling months in advance the best we could do was to get on a season ticket wait list. So, we went to the rain filled 2003 Coca Cola 600.
Fast forward to 2017 and what I see is very troubling for the sport of NASCAR racing. Races that were hot ticket sold out shows now see stands with only 50% of the seats taken. Add to that a 45% decline in TV ratings and you really have a big problem.
Maybe the sport can survive on the amount of people that are coming to the track. I have absolutely zero data and numbers to go on. All I have is the eye test and the rumors that companies were not banging down the door to sponsor the series until Monster Energy sponsored it a greatly reduced price.
So where did things go wrong? First of all I think we all can agree that the popularity peak would not last. It seemed in the early 2000’s everyone was watching races and going to NASCAR tracks. Like anything popular it will cycles through a period of rising, peaking, declining, and leveling off. During the rise and peak tracks scrambled to put more stands up and NASCAR gravitated towards the larger more popular tracks in favor of the old school southern tracks. The deaths of Adam Petty and Dale Earnhardt did not help as Earnhardt held a large fan base and Adam Petty could have kept the Petty name in the sport for years to come. Another major issue was the lack of imagination when it came to new tracks. Gone were the tracks of old and in their place were tracks configured after tracks already on the circuit. For God’s sake do we really need another D shaped oval? Travel expenses also contribute to the problem. In the early 2000’s I could fly down to Charlotte for 5 days and go to everything for around $1200. The cost to fly from Wisconsin to Charlotte on a holiday weekend now eats up a lot of the original entire weekend cost of going to a race. Gone are the days of going on a vacation to a race track.
I write this because of the cycle mentioned above and the fact that I don’t think we have hit the bottom. If and when the bottom comes can the sport survive? The fact that 50+% of the fans on a Sunday are wearing the 14 time most popular driver shirt makes me scared for next year and the years to come now that he is leaving the sport.
So what can they do to turn it around? I can tell you one thing that will not work and that is what Monster Energy is doing at the moment. Putting a girl in a round cage while motorcycles drive around her will not put people in the seats. Putting girls wearing skimpy outfits in victory lane will not get people watching the TV. But what will work?
Get back to your roots! Moving to North Carolina has changed some of my perspectives on the decline of the sport. I wish I had $1 for every person that used to go to Rockingham and North Wilksboro. They were unique tracks that the people in the south loved and fans in the south have not forgiven NASCAR for taking them off of the schedule. I know each track needs work. I know there is more to it than just putting those tracks on the schedule but the return on investment of adding a race weekend to those tracks would be worth it from a financial standpoint and for the fans. It would generate a massive amount of excitement within the south that I believe would extend well beyond the Carolina’s. I recently read an article stating the problem is we put tracks in poor markets like Chicago and Kansas. It stated that we needed to put a track in a market like New York. I doubt that would work. If their not watching why would they go?
Cater to the kids and families more! I LOVE what Charlotte is doing this year. $10 tickets for kids 13 and under. Having a 12, 11, and 7 year old this ticket pricing is huge for me. Last year I took my 11 year old son (10 at the time) to the Coca Cola 600. Tickets to the 600 cost me about $210 last year. This year I am taking him and my oldest daughter for a cost of about $160. Xfinity tickets are free for kids 13 and under! Other tracks like Martinsville have sections and tickets at a massively reduced price for children. Problem is it all ends at the age 13. Why? I will not be able to afford the full priced tickets once my kids hit 14. That will be a lot of money for a race. So, currently we get the kids excited then price them out of it after 13 years old. I bet a lot of other families are in the same boat. I propose upping it to 18 and under at all tracks. On top of that add a college discount. Kids in school have very little money to throw around. Traditions are build with people 21 and under. Don’t end the traditions at age 13! Get women involved also! Have tickets reduced for girlfriends and wives. Try hard to make it a family affair without doing the stupid family ticket pricing and offering those ticket packages in seats nobody wants to sit in like tracks do now.
Shorten the season. I’m not saying end it in August but drop some races. (Yes, I know I said add Rockingham and North Wilksboro). Do we really need to have 2 Pocono, Michigan, road course, Dover, and New Hampshire races? Do we really need 4 restrictor plate races every year? In addition tweak the schedule a little. Shorten it up by a month or so and end at the home track of Charlotte Motor Speedway. 4 of the last 5 races are not even close to where the traditional NASCAR roots are. The champion should be crowned in Charlotte. Move races around a little too. I am sure there are a lot of guys like me who live in the Carolinas, love to go to races, but want to stay married. Why have Bristol, Darlington, and Richmond racing in three consecutive weeks. Instead of going to at least two I have to pick one. Would it hurt to space them out a little? And think about a dirt race like the trucks do. I know a lot of people who watch that race and that race only. It is awesome tv!
Quit messing with the points system. I am a fan of the new format. It has made the middle parts of the races better. So don’t mess with it! Leave it alone. Don’t mess with the chase. Leave it alone too. From going to the car of tomorrow to constant changes in the points there has been no consistency.
Somehow NASCAR needs to find a face to the sport. Yeah I know we have 7 time still racing but he’s not Dale Jr. People are not flocking to see him race. It further adds to my point about needing the south to build up the sport. If Jimmie was from Hickory, NC he would be huge! He’s just not marketable to the fan base. On a personal level I think it would help if Jr. ran a Mark Martins schedule. By that I mean 4 – 6 races a year in the #8 Budweiser Chevrolet. That would be cool!
Quit trying to be something you’re not. NASCAR is not Rob Gronkowski. It is not Monster Energy girls everywhere. It’s just not. You can’t do the prayer of invocation one minute and flash to the monster energy girls the next. It really rubs people in the bible belt the wrong way.
Anyone who watched the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Sunday knows something drastic needs to be done and NASCAR can’t wait to see the fallout from Dale Jr’s. retirement to do it. Being in manufacturing for 20 years I have been a part of a few companies that have gone under or have continued on at a drastically reduced level. One thing they all have in common is that the signs were there glaring everyone in the face. Drastic and obvious changes needed to be made but management waited for something to happen instead of recognizing the mistakes, addressing the changes that needed to be made, and moving forward. I see the same thing happening with the sport I love so much. I see a sport trying to stop a stab wound from bleeding by using a band aid.
I pray that NASCAR is talking to the fans. Get out and talk to people at the camp sites. See what will keep them coming. Ask them why friends of theirs quit coming or watching altogether. Have forums and invite people who don’t pay attention to the sport anymore. Try to figure it out by asking the people who left or are hanging on because of one driver. Something drastic needs to be done and I don’t think NASCAR can wait to do it.