NASCAR: Is The Brickyard 400 Still Marquee Relevant?

The youth today have far too many avenues of consuming media for NASCAR to relax it's efforts. It's time to double down.

The youth today have far too many avenues of consuming media for NASCAR to relax it’s efforts. It’s time to double down.

The bottom line is that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is simply just another racing track. It has an undisputed storied history, but auto racing is one of those rare sports that exist solely in the moment. The here and now.

Take the marketing hype that created the sentiment off the table for a moment. Particularly for NASCAR.

How many people were in the stands? In a cavernous venue such as IMS, it looked empty even though it probably had 70,000 fans in the stands. In days past that figure was close to 200,000.

Yes it’s now in it’s third decade and will still be run, as it should, but it just doesn’t have the cache’ it once had. How do you polish this once shiny apple when almost every venue NASCAR visits faces the same problem?

Attendance in all forms of motor sport are down in double digits globally. Why? The answer isn’t so simple and it’s more than just one issue. No matter how anyone chooses to spin it, the economy is at the top of the list. It’s bad from Daytona to Oom Baba Mau Mau. That’s that.

Secondly, the television figures are down, year over year, for NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula One, NHRA and IMSA. How is that?

We are moving at an incredible rate towards too many choices and too many alternative forms of entertainment that auto racing has to face in the modern digital era.

An exciting finish and brilliant win for Kyle Busch. Empty seats are evident at the checkered flag.

An exciting finish and brilliant win for Kyle Busch. Empty seats are evident at the checkered flag.

Bruce Springsteen said it best in his famous musical lamentation, “57 Channels and There’s Nuthin On”. It was true in the late 70’s and throughout the 1980’s, only now it’s 1,057 channels and everything is on.

The clamoring for attention and the focus of each demographic has diluted the once strong and growing world of auto racing.

Case in point: “Dating Naked”? I sit back in astonishment wondering how most of these shows actually get funded. If that’s the competition, we’re doomed.

Millennials many times, probably more often than not, don’t bother with the traditional networks, they simply sit staring hypnotically at their laptops soaking up the offerings of Netflix, Hulu and God knows what else….but we can probably guess.

That’s just the truth and they are the future potential fans. Only the new, young up and coming drivers will be able to change this malaise and that’s a tall order. Every driver, crew member and concession vendor will have to be tweeting, posting, inst-grab-assing and participating in every form of digital-social interaction they possibly can.

That’s still not enough. NASCAR, to their credit is walking the unenviable tight-rope of having to keep the die hard fans engaged while trying to attract the young viewers attention. They are the future.

Despite the tinkering and wholesale rule changes NASCAR is making a truly concerted effort, whether it works or doesn’t. It didn’t really change much this past weekend at The Brickyard, but seemed to have the cars passing at the turn’s entry rather than on the straight. The results didn’t really change.

One more time: Less down-force. More drag didn’t pan out in Indy.

Improving the product, socially telling everyone from everyone and promotion to all of the demographics are going to be necessary. But one thing is certain, NASCAR needs the youth to replace us older viewers. It is simply a fact that the boomers are aging and passing on.

Funny thing about life, No one get’s out alive.

 

 

 

Menard’s Indy Victory Adds To Season’s Competitiveness

The 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season has established itself as one of the most unique in many years for a couple of reasons:

It has provided a decidedly unexpected high number of surprising, first-time winners. In so doing it has suggested that, perhaps, competition on the circuit has reached a level of equality it hasn’t had in years – or, as some might argue, ever.

When Paul Menard won the Brickyard 400 (the sports books took a beating), he not only won for the first time in the 167 races of his career, he also became the fourth inaugural victor of the season and the 14th different winner in 20 races.

This year’s first-time winners include Trevor Bayne in the Daytona 500, Regan Smith in the Southern 500, David Ragan in Daytona’s Coke Zero 400 at now Menard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Have you noticed that these guys have not only won races, they have also been victorious in some of NASCAR’s biggest and most prestigious events?

Which, by the way, is something absolutely no one could have predicted. That adds to the season’s singularity and, to be honest, it’s made things entertaining for everyone. Most of us like surprises.

The record for most winners in a single season was tied at 19 in 2001, during which 36 races were run, the same amount for 2011.

Logic dictates that the odds are good the record will be broken given that there are 16 races yet to be run. The current season is not much past halfway over.

Unless the trend that has been established so far is disrupted we can anticipate more winners – and the odds are good none will be that much of a surprise.

After all, there are those who have won multiple times in their careers, some of whom have won championships, and yet haven’t been victorious this year.

They include Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, Joey Logano, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeff Burton, Jamie MacMurray and others. Would anyone be truly surprised if any, or all, of them had won by now?

The point is they still have plenty of time to do so and increase the number of different winners.

Even if this season’s doesn’t provide a record it has, for some observers, indicated NASCAR is presently enjoying something for which it always sought – equal competition; the ability for virtually any driver to win a race.

Today that appears to be more truth than hype. The numbers prove it.

While this is certainly not the only reason for this, it assuredly is a major one: The so-called new car, its technology and accompanying NASCAR legislation, have been established to the point where dominance by one team over all others is unlikely.

Several crew chiefs have expressed this opinion. They have said that it might have taken a while, but the majority of teams now understand the nuances of the car. NASCAR’s cessation of repeated rule changes has helped.

Given that the car is singular, with just minor differences among manufacturers’ models (front ends and engine packages come to mind), and the same sternly enforced rules apply across the board, crew chiefs say there’s only so much teams can do.

They can push the envelope as much as they dare but creativity is long gone. NASCAR’s punishments have assured that.

If a team can utilize creativity only to a certain point it often cannot gain a sizable advantage over another. That, many suggest, is what we have now.

Make no mistake. Equal competition does not mean teams are now equal per se. That’s not the case by any means.

There are still the haves and have-nots, separated by sponsorship money and the equipment and in-shop talent, among many other things, it brings.

But it does suggest that this season is more equally competitive than others passed.

Bayne won with a part-time team that relies on assistance from a major organization. Smith was victorious (and has done well for a good part of the season) with a one-car outfit that is based in Denver, Colo.

Were either considered likely candidates for victory? Hardly.

Ragan is indeed part of a NASCAR powerhouse organization but, let’s face it, he was considered the weak link in a chain of formidable, winning competitors.

It’s the same thing for Menard. Funny thing, but both drivers have won while some of their teammates have not.

Again, this is not to suggest the car, and all that comes with it, is the only reason for this. Give credit where it’s due. Ragan and Menard have proven they have the talent to make the most of what they have.

In years past many drivers never had such an opportunity. A handful of teams with major sponsorship – and sometimes a sizable disparity among car models – allowed them to dominate others.

This was particularly true during the 1970s, the first full decade of NASCAR’s modern era. The number of different winners over those 10 years never reached double digits.

Hard as it may be to believe there were only five different winners in 1975.

That’s because you could count the number of teams expected to win on one hand. Equality never approached existence.

That began to change in the ‘80s when new, ambitious owners with sponsorship entered NASCAR. It carried through the following decade. There were multiple seasons with anywhere from 11-14 different winners.

Today it has risen to a new level. That is, certainly for NASCAR, a good thing.

 

** I’ve heard it said over the years that the only reason Menard has established a NASCAR career is that he can always bring major sponsorship via his father John.

His dad, incidentally, has been an integral part of motorsports for decades and his rewards, at least those publicized, haven’t been many. He spent 35 years competing at Indy before his son, appropriately, brought him the laurels.

It is true he’s had the financial means to support his son – and gain exposure for the family business over the years – and what, pray tell, is wrong with that?

It’s been long established in motorsports that fathers who have been a part of it in some form nearly always nurture the sons who follow them. They have done so by whatever means available to them.

These fathers have had names like Petty, Allison, Earnhardt, Andretti, Keselowski, Menard, Ragan – and far too many others to mention here.

Their reward has been to see their progeny succeed.

If you saw John Menard’s reaction to his son’s victory, you know it is a great reward, indeed.

 

** Menard’s victory means that he’s presently in the No. 2 position to earn one of the two “wildcard” entries into the Chase.

The top 10 will make it along with two drivers who have won the most races and still rank between 11th and 20th in points after Richmond, six races from now.

Denny Hamlin, who fell a position to 11th after his 27th-place run at Indy, has a victory.

Menard is 14th in points and, of course, has a victory. Ragan, once the only victorious driver among the top 20, is now 16th in points, just seven behind Menard and 41 in arrears to Hamlin.

Meanwhile, Tony Stewart, who had his good moments at Indy, rose from a tie for 10th with Hamlin to ninth in points.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who also ran well at Indy for a time, finished 16th – his sixth consecutive finish out of the top 10 – and is now on the fence at 10th in points.

With time passing away some drivers clearly have work to do. Gotta admit it will be interesting to see how it all evolves.

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