Can NASCAR get its groove back?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is back to racing for now - very good news for a sport in need of more. (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is back to racing for now – very good news for a sport in need of more. (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The racing press was ready to break for lunch, always a highlight of any Daytona 500 media day.

But first the assembled content producers and bloggers were invited to view a video introducing the newest sponsor of NASCAR’s signature series, Monster Energy drinks.

What followed was an enhanced interrogation technique disguised as public relations.

The Monster Energy women flanked the stage. They were the objects of a small fuss when they first showed up on the scene in their tight, low-cut cut outfits. (What, haven’t the outraged among the racing fans ever seen a NFL cheerleader or NBA dancer? They really should pop their heads out from beneath the hood more often).

Loud, heavy music replaced the oxygen in the room. Frantic scenes of Monster Energy’s various interests flashed on the screen: Knotty tatted-up folks fighting each other in cages; young daredevils doing unwise things on motorbikes; more attractive women. And I’m not sure but there may have been a few subliminal images of a hog butchering dropped in there.

No doubt, racing is going through another metamorphosis. Each one is more challenging for those of us of a certain age.

Jeff Gordon is driving the pace car Sunday. God, I’m old.

For a sport that goes around in circles, big time NASCAR racing always seems to be at a crossroads. Certainly it is at another one now with Sunday’s Daytona 500 ushering in the 2017 campaign.

The headline on a recent Wall Street Journal story – “NASCAR, Once a Cultural Icon, Hits the Skids” – would lead you to believe that not a whole lot of positive stuff followed.

Television ratings and track attendance continue to dip. According to Sports Media Watch, which compared viewership of 29 races in 2015 to 2016, 22 of those experienced steep declines (15 of them by double digits). Monster Energy reportedly bought in to its sponsorship at a significant discount once Sprint went away. Popular stars like Gordon and Tony Stewart have moved on. And the biggest star of all, Dale Earnhardt Jr., is coming back from serious concussion issues that cloud his future. All very tough personalities to replace. Meanwhile, the core demographic of stock car racing gets ever older – never a good thing in the advertising world.

There is the hope that Monster Energy’s brand image might attract some younger, non-jaundiced eyeballs to racing.

And attempting to add more juice to the sport, NASCAR more than did the usual tinkering with its championship format – it made an extreme, fundamental change to how its races are run. They will be broken into three segments, with bonus points awarded to those running up front in each. The idea is to give fans races within a race and prompt the drivers to compete even harder over the entire length of the event.

Perhaps it smells slightly of a desperate gimmick. But, honestly, it has at least created a bit of curiosity, which is an improvement. It had to try something. There is a potential here for making the racing better – and isn’t that the point?

Stock car racing has lost a significant part of its core, its soul and its place in the American sporting landscape. All that will be very difficult to turn around.

Sunday’s Daytona 500 is an important trial for the latest big changes imposed upon racing, a sport at a crossroads again.

Reader Comments 0

12 comments
LibraSoul77
LibraSoul77

I was a fan of NASCAR for about 15 years. During that time, I went from being a hardcore fan of the sport to being a mild, casual fan of it. Over the years, the sport made so many ludicrous changes causing their traditional fans to gradually lose interest, myself included. After the Ford EcoBoost 400 last November, I decided on no uncertain terms to discontinue my interest in NASCAR, as I'm tired of the drama and politics of it.


If the lame rules and rule changes and all of the other drama continues, it will be well on its way to becoming an obscure sport, much like professional bass fishing.


The ownership and management of NASCAR has backstabbed and betrayed its longtime fans, and therefore it deserves to fade into obscurity.

lowlow
lowlow

I also believe NASCAR has left its roots - the South.  Too many identical tracks across the country that people don't know (Chicago, California, Kansas, etc.).  Quit trying to be everything to everybody and run the Darlington's, Atlanta's, etc.   Diversity can be achieved with drivers like Suarez and different courses like Atlanta, Pocono, Indy, Martinsville Bristol, and even the road courses - not with running everywhere on 1 and 1/2 to 2 mile identical ovals.  Wouldn't it be nice to see the season finish with Charlotte, Indy, Martinsville, Darlington, Talledega, Atlanta, Bristol, Daytona.  That would be fun.  Instead we have Homestead and Dover to finish -blah!  Might want to shorten the season as well.  

Harvey
Harvey

@lowlow  Bring back Rockingham!!!  (eliminate 2 1/2 of the 3 hours or prerace coverage;  stop encouraging fights and retaliation; remove "active drivers from TV commentary; bar corporate sponsorship of individual cars if/when same company is the race sponsor)

LeeLifer
LeeLifer

My take on this is it started to go south when they left the south. Chasing sponsor money has ruined the product. All that chasing the $$, diluting the sport beyond recognition.

We need to go back to the place where you raced what you brung not the generic BS they have now. The slide has been going on a long time.

Remember the days when the manufacturers worked to develop new engines and try to build a race car to sell on Monday!

Too many tracks owned by too few characters! Pulling races, going to places with no attachment to Sat night racing, corporate drivers afraid to not be politically correct or to make a mistake to offend NASCAR and end up in the trailer where they are reminded of the squeamish sponsors.

Someone needs to start a new league now that big Bill isn't around to slap them down.

It is not the same as buying a jaloppy and destroying it with a bat when your driver was passed!

It is like our country! Folks are afraid to different. Don't folks realize what we have now is the reverse of diversity. Damn I almost feel better, but sad!!

peedie7
peedie7

I've been a racing enthusiast all of mylife....but Nascar is dead....no innovation is allowed...the cars are identical except for decals...no identity for "brands", no real world engines....just some look alike cars going the same speed, following each other for 4 hours...boy now that's some fun times.

colt07
colt07

When NASCAR left the South they left their base. Tracks in Kansas  and Chicago are empty while the sport's envy of Atlanta over Charlotte has killed them. The NASCAR Hall of Fame is great but in downtown Charlotte is has about 20 visitors a day. Bring back a 2nd Atlanta race and return your emphasis to Darlington, Richmond, and Bristol.

TOJacket
TOJacket

As we baby boomers die so does Nascar.

TOJacket
TOJacket

And I've never watched a race in my life.

Hookedonshortpasses
Hookedonshortpasses

@TOJacket I'm curious....are you looking down your nose at race-watching fans?  As a high school kid, I helped a buddy build a 34 Two door dirt tracker that did fuel my desire to study engineering....that desire lasted a long time.  

Hookedonshortpasses
Hookedonshortpasses

was the race a sellout?

Were there several wrecks?


What more do you want?   Actual Fords, Chevs (Camrys   LOL) ?


Mutley
Mutley

NASCAR lost its fan base years ago. They forgot that you got to dance with what brung you. NASCAR needs new new direction obviously Brian France is nearly the promoter that Big Bill and Little Bill were.

DawgNole
DawgNole

"Stock car racing has lost a significant part of its core, its soul and its place in the American sporting landscape. All that will be very difficult to turn around."

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You appear to be on to something here, Hummer--based on the number of comments your observations have addressed prior to mine (The Big Zero).