“TAKE YOUR PICK”, “PICK YOUR POISON”, WHATEVER…

If you’re a race fan, especially a fiercely loyal NASCAR fan, one hot-button-topic sure to stir up a long emotion filled conversation ranking right up there with religion and politics these days is the current state of NASCAR’s popularity and why it seems (to a lot of people at least) that the sport is not enjoying even the kind of pop culture awareness that it seemed to have even as recently as a few years ago. As with any similar problem which occurs to anything else ranging from the economy to the BP oil spill, there is no one cause but usually a chain of events, or maybe even maybe many events which, by themselves, cannot be blamed as the sole reason for the problem  but when taken together, all add up.  Similarly, there is no easy answer, no quick fix, no magic pill (hey this is nothing new–it’s been that way as long as I’ve been alive; probably longer!)

Since this is my blog, I can have any opinion(s) I want to have.  Unlike most who blog these days however, I try to warn my readers when I’m about to express one. Plus please remember opinions are, by definition,  NOT facts, although I do try to explain why I hold mine (at least most of the time, anyway!) OK, so much for the disclaimer, the way I see things is while right now it is very easy and convenient for most to blame the economy right now, it’s also not very accurate–for many of the same stuff above. Hey, no entity, could have sustained the kind of meteoric rise in popularity and growth over such a short period of time as NASCAR did The negative effects have already been felt and the belt-tightening has begun; how deep and for how long are anybody’s guess! One thing for sure: the recent growth spurt seems to be over ( for now, at least) Just think of it like a star going “supernova”.  Plus I also feel that we live in a society of human beings with a short attention span, anyway! Where life is like a computer game (as it has been for most of their existence on this earth) All ya gotta do is just “reboot” or get the “cheat “codes and problem solved.  Not to mention all the other competition for “disposable” income which NASCAR now faces from many different entities and not necessarily just other sports, professional or otherwise.

That’s it for my input: I have attempted to set the background as best I could. As always, your opinion may vary. The rest will be stuff  I’ve overheard in discussions or even read about this same topic over the last few months, ranging from the serious to the outright(to me any,way) ridiculous! Again, they are just opinions (and some might have been shortened or paraphrased for content;facts and opinions are two different things: thus, you can believe what you want or how many you want…

  1. As with anything else, perception IS fact. If there is a  false perception that NASCAR is on the decline, then it MUST be true…AND don’t forget the “snowball” effect or the self perpetuating thing either, once something gets going, it’s hard to control it…or put a stop to it altogether. Similarly, in this day of computers,laptops and netbooks  to surf websites,  use social networking and utilize cell phones  with enough technology packed inside them to actually view the sport, its stats and rumors in the palm of your hand, any information gained from these sources MUST also be true, whether or not they originate from within the sanctioning body itself to make it “official”.   Only Jayski.com has successfully made the difficult transition from a fan cult website to a highly respected source of legitimate information–so much so in fact ESPN decided to host it as one of their “intellectual properties” on their own network of other similar sports offerings. Sure, there have been other sites that have tried, but as the old saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…

  2. NASCAR took its core fans for granted. those loyal fans who stuck by the sanctioning body through thick and thin have grown disillusioned and disgusted with the direction the sport has gone over the years of the growth and popularity. Ironically, the very things that have helped NASCAR achieve that huge upswing seems to the former faithful  to have passed them by and left them in the dust. Today’s economy problems have manifested themselves in the form of higher prices for admission prices, seats, food souvenirs–so much so that it has steadily risen to a height that it is all but nearly impossible for a family to afford attend races today.Many people people also believe those fans have also been forced to accept many changes to “their” favorite sport over a relatively short amount of time like:

  3. The passing of Dale Earnhardt,Sr. It cannot be argued that many fans abandoned the sport altogether when the sport lost its “face” back in 2001. For many (both inside and outside the sport), Earnhardt represented what the sport was all about. Of course, NASCAR had no control over this one.  Or did it?  One of the many criticisms the sanctioning body received following the tragedy is that it somehow  dragged its feet when it came to certain areas of safety. But they forget that “The Man in Black” refused to wear a full-faced helmet and probably would have dismissed many of today’s safety advances as being for “wimps” or some other derogatory term I’d rather not use here! For many, any decline, actual or not, began here…

  4. If they were able to somehow make it through the painful mourning period, many Sr. fans truly wanted to transfer their loyalty to Dale Jr. but when it became apparent that the son would have trouble living up to the legacy, once again the sport suffered along with his lack of performance–which continues to this day.  Many now believe Dale Jr. has become the face of the sport today.  Despite some well publicized changes  including switching teams(to now driving for arguably the best owner in the sport, crew chiefs and sponsors, victories are still hard to come by. If only Jr. could somehow find his way back to victory lane, so they say, NASCAR supposedly would have less to worry about. If it were only that easy!

  5. Earnhardt Sr.,’s death brought about the CoT ( Car of Tomorrow,including  which many fans loathed (even though over time it did PROVE to be a much safer design).Even this thing became a chameleon:  the original design featured a rear wing which replaced the venerable spoiler only to go with the spoiler again earlier this year). Can we please make up our minds here?

  6. The CoT wasn’t the first to have the problem of identification: in other words, hardly anything in or on a contemporary NASCAR race car resembles any vehicle that can be found  today on a showroom floor except for the name.  Carburetor technology is long gone, replaced by fuel injection, supercharging and turbocharging.,so the disconnect between the sport’s technology and the car buying public, especially today’s young people, is growing rapidly.  No wonder the emphasis is on the “star appeal ” of the drivers themselves.  To their credit, the sanctioning body is exploring a changeover to fuel injection in the near future but if it’s anything like the snail’s pace move to unleaded fuel, it might take longer than some people might like. And forget about  any kind of  ”power adders”.  The only “charging” that will be done in NASCAR for the time being will be done on credit cards or battery carts  Plus the only blue NOS bottle in the sport you’ll ever see (legally, at least!) is the one that Kyle Busch drinks out of after he wins. But you know what they say about the word “never”!

  7. So much NASCAR TV programming that it is creating coverage of the sport to the point of nauseous supersaturation. Never in my life as a race fan would I have thought I would ever live to see this day! And I’m nowhere near Chris Economacki or Ken Squier’s ages (just as a huge point of clarification here, I have nothing but tons of admiration and respect for both of them. Throughout my announcing career, I had always aspired to come as close to the success that they enjoyed over the years in the profession and although I gave it a good try and put together a decent run, it certainly pales by comparison!) Hell, I remember having to wait for a two-week delayed broadcast on ABC’s Wide World of Sports to watch he Daytona 500( or any other NASCAR event, for that matter, presented in wonderful LD (low-definition) black-and-white  just to hear the familiar call of the familiar voice of the late  Jim McKay or Bill Fleming calling the race along with Mr. Economacki in the pits and interviewing the lucky winner of the race. Then I also remember the first live broadcast of the 500 on CBS there was no re-broadcast, no YouTube, no IPhone, no IPad, no SmartPhone, no 4G, no 3G, nothin’ like that!

  8. Speaking of  TV. some people believe the TV contract has its own issues, like when coverage changes networks throughout the season.  This one doesn’t make much sense to me, although I agree that perhaps that maybe just two networks, Fox and the ESPN family of channels, would probably be a good setup, again in my opinion.  The cost of the TV package also brought with it its own set of issues like:  Did you ever wonder why some some races are not referred to their actual sponsored name on  the TV broadcasts?According to the networks, the price of producing the race broadcast have risen to the point to where the networks themselves have found that they  too have to sell the race to a sponsor to  help defray the exorbitant  production price as well as trying to get a significant return on the original investment on the 10-year agreement.  Let’s not forget, the contract between NASCAR and their TV partners has never been made public,specifically as to its worth and details(which, up to this point has only been estimated, except for some press releases that have been dangled out there like carrots–TO THEMSELVES!!! Supposedly, as the story goes, the only way the race sponsor is guaranteed to have the race actually called its real “official” name is for the presenting sponsor to pony up more money than what they have already given to the track, in the original race sponsorship agreement; obviously very problematic for the tracks themselves. It was now a tougher sell to a potential race sponsor since there was now no guarantee to get total the TV coverage desired without spending money with two different entities.  In their defense, TV doesn’t have it very easy either. Racing of any kind is difficult to show on TV since there are no natural, predictable “breaks” like other sports such as there is baseball innings, football & basketball quarters, soccer/hocker periods, etc.  The only opportunities for commercial time comes during caution periods, which is not desirable anymore either as races can be won or lost on pit stops so they are forced to rely on replays.  Fans have voted “thumbs down” on the whole side-by-side action/commercial experiment on a split screen, even in today’s wide-screen world! The broadcast contract was so expensive for both sides that neither one of them turned out to be happy once they were in bed with each other!

  9. In stark contrast,how about all the print media outlets that had jumped on the “NASCAR bandwagon” of coverage only to now abandon it? It seems like, except in a few rare examples, the coverage  has again been relegated to simple back references, or minor mentions in some sports editor’s column, instead of the front-page importance  it once enjoyed…

  10. Media coverage,of all kinds, has put the sport under outside scrutiny it has never faced before. And some negative publicity, especially the well-reported alleged drug scandals and the perception that NASCAR originally had no specific policy in place with which to deal with such issues, put the sanctioning body in the position of having to defend itself, over and over, to a largely ignorant, unsympathetic and unforgiving public…

  11. NASCAR teams have been dependent,(in the so-called modern era at least) on sponsorship, for better or worse. But to many, money seems to have taken too much control of the sport. In all fairness, that statement has probably been used  for many years at all levels of racing, from grassroots to professional I’m still not in favor of exclusive sponsorships, like the Sprint vs. every other phone cell provider deal, causing NASCAR  a whole bunch of headaches it or its teams just really could have done without. (Yeah, I know, it’s been that way since R.J.Reynolds first brought Winston to the sport but times were drastically different then.)  I understand why they exist but I still don’t have to like them. But I’d better get over it and soon. There’s bound to be more, as over the last five years, it seems, the economy presented NASCAR and especially its teams with challenges all their own.  As with other businesses, costs have risen and sponsorships have all but dried up. The sanctioning body will have to come up with more and creative ways to find money like the way some of the larger teams have responded to these tougher hardships by luring corporate investors, sometimes from other sports, which have produced some strange  and unholy alliance like (gasp!) Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, Roush-Fenway(yep, those very same Boston Red Sox folks!) and Gillette-Evernham (which has morphed into current-day Richard Petty Motorsports.  The really interesting part of these partnerships is that it is probably a certainty that nobody on their board of directors would ever get their Armani suits dirty by having to change a tire, let alone getting grease underneath their fingernails.  At least Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske  have spent some time working in a garage before putting on a corporate shirt and tie!

  12. The absolute crazy notion that there can be side-by-side racing AND passing  during a race.   C’mon, seriously think about that one: you can’t have both!

  13. Too much tinkering with the rules too often; so much so in fact, at one point many doubted the existence of an actual printed rule book anywhere on the planet, let alone in a NASCAR garage.  A  laundry list of huge dislikes reads like this: “lucky dog”, “debris caution”, “wave around” and “cookie cutter race tracks”. One change most  everyone agrees on as being a good one is the “double-file restart”.

  14. You talk about change? The sanctioning body seems hellbent on continuous makeovers to both the points system and the schedule…without anyone actually clamoring for it. What about the constant bickering and litigation with one of its own “partners”, Bruton Smith? Explanation, please???

  15. Leadership.  This change was inevitable It didn’t help that it was made shortly after Earnhardt Sr’s death. In fact, that tragedy actually may have hastened the decision a tad. And if “real” fans of NASCAR would have just given Brian France a real chance to prove that he could guide the sport and meet the challenges it faces head on, they would have realized that the only problems he had at the time he “took over” control of the sport were the same ones his father faced when the sport’s leadership was handed to Bill France, Jr. from his father. History was repeating itself…the doubts, the whispers, both from within and outside the sport that perhaps although the obvious choice, that maybe nepotism did not produce the best choice.  But there was a huge difference this time and it was significant on many levels.  This time the “torch was passed” to a partnership, not to a man and wife, but to a man and his sister who had both grown up in the sport and held important positions within it, not just because the were part of the family; they also earned  those positions within the sport and bolstered them by furthering their education on the business side.  Think about it: who better to lead the sport now that, like or not, it has become a giant entertainment business in these turbulent economic times? The end result could be an ironic twist of events:  while the “core” race fans are steadfast in their resistance to the changes Brian has made or will make on the competitive side of their sport, history may well show, that just like his father before him, that he was the right man for the sport at the right time(with his sister’s help!) But both the challenges and responsibilities are daunting! And let’s not forget NASCAR President Mike Helton, the first person to hold that prestigious position outside the family. He brings more depth to the team as well…

  16. If fans have made it through all this, Jimmie Johnson’s four-straight championships, although historic, have some fans doubting the validity of the Chase format; as if they accepted it to begin with.  Unless you bleed 48 blue and silver, you may believe a change is exactly what’s needed here–especially if Chad Knaus and company hoist an unprecedented, hugely historic fifth Sprint Cup at the end of the season…

  17. Some knowledgeable, veteran fans point out that the sport has too many “big” team owners with no easy way for small, start-up teams to gain a strong enough foothold to grow into the sport. Hendrick, Gibbs, Roush, Childress, Petty, Penske, and Earnhardt-Ganassi (not necessarily in that order) make up the bulk of all Cup entry lists.

  18. Kyle Busch. I’ve already made my opinion known on this driver in a previous blog.  But one thing I have to admit:  more fans I talk to dislike him  than like him. But when pressed on the subject, they begrudgingly admit that while his driving talent cannot be denied, it’s his apparent disrespectful behavior that rubs them the wrong way.  Here again is a delicious twist of irony:  if this “bad guy” thing could be milked by NASCAR for all it’s worth, especially if there were a rivalry were to occur like we almost saw bubble up with Kyle and Jr. at Richmond a couple of years ago, empty seats would become a thing of the past again at NASCAR tracks just like the wing on the CoT…

  19. Too many so-called “experts” like this long winded blogger telling ya what he thinks…

I don’t know if you noticed but many of the things enumerated in the list are “double-edged swords” which could cut either way.Like I said at the beginning, like any other BIG problem, there isn’t one specific thing that you could point to as the main culprit here. Taken all together, there can be no doubt of the existence of empty seats at the tracks, sagging TV ratings and declining corporate revenues in a difficult an unforgiving economic climate.  The solution(s) may be as numerous as the problems themselves and most will certainly have a major impact on where the sport goes from here.

Hey, if you have an opinion of your own, wanna have an intelligent debate or just plain argue,toss me an email: raceannouncer@gmail.com