Deep in the heart of this great country are people with steel backs and iron guts. They work hard and their muscle ache at the end of the day. They are independent spirits who go against the flow and often go west when everyone is heading east. They’re unsophisticated, yet profound; they know the risk, and yet stand in the face of fear.
These are the fans. They are the soul of NASCAR.
Growth is something they understand, it’s practically un-American to stay at rest. There are new territories, markets to be conquered; if you’re not moving forward you’re going backward. Yet, somewhere along the way, NASCAR- that is, the governing body- has lost its identity with the fan base that helped build it.
True, the fan base is more diverse than it once was geographically, demographically, and even socio-economically. Still, it doesn’t matter if you’re marketing executive near Sonoma or a truck driver in Michigan. If you’re a NASCAR fan, there’s something in your core that’s rugged and primal– regardless of whether you change tires, or change diapers.
NASCAR is raw and simple. Competitors start from a fixed point and dart out as fast as they can to be the first to travel a prescribed distance. If you want sophistication, there’s always golf or tennis.
It seems that somewhere along the line, in reaching out to a new clientele, those that govern NASCAR lost sight of its appeal, and tried to sell it to an audience that simply can’t appreciate it. Over the course of the last decade, the curious have come and gone. Attempts to sell New York City on the sport have fallen flat. It hasn’t caught on with any great enthusiasm in Southern California. Banging fenders and the bump and run don’t resonate with Hollywood types. It’s too brutal. Hell, they couldn’t even keep pro football in L.A. NASCAR isn’t wine and sorbet, it’s beer and hot dogs.
Perhaps the biggest issue facing NASCAR now isn’t trying to market it where it isn’t really selling, it’s having to pay an escalating price to see a show that doesn’t resemble enough the sport they fell in love with. It’s not that they lack loyalty. Listen to the call-in shows, check out the comments on blogs. It tells you that in spite of their frustrations, these fans are still around. Even the TV ratings are up a bit after likely finding their bottom in 2010. If nothing else, the disenfranchised grouse to if nothing else, let the others know they are not alone, and they keep the flame in hopes that someone out there with influence is listening. It’s just that the price of the ticket has exceeded its value. Sure they can look past a mediocre race or two to seek out their favorite driver, to get away from it all, and enjoy the company of a community of their fellow race fans. Yet there just comes a time when you can’t pony up the cash; not when you might be able to enjoy something a little closer to home that costs a little less and therefore is a little easier to endure if it doesn’t live up to the hype.
NASCAR- your fans are waiting to fill those empty seats. Send them a message, something that suggests they matter to you Mssrs. France, Helton and Company. Without them, the driver will find themselves kicking up dirt in some abandoned corn field somewhere, racing in front of their sweethearts and buddies. Remember where you came from, and your appreciation will be rewarded.
Other articles by Jim McCoy include: