Is it Really What NASCAR Fans Want?

Is it Really What NASCAR Fans Want?

Friday, 17 March 2017
Mike Harper - SOZ

Have you noticed during the Brian France era in NASCAR when a major change in format or policy is introduced, it’s done because NASCAR said the fans asked for it or it was done for the fans? It’s the go to line for NASCAR to help persuade us on whatever their selling.

Let me give you a few examples.

In 2004, Brian France’s first full season as NASCAR’s top executive, the sport introduced the Chase. At the time Mike Helton said, “This new approach to determining our champion has the fans in mind.”

France made some slight changes to the Chase in 2007 and said, “The sport’s fans – will benefit.”

In 2011, NASCAR changed the Chase again and France told us, “The fans tell us that winning matters the most with them, so we’re combining the tradition of consistency in our sport with the excitement that comes along with winning.”

More changes to the Chase format were announced in 2014. At that time France said, “We have arrived at a format that makes every race matter even more, diminishes points racing, puts a premium on winning races and concludes with a best-of-the-best, first-to-the-finish line showdown race – all of which is exactly what fans want.”

Do you see what I mean when I say it’s NASCAR’s go to line? Even when France announced the new stage racing format at the beginning of the 2017 season he said, “What our fans  have been asking us to do, which is make the racing even more compelling on an hour by hour basis, week in and week out.” While announcing stage racing, NASCAR introduced a break at the end of each stage and one NASCAR official added, “We listened to the fans and we see the fans, as well, that we don’t like breaking away from live action. That’s why we put in two breaks.”

I could go on and on with example after example of how NASCAR uses fans as the reason for changes. And it’s not just NASCAR management…drivers and media personalities use fans too. Drivers have taken their shots at the fans like Tony Stewart. He wasn’t pleased how a race at Talladega turned out and said, “I guess the fans got what they wanted. Maybe when we come back here in the fall, NASCAR can just make this place a figure eight-then the entire field can crash and everyone will be happy.”  Martin Truex Jr., has tweeted in the past, “I guess the fans got the cautions they wanted today, goodnight.”

Remember in 2015 when NASCAR ended driver souvenir haulers? Well…guess what? They did it because according to the company that took over souvenir sales, “We have taken the time to listen to what the fans were asking for.”

With a sport so passionate about their fans (sarcasm implied) – allowing the fans to drive decisions and format changes, why is it NASCAR has lost so many of them over the past 5 to 7 years? I may be reaching but could it be because it’s not really about the fans? If NASCAR says they are making all of these changes because they’ve listened to the fans – but yet 45% of your viewership has left the sport, could it be that you’re not really listening to the fans? Maybe NASCAR is listening to the wrong fans…I’m just wondering.

The hardest thing to decipher is NASCAR’s true intentions – are they fan centric or are they so far removed from their fan base (this includes drivers and media personalities) that using the “fan card” is an easy excuse to help justify a change they want or to help them resolve an uncomfortable issue?

I believe the “fan card” is regularly being used for what some in NASCAR want – whatever the cause. And just like Kyle Busch’s forehead from Las Vegas, something smacked me square in the head last week after reading the different opinions on a topic that at one time I thought was a joke.

It’s been interesting listening to fans and NASCAR insiders dish out opinions on the topic of noise reduction in NASCAR. After the fight between Kyle Busch and Joey Logano, the noise reduction story has taken a back seat in the news, but for me it’s the perfect example of how we, as fans, are being used.

Michael Waltrip took to the FOX Sports web site, wrote a column and threw his hat into the noise reduction debate.  In his column he said, “The main reason why I am blessed to be TV Michael, is all because of how I can see the sport through the eyes of the fan.”  Michael also admitted to being the one who put the noise discussion on the table with NASCAR. “When I was asked about what we could do to make the sport more enjoyable for the fans, I mentioned the noise,” he said. And he uses a few examples of fans and corporate partners having issues with the noise.

One fan example used, he asked a fan while cars were on the track if the cars were too loud. The fan responded with “No.”

The fan, attending with his son, was wearing a headset so he could listen to the drivers. After the fan’s denial of the noise issues, Michael asked, “Wouldn’t it be better if you could listen to the drivers and talk to your son during the race?” The fan responded with, “Yeah, that would be cool.”

Michael basically admitted to taking the fan’s hand and guiding him down the path to answer the noise question in a way that best fit Michael’s agenda.  This, my friends is called a nudge.

With this in mind I found his column suspicious.

With every pro-noise reduction example Michael provided, I’m sure I could find an example of a fan who does not want the noise to be reduced. The noise level is one major component of the fan experience and I would guess that many fans, maybe a majority of fans want to keep the current noise levels – they pay for the noise.

What’s really happening here – is Michael and NASCAR using the “fan card” again?

I would submit most fans attending races only attend one or two races a season. And I believe these fans have no issues with the car noise. I’ve read a few columns where writers have said NASCAR only needs to very slightly turn the decibel volume down and the fans wouldn’t really notice the change.

Well, you’ve got to wonder if fans are having such issues with the noise, wouldn’t they demand turning the car noise down to a level where they would notice a change? Something doesn’t seem right to me.

I’m convinced those who truly want to reduce the car noise are the ones who are at the track on a regular basis.  Who are these people? Michael Waltrip, NASCAR employees, the driver’s families, media personalities, corporate sponsors and track workers – you know, the regulars, those who work at the track each and every weekend.

I have no problem with the regulars wanting to protect their hearing from the constant noise of race cars. I believe the majority of the fans could understand and respect it.  But once again the sport uses the “fan card” and says noise reduction would make the races more enjoyable for the fans. Why can’t NASCAR and their insiders simply be honest with their fans – their customers? If Michael or NASCAR would’ve come out and said, “Look, the noise level is dangerous to those who spend the most time at the track” I’m sure we’d all be on the same page. But instead they blame a wanted change on the fans. Honestly, this topic, I believe, would be a non-issue if they left the fans out of it. But to get what they want – like with most things before this topic, the messengers come out to persuade us that the change is for the fans.

Sadly, this method of persuading us to change has only divided the fan base over the years. Look at NASCAR’s past decisions – look at how they justified those decisions.

The next time you hear a NASCAR official or personality claim a change is in the best interest of the fans, I suggest taking a harder look at what NASCAR is saying – because based on their history in the Brian France era, many of their changes (you know the ones they make because the fans asked for them) have failed. Reminds me of an old saying I once heard, “People may fail many times, but they become failures only when they begin to blame someone else.” Hey NASCAR are you listening – to this fan?


Catch’s Lori and Dennis on “The Final Inspection” on 105.7FM The Fan in Milwaukee on Saturday at Noon CT. Steve Zautke hosts the most entertaining two hours covering all things racing and Lori Munro and Dennis Michelsen will have your NASCAR news and views every week.

Follow SOZ (VPofCommonSense), get NO FOO FOO Opinions and WIN NASCAR STUFF at the new @TheThunderCrew

Want more SOZ? Check out his last column–> DOES KYLE BUSCH HAVE FRIENDS?

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  1. Greg Balmas says:

    Thanks for putting my thoughts into words. I agree with you 100%. This “persuasion” by NASCAR, fueled by the Waltrip brothers due to their TV exposure, has been going on for 15 years. Remember the gopher popping-up on the TV screen? We were told the “fans” liked the gopher and Darrell Waltrip financially profited by the deal by offering t-shirts and related items to kids. Then we were told that the “fans” really liked the “Boogity-Boogity” bulls–t. The “fans” I know hate that stuff and avoid it by simulcasting the races on MRN/PRN.

    You have mentioned other examples of the “nudging” of fans to the NASCAR agenda. Like herding sheep. Many have strayed from NASCAR to other forms of racing. After 46 years of attending NASCAR events, this “fan” has strayed, too. You won’t hear “Boogity” at Eldora.

    • Mike Harper says:

      Thanks Greg. I appreciate you reading and comments. Honestly, I don’t mind DW and Michael – I like them. But people certainly have to enjoy their flavor or they’ll find them annoying after a while. You’ve hit on something…I think the local track may be benefiting from the slide in NASCAR popularity. Good comments!

  2. Jeff Murphy says:

    I agree that NASCAR uses ‘the fans’ as a cover for their decisions and motivations. However, that does raise the question of what is actually motivating NASCAR. Money is the common answer to that question, but that raises another question. Who profits from the wrecked race cars at Talladega? Who profits from the Chase format? Is every chase format change motivated by Profit. Or are many of these changes simply the result of cluelessness inside NASCAR leading to an arms-flailing approach to solving the ratings and attendance problems.

    • Mike Harper says:

      Jeff – it is always driven by profit for every NASCAR insider. Think back to the NASCAR boom – it was a season of profits. Then Brian wanted to make a CEO decision and came up with the Chase…then the loss of fans. Like I mentioned in my column about NASCAR needs to hire a VP of Common Sense, desperate people do desperate things and NASCAR has been chasing their tail every since. Very sad. NASCAR’s next challenge will be retaining sponsors – fans are leaving and once sponsors begin to leave they’ll wake up…fire some executives and correct their course. In the meantime, we have what we have. Thanks for your comments!

  3. Joseph Jacalone says:

    It is funny to me that NASCAR doesn’t realize that the downward spiral in TV ratings almost simultaneously began with the advent of the Waltrip brothers on TV. The noise thing is ridiculous. If you don’t like the noise, you should find another sport, not change ours.

  4. Bob says:

    I am a “fan”. I never asked for a championship format change, never asked for stage racing, never asked for rules changing seemingly every week of the season. Didn’t ask for the “low down force” package, all I want to see is a race without the ruling body manipulating the outcomes at will. I’ve moved to Supercars, no “Boogity Boogity Boogity”, no Larry Mac and his cutaway car and better yet no commercials. Did it cost me money? Yes, 31 entire dollars for the entire season. I have had enough of NASCAR telling me “this is what I want to see” when it clearly isn’t.

  5. John Michael Wyatt says:

    I agree with everything you have said. I don’t go to races anymore, and I’ve quit watching them on television. I grew up near Charlotte and I was at the 600 when Fireball Roberts drove his last race. Changes are part of life, but Brian France is ruining NASCAR!

  6. Patrick Lloyd says:

    Excellent article. My sentiments exactly. As Ronald Reagan said, “I didn’t leave them,they left me”, meaning his association with the Democrats. NASCAR has done the same thing with me and other fans who used to eagerly await races every week. I am very saddened by what NASCAR has become.

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