Depending on which circle of the world, cyber or otherwise, you inhabit, NASCAR’s dying. Or already dead. Or some zombified semblance of a once-great sport now shuffling along in search of Brian France’s brains.
To hear some of these “fans” tell it, everything’s terrible. The races suck. The crowds are pathetic. The drivers are boring. Everyone’s leaving in drones (except, interestingly enough, these people… funny that).
And while I won’t deny NASCAR has its issues, I daresay the largest one is… the fanbase.
Yes, you read that right.
Yes, I am a member of said fanbase.
Yes, it is embarrassing as hell sometimes to admit that.
Ryan McGee, who has worked in various capacities within NASCAR media for decades, wrote an article for ESPN.com last year (or maybe it was the year before) in which industry insiders told him this segment of the fanbase had a hand in driving away sponsors or keeping new ones from entering.
Basically, they see this behavior and decide they want no part of it.
The rampant negativity is bad enough (especially now that it’s so damn predictable). But there’s also a hypocrisy sprinkled throughout that makes the negativity even more galling – to the point that I now watch races without Twitter, even though I love the information some of my NASCAR follows provide.
-No race is good enough. Even a race with a lead change in the last 10 laps. Even a race that features two- and three-wide racing throughout the field. Even a race where the dominant car is passed late for an upset of a win. Races with cautions suck. Races without cautions suck. None of it matters, because to some fans, it’ll never live up to a NASCAR that I’m not sure has ever existed.
-NASCAR sucks if it stands pat and doesn’t do anything. NASCAR sucks if it tweaks rules in an attempt to make things better. Fans bitch about how the racing sucks (see above), but the second NASCAR makes a rule change to try improving things, fans cry bloody murder (yes, even if it’s just for the All-Star Race).
-Related to the above: aero issues aren’t there because NASCAR one day decided that it would be really cool to create aero-dependent cars. That’s just… the natural evolution of racing technology and engineering (I mean, what do you propose – banning teams from hiring engineers?). Every racing series in the world fights the aero battle, and it’s guesswork as much as anything else. You try something, and maybe it works…?
-Drivers clinching titles with a race or two left in the season sucked. But so does the Chase/Playoffs that ensure that never happens again (and apparently, a winner-take-all final race is really egregious because… reasons?).
-Fans want more short tracks! (Hey, so do I!) Fans also don’t go to Martinsville, Bristol or Richmond.
-Fans want Cup drivers to stop running Xfinity and Truck races. Fans do not attend said races. (Perfect example: this past weekend at Bristol. It was an Xfinity race with NO Cup drivers in the field… it was at a short track… yet fans shoved up in droves dressed as empty grandstands).
-Fans want drivers to go all out and race hard for wins – but as soon as they do, and something happens, someone’s an idiot. I get that some of this boils down to which driver you root for and which driver you hate, but… asking for something and then bitching once you get it is just…
-The good old days might not be as good as people think. I mean, everyone foams at the mouth whenever a driver wins a race by more than a second. But remember, there was a time the margin of victory was routinely measured in laps instead of seconds. Ned Jarrett once won the Southern 500 by 14 laps. Wendell Scott’s lone Cup win was by two laps. Even in the 1980s and early 1990s, it wasn’t unheard of for a driver to lap the field. Imagine the Twitter meltdown if someone lapped the field today.
-North Wilkesboro isn’t coming back. It’s just not. And even if it did, would you support it? Fans begged for NASCAR to go back to Rockingham; two Truck races later, no one showed. North Wilkesboro tried to start up again with Late Model races. Again, no one showed.
-Related: to everyone whining about all the empty seats… you know there’s something you can do about that, right? Like, it’s literally as easy as calling or going online and… *gasp!* buying a ticket! And as far as gate prices go, NASCAR is on par with the other professional sports, if not better.
-”NASCAR’s gimmicky!” Look, I love IndyCar, too, but that series has a button on the steering wheel that you push to help you pass a guy. NASCAR has no such button. Just something to think about…
Is NASCAR perfect? No. I’d overhaul the schedule to add more short tracks and road courses, and drastically cut back on the 1.5 milers (as of now, Charlotte, Atlanta and Homestead are the only ones I definitely want to keep). I’d keep tinkering with the downforce and sideforce every chance I get – even in-season. I’d work with sponsors and race teams to find a perfect balance to the Cup-drivers-in-the-lower-levels conundrum.
And really, some of the issues NASCAR faces are issues every sport faces to some degree. So while we’re certainly not where we were in the boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s, the sky’s not really falling, either.
But you’d never know it to listen to some “fans.”