FYI WIRZ: NASCAR Listens to Its Fans, Really

Dwight Drum@@racetakeCorrespondent IIIJanuary 18, 2011

Leader board with fans at Homestead-Miami Speedway
Leader board with fans at Homestead-Miami Speedway

NASCAR listens to its fans, there's no mistaking that.  Many tracks like Talladega have fan councils to ensure fan input is considered. 

The focus on fan feedback has brought about better seats, food and beverage options with soft-sided coolers and backpacks. Ticket price reductions, payment plans and hotel packages are the norm now. In the past, such arrangements were non-existent.  

NASCAR is listening and making changes to please fans.  But not every decision can be from a fan perspective. Changes like the playoff scheme or Chase for the Sprint Cup have had mixed reviews.

But as was the case in season 2010, the outcome came down to the Homestead finale and was tight nearly to the end.  Still, some fans want to go back the old point building scenario that can doom late season suspense about the championship. 

Recently, AP writer Jenna Fryer reported that NASCAR is considering scrapping the complex point system and going to a simple 43 points awarded to finishing position in each race and maybe up to three points for the winner, those who lead a lap. A last place finish earns one point.  

The only changes to the Chase would be the top 10 get in on total points for the 26 races. The final two spots would be awarded to the two drivers not making the Chase on points with the most wins during the regular season.

The news has sparked intense debate, but one thing beyond question is that it’s easier for fans to understand than 175 points per race.  Allotting 43 points per race earned by position at the checkered flag is easy to calculate.

The change would also reward consistency and lead to a tighter point race because there are far fewer points to be had.  Some believe that should increase the drama. 

Still, some believe it would erase the value of a win. Opinions are many and varied, but already claims are that the simpler point system came from fan input.       

Some fans complained about have-at-it-boys approach adopted last season when it affected their driver. Yet it seems the drivers have sorted it out on the track. 

Brad Keselowksi had his share of intentional crashes, but understands the have-at-it, hands-off approach.

“I wish it was a little more defined, but I like the spirit of it,” Keselowski said. “I don’t think anyone really knows what it means.  I think you could poll everyone in the garage and nobody really knows what it means or give a definitive answer.  Or if they did, they couldn’t give a reason for their definitive answer.”

So NASCAR continues to tweak the rules to get a better product, but not all agree with their choices.  That can bring on spirited debate, but is it fair?
Joie Chitwood III, president of Daytona International Speedway, makes a good point on difference between NASCAR and NFL policy making.

“I think what’s interesting to me is the scrutiny that NASCAR gets versus other sports.  We have drivers and teams, we got racetracks.  We have NASCAR.

“Let’s take the NFL for an example. I think it’s very fair to criticize teams that don’t perform well, whether they are not making the right investment in their resources.  But I rarely ever see articles critical of the NFL. People take to task things that make up the NFL.  Maybe it’s the franchise or is it this referee’s bad decision during a game. 

“But what I find interesting in NASCAR is that NASCAR itself, the organization, gets more scrutiny, criticism—deserved or not—than other sports.  It seems like they are a bigger part of it than the NFL.  No one is saying NFL isn’t very good.  That to me is interesting.”

It does seem NASCAR fans tend to criticize the sanction from all angles. 

Permit this quick story about a maintenance supervisor, Gary Larsen, shared recently.  In charge of a multi-story building that was home to a technical corporation, Larsen was puzzled when he got two written employee complaints about the air conditioned temperature in their work environment. 

The employees were stationed side-by-side in cubicles on an upper floor.  One complained it was always too cold, the other complained it was never cold enough.  When he confronted both of them he noticed that one employee was tiny and thin, the other big-boned and over-weight.  His question was simple.

“You both work side-by-side in an open room of cubicles with many air conditioning ducts to service one whole floor.  Yet one complains that it’s too cold, the other complains that it’s too hot. How do I fix that?”

Not all fan concerns can be accommodated because they have conflicting paths.  Keep the Chase. Toss the Chase.  Go green-white-checker.  No green-white checker.  Change the points.  Don’t touch the points.  

All that said, it’s important for NASCAR, its fans and the future of the sport that all the issues be transparent.
NASCAR may have leaked the news about a points change to see the reaction prior to announcing it next week at the Sprint Media Tour in Charlotte.  It does leave them time to tweak it even further.     

Fans might want to take this opportunity to speak out.  NASCAR has interns and fan councils just looking for input.  One chance is real easy here.  Just comment below.  It’s reasonable to assume that from time to time NASCAR listens here too.

The sanctioning body cannot please everyone concerned, but a suggestion here, an opinion there might cause them to augment new rules.

Speak up if you have an opinion.  NASCAR listens. 

Photo credit: Dwight Drum @ Racetake.com


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