A near constant conversation topic is how NASCAR can bring back television ratings and attendance. The 1980s and 1990s saw tremendous growth. The 2000s have seen up and down trends. The two prior decades had never seen any kind of downward pattern.
NASCAR tried to attract a new audience, which is a great idea. However along the way long-time core race fans became disenchanted with how the sport was moving forward.
I offer some suggestions on how to appeal to fans that have viewed NASCAR passionately for years and are not flavor-of-the-month watchers.
1. Eliminate the Top-35 Rule. The sport is still about competition. That has and always will be the bottom line. This rule creates value for a team owner without offering franchising like stick-and-ball sports do. But it also takes away an important part of auto racing that we all take pride in. Integrity. The fastest of the fast should race. Where you are in car owner championship standings should make no difference. I understand through a business decision that this guarantees our stars will race every Cup event. I think the return of our integrity would carry the Cup Series further. Just because the Yankees won the World Series last season doesn’t guarantee them a spot on this year’s post season. Sure television networks would love to have a New York and Los Angeles championship series, but if two smaller markets make it to the finals, at least an honest sports contest was held to see who should compete.
2. Ditch the Chase. Traditionalists like me believe a racing championship is decided straight from the first race to the last. Again, a stick-and-ball comparison brings one to a playoff scenario. Well Cup racing is not a playoff sport. For seven years, a chosen few NASCAR media members have told me how wonderful the Chase is. I still haven’t warmed up to it.
3. Return the Southern 500 to Labor Day weekend. Racing changes and NASCAR must change with it in order to survive and flourish. There also needs to be someone with common sense to know when you don’t mess with something. Mother’s Day weekend is a nice little home for Darlington. But it is not where it belongs. The Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend was in place 10 years before the Daytona 500 ever even existed. That is where the ‘Granddaddy of them all’ should still be.
4. Have COT bodies look like something. In NASCAR’s defense the cars driven on the street all look alike. I cannot tell one from another unless I look at an emblem. That is a shame. The COT looks more like a production automobile than its predecessor did. But I think what turns off fans is they all look the same. A safer COT chassis is a fantastic development. But the bodies need some character between manufacturers. And NASCAR needs to hold the rulebook line for a season when one manufacturer starts whining about another’s advantage.
5. Pay Drivers by Performance. This one is out of NASCAR’s control. But last place Cup drivers are millionaires. Something is really wrong with that. That has greatly effected the racing quality fans have complained about for several seasons. With a lakeside mansion, private plane, luxurious motorcoach, and expensive cars owned by drivers outside the weekly top-30 running order, it takes away that “get up on the wheel” mentality. When drivers had to drive hard just to buy groceries to feed their children that week, we saw some darn good racing.
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