After a nearly five-month absence, I’m back. In case you didn’t hear, the little town I live in suffered a flood for all ages. Five feet of water throughout the town, 50-60 houses destroyed, and 35 businesses shuttered, including mine. Picking up the pieces is tough, and to be honest, without power and cable for quite an extended time. I didn’t get to see much of the season and didn’t travel as I usually do. I somehow got to Bristol, Charlotte, and Martinsville, though. I thought about NASCAR a lot, and though I went through withdrawal, it dawned on me what just could be why attendance is down and television ratings are in the dumpster.
For a long time, the sanctioning body has used gimmicks to attract fans and it is apparently not working. When it first came out, I railed on the “Lucky Dog.” It was designed so that the “average fan” could understand who was leading. Never mind that so many fans use a scanner and listen to the radio broadcast while at the track. Watching on the tube, it’s no problem to know who’s leading and there is that scoreboard thing that keeps getting bigger and bigger. Get a lap down? No worries, just get the “Lucky Dog,” and you’re back in business. It’s the NASCAR equivalent of the participation trophy. Yes, drivers race others to get the bonus of getting back on the lead lap, but it favors the mega teams and makes a penalty for say speeding on pit road not so tough. I’d do away with the “Lucky Dog.”
The wave around is another gimmick being used. Using the same logic as the LD, it allowed the leader to start at the head of the field, “so the average fan could see who was leading.” It makes it easier for the “haves” to remain the “haves” and not fight through traffic on their way to the checkered flag. Some of the best racing I’ve ever seen was watching the lead cars fight through traffic. That coupled with the shotgun restart has left many drivers with better cars not get a victory after leading large numbers of laps. It’s happened numerous times this season.
NASCAR continued to feed us the economy and gas prices as the reason why attendance at the track was so poor. With gasoline prices hovering around $2 per gallon mark, that’s not an excuse anymore. People are tuning out. I had a conversation with a noted media pioneer today, and he reminded me of one other thing that is hurting the sport we love. For crying out loud, quit changing the format. As much as the effort has been to make the sport easier to understand, it’s been taken away with the constant changes to the All-Star race, the opening race of the season for pole winners (or should I say anyone still breathing?), and the Chase itself.
Yes, we’ve had exciting racing this year, but the numbers don’t lie. People are staying home and not watching on television. The money rolls in from the TV contract, but how long until that dries up, too? I hope it doesn’t happen, but someone needs to get to fixing this before many more folks won’t care.