After averaging around 40 articles a year for the previous two or three years, the tech gremlins that hampered RFF in 2020 cut my input to 11. During part of the period in which my computer was inactive, I don’t know what I’d have written about, anyway, since i- or e-racing doesn’t appeal, and I’m not sure there was a lot new to say, anyway – we keep complaining, little or nothing changes, and we keep complaining.
Maybe that’s why the overall 2020 theme was more global in nature. There are just problems that seem beyond anyone’s ability to address successfully. Let’s review.
- The NASCAR audience. Stock car racing – NASCAR and other – gained its foothold among working class men (mostly) and women (when possible), and for a variety of reasons, that audience has shrunk dramatically. What’s left of it is pretty conservative (here I’m talking culture, not politics), which means NASCAR’s changes to the sport 15-20 years ago were not well received, and much of that audience is now alienated, maybe permanently. To maintain its business, NASCAR continues to try for a broader audience, but the problem is that nobody knows what population segment is likely to buy into the sport these days. That puts NASCAR in the position of stepping out a door and not knowing if there are stairs on the other side or a steep drop.
- The competition. Back in the day, most fans worked five-and-a-half or six days a week, which meant that, while they didn’t have much money, they also didn’t have many ways to spend it, so a couple of bucks for a race Saturday night or Sunday was reasonable. Today there are lots of other sports we can pay to see, plus we eat out much more often, we shop, we vacation (an expense that may include an RV, boat, timeshare, etc.), and we spend lots of money IN the home on cable/dish/streaming and phones that cost more than my first three used cars combined. NASCAR has gotten more expensive, too. It adds up to a NASCAR marketer’s nightmare, overcoming all those other choices.
- The car culture. As I’ve said before, when was the last time you saw a teenager under a shade tree in the side yard working on a Kia? People of younger generations just don’t think about cars the way people of my generation did – I’m an older Boomer. Here’s Exhibit A: In 1969, Chevrolet sold 243,085 Camaros. In 2020, the total was 29,775 (a total that represented the second-biggest decline in sales compared to 2019 in the entire GM lineup). As electric cars and self-driving vehicles become more and more popular, this will only get worse. If I was 21 and looking for a job that might carry me through my career, NASCAR wouldn’t be the place I’d look.
- Gambling. I didn’t mention this in any of my writing last year, but I want to add it, as long as I’m in the doomsday scenario. We have no idea what long-term impact gambling will have on NASCAR, but we know this: every nickel bet on a race goes to the casino/gaming company and not the track, the drivers or NASCAR. Horse racing has long been propped up by gambling, but that’s because the tracks profit from the gambling (same ownership in most cases). NASCAR certainly gets a cut somewhere, but I can’t help but think it’s pennies on the dollar compared to the horse racing situation.
I could go on, but you’re going to stop reading if this gets much more depressing. The sad thing is that there isn’t much NASCAR can do to change most of it. All of our suggestions have the potential to help, but in the end, it may be like the Roadrunner cartoon where the 1,000-pound anvil is about to fall on Wile E. Coyote’s head, and he holds up a little umbrella as his defense – it’s still gonna hurt.
I made a few suggestions for those “potential to help (a little)” issues, but I think I’ll wait for the final, summary article to give (and in most cases repeat) my prescription. Can’t say I expect to have any attention given by those in a position to act, but as NASCAR and I drift ever farther apart, at least I can think about what might have been.
In the meantime, while NASCAR was at my old stomping grounds in Richmond when this was originally written (where I was an extra public relations assistant on race weekends for a quarter of a century), I was at my favorite bullring, the quarter-mile Path Valley Speedway dirt track, where PA Sprint Series RaceSaver sprint cars, the sprint car lookalike super sportsman cars, two classes of micro sprints and two classes of 4-cylinder stock cars were racing the way you remember racing, if your horizon pre-dates the Internet, personal computers, smart phones and cars with more chips than horses.
I was happy
(Photo credits: This week’s cover photo is from NewAtlas.com, which calls these “manned multicopters. I was looking for racing drones, but this photo looks cool, and maybe it’s another possibility for NASCAR’s future. The empty grandstands – from a past Brickyard 400 – were from KokomoTribune.com and attributed there to the Associated Press. The shade tree mechanic illustration is from WashingtonExaminer.com and a story about the decline of the car culture. The Wile E Coyote illustration obviously started at Warner Brothers and can be had in lots of place on the web. Finally, I get to be local with the Path Valley Speedway thunder cars – that is a screen capture from a video from Stine’s TV.)