By admin | March 6, 2013
By Richard Allen
You can’t please all the people all the time. NASCAR has tried for too long to do just that and has gotten the very predictable results that come from such an effort. Sometimes you just have to realize where your base of support is and play to that base, not run from it.
On Monday, it was announced that the National Rifle Association will sponsor the April 13th running of the Sprint Cup event at the Texas Motor Speedway. The NRA 500 will be the first night race of the season for NASCAR’s highest division.
Before going any further, I want to point out that I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the NRA.Â Further, I have onÂ a number ofÂ occasions found myself in disagreement with the organization’s stances.
That said, NASCAR was once the sport of choice among many gun owners, hunters and other shooting enthusiasts.Â However, recent years have seen the sanctioning body reach out to other demographics in an attempt to lure new fans to the sportÂ and “re-brand” itself as a more mainstream activity. As a result, NASCAR’s attempts to look “hip” for their coveted demographic seems to have alienated what was once its core fan base.Â ProofÂ of thisÂ being true for me comes from the fact that this isÂ an oftenÂ repeated theme in the ‘comments’ section of this website as well as in any number of other circles such as social media, message boards and personal conversations.
Guns have played a big part in NASCAR’s history. Remington used to sponsor an award that gave second fastest qualifiers one of their firearms becauseÂ they were starting ’shotgun’ on the field. That brand has also sponsored individual teams. In more recent times, GunBroker.com sponsors a Camping World Truck Series team.
And as far as the Texas Motor Speedway is concerned, gun ownership has played a significant roleÂ throughout theÂ track’s history. The winner of the race fires two pistols(loaded with blanks)Â in the air as part of his victory celebration. The fast qualifier receives a shotgun for his(or her) efforts. And the track has billed Baretta as ‘The Official Firearm of the Texas Motor Speedway’.
TMS president Eddie Gossage has never been shy about his gun ownership either. He often boasts of his prized firearms and his shooting prowess.
The fact of the matter is, this sport was built on the type of people who would be or are members of the NRA. No matter what your feelings on gun rights might be, that is undeniable. Thirty years ago, NASCAR was proud of the fact that its fan base was blue-collar, middle class, hard-working Americans who would spend their last dollar to watch Cale, Bobby and Richard battle it out on(and sometimes off) the track on a Sunday afternoons.
Heck, the top series used to be sponsored by a tobacco company while the lower series was sponsored by alcohol.
Since the new television contract came along in 2001, NASCAR has decided it needs to “re-brand” itself and go after the texting, videoÂ game playing andÂ energy drink consuming crowd. And for a while that worked as the grandstands filled with curiosity seekers.
But where did they go? Now, large banners cover almost as many sections of seats at some tracks as fans do. Despite the sport’s efforts to make itself seem like the video games with ‘re-set’ buttons that younger crowd plays(i.e. the Chase, Lucky Dogs and G/W/C finishes), that demographic lost interest. That crowdÂ moved on to the next big things such as cage fighting and the X-Games.
And unfortunately for NASCAR, the core base wasÂ priced out and gimmicked away.
The real issue here in terms of NASCAR isn’t aboutÂ the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. ConstitutionÂ or the school shooting in Connecticut. I am a high school teacher myself and am very sensitive regarding the issue of school shootings.Â I don’t seeÂ NRA’s sponsorship of a NASCAR race as an endorsement of school shootings and no one else should either.
The real issue in terms of NASCAR is that thirty years ago this would not have even been a debate. This sport used to thrive on making itself a home forÂ sponsorsÂ that were outside the mainstream because its core fans were outside the mainstream. But on April 13 while this race is running, many of those fans that once made up the heart and soul of the sport will not be watching because the don’t recognize this form of racing anymore. And the demographic NASCAR covets so badly will be taking another sip of their energy drink and pushing the re-set button on their video game instead of watching the NRA 500.
For those who wouldÂ argue that the ‘old’ NASCAR can’t possibly appeal to enough new fans for the sport to grow, consider that the initial growth spurt of the sport came during the 1980s and 1990s when it still embraced its old ways.
The fact of the matter is, you can’t go all the way back in many ways. But NASCAR is actually showing signs that it has come to the realization that it went too far. The bringing back of brand identity with the Gen-6 car was a reaction to fan, team and manufacturer demands. The allowance of the NRA to sponsor a race may be another way of reaching back to the core. But is it enoughÂ or is it too late?
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