By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. I realized long ago that expecting the France family and its leadership regime that rules NASCAR to affect serious change at any meaningful level or pace was a fool's errand. Kind of like herding fireflies. Yet I still write about it on occasion just to reengage. Not that I like beating my head against the wall, but it's good to know that some things never change and there is a need to point that out once in a while.
Now NASCAR operatives will immediately crow about the new Gen 6 cars as being proof positive of their willingness to change, except those cars only came about after not-so-subtle threats from high-level executives at Ford and General Motors about the need for cars that look more production-like. But how the Gen 6 cars materialized isn't the point of this column, for the record I'm glad they're here now and they are a dramatic improvement. And if NASCAR wants to take full credit for them, it doesn't really matter.
The real point of this column is NASCAR's relentless unwillingness to deal with one major issue: oversaturation. The NASCAR schedule is killing what's left of the high-flying golden goose that for a brief moment in time was NASCAR in the early to mid-2000s. The TV networks haven't helped because by signing new deals with NASCAR the powers that be in Daytona Beach think they're actually doing "just fine," as Brian France always says, when in reality they are a fair piece away from being "fine." (The TV deal was the result of one driving force: the networks insatiable desire for original content. If it wasn't for that, we might be looking at a very different media landscape for NASCAR at this juncture.)
Oversaturation is the Bad News slowly but surely weaving its tentacles in and around NASCAR, tightening its grip on everything they do. For instance oversaturation leads to the embarrassing in-person attendance at last Saturday's night's Richmond show. What's behind the lagging in-person attendance at NASCAR races? It is because the mind-numbing oversaturation has deleted the specialness about NASCAR to the fans over time. As in, if you don't feel like making the effort to attend a race, wait until next week and go to another one. Oh wait a minute, you can just watch it on TV, why bother making the effort, right?
Oversaturation is a plague for all sports leagues, hell, even the NFL is worried about it even though their in-person attendance is still right around 85 percent. But then again the NFL is by far the savviest sports entity in this country, and visionary thinking is never in short supply. NASCAR? Well, it depends on the day and it also depends on who you're talking to. Yes, some of its leadership is relentlessly clueless but there are very smart people engaged on NASCAR's behalf as well. The problem is translating the bright thinking into meaningful change for the sport, while leaving the cluelessness at the side of the road.
There is one thing that NASCAR can do to fight off oversaturation, and that is to take an axe to one of the most tedious schedules in all of sport, one easily as tedious as the NHL and the NBA. But that requires everyone - the teams, drivers, sponsors, track owners and promoters - to basically take 25 percent financial haircuts and start over. If the NASCAR schedule was compressed and reduced, maybe you wouldn't see front line teams scrambling to fill sponsorship voids at this point in the season.
The bottom line is that the NASCAR schedule is too frickin' long. Too many races and too many repeat visits to the same tracks doesn't lead to continued success, it leads to oversaturation and fan ennui. And it's the one thing that is killing NASCAR to the point that if they don't do something about it they might just find themselves falling back to becoming a regional sport again.
(For the record, here is my take - below - on a radically revamped NASCAR schedule. The new proposed schedule would have 26 total races, including the addition of two more road races.)
February - The Daytona 500 (however the Sprint Unlimited and the Twin qualifying races are deleted)
February - Phoenix (once on the schedule)
March - Las Vegas (once on the schedule)
March - California (the Bristol daytime race is deleted)
April - Martinsville
April - Texas (Kansas and Richmond spring races are deleted)
May - Darlington (Talladega spring race is deleted)
May - Charlotte (although all the support races are deleted)
June - Dover (once on the schedule)
June - Pocono (once on the schedule)
June - Michigan (once on the schedule)
June - Sears Point
July - Daytona
July - New Hampshire (once on the schedule)
July - Indianapolis
August - Watkins Glen
August - Kansas
August - Bristol (night weekend)
September - Atlanta
September - Elkhart Lake (Road America)
September - Richmond
October - Martinsville
October - Braselton (Road Atlanta)
October - Texas
November - Talladega
November - Charlotte
Editor-in-Chief's Note: We normally don't print reader emails in this place on the AE site, but I think this note from old friend Mike Joy is worth contemplating, followed by my response. - PMD
No easy answers for NASCAR.
Problem with reducing the schedule is... how do you maintain the income (from sponsors) that everyone in the sport depends on to keep going.... teams, TV nets, NASCAR, tracks, etc. ???
Editor-in-Chief's Note: Back in ancient history, Mike and I worked together at one of my advertising agency stops, oh for a cup of coffee or so. He brings up the essential point. How do you make people used to having more become used to accepting less for the overall health of the sport? It would be like David Stern announcing that the NBA would be cutting back to a 60-game schedule (from 82) and oh by the way, all administrative salaries, player salaries, coaching salaries, TV revenue, sponsor revenue, etc., etc., would be reduced also. Applied to the NASCAR model, how could we expect local promoters, big track owners, teams, drivers and everyone else associated with NASCAR to deal with less? Plus dealing with correspondingly reduced sponsorship packages and TV revenue as well? Extremely difficult and highly unlikely. NASCAR is operating at a level that was justified when things were booming, but learning to live in a world of reduced expectations is damn-near unfathomable for everyone involved. - PMD
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 and Wieck Media)
Atlanta, Georgia, April 11, 1965. Leonard Wood (lower left) Marvin Panch (left) Miss Atlanta 500 (middle) and A.J. Foyt (right) celebrate in victory lane after winning the Atlanta 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway (although back then it was called Atlanta International Raceway). During the race, Foyt's Wood Brothers-prepared No. 41 Ford DNF'd with throttle issues, but when pole-sitter Marvin Panch (No. 21 Wood Brothers Augusta Motor Sales Ford) became ill, the Woods Brothers asked A.J. to finish the race for them. He did and he won, although Panch was credited with the win.
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