October 22, 2009
By Doug Demmons
If the race had been held anywhere else there may have been plausible explanations for the thousands of empty seats.
But last week’s race was in Concord, N.C., just up Interstate 85 from Charlotte.
The Charlotte Metropolitan Area is the home of NASCAR. It’s where the Hall of Fame is being built. It’s where the NASCAR Research and Development Center is located.
Within spitting distance of Lowe’s Motor Speedway is the Hendrick Motorsports compound. Roush Fenway, Richard Childress Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing are all within easy driving distance.
Lots and lots of people in the area are employed by the racing industry. Racing is as much a part of North Carolina as tobacco and college basketball.
And yet the grandstands at Lowe’s were less than half full.
Let me repeat that -- the track located smack in the heart of NASCAR country could not attract enough fans to fill even half the seats.
Granted, it was cold on Saturday night -- dipping down toward the 30s. And there had been the threat of rain. Cold and wet are not exactly the best conditions in which to watch a race.
So if the race had been in ... oh, say, Fontana ... then cold and wet would have been a perfectly good crutch.
But this race was in Charlotte. This is supposed to be the home of hardcore, diehard racing fans. Cold and wet shouldn’t matter. Cold and wet doesn’t keep fans away from Yankee Stadium or Lambeau Field.
Cold and wet is the sort of excuse you’d hear from casual fans. Charlotte fans should be hardier than that. If you jab a pin into a Charlotte fan he should bleed Sunoco racing fuel.
And yet the grandstands in Turn 4 were so empty you could have staged a yodeling contest.
Could it have been the price of tickets? Lowe’s has been just as aggressive in offering discounts and deals as any other track. Tracks around the country are offering more deals than a garage sale an hour before closing time.
So was it those money-grubbing hotels? Dozens of hotels in the area dropped their minimum-stay requirements and slashed rates.
No, the hard reality is that there is something wrong with the show. Not only are the stands at Lowe’s half full, the TV audience is less than what it used to be. Ratings for every single Chase race this year have fallen.
In fact, all but a few Cup races this year have seen ratings declines. Meanwhile TV ratings for the truck series have seen tremendous improvement over last year.
You can blame it on Jimmie Johnson stinking up the show or on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s lousy season or on IROC-looking cars racing on cookie-cutter tracks.
Take your pick of reasons. The bottom line -- with apologies to William Shakespeare -- is that something is rotten in the state of NASCAR.
Double-file restarts haven’t turned it around. Consistent start times next season won’t turn it around. Those were good moves but they haven’t been enough.
So -- what does the truck series have that the Cup series lacks?
The truck series has tiny purses, unsponsored trucks and struggles to make a full field of 36 each race. But it also has a reputation for beatin’ and bangin’. It’s a place for young drivers to prove they’re tough enough and old drivers to prove the fire still burns within them.
If the Cup series had such an attitude it wouldn’t matter if the temperature dipped below freezing.
Doug Demmons is a writer and editor for the Birmingham News ~ he writes daily and weekly auto racing columns ranging from NASCAR to open wheel to Formula One, local tracks and more... you can read Doug's columns online at Blog of Tommorow
Follow Doug on Twitter: @dougdemmons
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.