NASCAR is growing. Really. And I know it’s  December 1, not April 1. So this isn’t some lame April Fools joke.

In all seriousness, NASCAR may have found an avenue for growth, one that might mute the enthusiasm of the broadcast networks that spend big bucks for the right to air races.The NASCAR mafia sent out a news release documenting the growth of NASCAR.COM, per a company that sends time analyzing all this stuff.  The site saw a 71% spike in the third quarter, with a triple digit growth in visits during November, when many of us were complaining about how crappy the 2009 season was.

In general, video is also driving more traffic to the racing site. The release said video stream views were up 22% for the year.  As a result, NASCAR.COM unveiled a new redesign of its video channel, with an emphasis on more exclusive content.  Insert random press release quote from a suit.

 “During this season, we have dedicated time, experience and innovative technology to staying current with the needs of fans by providing a better user experience. The increase in video streams is a testament to this work and the redesigned video channel is our continued effort to provide fans with a refreshed design and a high-quality experience,” said Scott Doyne, Turner Sports senior director of business operations for NASCAR.COM. “NASCAR.COM continues to lead the way in providing the most comprehensive and innovative NASCAR coverage available on the Web.”

Here’s the kicker.  Web traffic is up. But, TV ratings for races are down.  Fox saw broadcast TV ratings slip 15% in 2009. TNT and ESPN/ABC saw said ratings dip around 8%. We haven’t seen numbers relating to web traffic.
The economics of melding of traditional and new media while actually making a few bucks is far beyond my economic academic perspective, most of which I picked up from Rodney Dangerfield in “Back to School.” What I do know is that if TV executives lose viewers, they get sad. And think about this. If people go to to get race highlights instead of ESPN or its website, ratings drop. That means ESPN has to charge less for commercials. So not only is ESPN generating less money on other programs, but it continues to spend gobs on the right to air races which features promotional material for the NASCAR website that ESPN is competing against. Where’s my abacus?

One other thought. When I was working in local news, NASCAR provided a feed of interviews and video to promote races. While I did more NASCAR coverage, my station never attended a race, even though we had ample opportunity to get press passes. So will adding free web-based content draw more viewers to the site at the expense of local news outlets who will focus on other platforms. Where’s my Goody’s Headache Powder?

Welcome the behind the scenes zaniness that allows for Brian France to get paid so much. At this point, I have no clue if any of this mumbo jumbo will improve the quality of racing. If only Rodney were around to make sense of it all.