It’s a NASCAR-free weekend. What will the ratings be for that?
Much has been made of TV ratings so far this season; for NASCAR, IndyCar and even F1 have all been showing poorly thus far. (In fairness to the F1 series, the live races have been at strange hours for Americans, unless you’re in Hawaii, and the rebroadcasts have sometimes come in opposition to NASCAR races). The dell knell has sounded and now fans are watching, with a rubber-necked intrigue, to see the sport that was once a flame turn into fading embers.
It seems strange that so many are almost wishing the sport to fail. What seems to be occurring here is that problematic concept of a cultural and generational shift. Fans that have invested years in the sport have grown weary of the TV coverage and are losing interest. Then throw into the mix the changes in NASCAR, as well as the other forms of auto racing, and many people find the alterations to be gimmicky.
Brett Poirier’s excellent piece on the lameness of green-white-checkered finishes, found here is one example — and Poirier didn’t even go into the statistical analysis of how many tracks have a favored groove that additionally inflate driver’s positions. IndyCar followed suit last year by implementing standing starts to some of their races, a move that so far has seemingly garnered little additional interest.
So fans with time in the sport are bemused by the changes and now don’t seem to care. To the next generation, the number of other options for entertainment is one factor that is encouraging them to skip over races. The bigger issue, however, may be that Generation Y and the Millennials both have little interest in automobiles, let alone auto racing. Today’s cars are obviously not the ones of yesteryear, and these generations don’t have the option of tinkering on a car in a way that many could on a ‘67 Mustang or a ‘69 Firebird. The cars that they do tinker with are the ones that came to prominence during the ’80s and ’90s, which were the better build-quality Japanese cars, and hence the tinkering they do is one cars that aren’t related to something they would see on a tracks.
No wonder that many of them would rather find an app that lets them virtually work on a car, or an app to just drive the car, or an app to drive a car that plays angry birds while sponsored by the latest super hero movie while taking selfies. Or something like that — no wonder Ritalin is so popular.
Technology is another factor, as driving a car is not the same visceral experience it once was. It used to be a driver manhandled even just a regular sedan, but now so many passenger vehicles have all kinds of creature comforts that make driving not an activity but something performed with a casual ease and lightly regarded. Video cameras for reverse angles, bells and whistles if the computer thinks you might be falling asleep, and for the totally incompetent, cars that parallel park themselves. This generation might not see any relation between what is in their driveway and what is at the track as the technologies are so vastly different, especially as NASCARdrags its feet towards implementing new and innovative technologies.
There’s no quick fix for any of this. A sport that has been around for over 50 years will face cycles of endurance, and attempts to remain relevant can be trying. While so many people would love to see Brian France taken out of his leadership role, it’s questionable how much of a difference it might make. Autosport is either going through one of those down periods and will regain traction or it will continue a slow decline into nothingness — just like the role of driver in passenger cars. If the vaunted Darlington race, with all its lore and supposed love, can’t sell out the stands, and generates a woeful TV rating, is that not such a distinct possibility? Happiness Is would be remained History Is. But for now, it’s still on… so a few of the better things out there.
Happiness Is…Arrogance. Gene Haas made the bold move of attempting to join the world of Formula 1. Just the cost of the application is enough to pay for half of a decent home. After getting the green light to join the paddock, Haas has been on the interview trail detailing his excitement, the difficulties that lay ahead, and how F1 gives him a chance to advertise his machine company (a business he believes will double thanks to the association with the sport).
Haas stated, “I think we can beat the Europeans at their own game.” This comment has many Europeans seeing the American as arrogant and egotistical. Ugh, what did they want him to say, that Haas Formula hopes to tank and be backmarker? Apparently they don’t understand how the U.S. media game is played. But then again, they’re also forgetting that America can be ingenious when it wants to be, right Thomas Edison?
Happiness Is…Less. The NCAA basketball championship is over. The Masters has passed. Two NASCAR ratings deflators are now in the dust, which means that those all important ratings numbers should go up, right? It’s not like the NHL playoffs are really going to steal that many eyes (sorry, hockey fans). Maybe just having them hold steady would be a good position. But the window for success isn’t big, as the World Cup, which both Fox and ESPN have invested heavily, will start in a couple months (June 12). So the span before Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney take over will be a good arbiter for discovering what kind of fan interest really exists in this thing called NASCAR. Less competition should help, right?
Happiness Is…Next. Kyle Larson is showing that his move to Cup was not rushed. His performances this season have showed some of the talent that many veterans have avowed. And though Austin Dillon hasn’t been ripping through the field, he’s still been somewhat solid, though RCR seems a bit off. And then there’s the next hotshot, Chase Elliott. By winning the last two Nationwide races, the table is set for him to move to Cup in a year or two (looking over your shoulder yet Kasey Kahne?), and he looks good to go.
Whatever. Those guys are all old news. What we need to be focusing on is who’s coming after them! Look no further than Ella Gordon. For everyone who is tired of Danica Patrick, Gordon is just beginning her career in quarter-midgets (or she just went for a drive in one), and could be the next-next face of NASCAR. Having that famous pedigree might help her like it does for Elliott.
Happiness Is…Outdoors. There’s no racing this Sunday. Get outside. Do something. You’re free!!!
About the author
As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.
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