April 1, 2012
By Kim Roberson
Isn’t it amazing how reactionary a fan base we have become in recent years?
In the past, if there was a part of a race a fan didn’t like, they could complain about it, but they knew there was little hope of the problem being fixed to their liking.
These days, fans not only are vocal about the changes they want to see in NASCAR, they often demand that the track involved make the changes that the fan wants made. Because of the nature of media coverage, both traditional radio and television and electronic media like Facebook and Twitter, there is a chance for not only immediate reaction to whatever is happening on the track, but immediate response from members of the media, as well as NASCAR drivers, team owners, track owners, and even NASCAR leadership.
The most recent example of this is Bristol Motor Speedway, and the fact that just two weeks after the spring race there, owner Bruton Smith is talking about changing the track between now and the fall night race -- all because some fans are claiming the racing has gotten “boring” without the numerous crashes that used to fill any race at Bristol.
Back in the days *before* Smith paid millions of dollars to change the banking of the track just to help cut down on those crashes. I can’t quite understand how three wide racing on a short track can be called boring, and yet there are fans out there who claim just that, and want the “old” Bristol back.
In just two weeks, NASCAR is returning to Rockingham Speedway for the Camping World Truck Series. Almost a decade ago, NASCAR took racing away from the Rock, because fans just weren’t turning out to watch cars on the track. Suddenly, fans screamed that racing was better at places like Rockingham and NASCAR needed to bring the track back. Andy Hillenberg bought the track at auction several years ago, and has slowly built the old Winston Cup track into a modern version of the old track.
NASCAR caved to the combination of fan begging and owner updates, and sanctioned the Camping World Truck Series race for this year.
Now it is up to the fans to prove that the track deserves to stay. All of the men and women who cried out when the track was taken off the schedule need to be at the track and in the seats to watch the race in two weeks. They need to pay money for the tickets, and more for the food and mementos, and when they are done at the end of the day, they need to be vocal about how much they loved the racing there. If they don’t, then this might be a one and done experiment and Andy Hillenberg will likely go back to hosting testing and non-NASCAR sanctioned races.
Remember how fans complained about the Chase?
It's been almost nine seasons since the Chase began (and remember, the Chase was created in response to Matt Kenseth winning the 2003 Championship with only one race win all season). Kurt Busch is with his third team since he won that first Chase championship back in 2003.
Imagine how different it would've been last season if we had not had the chase. It would not have come down to the last lap of the last race between the top two finishers to determine who was going to win the 2011 championship. Instead, Carl Edwards would have won the title -- again with only one win all season -- and Tony Stewart would have finished third.
Just imagine on the excitement we would have missed out on if we had not given the Chase a chance to work its way out from its infant stages to where it is today.
Next on the chopping block appears to be the All-Star race.
Admittedly I don't believe the All-Star race has had the same format in any of the years that it has been run since I became a fan. From inversions to fan favorites to who leads what lap when to how many segments do we have -- it seems to change with every season. As a result you never really know what the point of the All-Star race is or who is supposed to be there at the end. Yet all of the changes that happen every year seem to be based on fan reaction to the year before – and instead of having one standard format, you need a press release to know just what you will be looking at on the track as NASCAR tries to respond to fan demands.
The problem is that happy fans don’t tend to share their opinions about what is going on in the race, instead it is the unhappy fans that are the most vocal and make their voices heard on line or through the media -- regardless of what their specific gripe is. As a result, it appears to outsiders that there are more problems with NASCAR than things that are good. And that is why we have track owners like Bruton Smith always trying to fix things that don't necessarily need to be fixed.
Maybe is the line of work that I've been in for over a decade but I believe it is better to be proactive than reactive. Teams and track owners should try and look ahead and try and find out what future issues will be facing them instead of responding to the knee-jerk reactions that are happening after every race.
Certainly there are instances when team owners and track owners should respond to fan concerns after a race, but those should be about hospitality towards the fan or one-off issues at the track and not to the specific racing style on the track -- because that could be due to many factors beyond anyone's control, and it is unlikely that a quick fix will prove to be a long-term solution.
Finally, as much as I hate to say it and many fans hate to hear it, the old days are gone. It is unlikely that the way things “used to be” will ever suddenly become the way things “are”. And if you are happy with the way things “are”, then let your voice be heard as well, and don’t let the vocal minority affect the way we see racing from here on out.
Follow Kim on Twitter: @ksrgatorfn
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.