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NASCAR about to face some hard times

By admin | July 9, 2008

By Richard Allen


The warning signs have been there for a while in NASCAR. Growing discontent among the core fan base, dislike for the new car, races being taken away from traditional venues and given to locales with no real ties to stock car racing and the lack of personalities with the ability to draw attention to the sport are indicators of serious troubles on the horizon for what once was a thriving entity.

Now, to worsen the situation, a lagging economy coupled with astronomical gas prices are adding to the list of reasons for fans to stay away from the race track.

“At best there’ll only be two more sell outs all year and that will be at Bristol and Richmond,” is what one NASCAR insider recently told me. “There may be some tracks that’ll claim they sold out but it will be because they had to give a bunch of tickets away.”

The Coke Zero 400 held this past weekend in Daytona was one of the most exciting races contested on that or any other track in some time, but there were few there to witness it firsthand. One person who was there remarked that it was the least attended Daytona race he had ever seen.

The problem is fans are not inspired by the product. And if the fans are not truly inspired, they will not go out of there way to make a trip to a race when times turn bad. In other words, when the going got tough the casual fans quit going, leaving only the hard core fans. And hard core fans are becoming fewer and fewer.

Still more troubling was last week’s announcement that Ganassi Racing was shutting down its car #40 operation for driver Dario Franchitti and laying off over seventy employees. This move came about because the team was unable to find sponsorship for the former IRL champion and Indianapolis 500 winner.

This too may become more common. With the economy turning sour, corporations are being forced to tighten their belts which means less disposable money. That, obviously, means these companies do not have the millions of dollars it takes to fund a NASCAR operation readily available.

The closing of the #40 team will only be the tip of the iceberg. Rumors abound that Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and Michael Waltrip Racing may be shutting teams down and laying off employees. And still more closing could be on the way at Ganassi Racing.

In 2010 NASCAR has mandated that no single organization will be allowed to field more than four cars. My guess is that NASCAR will have to rescind their directive if they hope to have 43 cars in each race in 2010. As a matter of fact, it appears all to evident that as few as five or six super teams may be all to remain in the sport once this economic downturn has run its course.

Just this past week it was reported long time supporter Chevrolet intends to pull the plug on all of its sponsorship programs in NASCAR except for the backing of its race teams. In other words there will be no Chevrolet signage, no pace cars or official trucks and no event sponsorship of NASCAR races.

When a stalwart backer of racing like General Motors, Chevrolet’s parent company, is facing such hard times that the manufacturer essentially has to remove its name from the sport it serves as a screaming indicator that times are lean and about to get leaner.

To borrow a phrase used to describe what happened to cause a drop off in another sport here in the East Tennessee area, NASCAR is facing a ‘perfect storm’ of events that threaten to bring the sport crashing down. Some of these events were brought on by the sanctioning body itself and some were not.

It is now up to NASCAR to decide how they want to go about weathering this storm. I do not believe it is too far fetched to say the fate of big time stock car racing hangs in the balance, or at least big time stock car racing in its present form.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.

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6 Responses to “NASCAR about to face some hard times”

  1. NASCAR about to face some hard times Says:
    July 9th, 2008 at 4:48 pm

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    July 9th, 2008 at 6:29 pm

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  3. Bill McMorrow Says:
    July 10th, 2008 at 5:32 am

    My son Billy and i went to Daytona in February and spent over $2000 the most we ever spent. $50 a day to park close to the speedway $289 a night to stay 30 miles away. We have ben going for years with free tickets. Billy joined the Marines so we had to make it this time.
    I just read that Chicago speedway allows no food or beer into the track it will cost fans a fortune to go to that race. I would not go even if the tickets were free.

  4. Charles Says:
    July 10th, 2008 at 7:38 am

    Nascar has been losing their hardcore fans, I used to stay out of work and borrow money to go to the races in the 60’s and 70’s, been to the Daytona, Charlotte, Atlanta, Darlington, and Rockingham, many times the same year! That feeling is gone now, since about the late ninties to now, the commercialization of Nascar, lookalike cars, they have taken us ‘car guys’ off their list of fans, high ticket prices and sovieneirs maybe a downsizing of NASCAR is a good thing! When they were closing tracks for no reason because of the market, such as North Wilkesboro, Rockingham and the worst move to move the time honored tradition of Darlington Southern 500 on Labor Dayand demote it ! The hard core fans have been leaving for years!
    You stated that Nascar may have to recind the 4 car team in order to have a full field of cars! No that is one of the things that hurt Nascar, maybe it will give a chance for some underfunded teams to make the field! Giving the little guy a chance was what made NASCAR!Who cares if they dont have a full field of cars, the way they score and use scoring loops, they cannot keep count of what they have now!

  5. ricky Says:
    July 10th, 2008 at 10:12 am

    Nascar is now reaping the fruits of ignoring the hard core fans that were responsible for making the sport popular in the first place. Now they have only themselves to blame as the hard-cores have largely moved on, leaving only the casual (fickle) fans who consisted mostly of Junior groupies and rubber-necking curiousity seekers after the sad loss of Dale Earnhardt. For these people NASCAR was a fad and like all fads it has no longevity. Brian France killed the goose that laid the golden egg.

  6. Patti Says:
    July 10th, 2008 at 10:28 am

    All good points above. I would add that the idiot Chase points system, lucky dog rule, fake cautions and a different rule book for certain drivers and teams have turned the sport into faker-tainment. Racing is supposed to be a legitimate sport. Get a clue, Nascar, racing became popular because it was REAL, not tricked-up. Like Smoke said, NASCAR is becoming more and more like WWE and they must think the fans are morons to believe some of the things that go on. Empty stands and vacant seats in front of the TV mean maybe they aren’t buying it so much anymore.