NASCAR has lost its way and those of us who have been fans for a “Very, Very, Very Long Time”TM, need to make our voice totally clear — fix it because we’re not going to sit and watch boring lap after boring lap.
Let’s start with three basic principles:
- This is stock car racing — “win on Sunday, sell on Monday.”
- NASCAR exists for the drivers. If NASCAR didn’t exist, the drivers would race anyway.
- Fans come because we like to live vicariously through the drivers doing something we can all do but no one is stupid enough to do at 200 mph — except NASCAR drivers!
Personally, I never appreciated the whole Chevy versus Ford versus Toyota thing since, after all, these are all purpose built machines that only vaguely resemble something you can buy off the showroom floor. But here’s the thing — if you put Dale Jr. in a Ford for a day, the earth would shake. Fans like to root for their brand of car and like it a lot that their drivers have the same brand loyalty as they do.
Given that, you’d think NASCAR would do everything it could to promote manufacturer brands wouldn’t you? But they do virtually nothing. I’ll give you a couple easy things:
- Fly the previous winning manufacturer’s flag under the American flag at the next race.
- Have that flag presented to NASCAR as part of the winner’s circle ceremony.
- The pace car for the next race is the previous winning manufacturer’s product.
Now how hard is that? Just make it “a thing.”
Let’s get to the real rub. NASCAR exists to promote safety and create some order around the chaos. It’s become the other way round and fans don’t like it. I certainly don’t like it. It all went wrong when we started to talk about “the product on the track.” The product on the track we want to see are hugely driven people doing something nearly insane for owners that are risking $150K dollar machines because it’s something they’re just totally compelled to do.
Let me also state what should be obvious — this is the “fan facing” side. Everyone knows there’s a huge business component and that NASCAR has to have more control than just being the referee. It’s partly an illusion that all major sports create that allows fans to root for their favorite team.
The races are boring. Why? You can see it on the in car cameras. The drivers are doing a job and aren’t really having any fun until the last 25 laps. Stage racing gives a few folks the opportunity to have a bit of fun but it’s pretty clear they’re all just driving around.
Part of racing is that teams with money will do better than teams with less money. They are, however, totally vital to a good race. The drivers are all top notch but I don’t think they’re having enough fun. If you interviewed the last place driver, he will certainly be frustrated but if you asked them “would you rather be anywhere else today?” and the answer isn’t a big grin and “nope,” that’s a symptom of the problem.
Here’s the test to tell when NASCAR has it right — if after a 500 mile race, Race Control came on the radio and said “you guys want to do another 100? We got time,” every driver should be rushing to get in their car. If they don’t, they’re not having enough fun. And who wants to watch cars run real fast just for that alone? No one. We want to imagine ourselves in there having the time of our lives getting paid for doing something outrageously stupid.