Despite NASCAR's Best Efforts, Flagging Attendance Woes Continue

Del WilberContributor IOctober 9, 2012

Row upon row of empty seats at NASCAR venues.
Row upon row of empty seats at NASCAR venues.

Jeff Gordon can wonder about the attendance all he wants, but the sad fact is that NASCAR will continue to lose fans so long as they keep the same stale racing that has caused the demise of the sport some eleven years ago. Some people like to point to the close finishes and net results as proof of “bettering” the sport, but the fact is that fans see right through all the monkeyshines they call “the Chase”. NASCAR had a winning formula before Brian France decided to change everything; in fact, some of the highest attendances reported in the sport came during those years. Just look at Bristol; it used to be that someone had to die before you could even get a scalped ticket for that race. Now, you can just walk right in; what’s more, there are so many empty seats, you can pretty much sit where you want to.

Brian France changed the sport and made it a cross between IROC racing and WWE Wrestling. They actually run the races, and the drivers call it a “sport”, but NASCAR really dictates the races and their outcomes. I’m not saying the races are “scripted”, but many of the phantom Caution flags and other decisions made during the races certainly cast an appearance of NASCAR’s intervention in deciding races. Too many times, a favorite popular driver may have been a lap or two down and, suddenly there are a slew of Caution flags, with just a few laps remaining, and that same driver is now magically back on the lead lap; and, in fact, sometimes has even won the race. Under the old rules, there was no “Lucky Dog”; the Leader would either drive back on the lead lap, or not. Sure, now the sport is safer by not racing back to the Checkers, but the consistency is not.

Still others lament the lack of excitement at the track; Ken Osborne wrote on SBNation,

"Jeff Gordon doesn’t have to sit through the 499 miles of mindless boredom for the little bit of “excitement” that was the race. Why would fans want to watch or attend a race to watch generic drivers driving generic cars and be afraid to talk about racing for the fear of fines or losing their ride? The last time I went to the Bristol night race, I was bored to tears and looked forward to the nightmare ending. The ride home was more interesting than the race. I expect future races will have even fewer people in the stands and fewer watching on TV. If the problem was the economy, the race attendance drop should mean a higher viewership on TV. If they can’t afford to go to the race, they should be watching it on TV. The way the racing is shown on TV, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to see a race in person."

Who knows have many first-time winners there might of been if NASCAR had kept their old system? Who knows how many new teams might have emerged and made inroads toward their own dynasties? Who knows how many guaranteed “Top-35’ers” might have had to take a provisional or even get sent home? And, for those who wish to parrot other so-called “experts” of the sports and extol all the positive virtues of the current system: then, why is NASCAR going backwards to get the the future? Just look no further than the current car; wing? Gone. Splitter? Flush and hidden. Rear spoiler? It’s back. And, if that’s not enough, look at the rules changes for next year; Top-35 rule? Gone. Testing? It’s back.

A lot of us old-timers see what’s happening, and some of it is good, but much more is needed. Creativity in the garage has been stifled and that needs to be remedied. The crew chiefs need to be able to play with some of the cars’ characteristics, so that innovation can be a factor in racing, again. Have a little “give” in the tolerances and see what the teams come up with. You might just be surprised. The “Lucky Dog” rule? It needs to go. If someone is a lap behind, then their just a lap behind, that’s it. If NASCAR would allow for some more variation in the cars, a Crew Chief might be able to “fix” a car well enough to race their way back to being on the lead lap. I watched Jeff Gordon go four laps down at Martinsville one time, and race his way back to win the race. Now, THAT was racing!

The bottom line is that Mr. France, Robin Pemberton and several other “yes—”men (including some drivers), have ruined the sport. They keep coming up with gimmicks to win fans back (like bringing Danica Patrick over to NASCAR) only to have it blow up in their faces when fans realize it’s only a “gimmick” and nothing more. If they want their fan-base back, their going to have to do better. I think they’re heading in the right direction, but it may take years to win back all of the trust that was lost. In the meantime, I am enjoying watching the resurgence of Indy-car racing and spending more time with my family on Sunday afternoons.