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Holding A Pretty Wheel: When Less Was More and Racing Was Worth Waiting For
Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe are quickly making a case for why they shouldn't be forgotten when it comes to the Chase. Credit: CIA

Holding A Pretty Wheel: When Less Was More and Racing Was Worth Waiting For

Want NASCAR information? You don’t have to wait long to see all you wanted to know and then some. NASCAR is everywhere these days thanks to the Internet and social media. In the Information Age, people can instantly satisfy their curiosity on just about anything, including racing, with just a few clicks. It’s instant gratification at its finest, and it’s a great thing for race fans.

Or is it?

In today’s world, nobody has to wait for anything in terms of information. But with all that at our fingertips, is it possible that it takes something away from the sport? There’s little anticipation any more, little reason to savor a moment, because everything is leaked online as everyone races to be the first to break a story to the masses and every move is captured for posterity on You Tube five minutes after it happens.

By all counts, we should be thrilled with this. But maybe, just maybe, less really is more when it comes to something people are passionate about.

Think about this: how many fans out there used to wait each night for “RPM 2Nite” to come on so you could get your daily racing fix? Sure, the ‘Net was around by the 1990′s, and you could find plenty of fodder by checking out Jayski, but we weren’t connected 24/7 then, didn’t have access to the whole world via cell phones, iPads, and laptops all the time.

2014 Sonoma CUP Dale Earnhardt Jr notes CIA

Dale Earnhardt Jr staying in the loop

 

There was a day when the annual media tour was something fans relished because it was like awakening from a winter slumber and her it was, time to go racing! Preseason testing was the first taste of action anyone had had in weeks, and it felt so good to finally see cars on track and see racing on the sportscast again. You couldn’t wait for all that, because that was what there was. Announcements were made at the track, and everyone looked forward to certain races, like Charlotte, because they were most likely to hear a juicy piece of news about silly season, sponsorship, or a schedule change.

We were hungry for racing news, because it was news. Sure, there was speculation—in those days, lots of what you saw on sites like Jayski was speculation. Now, it’s hard to have a press conference where everyone doesn’t already know what’s being announced. There are very few surprises. It’s a little like knowing what every Christmas present was in advance. That seemed like a great thing as a kid, until it actually happened. Then it made the actual unwrapping anticlimactic, a little disappointing.

Also check out: Five Things to Watch: NASCAR gettin’ bumpy in Kentucky by Matt Taliaferro 

Social media has also given race fans some great things. They have a chance to interact with the sport’s stars like never before, to see glimpses of the lives of anyone in the sport. Fans can feel like they have a special connection with their favorites. That’s never a bad thing.

Except…you used to be able to go to the track and meet some drivers, usually at their souvenir haulers on a Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning. Fans waited in line with an item to have autographed, and while they waited, they connected with each other. Complete strangers had something in common during those waits. Now, you can get a retweet from your racing hero, but the days of standing in those autograph lines, and talking to the other fans, and enjoying a common bond, are all but extinct.

And as ratings drop and apathy reigns, it’s hard not to wonder…is too much racing to blame? Would it make the sport more exciting if fans had to wait in line at an autograph session or plan dinner around the news of the day? Would people care more if they didn’t have everything NASCAR immediately available? Would the season be more special if the industry was dormant for several weeks like it once seemed to be?

It’s hard to say. On one hand, there was something almost magic about the anticipation for racing. But on the other, in the ADD Generation, would people wait out the offseason with bated breath or stand in line to ask a driver a question? Can they even be expected to sit through a 500-mile race and still be excited at the end, let alone endure a long, cold winter where racing only shows up on ESPN once a week? As much as anyone over 25 wants to roll their eyes, this is the future of the sport’s fan base. Should the need for a world in 30-second sound bites be catered to in order to draw new fans to the sport? Or is there any way to teach people who have never had to wait for anything the value of anticipation or that the wait is what makes something special?

If the best part of Christmas as a kid was the second before you ripped off the wrapping paper and discovered what was inside or the best part of a race was that moment that the pace car dove to pir road before the green flag waived, it was because of the unlimited possibilities that moment held. That giftwrapped box could hold anything; anyone could win that race. It was, somehow, almost better than the reality, no matter what that gift contained or who won that race.

But that moment is all but gone, because there is little to wait for anymore. People don’t care anymore about possibility; some many now care more about results, about having it all and having it right now.

We live in an age of instant gratification, and racing is no exception. Every moment of every day, through the Internet and smartphones and the Information Age, we’re inundated with everything we could possibly want about racing. You can read about the latest sponsor deal, see your favorite driver’s most recent photo of his cat, and know what half the sport had for breakfast…all before you’ve had your own breakfast. There’s nothing to really look forward to, no need to savor anything special.

If only we’d known that less was more, we might have saved the sport.

About Amy Henderson

Amy Henderson
Co-Managing Editor of Frontstretch since 2012, Amy oversees the site’s photography and daily content as well as assisting with staff management. A ten-year veteran writer and three-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, Amy pens The Big Six (Mondays), Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays), Holding A Pretty Wheel (Fridays) and writes a monthly diary with Truck Series driver Brendan Gaughan. A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits extend everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports.

11 comments

  1. Wouldn’t it be great if TNT would set up their last televised race with the same camera set-up as ESPN used in the early 90′s. Broadcast without all the extra frills, no crawl (not needed with the wide angle shots), top 5 positions imposed without blocking the top of the screen, pit reports doing real interviews, no car cutout or CG car to diagnose what they think the problem might be, and no Larry “Goodyear, Sunoco racing fuel” Mac to tell us the difference between “push and loose.” Add to that, absolutely no Waltrip commentary.

  2. probably the best comment section I have ever seen it could be due to the fact that the article was above par for what we usually get. great job and kudos to everyone. now if I could only find a cable long enough to get to watch the races in my semi truck

  3. The last NFL game I went to I looked around me and EVERYONE had their head buried in their phone. Same at the concession stands. Why bother going in the first place? To get a Facebook picture to show how much fun you’re having at a game you’re not watching?

    I’m so thankful that I grew up in a world before computers took over. We had MORE FUN back then.

  4. Part of this article reads like a lament about how it was so much better when print/TV was the only game in town and didn’t have to compete with another viewpoint, nor was there instant access for discussion or gasp, dissent. If only all the plebes had to do was read it, say, “hmmm,” and swallow, right?

    On another note, RPM2night was unique even for its time. They covered anything and everything. If they could get video or a picture of something that happened on a racetrack someplace, it was fair game. When they were on the air, you could watch that show and Motorsport Mundial on Speedvision, and feel like you were an FIA member or something. Now on TV shows there’s so much fluff and yet another 5-minute Chad Knaus feature to sit through, hooray for Hendrick!

  5. No doubt that the volume of information, the speed and ease at which it is delivered, and the lack of anticipation has affected the overall level of excitement and satisfaction fans feel. So, yes, in many cases less can be better no matter how counter-intuitive that may be. However, the genie is out of the bottle and there is no way to stuff it back in, so here we are.

    I still feel if the racing and coverage was better, having more or less might not matter with respect to the actual numbers of viewers and overall health of the sport (the NFL is doing as good as ever and they have face the same reality, although they were covered much more by mainstream media before the digital age). It just seems all things being equal, why is NASCAR having so many problems while other sports are not.

    IMO, it’s because when BF took over NASCAR they took something that seemed to be working pretty well and turned it upside down. They took the attitude that we’ve got our current fanbase hooked so they will eat anything we serve them, now we can try to attract new fans. Bad premise. Bad decision. NASCAR fans by and large are conservative and conservative people do not embrace change. If BF had a vision for these radical, sweeping changes the time frame for their introduction should have been spread out over 10-15 years. They also should have tried some of these things out in the lower series first. Let fans acclimate., fine tune the rules, see what works, what doesn’t, etc.. The fact that the chase system has been changed 5 times in a decade shows how ill conceived the whole concept was. Then we’ve had major changes to the poinst system itself and the car. I could go on, but what’s the point.

    All you have to look at is the numbers. Ratings down. Attendance down. Number of teams down. Sponsorship down. If this was any other company the decision makers would have tried to back off some of the changes and appeased their customers (New Coke anyone?) but since NASCAR is a dictatorship they have dug in their heels and went to war with their customers. Well, as you learn in Business 101 the customer is king. Apparently Brian never took that course in college. He and his minions have taken the approach that they can use PR spin, tell us how great everything is, and we will ignore our own observations and perceptions and believer what he tells us (like we’re idiots). Yeah, we hear stats about on track passes being up 100 percent or more cars on the lead lap than ever, but that is because double file restarts, fake cautions and wave arounds rig the game to make that happen.

    Oh well, as I’ve said before, the only reason this customer keeps eating what he is served is because of his loyalty to one driver, Jeff Gordon. When he retires the contract (for how I spend my time) goes out for rebidding and it ain’t looking good for NASCAR.

    • Bravo, Bill B! Well said and I agree.

      • Note to Frontstretch staff: This is the type of information YOUR articles should contain. Well though out, and not pre approved by NASCAR. Note to Bill B: Please do not underestimate the importance of the NASCAR PR machine. We cannot brainwash ourselves!

        • It’s very easy to say those who cover NASCAR should hold their feet to the fire more, and I agree…the flip side is this…when this is how you earn a living, it’s a different matter…you don’t have to look any further than past columnist here (and still the greatest in my book) Matt Mclaughlin…the man constantly told it like it was and gave no quarter to the crap that the PR machines spewed…and what did it get him?…NASCAR bought an entire website, just to shut him up…everything Bill said above is correct, and those are among the reasons I will never voluntarily watch a NASCAR race, live or televised, ever again…they not only lost me, they drove me away…but it’s also foolish to believe that with enough hue and cry from the media and masses that the ship will right it’s course…it’s obviois that the powers that be could give less than a damn about what anybody else thinks, media or fan alike
          Godspeed Matt, wherever you are, btw

  6. Amen “to the NASCAR Kool Aid Test” John Q. The articles on websites such as these are sometimes great-sometimes not so much-but as you said the best part is reading the comments section to get the opinions of fans such as yourself. If the NASCAR braintrust (I use the word “brain” very loosely) read the comment sections of articles then maybe they would have some idea of what the real racing fans want.

    • Ha, see Bill’s comment above. NASCAR’s management thinks the fans are stupid and if they just keep repeating the same information “everything is great” eventually the fans will accept it and things will be wonderful again. I know some people love the changes and that’s fine – each to their own but when a company alienates its existing customer base to the extent that NASCAR did with its wholesale and not well received changes and still persists in continuing down the same path regardless of the negative results, well, they have reaped what they have sown and IMO deserve it.

  7. I am definitely pre information age and I love the fact that anything I want to know is available to me pretty much whenever I want it. It enhances the racing experience. Now rather than being dependent on the NASCAR PR machine I can gather information from a variety of sources. For example, take this site. It is basically what I would have read in the bland racing publications of years past. The comments section below the articles lets me hear the opinions of real fans, many more knowledgable than the columnist and none bound by the NASCAR Kool Aid test. I used to be able to talk about the races Monday morning with my friends and co workers but now I am the only person I know that still watches. So, with out the comments section of sites like this I would no longer have the opportunity to share the frustrations and excitement of NASCAR. What is not to like about that?