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Woody: Hall Of Fame Learns Fans Can Be Fickle

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, December 17 2010

Fans line up for events at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Attendance continues to fall far below projections at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, leaving the facility drowning in a sea of red ink.

The HOF reportedly lost $409,000 between July and October, and losses are projected to exceed $1 million by next summer.

What went wrong? What made the “experts” put their faith in a $195 million project that so far has been a colossal bust?

For starters, attendance projections were vastly over-inflated.

I doubt that many folks consider a racing Hall of Fame a long-range travel destination, especially in dire economic times. That means that the bulk of visitors are race fans from around the Charlotte area, or out-of-towners who come in for one of the three big racing weekends.

Most HOF of visitors are likely one-time attendees. How many times is someone going keep coming back and buying a ticket to see Richard Petty’s old racing uniform?

I know: in theory every year new inductees and new exhibits are added. But I’m not sure that theory will hold true. It will take a whole lot of new exhibits to keep bringing back repeat visitors.

The big mistake that the HOF of made from the outset was limiting its annual class to five

Junior Johnson is presented with his Hall of Fame jacket by NASCAR president Mike Helton. (Photo by Chris Keane/Getty Images for NASCAR)

inductees. In the initial class there were only three drivers – Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Junior Johnson – along with administrators Bill France Sr. and  Jr. That’s a pretty slim class.

I suspect a lot of fans were miffed that a driver the caliber of David Pearson didn’t make it. Pearson got in in the second round, but such notables as Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough were snubbed.

Would having Pearson in this year and Waltrip and Yarborough in next year solve the HOF of fame’s attendance problem? Probably not. But it couldn’t hurt, especially if there were another 25 or so other deserving inductees in there with them.

Instead, the HOF made membership so exclusive that it ended up with an echo chamber.

This is not the first time that industry experts have mis-read a racing landscape. Eleven yards ago Dover Motorsports came to Nashville to build a superspeedway. They selected a site in Gladeville, 35 miles southeast of the city, and pumped a reported $100 million into a state-of-the-art facility.

The track had 50,000 seats for its NASCAR Nationwide Series opener. Barely half of them were filled when the green flag waved. By the next race some 20,000 of the seats had been dismantled. Today the track seats around 25,000-30,000 and in its 10-year history has yet to have a sellout.

What went wrong? How could a racing hotbed like Nashville fail to fill such a small facility? My guess is that area fans are interested primarily in Cup races and when the big-leaguers left in 1984, fans weren’t overly excited about second- and third-tier races.

I still believe they’d turn out for a Cup race, but not for any others. And so the huge crowds that the experts predicted have not showed up at the track.

They built it but – like the Hall of Fame – they didn’t come.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, December 17 2010
3 Comments

3 Comments »

  • Dick says:

    I wonder if it might have a little something to do with the fact that “NASCAR” these days is every-blessed-where? Has the “soap-opera ization” of literally e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g NASCAR perhaps finally saturated the public? Is the lack of interest in the ho-hum HOF just an indicator of the fact that people have had enough of the minutia of NASCAR stars’ lives and are tuning out?

    Yeah. I realize that SPEED has inordinate amounts of airtime to use somehow, but have they finally killed off the once insatiable enthusiasm fans had for “all things NASCAR”?

    Just speaking for myself, I’ve changed from a ‘watch every minute of racing action’ type of fan on race day into someone that now patiently DVRs every race. I do this so I can FF past not only all the commercials, but also everything else that isn’t ‘green flag racing’ including opening ceremonies, all the adnauseum announcer’s commentaries and all the cautions.

    Has anyone ever told young France that there can be too much of a good thing?

  • Mike says:

    Think about this. NASCAR bragged they had 75 million fans. That’s 25% of the country. Then look at the TV ratings and attendance. If 75 million people were fans, the grandstands would be full even in this economy and the TV ratings would be beating the NFL consistently. So the over-inflation on the number of fans started with NASCAR itself.

    Then there’s the actual nomination and election process. Raymond Parks Jr, who was the last surviving founder of NASCAR got snubbed. NASCAR’s first champion, Red Byron got snubbed. Red Vogt, the man who actually coined NASCAR, not even a thought. Then it comes out that they want “star power” or “name recognition” on the inductees for the HOF. So the best aren’t being considered for nomination or induction. How long is it going to take guys like Smokey Yunick, Rex White, Banjo Matthews, John Holman, Ralph Moody, and Red Farmer to be inducted for their contributions for not just the racing side of things but also for their contributions on pioneering things like jack screws, suspension, steering, hubs, and chassis inovations that are still being used today? If a founding father like Parks Jr can’t get inducted, what are the odds of others like Byron, Vogt, or Yunick getting in?

    Then there’s the actual location of the facility. How many race fans are going to be able to actually park adjacent to the facility? Especially ones who are there for a race weeknd and are driving an RV or motor home? From some accounts, the actual location isn’t exactly in the best part of town either, so there’s a fear factor involved there, real or perceived. And as we know, perception is reality according to both Vince McMahon and Mike Helton.

    Then we have the arrogance factor on the part of NASCAR’s leadership. Do they really think that just because something has the name NASCAR on it or associated with it that people are going to flock from around the nation much less lower Slobovia to visit the HOF? And that’s during good economic times. With the economy being the way it is, fans aren’t going to travel just to see the HOF. They might in conjunction with a race weekend at CMS, but not by itself. And thinking that the locals would go back time and again shows a little bit of arrogance too. They can’t even support their local sport teams and NASCAR thinks they’ll support the HOF? Obviously somebody has had one too many “sodas” down in Daytona.

  • Terry says:

    I know that many people were put off by the opening inductees….
    Petty-Pearson-Big Bill……not to many would buck that line up. Some will grumble about little peeve’s but not much.
    When it comes to the other 2…..there are almost as many HATERS as fans….so to leave the one guy (PERASON ) few argue about off …AND MOST CONSIDER THE BEST PURE DRIVER
    …was a slap in the face of the core fan….
    Yes they will get over it…..but it has hurt and was a 2-3 year set back.
    NASCAR has miss read it’s fan base for a long time now.