By admin | August 18, 2010
By Richard Allen
Another Bristol weekend is upon us here in east Tennessee. Just a few years ago it was considered as certain as the sun setting in the west that any NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the Bristol Motor Speedway would play out in front of a packed house. Now, radio and television commercials aired around the region tell of tickets being available. And this past spring there were plenty of empty seats around the 160,000 seat stadium.
The list of reasons for this drop off at BMS along with virtually every other track on the NASCAR circuit is a long one. The lagging economy, a growing discontent for the NASCAR organization and the way it conducts its business, excessive television coverage, a lack of exciting personalities in the sport, high prices and a multitude of other reasons have all been cited as causes for the lessening numbers tripping the turn styles at NASCAR events.
Specifically at Bristol, many fans have named the resurfacing of the track and the changes made to the layout and banking as a reason for letting go of their tickets.
This week, I have given a great deal of consideration to another factor. The fact that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. does not win has to play a role in the numbers of people attending, or not attending, NASCAR races.
Obviously, this is not some new revelation. However, it is one I do not think I have given enough credence to in the past. I have always been quick to blame the NASCAR organization, the Car of Tomorrow and the Chase for the Championship as the top reasons for the dwindling support of racing.
However, this week has opened my eyes a bit.
Two of my co-workers at the school where I teach are long time NASCAR fans, attending as many as six to eight races a year. Each of these two were Dale Earnhardt, Sr. fans. Like so many others, when the seven time champion died in 2001, they transferred their loyalty to the legendary driver’s son.
Since the beginning of the school typically coincides with the race weekend in Bristol, we often find ourselves discussing the upcoming race at the high banked half-mile.
This year, there was nothing to discuss. My two friends told me they are not going to Bristol this weekend and they went so far as to say the Labor Day weekend event in Atlanta would be their last.
“It gets pretty old spending all that money and going to a race knowing the guy you’re for isn’t ever going to win,” one of my dejected friend’s told me. “And I don’t think he’s ever going to win another race.”
I wonder how many others share these feelings? How many vacant seats at Bristol this Saturday night will be empty because the sport’s most popular driver has not won in over two years?
I still believe the primary reason for NASCAR drop off is NASCAR itself. Their championship system, the car they have chosen to use and their abandonment of their roots have done more damage than the success or failure of any one driver could ever cause. However, I believe the Junior factor is more serious than I had previously given considered.
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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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