NASCAR Woes: All-Star Challenge Needs a Facelift

Bert WilberCorrespondent IMay 17, 2008

Let’s face it, NASCAR’s All–Star Challenge needs a facelift.  This tired excuse for an All-Star event has lost its luster from years past.

As if race attendance weren’t bad enough, the TV ratings have been sliding over the past five years. There was a slight increase last year, but that was only because of a concerted effort to promote the race as heavily as possible.

Even despite NASCAR’s best marketing effort last year, TV ratings only bumped up slightly, while there were still plenty of empty seats in the stands.

It is interesting to note, that while NASCAR is promoting this as a turnaround season and one in which they are boasting higher attendance and TV ratings, so far this season, only Richmond, Bristol, Las Vegas and Daytona have been full houses for Cup races.  Why?

Well, some NASCAR figures point to the flagging economy as a reason. Gas prices of $4 per gallon do not bode well for track attendance.  Money that used to go towards tickets, souvenirs, food and beverages, now goes into the gas tank. 

Some people come from as far as 300 miles to attend a race.  Most NASCAR fans usually need a bigger vehicle to bring the usual race commodities, so that translates into campers, pickup trucks, and sport utility vehicles. These bigger vehicles use more gas, so an average troop of NASCAR fans might wind up paying $200-$300, just for gas!

As for the All-Star venue itself, it is the same old package, slightly tweaked here and there, but in dire need of adjustment.  The Sprint Showdown starts things off with a short race consisting of 40 laps, 60 miles, and will be run in two 20-lap segments.

Between segment 1 and segment 2, there will be a yellow flag during which teams can pit and may elect to change tires, add fuel and make normal chassis adjustments. Two drivers will earn starting spots in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, while a third driver will also advance, as determined by the Sprint Fan Vote.

The All-Star race is 100 laps, 150 miles (run in four segments of 25 laps each). Green flag and yellow flag laps are counted during segments 1, 2 and 3, and only green flag laps are counted during segment 4.  Between segments 1 and 2, there will be a yellow flag during which teams may elect to pit for fuel, tires and normal chassis adjustments. Teams pitting do not retain their position on the track, but restart at the rear of the field in the order they leave pit road.

Then, between segments 2 and 3, there will be a 10-minute break during which teams pit and may elect to change tires, add fuel and make normal chassis adjustments. Teams are just not allowed to change springs, shock absorbers or rear-ends during this caution.

Teams restart segment 3 in the same position they finished segment 2, but between segments 3 and 4, the caution flag is waved and teams are required to make at least a stop-and-go pit stop. Cars start the final segment in the same order as when they leave pit road.

This format is different than in years past, where there were only 3 segments, with the final segment left up to a fan vote as to whether or not the field would be inverted on the restart (and it always was).  It was exciting to see Earnhardt and Gordon get shuffled all the way to the back of the pack and have to really race their way back into a position to win.

It made for some extremely exciting finishes, like when Kyle Petty and Davey Allison wrecked coming across the finish line on the final lap in 1992.  Davey never even knew he had won, as he was airlifted, unconscious, to a hospital in Charlotte.

These are the kinds of exciting storybook races fans come to see.  The current format may be a new twist, but it is already old and confusing.  Fans don’t like confusion. They want to know what to expect; they want to be informed.  This used to be a driver’s race, but now it has become more of a team event. 

While that may play well to the teams themselves, this is supposed to be an event for the fans, not the race teams.  It is supposed to engage the fans and be a special “thank you” for their continued support.  That is why there are no points awarded for the race.  It is meant to encourage the drivers to go for the money, excite the fans, and leave it all on the track. 

NASCAR officials say it they want to get back to their roots and their original fan base, but so far this season there hasn’t been much proof in their disclaimer.  NASCAR needs to start actually listening to their fans and stop being so concerned with the attendance and the money.  Start being more creative in how the money is spent, please the fans, and the rest will take care of itself. 

A good step in that direction might be to reinstate a second race at Darlington, on Labor Day.  Reinstate the Southern 500 in all its glory, and take away the second California date.  California fans are a fickle lot and probably still won’t fill the stands with one date. 

A second idea would be to stop trying to expand into unknown markets.  Rockingham and North Wilkesboro have perfectly good tracks that used to host events.  Bring one of them back and stop making people drive all over God’s green Earth to see their favorite sport.  Bring NASCAR back to its roots!