The view from my couch
NASCAR, Drivers, and Media Out of Touch
by Cheryl Lauer
Over the last few years, I keep hearing NASCAR spokesmen, drivers, print media, and the TV networks talk about who attends races in person. Every time I hear someone imply that the only fans who attend races come from within 50 miles of a race track, I become more incensed. Why are the people most closely affiliated with NASCAR so out of touch with reality? This week with the wonderful news that there was a sellout at Darlington Raceway, I've been hearing quotes like "the South Carolina fans really stepped up to the plate." Brian France, Jim Hunter, and other NASCAR/ISC members really need to get out of their offices sometime and actually talk to the fans in the grandstands and campgrounds surrounding each track.
Over the past 18 years, I've attended hundreds of races in person. My record year for attending NASCAR races was 2001, when I attended twelve races in person. I didn't sit in the press box or the hospitality suites at any of those races. I sat smack dab in the middle of the grandstands, stayed at motels with other race fans, or camped at race track campgrounds. I think that qualifies me to talk about where people come from to attend NASCAR races.
At the many races I've attended, I always chatted with the people sitting next to me in the grandstands or those camping nearby. Over the years I've attended races at 14 different NASCAR tracks, basically every track where NASCAR has raced east of the Mississippi, except New Hampshire, Watkins Glen, and Chicago. Every time I meet another race fan, I am always impressed by how far they've traveled to come to the race. It makes me realize how fortunate I was to only have to drive 300-500 miles. When I first went to Charlotte in 1989, a guy at our motel had driven down from Canada for the Coca-Cola 600. That made my 8-hour drive from Maryland seem quite short in comparison! When I first went to Talladega in 1996, there were other fans there from Maryland like me, fans from Texas, Canada, Illinois, Florida, Mississippi, and, yes, a couple from Alabama. And that was just from within our own group! When I went back there in subsequent years (driving 742 miles each way), I met folks in the campground from Kentucky, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Canada. Last year at Martinsville and Bristol, I met people who came all the way from Wisconsin to see short track racing. At Bristol, the people camping near us were from Indiana and Pennsylvania, and I met some folks from Ohio during the truck race. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention a good friend that I met at North Wilkesboro Speedway in 1996. He lived near New Hampshire Speedway, but would drive all the way to North Carolina every year to see the quality racing provided at that now defunct track. After NASCAR decided NW no longer fit their needs, he would travel to Dover to see races. When he moved to Washington state a few years ago, he traveled back east a couple of years ago to attend a race at Martinsville Speedway. At the also now defunct Rockingham Speedway, I've spent time with folks from Pennsylvania and California. Dover Downs draws folks from Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Canada. In all the times I've been there, I've yet to meet anyone from Delaware though.
The point I'm illustrating here is that rarely do I meet anyone in the grandstands or campgrounds that came from the local area in which any track is located. And as a pretty well-traveled race fan myself, it just really bothers me that the sanctioning body and others are so out of touch with how far fans travel to see racing at tracks on the NASCAR circuit. The drivers, print media, and TV folks need to leave the sanctity of the motorcoaches, press boxes, and broadcast booths once and a while and really talk to the fans at each race. If they did, they'd learn that majority of fans travel hundreds of miles and spend hundreds of dollars to see the racing provided at traditional venues, such as Darlington Raceway.
This week, JoAnn Hlavac, of the web site laidbackracing.com, wrote an article about where fans were from that she met while attending last weekend's race in Darlington. She met people from California who told her they would rather travel across the country to see the great racing at Darlington than the more conveniently located California Speedway. She also met folks from Ohio, who obviously chose to travel to South Carolina instead of attending races at some of the new tracks NASCAR has built in the Midwest and were closer to their homes. I was so glad to hear JoAnn talk about how far away fans came to attend that race! But after reading her article, I just kept reading more quotes by drivers, the media, and NASCAR talking about how the fans in South Carolina supported the track last weekend. It became increasingly clear that these people still don't get it. At every venue out there that provides great racing, if you actually took a poll of the fans attending, you'd find that the majority of them come from at least 200 miles away, if not much more.
Perhaps that is a poll that Fox or NASCAR ought to show this week during the Richmond broadcast or during the next two weeks at Charlotte. I know I'd rather see where fans come from to visit each track instead of a silly opinion poll about who they hope will win the race. Of course, it's quite possible that NASCAR and the TV networks are well aware of how far fans come to attend races. Perhaps, they choose to put their own spin on things, so they can justify the decisions they make on awarding race dates. I know a long-standing claim by ISC is the "oversaturation" of race tracks in the southeast. This has long been their justification for moving more and more races to the midwest and west of the Mississippi. I guess if the facts really came out about how many fans west of the Mississippi still choose to travel to the southeast, even when closer venues are now available, that wouldn't meet NASCAR or TV needs.
As a long-time fan, I'm bothered when I hear drivers parrot what NASCAR and TV says about fans only coming from the local area for races. This shows how really out of touch they are with the people who support them. Those statements bother me almost as much as when I hear drivers state conclusively that the fans love restrictor plate races. Nobody has EVER asked me! I suppose this is just one of the many reasons I become more disillusioned with NASCAR and its drivers every day. Why should the fans travel hundreds of miles (and thousands in some cases) to support a sport which is so totally out of touch with their fan base?
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