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Chicago track exemplifies everything traditional fans dislike about today’s NASCAR

By admin | July 12, 2009


By Richard Allen

Saturday’s race at the Chicagoland Speedway was, in a word, boring. Sure, there were moments of excitement at the very end as drivers actually raced each other in the final 50 laps or so. But, there probably weren’t nearly as many watching at the end of the Lifelock.com 400 as there were at the beginning due to the single-file, strung out parade that made up 90% of the race.

For many, this race summed up modern day NASCAR. Fans who have followed this sport for decades are turning away in droves on a weekly basis.

Just think of how many times over the last few years when a conversation has turned to NASCAR you have heard statements such as these: “I used to keep up with NASCAR every week but I just don’t care much about it anymore” or “I only watch the last few laps if I watch any at all”.

Chicagoland exemplifies what has turned so many people off.

For one, the races have become boring. Cars get strung out all around the track and no passing seems to ever take place. This is often the case on so called ‘cookie cutter’ tracks, just like Chicagoland.

The 1.5- 2 mile tracks with the D-shaped front straights make up a significant part of the NASCAR schedule. These high speed facilities put aerodynamics at a premium. Because of that, cars cannot race near each other due to the ‘dirty air’ stirred up by the car in front which hurts the aerodynamics of the cars behind. That causes drivers to fall back in search of much needed ‘clean air’.

Races on ‘cookie cutter’ tracks often turn into long, high speed sponsor parades. This is much different racing than what would take place at tracks such as Darlington, Rockingham, North Wilkesboro and the Nashville Fairgrounds where so many traditional NASCAR fans grew up watching races. Those tracks were not similar to any other tracks. They each had their own unique character which often made for unique racing.

Invariably, cars would come and go throughout a run on those tracks causing passing to take place as cars went from front to back and then to front again. That type of thing simply doesn’t happen on these tracks with similar shapes and smooth surfaces.

Another factor that Chicago exemplifies that so many older fans despise is the fact that it is a place with no real history in the sport. Traditional locales like the ones mentioned above have been abandoned in favor of places like Chicago, California and Miami. Fans who have supported the sport for many years feel as though NASCAR turned its back on them to chase after casual fans in glitzier markets.

Those casual fans watched and attended for a while, but once the newness wore off they went back to the ballpark or the arena to follow sports they were more accustomed to. By running on tracks with no individuality that operate in places far away from the sport’s roots, NASCAR has alienated many and has only gained a few in doing so.

The lower television ratings and empty grandstand seats of the past few years seem to be showing that NASCAR chased that which could not be caught, and in doing so lost that which they had. That’s too bad for all involved.

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

Topics: Articles |

25 Responses to “Chicago track exemplifies everything traditional fans dislike about today’s NASCAR”

  1. Ken Says:
    July 13th, 2009 at 5:57 am

    I’m one of the old time fans who cares very little about the “new” NA$CAR. The only excitment at Chicago was contrived by fake yellow flags. I forced myself to sit through the race but I didn’t care who won. Generic cars driven by generic drivers on generic tracks do not make a race people want to watch or attend.

  2. SB Says:
    July 13th, 2009 at 6:17 am

    Identical, boring races. That’s what the majority of new tracks give the fans. Yet, every time that cookie cutter word is used, some Nascar mucky-muck comes out and lectures fans about how they are NOT identical. They keep pointing out that every track has it’s own nuances and differences. Okay, I’ll give them that. What they refuse to acknowledge is the fact that it’s the RACES at these tracks that are identical. Three laps of actual racing after a restart (usually for a ‘debris’ caution), then a virtual parade of cars spread out around the track, the lead car in clean air running away from the field, putting most of the cars a lap down. Maybe the tracks aren’t ‘cookie cutter’, but the racing at each of them certainly is.

  3. Scott Says:
    July 13th, 2009 at 6:39 am

    Bingo. I’m one of those people. In the 80s and early 90s, I’d make sure I was home on Sunday afternoon, if not, I set my VCR. I still have some of those tapes of races. Nascar has taken what made them different from other motorsports and tossed it all away. We used to use the argument our competition was better, our people were ‘real’ and it is a family sport. Now, a lot of the fun tracks are gone in the name of ‘prime markets’ taking the competition with it, the drivers for the most part are bland and when crappy seats are $50+ on top of $6 waters and $8 burgers…there isn’t room for the average family at the track. Instead, I go to my local short tracks for 5 hours of racing for $10 a person - kids under 13 free - and see some REAL racing. I make sure I watch or record only a handful of tracks now, Bristol, ‘Dega, Daytona, Martinsville, Dover, and the two road courses. The rest can go away.

  4. Andrew Harris Says:
    July 13th, 2009 at 7:04 am

    Nascar used to be run by racers who happened to run a business with it. Now it is run by businessmen who happen to put on races. They used to design a track to race on and then figure out how to build seats around it. Now they see how many condos and luxury boxes they can build, check the potential profit margins and then by the way lay out the track. The racing seems to have become secondary.

  5. Mark Says:
    July 13th, 2009 at 7:12 am

    I was at the race and it was pathetic. I don’t know what the answers are or not but I’m done wasting my hard earned $$$ on this type of “racing”

  6. jason Says:
    July 13th, 2009 at 7:53 am

    I’m finished as well. I MIGHT attend a race every so often in the coming years (zero this year, after at least two each of the last three seasons). These cars/1.5 tracks, except Lowes, make for horrendous racing. Nascar gave the fans one “demand” with double file restarts, but that’s sure not worth the hundreds of dollars it takes to attend a race weekend. This needs fixed, and soon!

  7. The Old Guy Says:
    July 13th, 2009 at 9:04 am

    Two weeks ago, I attended a “Ham Radio” Field Day exercise. My first one in about three years

    In the group were a number of people with whom I once shared the passion for NASCAR racing. And, as it always does, NASCAR racing came up in our discussions.

    Of the eight, or so, in the conversation, at least three of them said that they hadn’t watched, or attended, a NASCAR race for the better part of three years. One said he quit watching because of Earnhardt’s death and the racing didn’t seem to be the same.

    The things that all of us agreed on were the fact that there are only two real short tracks on the schedule. And, with the possible exception of Charlotte, Atlanta and maybe Texas, the mile and one half tracks and two mile tracks were simply boring.

    And, of course, first the common template cars and now the COT had just about ruined any manufacturer identity. Even though, there was nothing really stock about the cars after 1972, they at least looked like what you could buy at the local dealer.

    Finally, the mega teams. Rousch’s 7, HMS’s 6, 4 from RCR and three from JGR made up the field and there is little to no representation any longer of guys like Kulwicki, Donleavy & etc.

    And…… Toyota. Yes, even though a couple of them drive Toyotas, they didn’t feel that the belong in NASCAR.

    We all wondered when someone else would be killed at
    Daytona and Taladega.

  8. midasmicah Says:
    July 13th, 2009 at 9:41 am

    nas$car continues to show how much they care about their long time fans by completely ignoring them. I’ve pretty much quit watching whole races. I’ve found myself watching a lot of baseball and switching to check on nas$car once in a while. I used to look frorward to race week-ends. Now I find myself no really caring. To put it bluntly, they’ve completely forgotten their roots. It’s now a big corporation that could care less about us, the fans. At it’s best, the racing is boring. I miss Rockingham and North Wilkesboro, but I know theyw will never be brought back. I’d like to see a new racing league started that would bring back these old tracks.

  9. midasmicah Says:
    July 13th, 2009 at 9:47 am

    One last thing. Double file restarts are a joke. All they do is cause a lot of wrecks and take out cars that have worked their way through the pack only to get wrecked. This is just another knee-jerk reaction from nas$car. Nero France at his best.

  10. Charles Says:
    July 13th, 2009 at 10:07 am

    Another thing that Nascar should be doing is trying to ‘even up’ the competition between the brand of cars! T

    Its the same old rerun, when it comes to NASCAR its always gets down to a Chevy domination! With this race they have won as much as Toyota Ford or Dodge put together, this year! but this is not new, just check for the last 10 years no matter how many brands come in the sport its always Chevy that gets to rule while the others a just a few wins or poles! It like the Golbetrotters verus the Washington Generals!

    Just let a Ford, Dodge, Toyota rule like this and see how quick Nascar changes the rules, Toyota found out early with their engine and it got restrictions!

    GM has great cars and teams, but Nascar is the one to fault for not ‘evening it up”!

    Races should have something for ‘Car Guys” as well as ‘driver fans”! More brands in Nascar than ever, but its more onesided than ever!

  11. Ken Says:
    July 13th, 2009 at 10:19 am

    I watched the Chicago race on Race Buddy and it wasn’t any where near as boring as it was on tv. I think if Race Buddy was a season long thing instead of just a 6 race thing then a lot of fans would find these races more enjoyable. Fox and ESPN need to get with the program and come up with their own Race Buddy.

    The problem isn’t the tracks. Go back in history and look at all of the boring races at places like Bristol and Wilkesboro and Rockingham. There were plenty of them. I know because I’ve watched them on ESPN classic. Those tracks aren’t as good as the nostalgic fans want to believe. Yarborough led all 500 laps at Bristol one time. That tells you all you need to know.

    The real problem is the length of these races. There’s no need for these guys to race hard in the first 3/4 of the race when they have to go 400 or 500 miles. All of these drivers now are taught that they have to get to the end of the race, they have to collect as many points as possible and racing hard in the first half of the race or the first 3/4 of the race is meaningless. That’s why there is little if any action at these tracks because there is just no incentive to race hard until the end of the race.

    If NASCAR wants to bring excitement and great racing back to the sport then they need to shorting all of these races. Not just by 100 miles but by a full 50% at least. The fewer laps that guys are just riding around, the less boring these races will look. It doesn’t matter what track they race at, if it’s 500 miles or 500 laps or whatever, there isn’t going to be much action until the last 20% of the race.

    If you look at the Nationwide races they always appear, at least to me, to have more action than the Cup races. I think that’s because there are far fewer laps in those races where guys are just riding around. They get to the end of the races sooner which means the action happens sooner. There is more urgency to race hard to get to the front in the Nationwide races than there is in the Cup races and that’s what creates great racing. So don’t change the tracks, change the length of the races, shorten then and I think we’ll see better racing.

  12. Justin Says:
    July 13th, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    I dont know if you need to make the races shorter to increase competition. And here is why. NASCAR could shuffle the points system. Clearly you would need to do that in the off season. Drivers earn bonus points for leading a lap, and bonus points for leading the most laps, so NASCAR could change the rules, and give 25 points to the driver that leads the most laps, and 10 points for every driver that leads 20 laps. No more bonus points for guys to stay out on the track for an extra lap under caution to lead a lap. That forces drivers to move to the front, and try to stay there long enough to get bonus points.

    Reward qualifying with bonus points. Those that start toward the front, receive more qualifying points than those that start in the back. And those that start in the back, can receive points for the number of positions that they gain over the course of the race. If drivers consider 5 bonus points for leading a lap, to be enough incentive to stay out under caution, clearly bonus points for improving your position will be enough incentive to race hard for 500 miles, instead of following the leader for 400 miles, and racing hard for the last 100 miles.

    As far as the shoot out style restarts, I personally like them, but there are other ways. The issue I always had, was the fact that the lap down cars just got in the way. So NASCAR moved them to the back, but still wanted to have double file restarts. I say, single file restarts. All the cars line up on the outside, as they always did. But, that is it. A single line of lead lap cars, followed by the lap down cars (just like the old system, with less than 10 to go).

    I am sure there are flaws to my concepts, and dont think I am some kind of genius. But for every flaw, there is likely a solution. I am just throwing out ideas to make the product better

  13. Joe Says:
    July 13th, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    BRAINLESS Brian France is a LIBERAL LOSER with a DRINKING problem that has CHANGED NASCAR into a JOKE!!!

    It use to be REAL RACING that was a GREAT SHOW, now it’s ALL a SHOW!!!

  14. Charles Says:
    July 13th, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    To Ken and Justin

    Until Nascars starts to give “incentive to lead” laps you will be sitting unitl the end of a race no matter what the length to see the last 30 minutes at the end for action!

    A system “Paying points to lead laps” and get rid of the Chase would make the race more important and create passing for the lead more important than finishing!This “TAKING A TOP 5″ and the ‘double file restart mostly makes racing better at the end, plus creates “phony debris cautions”to do it, something that hurts the intregrity of the sport!

    Its not that the races are to long it that the action is not long enough!

  15. Jerry Jones Says:
    July 13th, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    On July 4th at a flea market in Virginia there was a stand selling Nascar stuff. I asked the 3 good old boys running it what they thought of Nascar having a Saturday night race on the 4th and how many people they thought would watch. 2 of them agreed that ratings would be okay in rainy markets but that otherwise they would be down. The third said he would watch even though the weather was going to be great that night. But even he said he used to host Sunday race parties but couldn’t get people to come over on Saturday nights. They all then brought up the same things all of you are saying: no brand identity, races too long, questionable Nascar decisions, and the high cost of going to an actual race. Every sport has it’s core fans and it’s casual ones and I think that Nascar has turned off some of it’s core trying to chase numbers. I think they would be well served by listening to the core. The COT is here to stay, probably with a “crate” or “standard” motor so brand identity will be tough. Making races shorter should be an easy decision. Lowering prices is tricky but can and should be done. I might pay $40-$60 for a ticket but I am not going to buy a $300-$500 package, which some tracks push as the only way to see the Cup race. Finally Nascar has to decide if it wants to be like the NFL or Pro Wrestling. If the general public percieves a sport to be “rigged” that’s all it takes. Questionable cautions and flexible rules won’t cut it today. There are just too many other forms of entertainment for people to choose from.

  16. Todd Says:
    July 13th, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    Good ideas, Justin. I would also give bigger points to the race winner, a bit less to #2, then step down from 3rd down, like 220, 200, then 165. Make winning a race really worth it, and 2nd place worth fighting for, and make the 3rd-5th place catbird seats suffer for sitting and watching 1 & 2 fight it out.

    As far as the Chase, a lot of people don’t seem to like it, but it does guarantee some season-end intensity that would have been missing in the past few seasons, when Kyle Busch and Gordon would have walked away with the title. I like the re-leveling of the Chase, but I don’t like that it leaves the rest of the field sort of running laps and trying to stay away from the Chasers. I would replace it with a final set of Chase races, but allow the entire field to participate and alter the points to focus on finishing strong. Something like boost the top 5 position points and give the winner a lot of points (300?) to allow drivers like Martin or Burton (this season) to get back on top after a run of bad luck.

  17. George Michaels Says:
    July 13th, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    I tuned in at 80 to go. Tuned out to tend to my ribs. Tuned in with 20 to go and kind of listened finishing the beans. With 10 to go, I got a beer and watched as much racing as there was. Not much. Didn’t even bother to tape it. The ubiquitous 1.5’s I just don’t get. With the COT, Bristol isn’t what it used to be. Toss in the start and park phenomenon and the picture is pretty clear. Another fan bites the dust.

  18. Jim D. Says:
    July 13th, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    Good article Rich! I’ve been a die hard fan since 1963, but am almost to the point of not even following the sport anymore! Between the Chase, the COT, Toyota and politically correct drivers, the excitement is gone! A few years ago, I wouldn’t have even considered missing a televised race (unless I could have actually gone to the race in person). This Saturday, I wasn’t even concerned about missing the Chicagoland race and went to the NHRA Mile High Nationals and actually saw some side by side racing (with passing)!

  19. Paul Says:
    July 13th, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    I could not agree more with your comment on racing history. What does Chicago or heaven forbid Kansas City have to do with NASCAR? Both are great cities, but when it comes to racing, I don’t even DVR the races from those places. You can add New Hampshire to that list, too. Texas I can see, as I remember the old Texas Speedway back in the day. No problem with road races either again, going back to Riverside way back when. I see no reason for 2 races at Texas, two at California or even Michigan. Many others say the same about Pocono, but if they allowed the drivers to shift again there, and yes, cut it to 350 or 400 miles, the racing would pick up there too. I have followed this sport since Tiny Lund led a quintet of Fords at the 1963 Daytona 500, but they need to shake it up a bit even for me. The restarts help, but these cars need more help.

  20. Kevin Says:
    July 13th, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    Actually, this article isn’t accurate when it comes to racing history in the chicago market. Nascar used to race at Soldier Field back in the late 50’s for about 5 or 6 years. Nascar also sanctioned some local short tracks in Chicagoland, Also, one of the greatest Drivers to have raced in Nascar came from the Chicagoland area, Fred Lorenzen. And, The very first auto race in America actually took place in Chicago, in 1895, from Chicago, to Evanston, which is on the north side. So to say Chicago doesn’t have any racing history is laughable. Some of these older fans need to check the history books before they make stupid comments like that.

  21. midasmicah Says:
    July 13th, 2009 at 6:47 pm

    I have to chime back in. I want with all my heart to believe nas$car actually cares about it’s fans, but I can’t. The people who respond to your columns only further the perception of how far nas$car has gotten from it’s fans and it’s roots. It really saddens me. I really want to care, but it’s getting harder with each passing day.

  22. justin Says:
    July 14th, 2009 at 8:02 am

    Coming back to leave a few more thoughts. I read a comment about a fan not liking New Hampshire. if I remember correctly, every single race up at Loudon has been a sell out since NASCAR started racing up there. So it would be foolish for NASCAR to leave that market. I hear a lot of talk about the business side of things. Ticket prices for example. That isn’t NASCAR that is the track that sets prices. For example, Major League Baseball doesn’t tell the Red Sox what their ticket prices will be. The NFL doesn’t regulate the ticket prices for the Cowboys, etc

    What a lot of you fail to realize, is NASCAR is a business. I am not saying I dissagree with any of your comments, but you have to see both sides. Obviously NASCAR isn’t losing money, so they aren’t going to care if you stop watching

    I am not old enough to remember the old NASCAR, I am only 28, and I have been a die hard fan since the mid 90’s, and I don’t see a major change between 95 and 09. The racing isn’t any worse than I can remember

    Back to the business. If you owned a small business, selling tv’s, would you lower the prices, to appease the 20 people that have shopped at your store for 30 years, or would you raise prices, and sell tvs to the 1000 people that started shopping in your store in the last 3 years? Lowering you prices is a bad business move, and none of you would make that decision, but you all expect NASCAR to make that decision and appease all of you

  23. bobby dee Says:
    July 14th, 2009 at 8:04 am

    I still like NASCAR & watch on my Hi-Def TV. I miss going to the races 2 or 3 times a year. I can’t afford it any more. We spent $600 for Atlanta weekend last year.
    PS. We removed the Mark Martin/US Army license plate frame from the family car last winter. Now look at that old boy go.

  24. Rick Says:
    July 14th, 2009 at 9:53 am

    The racing years ago wasnt full of passing for the lead as many of Cales,Darrells and Dales wins will attest if people take the rose colored glasses off. Many times they led nearly the whole race as especially back when you could cheat up a car to work around rules. I’ve watched the old races and enjoyed them but what I plainly saw was maybe 5 to 7 cars that were really fast and the rest of the field werent nearly as competitive as the filed fillers of today. At Bristol in some of the races Earnhardt and Rusty had cars that were 10 mph faster than some of the other cars that were never factors and this went on at Wilkesboro and other tracks as well. There was plenty of battling back in the field and the race was no more strung out than the 6 cars on the lead lap that regularly occured in the 70s,80s, and early 90s.

  25. old an tired Says:
    July 18th, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    Smaller fuel cells would keep the cars closer together. Make for more stops in pits. Which would make for more 2 or 4 tire stops or fuel only. I get tired of hearing broadcasters trying to make up stuff to keep racing exciting. The cars are pretty much bullet proof now. Lets put people back in the game. I’m kinda a JR fan Give him a 100 gallon fuel cell and some of those run flat tires keep him outa the pits for other drivers safety.

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