The NASCAR Conundrum

I was raised in the greater NYC area, mostly in suburbia. NASCAR wasn’t ever a topic of discussion in my family, circle of friends or in the automotive dialogue of my youth. It was the cultural opposite of everything that I knew well. About a decade ago I began to enjoy and even follow NASCAR. Perhaps it was a result of environmental exposure, or perhaps I also got caught up in the frenzy of a decade ago as I was at the age of the new group of drivers that injected youth, class and a competitive fervor to the aged sport. I’ve attended races and admittedly own a team shirt. However, like many Americans who signed on a decade ago, I rarely ever watch a race now and I am unfamiliar with many of the new drivers and rules that have changed the sport.

That’s the problem, NASCAR which was once the nation’s largest spectator sport has now fallen by the wayside. Once avid fans like me, are now generally nonplussed by even the big races of the season. The last race I watched on TV, had me sleeping in a matter of minutes. I don’t think I’m the only one.

How can NASCAR return to its glory days?

Get new fans to the track.

If you’ve never been to a Sprint Cup race, you’ve got no idea just how amazing of an experience a day at the track can be. From the seas of cars in the parking lots, brimming with people tailgating and generally enjoying camaraderie with other race fans, to the examples of American pride in ever direction, there are few places where someone can feel more NASCAR than in the parking lot. It wasn’t until my first race that I truly “got it”. If attending a race was a transformative experience for an NYC suburban guy like me, it likely will have the same effect on other previously non-race fans.

While TV coverage of NASCAR events is top notch and the commentators are some of the world’s best, it isn’t indicative of the real racing experience. Financial woes kept many people from the track, but that’s changing. The economy is returning to pre-recession levels, this means that people who were without disposable income will be able to again budget for a race weekend each year. NASCAR Sprint Cup events can be seen at tracks across the country. Of course most of these are in the Southeast, but there are tracks accessible to fans even in the Northeast and on the West coast.

Sponsors should offer more leeway.

Sponsorship drives the sport, but that’s also part of the problem. Many sponsors have their drivers sign strict morality clauses that limit their ability to do and say what would normally be natural. Drivers are more worried about what their sponsors think than what their fans think. Fans want to see real personalities, not a corporate spokesperson. Drivers like Jimmy Spencer and the old Tony Stewart used to add a flair that you just don’t see anymore at that level of intensity. Just as many people watch NASCAR for the wrecks, just as many watch for the driver meltdowns and arguments that end in near fisticuffs.

Limit driver’s social media presence.

As a certified social media strategist I often advise people on how to improve their social media presence. For most brands, celebrities and products, having a healthy and loyal social media fan base is important. A strong social media following helps connect fans with their favorite personalities. However, if someone is getting updated tweets from their driver every 10 minutes, there is little left to the imagination. I recognize the great drivers of the past like Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty. Those drivers were larger than life. Their personas on and off the track kept people interested. Every time these drivers spoke, people tuned in to listen. If Dale Earnhardt were still alive today, I would hope that he wouldn’t tweet or update me on Foursquare.

Get youth involved.

I’m not aware of a high school that offers varsity stock car racing as a sport. Perhaps something like that will never happen. However, youth are the future of everything and often the people that deserve the attention of the sport. Many of the drivers atop today’s leaderboard began their racing careers in karts and kart racing. However, this small talent pool is likely ignoring many other youth who could become tomorrow’s next big star.

Title sponsorship.

The bond between NASCAR and Sprint has endured for many years now. However, I still find myself wanting to call the main series, Winston Cup. There was something real, natural and down home about a tobacco company sponsoring NASCAR. A company like Sprint appeals to a wider audience, but the connection with the North Carolina roots of the sport were lost. While Sprint has done a great job of supporting the sport, it is likely that tried and true fans of the sport felt alienated by the switch. With smoking rates dropping each year in America, it is likely that we won’t see another tobacco sponsor. However, I would bet that a more relevant title sponsor would help the sport to reconnect with core fans.

America and NASCAR need one another. Much like a trip to Disney World, every family should experience at least one race. For many people, a single race experience can help to cement a lifetime of love, for this down home piece of American culture.



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