May 2, 2012
Editor's Note: Last July Peter did a projected re-vamp of the NASCAR schedule, reducing it to 31 weekends total. This week he goes a step further, taking a look at what a 27-race schedule might look like for NASCAR. - WG
The ultimate re-make of the NASCAR schedule, Part II.
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
(Posted 4/30, 10:30 a.m.) Detroit. Okay, here we go again. I've been talking about what I deem as a necessity to reduce the NASCAR schedule almost since I began this website in 1999. Not only do I see the current NASCAR schedule as being archaic and even nonsensical in its cadence, I believe NASCAR has to take dramatic steps now in order to reverse an alarming lack of interest in attending the races by its previously hard-core fans.
I would also offer that the lack of attendance at Bristol is hugely significant, not because it means that the fans perceive a lack of "action" at the track (followed, unfortunately, by Bruton Smith's knee-jerk reaction to "fix" it), but because NASCAR's oversaturated schedule has started to negatively affect fundamental fan interest.
At NASCAR's peak in 2007, no one was thinking about schedule oversaturation, and maybe rightfully so. After all, the mindset back then was what could possibly go wrong, right? How could the good times ever end? But we all know what happened after that, don't we? TV ratings plummeted (although they've stabilized somewhat since) and in-person attendance took a visible hit. But what has NASCAR subsequently learned? I would argue not much.
It took a near-mutiny by GM and Ford before NASCAR acquiesced to deep-six its dreaded cookie-cutter "Car of Tomorrow." Now what will it take for NASCAR to get serious about its death-march of a schedule? The fact that NASCAR traditionally operates in a suspended state of inertia is no big secret and it's clear that the powers that be in Daytona Beach warmly embrace the "if it ain't broke, why fix it?" mantra. But NASCAR's traditional intransigence in embracing change has cost it dearly. And NASCAR's head-in-sand operating approach is about to get that much more expensive.
Why? Because NASCAR's television deal with the networks is about to be put on the table. And if the networks perceive the NASCAR product as being damaged goods - even just a little bit - then its going to impact NASCAR and its owners, teams and drivers severely.
The concept I'm proposing is simple. The idea is to cut the schedule dramatically while embracing quality over quantity. In business if your product is too accessible, too frequent, too expected and perceived as too "common" then people naturally get tired or bored with it. And subsequently your product image is degraded. And that's what is happening today with NASCAR fans' burgeoning disinterest.
Yes, the cost of attending races is a huge factor, but - and this is the definitive "but" - when NASCAR is seemingly on every week the specialness of the product is naturally deteriorated. Pundits, critics and fans (and non-fans) alike joke about the concept of "All NASCAR All The Time" but it's no longer funny. When your product is overexposed to the point that fans are beyond bored with the same-ol', same-ol' - which manifests itself in empty seats at the races - then drastic steps need and should be taken.
What I'm proposing today is a 27-race NASCAR schedule (see below). My last attempt at this tiptoed around the sacred cows and the "we've always done it this way" built-in inertia on the NASCAR schedule, but this one doesn't. Since I'm a strong proponent of adding more road races to the NASCAR schedule, road racing remains well represented here as well.
My proposed new schedule for NASCAR hinges on the following key factors: A critical need for a shortened schedule combined with more road races and more "off" dates. Let the hand-wringing begin...
Pre-Schedule races in February: Yes, I'd keep the Bud Shootout and the twin Daytona Duel qualifying races. Why not?
Race 1: The Daytona 500. Along with Indy, Monaco and Le Mans, one of the world's great races stays right where it is.
Off: A needed break after Daytona.
Race 2: Phoenix International Raceway. Not my favorite, but it's too cold to go anywhere else this time of year. And it's only on the schedule once.
Race 3: Laguna Seca (Mazda Raceway). The visit to Fontana is out. And if the boys and girls have to use rain tires at Laguna, so be it.
Off: Yes, another week off here.
Race 4: Bristol Motor Speedway. This track deserves two dates, no "ifs," "ands" or "buts."
Race 5: Texas Motor Speedway. It works here, but Martinsville in the spring is out. It does get one race in The Chase, however.
Race 6: Talladega Super Speedway. Chaotic, ridiculous and flat-out crazy, it still merits two visits.
Race 7: Atlanta Motor Speedway. But only once.
Race 8: Richmond International Raceway. It fits here too.
Off: What a concept, two weeks off and Dover only gets one event in the fall.
Race 9: Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Coca-Cola 600 (plus all of the pre-race festivities and special event races) stays right where it is.
Race 10: Michigan International Speedway. Only one time for MIS.
Race 11: Kansas Speedway. What, do you think that casino will pay for itself? But only once and Pocono is dropped from the schedule completely.
Off: Getting ready for the West Coast.
Race 12: Sears Point (Infineon). Road race No. 2 in California.
Race 13: Daytona International Speedway. It will always be the Firecracker 400 to me.
Race 14: Kentucky Speedway. It's okay here.
Off. New Hampshire is dropped from the schedule.
Race 15: Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Brickyard stays right where it is.
Off. With Pocono out, everyone gears up for The Glen.
Race 16: Watkins Glen International Raceway. Absolutely stays right where it is.
Off. Second visit to MIS is out.
Race 17: Bristol Motor Speedway. The night race? Oh, yes.
Race 18: Darlington Raceway. The Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend? Yes, back where it belongs and it opens The Chase .
Race 19: Richmond International Raceway. It's too good of a track not to get a second date.
Race 20: Dover International Speedway. One time only.
Race 21: Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The most beautiful natural-terrain road racing circuit in the U.S. "America's National Park of Speed" deserves to be in The Chase.
Race 22: Road Atlanta. Back-to-back road course races in The Chase? Yes.
Off: Chicagoland is dropped from the schedule.
Race 23: Charlotte Motor Speedway. NASCAR's "home" track deserves to be in The Chase too.
Race 24: Talladega Super Speedway. For the same reasons listed previously above.
Race 25: Martinsville Speedway. This short track belongs in The Chase.
Race 26: Texas Motor Speedway. On the way to the finale in Las Vegas, they might as well stop here.
Race 27: Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Forget Homestead because The Chase will end here, right where it should.
So, there you have it. Fewer races even with the addition of three more road races (for a total of five) to the schedule, more off weeks, fewer double visits to tracks and for my money a cleaner schedule. And the other advantage? Fewer races makes each one a real event and that much more special and desirable to attend in person.
As I said, let the hand-wringing begin. I would suggest that if NASCAR doesn't get ahead of this idea and wake up to the consequences of schedule oversaturation, then the lack of in-person fan attendance will get much worse before it begins to level off and get any better.
And that's the High-Octane Truth in the motorsports world this week.
Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD
(Courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Rockingham, North Carolina, October 30, 1966. Ned Jarrett, driver of the No. 11 Bondy Long Ford, holds the NASCAR Driver's Championship Trophy for 1965 in ceremonies before the final Grand National race of the '66 NASCAR season, the American 500 at North Carolina Motor Speedway, in Rockingham. It was to be Jarrett's last race as a driver, at age 34. Jarrett would finish third in the race that day behind Fred Lorenzen (No. 28 Holman-Moody Ford) and Don White (No. 31 Ray Nichels Engineering Dodge). Jarrett won the NASCAR Drivers Championship in 1961 and 1965. In 1965 Jarrett won 13 races out of 54 starts. He won 50 out of 352 races during his career from 1953 to 1966. Jarrett remains the only NASCAR driver to retire as the current NASCAR Champion.
Publisher's Note: Like these Ford racing photos? Check out www.fordimages.com. Be forewarned, however, because you won't be able to go there and not order something. - PMD
See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" with hosts John McElroy, from Autoline Detroit, and Peter De Lorenzo, The Autoextremist, and guests this Thursday evening, at 7:00PM EDT at www.autolinedetroit.tv.
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