Bubbles are trouble when you’re not talking about a kid’s bath. We’ve had the “dot-com” bubble, the real estate bubble, and now it sure looks from here that the NASCAR bubble is working its way out as all manner of issues in “stock” car auto racing are on the table for discussion.
Does this mean NASCAR is dead? Never say never, as yours truly stares down the barrel of 50 years of age in a few weeks, I can tell you I have seen everything from the moon landing to Roe V. Wade to the Internet to a man of color in the White House. There will always be racing, but how it is governed may undergo drastic changes. The market is driving change in NASCAR; you can see it coming. Real estate didn’t die, the dot-coms didn’t die, but not without change.
The owners have formed an alliance, NASCAR czar Brian France speaks of lively discussion over schedule changes, and he’s even alluding to talks about how much a Cup driver can participate in the Nationwide and truck series. All this happens as the eyeball test tells us there are fewer fannies in seats at the track, and fewer people watching the racing on TV. Sponsors are going away, and those don’t grow on trees.
Die hard fans find themselves caught between leaving and gone, as they pine for what racing once was, compared to what it is today. They feel the powers that be have pushed them aside, while chasing new markets. NASCAR drew a horde of “Looky Lous,” but truth be told, after a time, there just wasn’t enough “there” there to hold their interest; thus you have a big-time market correction necessitating change.
It has to change, and on some level, this will not be pleasant for the “old” fan. They don’t make your Daddy’s Cadillac, or your Daddy’s Ford anymore. The culture looks at the automobile differently, and attention spans have changed. You have a limited opportunity to captivate a fan, and so it begs questions concerning the length of races, the length of the season and whether or not it really matters what the racers are driving. For some it matters a great deal; the question is, does it matter enough to make a difference? That’s what the Daytona Brass has to grapple with.
Ultimately- in this humble opinion- it’s the racing that matters. On some weeks, the racing is very good; on other occasions, it’s technology on parade, with attempts made at ginning up drama with re-starts that follow mysterious caution flags. On the other hand, if the racing is good- and the tracks have a LOT to do with this- on a consistent basis, whether or not there’s a “playoff” system will be of far less consequence. Forget a “Game Seven moment” at Homestead-Miami, we need big moments throughout the season. We need drivers that aren’t muzzled by their sponsors. If we’re going to have more than one NASCAR national series, each needs its own identity, or money can be saved by doing away with them. It’s the racing, stupid! (Thank you James Carville.) If you put on a good race, people will watch it and pay good money to do so. Do that, and it a lot of these other issues simply become debate topics the same way baseball fans argue over the designated hitter, the way football fans argue over protecting the quarterback, and basketball fans debate “one and done” college players. Pain and fear have away of stirring action. What NASCAR needs is a little less conversation, and a little more action.