NASCAR may be taking a breather right now, stopping for the All-Star exhibition at Charlotte while giving both the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck series drivers a chance at a home race (the Coca-Cola 600 and Friday’s 200-miler for Trucks, respectively). But while those guys are adjusting to home life, sleeping in their own beds the sport of stock car racing is wide awake with plenty of hot topics this week. Since I’m feeling quite opinionated, with our Vito Pugliese off I’m offering my own “voice” towards a few “what ifs” to get you thinking about some of the latest and greatest issues facing the sport.
What if local broadcast blackouts returned?
Mike Neff presented a controversial idea in today’s Mirror Driving when he suggested ticket sales would rise for races if the local market fell into a television blackout. If that came to fruition, many fans in the greater Charlotte area, for example, would be forced to head out to the speedway or miss out on quite a bit of racing this weekend.
I understand the concept of local blackouts as history shows it’s a sure way to boost ticket sales in other sports. For the stick ‘n’ ball crowd, it’s a strategy they’ve been using for years with great success, helping the NFL in particular enjoy nearly universal sellouts for all 32 teams in the league. Heck, even the Indianapolis 500 has been subject to a local blackout to increase fans at the track.
That said, considering some of the extenuating circumstances in place for some NASCAR markets blacking out the television coverage would be a mistake. Sure, some people would go ahead and buy tickets just so they wouldn’t miss out, but there are plenty of fans who are barely making ends meet without trying to squeeze race tickets into their budget. Add in a whopping 9% unemployment rate and you’ve got people who can’t even pay all of their bills, making economic hardship and not indifference towards the sport a main reason why they’re not sitting in the stands.
For those people, they use the weekly NASCAR races as a way to let go and enjoy themselves for a bit, even if it does mean sitting on the couch in front of the television rather than heading to the track. The sport shouldn’t take that away from them during tough times.
And what about those fans who aren’t swayed by the money-making move… just disgusted? NASCAR has already run off plenty of fans through all of the changes over the last handful of years, and a local blackout will likely have the same effect. Plus, even the ticket holders that go sit in the stands don’t automatically miss out on television coverage; I still DVR a race that I attend live because there’s usually something I’d like to see a second or third time.
Plain and simple, blacking out races in the market NASCAR is closest to each week won’t fill the grandstands, especially in a situation like Dover where you need at least 50,000 more people to come close to a sellout. Instead, you’ll only create more angry fans and that is not something the organization needs right now.
What if the All-Star Race changed venues each year?
This idea has been mentioned many times before, but an actual switch has only happened once. In 1986, the All-Star race was run in Atlanta, but it was quickly swapped right back to Charlotte the following year, where it has been ever since – and where the majority of stock car fans feel like it belongs.
So what’s the big deal if NASCAR were to move the All-Star Race to a different track each year? After all, most of the other professional sports move their All-Star games around. In fact, the NFL is the only major sport in the U.S. to maintain the same location (Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii) for the last 32 years – except 2009, when the Pro Bowl was played at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Brian France said when the Chase was first introduced, he wanted to emulate a “playoff” system that’s used by his stick ‘n’ ball brethren; so what’s the difference with the All-Star Race? Sure, there will be plenty of unhappy fans that have made it a tradition to attend the festivities for several years; but on the other hand, there are many that would be happy to have the chance to attend at their home track.
Bristol, Richmond, Darlington and Martinsville have all been mentioned as excellent choices to host the event, with a short-track atmosphere allowing the drivers to settle grudges and get aggressive in a way Charlotte’s 1.5-mile cookie cutter restricts them.
However, despite the appeal to switch venues for All-Star race weekend, I’m not inclined to recommend a change just yet. So many things have been adjusted the last several years that have run off longtime fans, and it seems the core we have left wants to hold onto longtime traditions rather than let them go. For once, I’d like to see NASCAR just leave well enough alone; the All-Star races at Charlotte haven’t been outstanding in recent years, but it’s not like they’ve been an absolute disaster, either.
As the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
What if Nationwide and Truck series drivers were included in the All-Star Race?
In Monday’s Frontstretch Newsletter fellow writer Amy Henderson brought up the idea of having an All-Star Race for the Nationwide and Truck series. I’m definitely not against the idea, but especially in the Truck Series, there are plenty of teams that can barely afford to make the points-paying races, much less an event in which they’ll likely lose a vehicle thanks to an overzealous competitor.
But what if, say two drivers from each series were included in the All-Star Race field? Can you imagine Ron Hornaday Jr. and Todd Bodine competing against Kyle Busch? It’s a format where they could take out frustrations on their rival, righting on-track wrongs without the points implications that often accompany their chance in a Truck Series race. There would be some hurdles for the sport to overcome – namely, where these drivers could borrow equipment to compete – but with such a small number included, it’s not an impossible assignment in my opinion.
Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with that point of view. Also in Mirror Driving today, fellow columnist Summer Dreyer doesn’t agree with allowing a Truck or Nationwide Series driver to be a part of the All-Star Race field.
“I just don’t think drivers in development series should be a part of the highest level of racing,” she says. “There’s a reason why they aren’t already racing there.”
Huh? So let me get this straight: drivers in development series don’t belong racing against the Big Boys? Well, then, what exactly is the point of having a development series? Last time I checked, that was where the future stars of NASCAR were supposed to be born regardless of how it really works these days. I see absolutely no reason why a previous champion in either the Nationwide or Truck series should be disbarred from participating in what is arguably a race for fun, the best of the best representing NASCAR’s past, present… and future.
And when the green flag drops, you never know. Under the right set of circumstances, one of the guys from either of the lower series may just be able to show up one of the big guys from Sprint Cup.
Author’s Note: For more on this topic, be sure to check out Amy Henderson’s Holding a Pretty Wheel on Friday.
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