Is NASCAR Scared?

Is NASCAR Scared?

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Wednesday, 15 February 2017
Mike Harper - SOZ

Have you ever read the obituary of Bill France Jr., from the Associated Press? It’s actually a very good read. It reminded me of how great of a job he did…but it left me wondering if today’s management at NASCAR is scared to make a decision.

A part of the obituary reads; “A shrewd businessman who was fiercely protective of his family-owned company, France always acted in NASCAR’s best interests. His decisions often riled car owners, drivers, sponsors and fans, but France never backed down. He was in charge – like it or not – and he quickly reminded dissenters.”

Jeff Burton contributed to the obituary by saying, “Part of leadership is having the guts to make a decision and then having the guts to stand by it and making it work.  That’s what he did on a lot of occasions. He did it in a way that let you know who the boss was and also did it in a way that you respected him. And I’ve said it all along I think that is the cornerstone in our sport.”

Take a moment and read Jeff Burton’s quote again.

Jeff’s comments were true back then. Now apply his quote to today’s NASCAR.  Who is the boss now and is NASCAR making the decisions?

At the beginning of the 2016 season Tony Stewart said, “I want to see Brian France at the track more.  I want to see him walking through the garage more. I want to see him being more active than just showing up and patting the sponsors on the back and going up in the suite. I want to see him down there in the trenches with everybody and understanding what’s truly going on. I think that’s where he needs to be for awhile.”

From the cheap seats, Tony Stewart is right. It seems NASCAR has a face, a visual leader…but decisions are now made by a community of participants – a group of important players who have convinced NASCAR their input is critical to the success of the sport.

Don’t believe me?

Let me introduce you to the NASCAR Fan Council, NASCAR Drivers Council and the Race Team Alliance (RTA), an official association of NASCAR team owners. If you look at almost every decision made over the past few years the above mentioned groups have influenced rules and policies.

A few examples would be the fan council – they’re credited for the restart format. The drivers have played a role with writing the overtime rules and the RTA got one of the biggest prizes in the history of the sport – Charters.

How about them Charters? According to NASCAR.com, the Charter agreement “establishes a Team Owner Council that will have formal input into decisions, and provides Charter teams with new revenue opportunities including a greater interest in digital operations.”

There is that word again – “decisions.”

This season NASCAR announced a major change in their racing format. Beginning this season, NASCAR will run a race based on stages. During the announcement Brian France said, “I’m proud of the unprecedented collaboration from our industry stakeholders, each of whom had a common goal – strengthening the sport for our fans.”

Once again it’s a community decision.

I would actually like to challenge Mr. France’s comments of “a common goal strengthening the sport for our fans.” First, the blame (good or bad) the fans for change concept, is getting old.  It’s an excuse. And the “common goal” talk might work with a soft NASCAR media, but let me remind Mr. France and the “industry stakeholders” – this is a performance based business. For way too long you’ve sucked the life out of the sport for the big dollars – the big TV money, sponsorships and merchandise.

Performance has been replaced with popularity. Drivers are full blown marketing machines and unless you’re on the bottom end of the point standings, they no longer worry about losing their seat. When was the last time we heard the term – hot seat?

I’m not saying NASCAR shouldn’t listen to drivers, owners and track promoters. NASCAR has always listened to them – but Bill France Jr., knew that each group, each individual had their own agenda. He was the protector – he understood the power he had and he used it well.

I hope Brian France didn’t miss this lesson from his father because each group still has their own agenda and you should never allow drivers or owners to make decisions on competition and format. At the end of the day it will only benefit them (for a while) and not the fans.

NASCAR was always at its best when they made the decisions. Sure, they were criticized when people didn’t like a decision – but they owned it. I remember when drivers and owners looked at life in NASCAR as a privilege, not a job or a right – and certainly not a right to assist with business decisions.

When NASCAR makes the decisions the “industry stakeholders” are forced to live in that box and either respect it or leave it. I hope this isn’t a case of money causing everyone to jump into the same boat to survive – a mentality where they feel they’re in it together and they’ll either sink or sail…together. It’s a dangerous strategy.

Until NASCAR takes back decision making power in the greatest sport known to man, sadly it will remain an unhealthy sport…losing fans with each unsuccessful “collaboration from industry stakeholders.”

Follow SOZ and WIN NASCAR STUFF at @TheThunderCrew

18 Comments

  1. dmic says:

    Great article Mike…my big concern is that when everyone talks about these new changes as if the pressure is on to “Save the Sport” I am left to ask, “What if these changes don’t bring in new fans?” I also wonder if the focus is on the way races are held instead of the real culprit behind the bland racing of the last few years, “The cars themselves.”

    • SOZ says:

      Good point DMIC. If you look at each aspect of the sport “we” (those who want to see the sport thrive but won’t sugar coat the challenges) see gaps…as you said the cars. Who is making the decision on the cars? Did Robin Pemberton go against the top causing his departure? I see red flags all over the place and I see a whole lot of cooks in the kitchen.

  2. Bill B says:

    Glad to see you are still around Mike. It’s been a while.

    From what I hear the fan council is a joke. They don’t get to voice what they want, they get to answer questions that are formulated to fit into the box that Brian wants.

    For instance, a good question to put to the fan council would be:
    Would you prefer that we go back to the season long points structure or continue with the chase format?

    Instead they pose questions like:
    Do you think the chase should have 10 qualifying drivers or 12 qualifying drivers?

    Once again, I am not part of the fan council but I have heard that’s the way questions are framed.

    Remind me again why we needed radical changes in 2004 when ratings were strong and attendance was high? Since then it’s been one change after another as they try to make it work and for the most part, the fans have continually been draining year after year. Brian started this under the old leader/dictator model that Bill France Jr used. Only it was a terrible decision in hindsight and he’s been trying to find a way to polish that turd ever since and that is why we have all these focus groups now (he can spread the blame around for failure).

    My prediction for this season, still lower ratings and attendance at the track.

    • SOZ says:

      Hi Bill – it’s good to be back writing, thanks! I’m not on the fan council either but have friends who are and you’re 100% correct. As with any poll testing process – the tester leads the person down the path desired. Like with this new format – you can’t tell me fans want the 10th place driver to be awarded points at the end of a stage…NASCAR and the drivers want the points, plain and simple. So yes, they (NASCAR brass, drivers, owners, track promoters) make these decisions for their benefit then use the media to “polish” it as you said. Good points, sir.

  3. Joe Jacalone says:

    I agree with both of the above comments. The cars are absolutely the reason the racing is so boring. The whole sport, top to bottom, is going down the pipes. I am so sick of the way the mainstream NASCAR sports media is trying to spin everything positive. I am tired of hearing about Pete Pistone’s daughter, her basketball games, I am tired of hearing about what Mike Bagley had for dinner. I want them to dig into the problems the sport is facing, but they won’t do it, because they feed from the NASCAR trough.

    • SOZ says:

      Sadly it’s true. Plus those who voice a dissenting opinion get belittled in the NASCAR media. I understand what Mike and Pete are doing…it’s their job and today’s NASCAR media is all about promotion. A successful NASCAR keeps them working. We get it, right? I just wish they got us – we love the sport and instead of walking away we stand up and voice an opinion. It’s a movement…LOL

  4. TheNASCARJeff says:

    This sport isn’t about racing anymore… it is about money! There is to much of it being spent by the teams and what the drivers make and more importantly what the FANS have to spend to see the event or buy something from it.

    That is why every team, driver and NASCAR itself has a foundation.. it is a tax dodge for them since there is way to much money going around. If you give money to a drivers foundation and they intern donate X millions of dollars to a charity they get an X million dollar tax write off. You get to write off the ten bucks or so you sent them. Yeah, that sounds fair!

    Bring the purses down, lower what the teams and driver earn and make this about racing again, not selling things.

    • Bill B says:

      You are probably right but it’s hard to put that Genie back in the bottle. Rarely is anyone willing to go backward with respect to revenue, earnings, etc., would you?

      I believe that most people think the Twin 150s are now a total waste given the charter system. But NASCAR will never get rid of those because they generate revenue in ticket sales and tv coverage.
      Likewise, most agree that the schedule is too bloated, the season too long and too many tracks are visited twice and that lessening supply would actually increase demand (a sound economic principle). Unfortunately you will never see that because getting rid of six races would decrease revenue for all the pigs at the trough….
      …and that just goes against the basic concept of capitalism…

      ….and if the whole concept of capitalism is guilty, then isn’t this an indictment of our entire philosophy in genreral? I put it to you, isn’t this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do what you want to me, but I’m not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America! LOL

    • SOZ says:

      I’ve put drivers on notice about their foundations and we discussed this many times on our radio show. You’ll see a story from me about this in the coming months – lots of legal stuff to get through. But in many cases you are right about driver foundations. Example; Denny Hamlin’s foundation gave 35 cents of every dollar to their “purpose” – if this happened with the Wounded Warriors or the Red Cross heads would’ve spun…the outrage would be great. Not in this sport…sometimes I wonder if NASCAR and their insiders are comfortable with a smaller sport because they can stay below the radar – but yes, money is the driving force in just about everything they do. Remember how they countered one challenge regarding too much money – they stopped sharing purse winnings so now we have no clue what a team took home after a race. It’s a game – a profitable game and sadly people are blind to it because of the love of a specific driver or their income is tied to the sport.

  5. Brian says:

    Mr. Harper,
    Very nice hitting the nail square on the head.
    NASCAR’s decline started back in 2004 with the change in leadership. Brian France did not and does not have the political respect within the industry Bill Sr. and Bill Jr. had. Yes they ran NASCAR as they saw fit, built it up and changed things as desired. I doubt that they made decisions without some kind of input from certain “stakeholders” but they made the choices. One thing really caught my attention in the article and that was the deal with it or leave aspect. Right now it seems NASCAR needs the teams and drivers more than the drivers and teams need NASCAR.
    Think of the drivers strike about the first race at Talladega. Some teams opted out and the race was run anyway with whomever showed up.
    Now if say a situation with 2008 INDY would happen again. The teams could likely boycott an event and NASCAR is now stuck due to the lack of operations that would even have a car to race. Honestly if the RTA truly wanted to I bet they could start a new series in 2018 race at SMI and other non-ISC tracks, get a TV contract with ABC-ESPN and NASCAR and likely ISC would not survive to be around in 2019. NASCAR got away from what was important and created a marketing machine instead of a viable business model. When the fans noticed, look what has happened in the last 13 years.
    The economic issues in 2008 and 2009 really made it easy for the fans and then with the constant changes the fans that stayed through that have been less interested than ever before.
    As stated before look at the supply demand model. There is now too much supply for the current reduced demand. Same is happening with the NFL. Too much coverage and thus less intrigue and potential interest.

    • SOZ says:

      Thank you Brian. You may be right about NASCAR needing the teams more than the teams need NASCAR…but in the end they all need each other. NASCAR gave away so much power when they agreed to Charters – now the owners can help determine the value of their teams and if they want, they can devalue it to a point where they could hold NASCAR hostage. BUT…I believe at this moment the owners are in a poor position because with Monster getting the title sponsorship at such a reduced cost (compared to Sprint) – owners are dealing with sponsors paying almost the same amount. It’s like one bad deal after another. I will say this…I think NASCAR has covered their rears pretty good when it comes to others starting another racing series. I heard Charter agreements included a clause against teams leaving (like a non-compete clause) for another series and many tracks had to sign the same type of agreement. They protected themselves against competition while poorly managing the overall sport. I agree with you – when they focused more on marketing and growth instead of the product on the track the sport suffered. Hopefully they will get the ship turned into the right direction before it’s all gone and then a new series can form. Good comments Brian.

    • TheNASCARJeff says:

      Someone has to report on tis scam of “foundations” these teams, drivers and the sanctioning body itself runs for a tax dodge scam. But none of the racing media will touch it for fear of losing access to said teams, drivers and losing a NASCAR hard card for going up against the machine.

      That was a trick of both Big Bill and Bill France Jr, go up against us and your out of the loop. Because like I said this is not about racing anymore, it is about money and nothing else.

  6. Roger cook says:

    I have not watched or had any interest in NASCAR since 1999. It just became too boring to watch on television and only went to one track that was 1998 fall Talledagea. My input is very limited concerning today’s NASCAR. I started going back to dirt late models in 1999 following the Hava-Tampa and Stars racing circuits. Nascar became a a sport about the pretty people, no missing teeth, no beer belly, no cussing, no arguing, no pushing or shoving, no fat girlfriend or kids and absolutely no smoking (I agree that one). As far as cars NASCAR became the old IROC everything built the same maybe the pit crew can win the race 🏁

  7. Bobofet says:

    What we’re seeing from Brian France is the difference between LEADERSHIP and MANAGEMENT. Brian France relying on all these ‘stakeholders” is simply his way of managing NASCAR because he lacks the clear VISION of an innovative leader guiding an organization to success.
    Contrast him with Big Bill and Bill Jr. who are rightfully lauded for their unwavering resolve in implementing their vision for NASCAR and the sport.

  8. John Smith says:

    I’m done after last season and until the WWE style of running the show is done away with I’m done for good. Like I said at the end of last season F you nascrap!!!

  9. Jonathan says:

    if Nascar is scared than so is the NHL, PGA, MLB, NHL, NBA and so on cause Nascar whoops every one of those leagues in ratings pretty much every week… the NFL that’s a different story but these bitter old losers who think Nascar is dying are just delusional…. Are championship race peaked at 11.4 Million viewers… Early in 2016 while on FS1 Nascar beat head to head both MLB OPENING DAY baseball games on ESPN and ESPN 2 combined along with an NBA Playoff game on ABC…… So if that is considered dying I guess we will just have no sports in 10 years…. What about Indy Car??? Now there on life support.. Nascar is just fine

    • SOZ says:

      Thanks for your comments Jonathan. You’ve actually proven my point from my last column “WHERE HAVE THE NASCAR CRITICS GONE?” (I invite you to read) where I said, “Critical reporting or critical fan reactions are met with hostility or rejection” – I appreciate your “bitter old losers” comments. I respect your opinion but somewhere someone has led you down a bad road of comparing NASCAR ratings to the ratings of other sports. It’s not a fair comparison…most professional sports are built on specific markets…like in Houston. The Texans, Astros and Rockets TV ratings should always be lower because NASCAR is pulling national numbers – even when Houston gets a national TV game against another team, normally they pull lower numbers because your getting two markets with a small national audience. You used Daytona’s 2016 ratings, which hit 11.4 viewers (you said our championship) – but if you look at MLB’s 2016 championship (game 7) they hit 40 million viewers. NBA’s championship (game 7) hit 30.8 million – so NASCAR didn’t whoop them at all when you compare championships. Bottom line, NASCAR is losing fans due to poor decisions and lackluster races. Their value has dropped based on reports, except TV money. It’s not personal…it’s a reality – but hopefully they’ll turn it around and we can all jump into the big bowl of sugar together. Thanks again for stopping by and reading. It is appreciated.

  10. Jimmy says:

    Some have mentioned to many races, I agree with that but I’m tires of watching 10 lap races on 1.5 mile racetracks, meaning after 10 laps the field is so spread out it’s time to take a knap wake up and watch the last 10 laps, I have been attending a lot of dirt races and thouroughly had a blast and came home with money in my pocket which no one can say after attending a NASCAR race.

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