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Minter: NASCAR Needs To Go Where Fans Go

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 8 2010

As NASCAR officials search for answers, they may want to venture into the grandstands at race tracks. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

In these times of declining attendance at NASCAR races, my mind always wanders back to some of the great short track promoters I’ve known over the years.

They weren’t necessarily flashy. They didn’t try to grab attention with fake April Fools Day press releases and controversial billboard advertisements. They just understood their product and their audience.

And all the great ones were fans first and foremost. They didn’t get wrapped up in rules controversies and such. They watched their races from the grandstands, just like their paying customers. When the show wasn’t moving along at a reasonable clip, they got bored just like the rest, and they did something about it. When it was exciting, they were on the edge of their seat just like everyone else.

The late Hence Pollard, founder of Senoia Raceway just outside Atlanta, was one of the great ones. He carved a 3/8-mile clay oval out of his farm, mostly because he enjoyed dirt track racing. And he did everything he could to make sure everyone else enjoyed it just as much as he did.

Mickey Swims, of Dixie and Rome Speedways in Georgia, works right up until race time preparing his race tracks. But once the races start, he takes a seat up top, and even after all the years he’s been in the business, he’s as big a fan as you’ll ever see.

The late Joe Lee Johnson, winner of the inaugural World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1960 and the 1959 champion of NASCAR’s Convertible Division, made his living as owner and promoter of Cleveland Speedway, a dirt track in Tennessee.

One night I ran into Johnson at a dirt track in North Georgia. Actually we were standing in line to get into the men’s room. As we chatted, Joe Lee lowered his voice to a whisper and revealed one of the trade secrets of successful race promotion.

“Listen to what the men are talking about in here,” he said. “This is where you can find out what your fans really think of your race track.”

I have no way of knowing what goes on in the ladies side of the facilities, but when men are standing at the sink or the hand dryer or wherever, they tend to speak their minds, even to total strangers.

Johnson went on to say that he paid attention to the rest room chatter at his track, and made adjustments accordingly.

Atlanta Motor Speedway president Ed Clark is one of the modern-day promoters who spends considerable time visiting with fans in their element. He does it in the campgrounds at his track and at other tracks like Bristol Motor Speedway. He uses what he learns there to make the changes he can make at his track. Those campground visits have helped him understand that for many fans today, the overall adventure of the race weekend is more important than the race itself. And that’s one of the big reasons he’s turning his track’s Labor Day Cup race into an event that has a “state fair” kind of feel.

But at some point, NASCAR needs to figure out what its fan base wants on the race track and then try to deliver it.

It’s time some of the big movers and shakers put on t-shirts and ball caps, load up the cooler, buy a ticket and take in a race weekend just like the average fan. They might even consider attending some other form of motorsports, like drag racing.

And while they’re at it, they should listen very carefully when they’re standing in line at the rest room.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 8 2010


  • Steve says:

    Well said JR

    I would like to add, that if Nascar wants to put people back in the stands, it needs to fix the product on the track, plain and simple. If the product stinks most weekends, people are not going to show up to the track and people are not going to watch on tv.

    This sport did not become a great sport because of money, but it has gone in the crapper because of money. I wish the big wigs in Daytona would realize this. A sellout at Martinsville with 60,000 fans is the same as 1/2 the grandstands empty at Fontana with 60,000 seats filled.

  • […] Minter: NASCAR Needs To Go Where Fans Go […]

  • JR says:

    Rick, your article looks at racing from the track owner/promoter aspect: How can we get more fans to come to the track and spend their money so our profits soar? I’ll offer my view from the standpoint of a fan who has attended NASCAR races (and other forms of motor sports) since the mid 1960’s.

    In my opinion, the race should be the reason for a fan to attend. Giving a race weekend a “state fair” feel or attempts to lure ticket buying fans with pre-race concerts, shows or patriotic extravaganzas is counterproductive to the race itself. Money spent to produce these events is money that is not spent on prize money or for facility improvements. In fact, ticket costs are increased to pay for this non-racing stuff. Actual race fans come to a stock car race to see a stock car race. Actual race fans are also aware that racing is more like a chess game than a WWE wrestling match. As a result, we don’t go around moaning about how boring a race is. We pay our money and we take our chances. Sometimes we see exciting races and finishes and sometimes we see a team that hits the right combination and leads all the laps and wins the race. By having NASCAR and the track owners/promoters (and today, the sponsors as well) making constant changes to the actual racing because they are listening to a “fan” they attracted with a ZZ Top concert, well that is what has gotten the sport to where it currently finds itself. There are not 300 million race fans out there wanting to attend a NASCAR race. Go back to having one day events with qualifying held prior to the race (and with ticket prices to match) and see how many fans show up. Having established a real fan base, gear the business plan around making a profit at that level of business and lets all get back to enjoying what we love, racing.