By admin | January 27, 2010
By Richard Allen
In recent days the suddenly new and improved, fan-friendly NASCAR has announced that they are replacing the rear wing of the Car of Tomorrow with a blade spoiler, they are doing away with the no bump-drafting rule on restrictor plate tracks and they are going to let the drivers show some personality.
These changes come along with the previously announced plans to fix the start times of races at an earlier and more consistent hour.
While these changes are noteworthy for an organization not known for admitting its mistakes, there is still much to be done.
During the recent Sprint Media Tour, NASCAR announced that John Darby was to be replaced as the Sprint Cup Series director. Darby, who has held that title since 2002, will assume a new position which will allow him to oversee the directors of each of NASCAR’s top divisions.
Make no mistake, this is no real change at all. The power triumvirate of Brian France, Mike Helton and John Darby are still firmly in place in Daytona Beach. These three men have led NASCAR through a time when the sport reached a brief peak of popularity which was almost immediately followed by a precipitous fall from the heights.
After signing a new television contract which took effect in 2001 the majority of NASCAR races were shown on major network television. Due to that increased exposure stock car racing rose to new heights in terms of attendance and television ratings. However, those increases proved to be short lived.
The problem was, NASCAR’s leadership misread the signs there were receiving. While the vast majority of these new attendees and viewers were simply checking the sport out, NASCAR believed they had unlocked an entirely new fan base. The leadership of the sport was so convinced they had struck national gold that they began the process of abandoning the sport’s traditional roots in places such as Rockingham and Darlington in favor of adding dates in California and other locales.
When those new viewers suddenly realized they were stick and ball fans first and foremost they abandoned racing. NASCAR had been cool for a while but when the cool wore off they moved on to cage fighting, televised poker or whatever the next trendy sport happened to be.
With that, NASCAR was left with empty seats and lowered television ratings. The new fans moved on and the old fans resented the abandonment.
Not only did NASCAR’s leadership misread the sport’s popularity and remove it from its roots, they also fell under the spell of believing they could tamper with the most sacred of racing’s traditions and get away with it.
A new car was introduced under the guise of safety which removed all brand identity from the manufacturers. Longstanding rivalries which had served as heart and soul type material in racing for decades vanished in an instant. The new car has proven difficult to get a handle on for drivers and crews and has failed to produce exciting competition.
Besides the new car, NASCAR’s leadership decided they would create a new points system for their new fans. The system, they thought, would assure a close finish in the final standings every year, and thus, hold the attention of their new darlings. Instead, the system has caused drivers to ride around and collect points rather than risk hard racing for wins. The ultimate result has been lap after lap of follow the leader parades.
NASCAR’s announcement of a change at the top of the Sprint Cup division means little. The real power lies in the same place it has for the better part of the past decade, the same triumvirate that lead the sport to new heights only to misread the signs they were given and bring it down to new lows.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.
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