Well, you certainly caught us all off guard last week with the news you’ve put out feelers about selling the whole Magical Mystery Tour that is contemporary NASCAR racing. After much deliberation I’ve decided that I’d be the perfect new owner. No, I haven’t got much of a financial stake in the sport (Mama didn’t raise any idiots; I am self-taught.)
But I do have a deeply emotional investment after more than five decades of hardcore fan ship/writing/reporting. Thus, I feel the need to further my involvement without making too big a commitment. You remember what Junior Johnson once said about the difference between involvement and commitment? Pointing to his bacon and egg breakfast, he noted the chicken was involved with the breakfast. The pig was committed.
Thus, I stand ready to offer you one hundred US dollars ($100) for the whole party package. I can pay it in one of those newer, big face hundred dollar bills so you know it’s not counterfeit, though admittedly the new bills do Ben Franklin absolutely no favors. He was a not a good-looking man to start with and his mom must never have insisted he get a haircut because he looked ridiculous. If you prefer, though, I can make full payment in ten $10 bills. They can be slipped into a greeting card envelope and shoved under your doorstep so that your ex’s lawyers don’t have to know about it.
Naturally, I am cc’ing Goldman Sachs with this offer. I feel like they and I go way back. It was, after all most of my tax dollars that contributed to their $2.9 billion bailout back during the last economic crisis. After all, they were too big to fail. Funny thing there. The people losing their homes to foreclosure weren’t too small to bother with. I don’t know why I’m suddenly feeling the urge to whistle “Little Pink Houses” but I am….
I am fully aware that the amount of this offer is substantially less than you or the G and S boys might have been daydreaming about but here’s the thing. Even if you slash prices, it’s tough selling deck chairs on a sinking ship in the north Atlantic. Those half price buffet dinner coupons aren’t much of an incentive when the meal is to be served in an octopus’s garden under the sea.
And look at the bright side. If those troublemakers over at the Race Team Alliance come storming the Bastille, as seems to be their intent, you can simply send them a turnip, a length of medical tubing and a plasma bag. “Can’t get blood from a turnip” is the oldest civil trial defense on the books.
Now naturally, y’all have a lot of time and energy invested in this racing deal and you want to be sure that whoever takes over for you is going to do the right thing by the sport. That is my heartfelt intent. So what will I do? Well in short, all the things you are doing and have done to the once great sport of stock car racing over the last decade and a half, I’ll plan on doing just the opposite.
Under your watch, TV ratings for and attendance at NASCAR races is down about 50% over the last five years. I mean that’s the bottom line, right? You can sugarcoat a cat turd anyway you like with all the mumbly-jumbly crap about “consumers digesting the sport through different means” but it’s still not a Baby Ruth bar. Any feeble attempt you’ve made to straighten NASCAR’s ailments out are just a matter of locking the barn door after the horses are all done up and gone. Those newer, more affluent fans you coveted; well, they came, they saw, they blew out of Dodge without a backwards glance over their shoulders. (Sort of like Dodge did, come to think of it.) I think it was Jerry who once wrote; “Like a steam locomotive, rolling down the track, they’re gone, they’re gone and nothing’s going to bring them back.”
I’m under no delusion that my new NASCAR is going to depose the NFL as the king of the hill in American sports. I’m not going to even try. What I am going to try to do is to win back the sport’s once loyal longtime fans you jettisoned like three-day-old shrimp. They’re the ones who mined and paid for those silver spoons you were born with in your mouth.
I ain’t saying there’s not going to be some pain felt as we contract our sport back to a more manageable level. But we’re all going to share the pain, so no one suffers unduly or alone. So here we find ourselves with a bunch of racetracks, perhaps most of them, which sell out less than half their tickets to races that were once sold out months in advance of the events. The laws of supply and demand would seem to indicate with demand down, supply needs to be cut too. Rather than playing to half-empty grandstands twice a year we’ll cut all the tracks with the exception of Martinsville, Bristol and Richmond back to one event a year with the grandstands hopefully just about full.
Yep, shortening the schedule has got to be a priority. Round about early September every year, if you listen hard you can hear what sounds like a buffalo stampede. That’s casual NASCAR fans abandoning the sport to follow NFL games. We need to have packed up the tents, put out the fire and called in the dogs before the NFL regular season starts.
Well, I can hear some of you squealing piggishly, that won’t work. That’s right when our playoffs start. (You did get the memo that it’s the playoffs now, not the Chase right? It seems sometimes in NASCAR racing the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, perhaps because some of you have assumed such an awkward position with your heads up your bums.) Well, I’m sad to say it doesn’t matter if you call it the playoffs or the Chase or “Free beer and fried chicken time”, it’s just not going to work. Some of you might need a paper and marker to sketch this one out, but I’ll give it a shot.
In the stick-and-ball sports whose papers you seem so desperate to copy off of, throughout the regular season at every event one team faces off against another. It is highly likely that the two NFL teams pitted against one another in the Super Bowl may not have played a regular season game against that opponent. Thus, it’s a legitimate question which of the two teams is better.
Now, in NASCAR racing all the best teams (and the ones who show up to fill the field) “play” against each other every week. Thus, Johnny James has routinely beaten Gordy Jefferson like a cheap drum week in and week out all season. There’s no fairness in making Jefferson the champion just because he got on a roll for three of the last four races and won the final one. You’re practically telling drivers just stay within the top 16 in points for the first 26 races and then really bring your “A” game for the last 10.
Gee, I wonder why you’re having trouble selling tickets to the first 24 races? No, actually I’m not wondering. I know. That was sarcasm right there. The current system is like devoting hours to reading a really good suspense novel only to have the last five chapters replaced by a math textbook.
It’s also not helping matters any that once the really good drivers have a win to lock in a slot in the Ch…er, playoffs, they don’t really need to do much else for months at a time. If every baseball team that won a game sometime during the regular season qualified for the post-season we’d have a hell of a mess on our hands every September. There needs to be a points system which rewards race wins to such a degree that the drivers would run over their own wives to win rather than finish second. (Well, maybe not that much of an incentive though if my initials were SB I’d never turn my back to the track anyway.)
There should be a decent size bonus for top-five finishes as well. Rather than have stage bonus points (I’m sorry, did I forget to mention that whole boondoggle is as over as the Tide Pod Challenge?) drivers should get bonus points for leading laps. What we’re looking for here is drivers running flat out to win and lead races.
We also want to give drivers who have a few bad weeks a chance to get back in the game. Thus, any finishes below 21st would earn a driver and team zero points. Everyone is going to have a few bad weekends. Heck, I’d be open to the idea of letting drivers drop their two worst finishes (in a 22-race schedule) at the end of the season when tallying up the final points totals. That might be a little too gimmicky, though and I am no fan of gimmicks. Let me poll my fellow longtime fans and get their feelings on that idea.
Sorry. As noted above, the three-stage race format has got to go. I recall when you trotted that pony out, you swore it was for the race fans so they got to see better racing throughout the event… not just at the end. Yeah, OK. You actually did it to give the presenting networks additional scheduled commercial breaks. And you felt compelled to do so because fans were flat calling you out about all the bogus “debris” cautions you were throwing to get some commercials in and spice up things at the end of the races.
Repeat after me. Though the temptation can be strong sometimes, you are there to officiate races, not orchestrate them. Yep, you trotted out stage racing, your new one-trick pony, and waited for the applause. Turns out what you got was a bunch of people hollering; “That ain’t no pony! It’s a camel.” To paraphrase a bit here, a camel is a horse designed by morons.
Now, about the cars themselves. Work with me here. It’s not that hard. National Association of STOCK car racing. Stock is the operative word here and in this instance it doesn’t relate to what you buy and sell on Wall Street. (Most race fans are more concerned with prices at the supermarket, not on the stock market.) Ford and GM are building some badass cars right now (as are our friends at Dodge and I am determined to bring them back into the fold even if it means locking their Italian overlords in the trunk of a parked car while we draw up the contracts.)
Yes, I know the days are long since gone when you could go down to the local Chevy or Ford agency, buy a car off the lot, paint some numbers on the side of it and go racing. Safety equipment needs to be added. Independent rear axles need to be converted to solid. In oval course racing, a wet sump oiling system isn’t going to work so the engines will have to be converted to dry sump. But right now, the Big 3 are building some really high horsepower engines. Maybe they even have too much power so we’ll ask them to ditch the superchargers and but keep multi-point injection, coil on plug ignition and roller cams.
Racing is supposed to improve the breed, right? I’d like to see those stock-based engines capable of running 1,500-2,000 race miles without an overhaul as a start towards significant cost reductions to make the sport less dependent on sponsorships which are fewer and harder to come by. Ideally, I want to slash the cost of fielding a competitive team by half over the next two years and then slash it in half again over the following two years. As we return the sport to health with increased TV ratings and attendance, maybe we can get some new sponsors to come aboard or even bring back some that have left.
As for Toyota? Well, sorry they don’t make a rear-wheel drive, high-performance coupe or sedan. They are, of course, welcome to stay in the Truck Series since they do, in fact, build V-8 rear-wheel trucks. Damned ugly ones but they still fit in the “Stock” category. Oh, and once you’re on the way out the door could you please tape a “For Rent” sign on the front door of the stately NASCAR headquarters? We have no need for that sort of opulence. Nor do we have need for employees whose sole function isn’t to improve racing, attendance and TV ratings.
To be honest, I’m not much for Florida anyway. I don’t need to live anywhere where the average age of the population is prehistoric and where every August and September, it seems a big old Cat 5 hurricane is determined to blow the peninsula back to its prelapsarian state for the alligators. I don’t even do well around brown woods snakes. So I want nothing to do with alligators, two-legged or four.
As part of cost savings, I’m going to work for an annual salary you wouldn’t bother to stoop and pick up off the floor as you staggered out of a Daytona bar. I’m a simple man and I’ve got simple tastes. I think the head of NASCAR’s salary ought to be based on the median average salary of stock car racing fans. Yeah, I’m going to need that Dodge Challenger Hellcat company car, but that’s at least partially because I’m selling off the corporate jets, too. What do planes have to do with a series that races cars? And I need something fast to drive because I intend to get to the track before the fans and leave after them so I have plenty of time to discuss what they want to see and how we’re doing moving NASCAR forward.
You know, maybe it’s already too late. Maybe I’m throwing my hundred bucks down the drain, but I care so deeply about this sport I’m willing to gamble it can be saved. Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? It ain’t over until we say it’s over. Who’s with me?
About the author
Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.