When my first book, Trading Paint: 101 Great NASCAR Debates (still available at Wiley.com), came out in 2010, one of the most popular of its 101 chapters was "What Would I Change If I Ran NASCAR?"
I heard from countless numbers of fans via email and in person at public appearances that I made in support of the book. Almost everyone who had bought and read the book pointed to that particular chapter as one that NASCAR should take heed of if the sport was to bounce back from the doldrums that it had sunk into when the economy started going bad in 2007.
Some of those problems continue today, but to its credit, NASCAR has embraced its core group of fans and has listened more to those same fans than perhaps at any other time in its 60-plus year history.
We've seen significant improvements, from several races being shortened (such as at Pocono), to the advent of the new so-called Generation 6 version of the Car of Tomorrow, which makes its debut in less than two months in the Daytona 500.
But more work and more improvement still needs to be done to keep NASCAR's casual fans still watching races on TV and attending them in person at race tracks from Loudon to Fontana.
In addition, outreach needs to continue to attract more new fan, as well.
It's those two particular groups that will help lead NASCAR back to the kind of popularity levels it enjoyed back in the early to mid-part of the last decade.
The true diehard fans will always be there, and they will continue to support the sport. But for it to grow, some of the positive and forward-thinking change that has already taken place will have to continue and grow.
That leads us to today's topic: five radical ideas to make NASCAR better for casual fans. We're reprising some of the ideas in my book, as well as a few new ones. And, as always, we're always open to your ideas too (leave them in the comments section).
So, without further ado, here's five of our radical ideas to make the sport better.
One of the biggest problems for new and casual fans is their attention span. Simply put, many just can't sit through long races.
Sure, some races have already been shortened at places like Pocono and Dover, but there are still several races that could easily be shortened from 500-mile events to 400-mile events (even 350 miles, if need be).
The biggest argument against shorter races from some fans is that they won't get their "money's worth" if more races are shortened.
But the irony is that the races that have already been shortened have become, for the most part, more exciting and meaningful than their longer predecessors—races that seemingly went on and on and on before finally seeing the checkered flag.
While stock car racing is a sport, it's also entertainment, and NASCAR wants to give the best sport and entertainment value it can.
It's a delicate and fine line to walk, but thus far, the sanctioning body has done a good job—and we expect it to continue in that same direction.
To improve the quality of racing, cutting race fields from 43 to 35 cars would be a big help.
While we have nothing against start-and-park teams, in the whole big scheme of things, what do they really bring to the level of competition in Sprint Cup?
We'll see fields on the Nationwide Series side drop from 43 to 40 in 2013, so why not follow suit in Sprint Cup?
Sometimes, less is better.
When you have a 36-race schedule, you're going to have must-see races like the Daytona 500, but you're also going to have races at tracks where having just one race per year rather than two would be preferable. Not to mention that it would increase the quality of races as well.
How many races would we cut? That's a tough question.
Maybe two or four—or perhaps as many as six.
But at the same time, let's leave the door open to adding some races to the schedule once the economy gets back on solid footing.
We'd love to see another race each year at places like Chicago and Las Vegas, as well as potentially new tracks in the Pacific Northwest—perhaps Denver and maybe even in Canada.
If NASCAR is going to penalize anyone, it should make the black flagging consistent.
As a sanctioning body, NASCAR has great latitude to not only make rules, but also in ways to enforce those rules.
At the same time, nothing draws a race fan's ire more than seeing penalties meted out in an inconsistent basis.
While we'd also like to see some rules rewritten and become more consistent, that's a topic for a different day.
Still, greater consistency in penalties would go a long way towards keeping fans engaged. It would also likely decrease fans' criticism of the sport and the sanctioning body in the process.
We are greatly encouraged that NASCAR will hold a 2013 Camping World Truck Series race at Tony Stewart's dirt track in Eldora, Ohio. It's that forward thinking and not being afraid to take such a risk that will continue to enamor NASCAR to fans, particularly the more casual fans.
The race at Eldora will be a true happening—one that will likely attract more fans than the place will be able to hold (15,000 to 20,000).
Any true race fan within 300 or so miles will want to be part of the history set at Eldora when the trucks take to the dirt.
Using Eldora as a starting point, in addition to maybe throwing in another road course or two, we'd love to see NASCAR potentially explore other types of non-traditional race venues.
How about a street circuit (obviously, you'd need some pretty wide streets)?
Look at how popular street circuits like Long Beach and Toronto are in open-wheel racing. Why not in NASCAR?
Sure, the logistics would be difficult, but if NASCAR can race on dirt, it can race virtually anywhere.
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