Every year after the Brickyard it seems fans want to talk about attendance, or lack there of, more than usual. Is NASCAR worried about attendance? Should they be? Why are fans who don’t attend events so worried about attendance? Why after the Brickyard do we do this year after year?
Lets just start with the Brickyard, the famed, the historic, the legendary Inidanapolis Motor Speedway. I’m going to be honest with you, it’s gonna be a kick in the jewels but deal with it, the Brickyard IS NOT a crown jewel event. It is not historic for stock cars, it is not famed for stock cars, it is not legendary for stock cars. It is all those things for OPEN WHEEL racing, but not for full fender stock cars. True race enthusiasts value a win here, drivers and owners and mechanics and crew chiefs value the wins here because it puts them alongside the greats in Motorsports. Let us remember, before 1994 stock cars didn’t race here. Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson… Never ran Indy and never won Indy.
The racing at Indy is not spectacular, for open wheel or for stock cars. This weekend if you listened to competitor’s radio during the Xfinity race, you heard one say, “Man this is a boring race.” His crew chief replied, “You should try watching it.” If those in the competition don’t find it exciting, neither will the fans. This is nothing against the driver and crew chief, it was an unimpressive, lackluster, boring race. I love racing, of all types! I eat, breathe, sleep, smell, think, study racing… and I thought both races this weekend were tedious and boring to watch.
So what we have is a recipe for disaster. NASCAR and the media overhype this race as some “Historic Crown Jewel” and the racing is bad. It’s a giant farce and lie. This isn’t the Daytona 500, this isn’t the Southern 500, this isn’t the 600. It just isn’t, so quit acting like it is. NASCAR likes the idea that it can fill the 400,000 seats at Indy but it never has and never will. That’s a fact.
In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s NASCAR was at its peak, it could seat 100,000 or 200,000 fans anywhere, so they left the short tracks like North Wilkesboro, they left the historic circuits like Rockingham, they turned their back on Myrtle Beach and they forgot their tried and true, diehard race fans. When the bubble popped with the 2008 recession and attendance hit record lows NASCAR dug in to their future model and failed to realize that those days, were over. Even the NFL has problems selling out big stadiums to capacity of 100,000. Simply put, you aren’t going to sell out a track anymore.
NASCAR goes to venues with lots of seating, but in reality they need to drop back to the smaller venues where racing thrives, where the sport cut its teeth, where 30,000 fans pack the seats and it is a hard ticket to get. If NASCAR was concerned about attendance, that’s what it would have to do. It would also stretch the series throughout the Midwest and west, reducing the number of opportunities to go to a race in certain areas thereby creating a new balance in supply and demand. Reduce the supply, increase the demand. That or they could reduce the number of races. I hate the thought, but it is another option.
Yet we have to ask, is NASCAR concerned about attendance? Really? I doubt it. The tracks are concerned about attendance, but NASCAR, they aren’t. NASCAR makes its money on the TV deals and merchandising. NASCAR isn’t worried about attendance, if it was the Indy race would be cancelled and the date would move to Road America. Indy pulled in a “guesstimate” of 45,000 fans for the Sprint Cup Series race. Road America pulls in 35,000 to 50,000 fans every year for the Xfinity series. Seems to me, that’s a no brainier, yet NASCAR continues to stack the deck against the independent tracks, because they aren’t getting paid the big money from them like they are from the big 2 race track conglomerates, SMI and ISC. Since those two companies own 80% of the NASCAR tracks they are the ones worried about attendance and they aren’t worried because they own enough properties that they come out on top regardless. So no, NASCAR doesn’t care about attendance and they don’t need to be, they are the largest form of Motorsports in the United States of America for a reason.
Should fans be worried about attendance, really? Trust me, NASCAR isn’t going to die, Motorsports aren’t gonna die, it’s dwindling but there will be a resurgence, baseball and football and hockey and soccer have seen this same trend again and again. So just wait awhile. Why complain about attendance if you aren’t at the race? If you’re afraid a race may fail that you really like, go! Then make sure you bring a friend! Bring a kid or three. Most tickets aren’t outrageous. If you want outrageous ticket prices, try to get a ticket to a Packer game in the regular season or post season at Lambeau Field. NASCAR doesn’t have $400 or $500 nose bleed tickets. So quit the crying, quit the worrying and go enjoy the race.
If you can’t get to the race, watch it on TV. Don’t have cable, go to a bar and watch it or go to a friend’s house and watch it. Then make sure you let the advertisers and NASCAR know you watched it, let the broadcast affiliate know you’d watch it if they had it on regular TV. NASCAR cares about the TV viewer, it’s the new “butts in seats” philosophy. That’s where they make their money.
In the end, we don’t need to worry about attendance, as fans, that’s not our job. Our job is to enjoy the race in person, on the radio, on TV, and on social media. If the Brickyard fails it will be because that form of racing is no longer in demand. NASCAR has to look at who they want their core audience to be. If NASCAR wants younger viewers, you will see more road racing. If NASCAR is happy with the middle aged bracket, you will see more of the same.
Sometimes, change is good, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes we just can’t control anything other than what we do, so own up, go to a race, cheer on your team. That’s your job fans, quit watching the seats and cheer on the Richard Childress Racing teams, they have excellent drivers and crew chiefs and spotters and pit crews and mechanics and engineers and they have great personalities and put on a hell of a show, but it isn’t in the seats.
Until next time, I’ll see you in the box.