The Problem With NASCAR: The Industry Stopped Caring About Fans

March 28, 2017

Problem with NASCAR









The Problem With NASCAR:  The Industry Stopped Caring About Fans

By Dana Horne
March 28, 2017

AP writer, Jenna Fryer, recently wrote an article and posed a question via Twitter.  Her question: What’s the problem with NASCAR and how would you fix it



This sparked all sorts of interesting suggestions.  Suggestions from shorten the race schedule to shorten the races to add more short tracks and road courses to show more driver personality and bring back driver rivalries. 

I’ve been a NASCAR fan since 1993.  I’ve interacted heavily with hardcore NASCAR fans online since 2000.  I have a fairly large Social Media following and because of my website, I’ve interacted with fans all day – every day via the internet for 16+ years.  I can tell you I’ve never heard a fan say, the racing would be great if they just shorten it or the racing would be great if they just shorten the race schedule.  I have heard them say time and time and time and time again they want more short track racing and less cookie cutter tracks.

The problem with NASCAR is the people who are a part of the NASCAR industry stopped caring about NASCAR fans and the fans sense it.  Fans don’t feel special.  They don’t feel a part of the sport anymore. This is causing fans to either move on or rethink whether spending their valuable time and money on NASCAR is worth it on any given week.

Spend hundreds of dollars to show up at a race or not is what fans ask themselves.  There was a time when missing a race was unheard of – especially Bristol.  Not is winning more and more.

It may be harsh and un-PC to say the NASCAR industry doesn’t care about the fans.  I’m sure there are people reading this shaking their head back and forth saying it’s not true.  And I believe they believe it’s not true, but facts don’t lie and the fact points to fans meaning less to those in NASCAR today than they did 10-30 years ago.  I’m not saying all people in the industry don’t care about the fans.  Obviously, there are people who work hard in the NASCAR to keep fans happy.  The problem is that number is really small in comparison.

Ask anyone who works in the NASCAR industry how important are the fans to the sport?  Everyone will say very important – most important!  Their attitude and effort says otherwise.  It says not at all anymore. 

Shortening the race season doesn’t benefit NASCAR fans.  Shortening the races doesn’t benefit NASCAR fans.  This benefits the people who work in NASCAR industry.  To hell with what the fans want, let’s give those who work the industry what they want.  I wonder if that's what NASCAR industry folks consider ‘caring about the fans’ means?

More short track racing and road course racing does benefit the fans, but it doesn’t benefit the tracks who can’t provide this racing.  So, despite it being something that does make the fans happy and would make more fans tune into NASCAR, it will not happen because certain track owners wouldn’t be happy.  And we all know happy track owners is more important than happy fans.

The NASCAR TV deal was epic – for the NASCAR industry.  The TV deals benefitted everyone but the fan base that doesn’t get FoxSports1 & FoxSports2.  Now, we have to listen to all these reasons why TV numbers are down.  I would bet you any money NFL numbers would be way down if they put a majority of their games on FoxSports1 and FoxSports2.  So once again, we have a deal that benefits the NASCAR Industry, but doesn’t benefit the majority of fans who are forced to endure endless commercials so NASCAR can benefit financially.

NASCAR is working really hard to improve the racing action.  There seems to be a belief that really good racing is going to get more fans in the seats, more fans watching on TV – despite the fact that there is a large segment of fans who don’t have FoxSports1 and the new fans they’re trying to attract don’t even care to have cable.

Racing isn’t what’s wrong with NASCAR.  Yes, there are fans who will say the racing isn’t as exciting as it was 30 years ago, and there are plenty of people who would disagree.  I think it has more to do with the feeling about the racing more than the actual on track action.  30 years ago, a handful of drivers dominated every week and lapped the field.  Ironically when it happens now, those same fans who said it was great 30 years ago, are the first to complain about lack the domination in the race today.   

I hear Dale Earnhardt Jr talk about how he wishes he was racing back in the 70s and 80s.  There’s a sense of nostalgia.  But was the actual racing better, the competition better than now?  Not really.  There are however, a lot of great memories of simpler times and great personalities.   

In the 70s, 80s even 90s, there was much better fan/driver interaction.  Even in the day of social media, the drivers of today aren’t as relatable nor do they care to really interact with fans.  Now I could go on about how too many drivers and NASCAR in general are sucking at social media, but that’s a whole other blog topic.  I’m just amazed at the number of drivers not using social media to effectively interact with fans and grow their brand.  Seriously insane the lack of interest.

“Back in the day,” drivers used to sit outside their race haulers and sign hero cards.  Blew my mind when I first saw it. Driver accessibility was the secret sauce in NASCAR.  Now drivers are driven in golf carts covered in plastic as to avoid the fans and they run into their race haulers and stand by the door making fun of fans instead of wanting to stand among them and sign autographs.  Drivers today seem to have better things to do in their life than the drivers of 20 – 40 years ago.  Somehow today, drivers have families that are clearly more important than the drivers back in the 70s & 80s had.  They have hobbies and cycling in the mountains to do and all of us fans know those things are way more important than giving fans one or two hours of time over the course of the weekend.

You hear fans say all the time, drivers have no personality.  I disagree.  I’ve seen a lot of personality in the drivers.   The problem is they don’t show their personality because of either fear of getting into trouble or they don’t care.

Over the past 15 years, the NASCAR secret sauce is drying up and it’s astonishing how those in the NASCAR industry don’t even realize it.  I mean, there are people who believe rolling out a red carpet for celebrities is going to impress NASCAR fans.  It just proves how out of touch those in the NASCAR industry have become with the fan base.

The egos in the NASCAR industry today are also off the charts.   People in the industry walk around the fans like they, not the fan, are the most important people in the room.  I’ve seen crew members act like egotistical jerks.  I’m not referring to fans being idiots and crews just trying to do their jobs.  I’m talking about crew members with huge egos acting like assholes who think their existence is more important than fans.  Same goes for PR. 

We have NASCAR media who are clearly just writing stories for each other because the way they treat fans they can’t be writing for them.  We have media trying to be bigger celebrities than the drivers they’re supposed to be reporting on.  Radio media who treat fans like dirt and then write about how to make NASCAR better for the very people they bash.  We also have drivers being media who are so far removed from the fans yet they tell us fans what we need.

NASCAR fans have become the third-class citizen in NASCAR and fans sense it.  What was once a time when fans felt a personal connection to the drivers, they now feel like dollar signs.  There are no sport fans more brand loyal than NASCAR fans.  Unfortunately, that has been badly abused and eroded. Sadly, it didn’t have to be this way.

There are a lot people who want to point fingers at Brian France for the fall of NASCAR.  Sure, he has played a part.  But the bulk of the blame can be put square on the very people who walk around the NASCAR garage wearing a hard card acting like their needs and ego is more important than the fans.  Needs like shorten the race and shorten race season.  Needs like hide away in the race hauler instead of go out to the Fan Zone and sign autographs for fans in the Fanatic tents.  Needs like convince a sponsor a video is better than a driver appearances.  Needs like prevent a short track from getting another race so your boring track gets to keep one.

The teams guide sponsors how they’re going to reach fans to market products.  That’s of course if a sponsor is really interested in selling a product to fans or want to use the sponsorship to reach other businesses.  Business to business sponsorship has become huge in NASCAR.  The number of sponsors using sponsorship as a means to market to the most brand loyal fans are dwindling.  Sponsored public driver appearances are becoming less and less as teams convince sponsors that using the time to interact with fans isn’t as good as using it to make a video to market to fans.  So now sponsor allocated time has shifted from fan interaction to videos used to market to fans.  Think about that.   As a fan, you’re not worth an autograph session, but here’s a video to watch so the company giving teams millions can feel like they’re getting value.

Ten years ago there was an annual charity event before a particular race.  The success of the event was based upon driver participation.  When a wife of a very well-known, well-liked driver found out no other driver wanted to participate, she was furious because the only thing those drivers had to do that night was sit inside the driver’s lot.  So instead of meeting and signing autographs for fans, the drivers preferred to sit in their motorhomes.  Now these same drivers are probably wondering why there’s no one in the stands.  Or maybe they don’t care.  I’m fairly certain not many fans would be surprised if a driver didn’t care the stands are empty.  I mean, as long as the driver is getting paid, why should they care? 

I’m not saying fans are perfect.  There are plenty of fans who are jerks, but that’s another blog topic.  The issue isn’t that crappy fans are being disregarded.  The issue is good fans are tired of being disregarded.

The fans who helped grow the sport of NASCAR are leaving in mass.  I’m not sure Brian France can get those fans back.  I’m not sure if the NASCAR industry wants them back. 

There appears no one has been capable to date to rebuild this sport back up again.  Only time will tell if NASCAR can turn millennials into loyal, hardcore fans.  But one thing is for sure, this isn’t Brian France’s fault exclusively.  The industry of NASCAR as a whole has spent the past 15 years showing fans just how much they don’t care about them and just how out of touch they were with them.  

No one in the NASCAR industry should be surprised fans have turned their backs on the sport that turned their backs on them. 

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