By admin | January 4, 2011
By Richard Allen
Coca-Cola, or Coke, is and has always been one of the great brand names in business history. Worldwide the familiar red and white logo and the product represented by that logo are known and loved. However, in 1985 the corporate bosses of the Coca-Cola Company decided their product’s name recognition and familiarity was not enough. Thus was born, ‘New Coke’.
‘New Coke’ was the product intended to take the place of the long time formula with which the company had created a marketing behemoth. The feeling was that long time customers of the brand might begin switching to diet and low calorie drinks so in order to maintain their market share Coke needed to reach out to younger soft drink buyers, who were feared to be favoring rival Pepsi.
As has been well documented, the switch in formulas resulted in a major flop for Coca-Cola and forced the return of ‘Coca-Cola Classic’ to coolers across America.
Does it not appear as though NASCAR has, in many ways, retraced the steps of the soft drink manufacturer?
Seemingly, the same type of mentality has taken hold in Daytona Beach as was the case in Atlanta in the mid-1980s. During the reign of Brian France at the helm of the sport, NASCAR has abandoned much of its original formula in favor of a new recipe which appears to be delivering the same result ‘New Coke’ brought to its corporate brass.
During the time in which Bill France, Sr. and Bill France, Jr. led NASCAR the sport catered to gear head, mechanical types who could appreciate the ingenuity employed by those toiling within stock car racing’s inner circles.
Centered mostly in the southeastern U.S., the NASCAR of the elder Frances knew its core group and built a strong base of support within that group. However, in the 1990s and early 2000s tracks in locales such as Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Kansas City and other cities were added to the NASCAR schedule. Long time NASCAR venues such as those in Rockingham, North Wilkesboro and Darlington lost dates to clear room on the schedule for these new sites.
Although the new cities may have hosted NASCAR races in the past, they were far from the core region. The NASCAR brass, like that of Coca-Cola’s leadership, believed the core group was not enough to usher the company to greater profitability. So, the gamble was taken to bring in new supporters.
And more than new locales, the points system was changed, the car being used does not really resemble those driven to the track by fans and ‘good ole boys’ have been replaced by corporate clones.
Much like Coke in the 1980s, NASCAR is coming to realize that those new fans were not the type to stick around for the long haul. But unlike Coca-Cola, NASCAR can not really bring back the old formula and regain its market share. ‘NASCAR Classic’ is too far gone, that original core base too greatly alienated.
NASCAR will never race in Rockingham or North Wilkesboro again. The Chase for the Championship, in some form or another, is here to stay. The Car of Tomorrow may get some tweaks but it will remain an over-regulated, over-engineered machine. And drivers will forever be expected to serve as corporate spokesmen first and racers second.
For those who would argue that the competition is better now than ever before, the empty seats and lower television ratings indicate that there must be more to the equation than a large number of cars finishing on the lead lap. NASCAR has lost the personality that made it unique in the sports world. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula locked away in a vault that will fix all the issues.
‘New Coke’ went away. ‘New NASCAR’ is here to stay.
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