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Don’t get too excited about those NASCAR changes just yet: PART III- Leadership

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.

Topics: Articles |

13 Responses to “Don’t get too excited about those NASCAR changes just yet: PART III- Leadership”

  1. Chase Says:
    January 27th, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    I miss the days of seeing Skoal bandit, Coors, and Motorcraft on cars that somewhat resemble a car that I drive on the street. There might be nothing stock about the 2006 NASCAR stock car, but it sure looked a hell of a lot better than the COT.
    What if they changed the championship to feature 10 playoff or “chase” drivers with 5 races to go, then after each of the last 5 races eliminate the lowest 2 finishers, and reset the remaining “chasers”. eventually when you got to Homestead you would guarantee to have 2 drivers eligible for the championship, both going into the final race dead even in points.
    This would resemble elimination style playoff’s like stick and ball sports. I think that would be the only way to almost guarantee the championship would go down to the last lap of the last race.
    Take this scenario for example…In the NFL a team could go undeafeated all season long. This would dub them the “favorite” for the championship. But if they get to any level of the playoffs and have just one bad game, they don’t win the championship that year.
    If this was the case last year, Jimmie Johnson would have been eliminated at Texas. Thus would have made up for a much more exciting Phoenix and Homestead race.
    I would make the final 5 races as follows…Loudon, Charlotte, Bristol, Talladega, Homestead.

  2. Gina Says:
    January 28th, 2010 at 8:55 am

    Rich, I feel like you have been listening to me talk about all the things that have changed and why I’ve become so disenchanted with the sport. Misread the signs is right.

    The current leadership is a bunch of buffoons and the fact that even now with “changes” galore, BZF will still get up there and Helton too and say that things are wonderful. Really? Obviously the fans don’t think so and they are going to have a long road to get the “old” fans that they weren’t interested in any more to come back. I’m guessing that this is a bread and circuses ploy, the whole thing with taking off the bump drafting rules — after all, the theory seems to be that if there are more wrecks, more people will watch. Except that I want to see competitive racing, passing and especially passing for the lead, NOT more wrecks.

    IROC car, stupid way to determine who gets the trophy, cookie cutter tracks and abandoning the tracks that were different so that they provided a challenge to the drivers were all screw ups.

    Don’t worry, Danica and Dale Jr will save us! Ha!

  3. Richard Allen Says:
    January 28th, 2010 at 9:03 am

    Gina, it was really kind of funny as I was writing this series. It seemed as though everyday someone would post a comment that served to preview what I would be writing for the next day.

    I think many of us are thinking along the same lines.

  4. Lydia Says:
    January 28th, 2010 at 9:17 am

    CHASE….you may want to check Josie’s post on Part II of this could have saved yourself time and written something original!

  5. Kurt Smith Says:
    January 28th, 2010 at 11:11 am

    I actually disagree with your premise here a bit Rich. It’s just my opinion, but I don’t think NASCAR lost the casual fan so much as they lost the hardcore, dedicated fan because they kept dumping on them to reach the casual fan. Before the egress from Rockingham and other southeast classic tracks, the core base probably did its best to turn peoiple on to NASCAR…which was partly how its ratings grew so much. Once NASCAR disrespected the grass roots, they stopped the word of mouth.

  6. HildaBeachfront Says:
    January 28th, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    I give you lots of credit for writing these articles. You have done a good job.
    From the beggining when old bz took over from his Dad he made changes so that he and his cohorts could line their pockets with lots of the hard working paying fans’s money, took sponsors away from teams, only one main sponsor for each business type. Than we get the chase, than this wonderful car, the pos cot.Than rules, more rules that are written in pencil, changed each week, and now all these so called changes, because their wallets are getting thin because people don’t like this so called thing…racing as it is now. So fans stay home…Well we’ll fix this, old bz said…so now there is the spoiler comming back, relaxed rules to make racing again. But….also …remember when the drivers told them of their wants…nascrap also said that the drivers can’t say anything bad abpot racing to the media…they now have to run to Mike Helton with their grievences….cuz if they don’t…I bet that nascrap comes down hard on them for saying the truth to the media….Just say I read in a article the other day, Dale Jr won’t say anything to the press that makes nascrap look bad, he has to go to Mike Helton.
    You are right,[ some of the nascar leaders need to go get a job in a sweat factory insead of] their lucritive positions that they hold. New leaders are needed for the old ones just care for the money that lines their pockets.
    Oh yes, they now know what drugs are a no no. Thank Jeremy Mayfield who was put in the nascrap poster boy position losing his good name, reputation, for being charged of something he didn’t do.I bet lots of the fans hard earned money went into making sure that things stay in that line of thinking.

    I don’t think racing will really change that much for the better this year or ever, as long as the leadership stays the same. If it stays this way…pretty soon nascrap will be a thing of the past….A total change is what’s needed.

    Thank You Rich for letting us tell our feelings about this.

  7. Richard in N.C. Says:
    January 28th, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    As a NASCAR fan since The King drove hemi’s, NASCAR is not perfect and never was, but the glass is still far more than half full - and I know several drivers who would dispute that inane “guise of safety” comment.

  8. Richard Allen Says:
    January 28th, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    Richard in NC,

    What makes the CoT safer is the fact that it is wider and taller than the previous car. Don’t mistake that to mean I liked the twisted wreck that was the old car.

    That said, however, a car of any body shape could have been made higher and wider without creating the CoT. The safety thing may have been their original intent after Earnhardt’s death but it evolved into what it evolved into because NASCAR has hired tech inspectors not qualified to account for anything ‘outside the book’ so they had to make everything as simple and uniform as possible. The tech inspector thing opens a whole new set of issues revolving around being politically correct, which has come back to bite them with a lawsuit.

    There is no reason other than that they wanted a car easy to measure that they made the CoT exactly the same for every manufacturer. They had an opportunity to create something that could have been popular but they decided to make it easy and also a money maker for themselves.

  9. JIM Says:
    January 28th, 2010 at 4:05 pm


  10. Richard in N.C. Says:
    January 28th, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    I don’t think I want to go down that politically correct road and I don’t see how the COT has been a money maker for NASCAR. The front end configuration has not worked out and the box the COT is in seems to be too tight, but the small teams are saying it is saving them money at a time when sponsorship is in short supply - and the COT sure has reduced the constant whining about manufacturer advantages that accompanied the twisted sister.

    As to the moving of races, more than NASCAR and ISC were involved, but no one in the media criticizes Darth Bruton or ESPN.

  11. Richard Allen Says:
    January 28th, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    There are numerous parts on the CoT that must be purchased from NASCAR and each time the car is taken for certification the team has to pay a fee for the certification.

    Guess what, NASCAR does not sell those parts at wholesale prices. Kyle Busch said last year that even if a car is only slightly damaged in a wreck the team is better off to just build a new one because taking it to the R&D center for recertification after having a new front or rear clip put on is cost prohibitive.

  12. Chase Says:
    January 28th, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    Well Lydia…Seeing as I made my post on this article a day before someone else posted the same thing on the PART II article, I guess you could possibly say that my post was original?? Anyone want a lesson in chronology!?

  13. Richard in N.C. Says:
    January 28th, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    Well Kyle B’s statement is highly illogical since the “new one” would also have to be certified.