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Pedley: Change Is Inevitable; In Cup, It’s Constant

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, January 20 2011

More changes are likely coming to NASCAR. Will the series survive them or prosper under them? (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)The Sprint Cup cars will have a different look and feel to them.

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

So one day this week we will reportedly all get the news that NASCAR officials have changed the system by which they award championship points after races. Like the idea or hate it, fans will

have to deal with it.

But perhaps a bigger issue in the long run is that another major, course-altering, radical change is coming to the sport.

That is, once again, NASCAR is embarking out onto the razor’s edge as the current administration seeks to keep its sport relevant, if not vibrant.

The fact that NASCAR is sliding down the slope of diminishing popularity is no longer discussed in hushed tones among those who inhabit the offices just off Bill France Boulevard in Daytona Beach.

They know how to read in those offices. They know how to read media reports and, more importantly, they know how to read A.C. Nielsen numbers. They also know what empty grandstand seats and vacant corporate suites look like.

And they know that business as usual can be a non-refundable ticket to oblivion. Especially in these times of bountiful entertainment options and a woeful world economy.

So, a long and significant series of changes to the sport have been rolled out in recent years. The changes have included everything from cars with wings to a playoff system to the dictum of “Have at it, boys”.

Reaction from teams and drivers has been rather subdued to all the changes. For the most part, the

NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France. His reign has been marked by change. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

people in the shops and cockpits know, first, that NASCAR is a business and, second, they have no choice but to go along.

Reaction from fans has ranged from “Love it” to “I’m outta here”.

And therein lies the problem with life in Daytona Beach during the decade of change: Series officials walk the thin, dangerous line of placating – and thus keeping – the old school fans, and making stock car racing more appealing to new-age entertainment palates.

Boiled down, it’s tradition vs. expedience.

As to be expected, we don’t hear much from the fans who occupy the middle ground when it comes to change. Human nature just does not seem to force people to jump up out of their chairs up in a heated environment and shout things like “Let’s give it a chance” or “Maybe this could work out”.

What we do hear and hear loudly – by way of emails, letters and, perhaps, turnstile counts – is “You suck” and “No, you do”.

As NASCAR bumps its way down the sidewalk, collapsible cane in hand, the only thing that it is sure to slam into is opposition. It knows that. It knows that it can’t please everybody. Not even the NFL can do that.

It also knows a bit about mortality. It knows that the one true thing about old schools is that at some point, they get real old and then they disappear. Right now, the pioneering fan base of stock car racing – the fan base which grew up amid the American car culture of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s – is in its 50s, 60s and 70s itself.

Watch the Barrett-Jackson auto auction this week. Look at who is interested in – and buying – the old V-8, carbureted, push-rod muscle cars. It’s a vestige of the Golden Age of American Car Culture. It’s oldsters, not jammers.

Those folks don’t buy mass quantities of tickets and gear, NASCAR knows. They aren’t saps for beer commercials in which every guy is hard-edge cool and every gal is a sculpted cover girl just looking for a good time.

So NASCAR is moving on. It has to.

Recently, in the midst of heated battle about the Chase – yep, it is still raging after seven years – I got a low-key email from a fan which I kind of liked. To paraphrase, the person said: Hey, I’m a young guy and all I have really known is the Chase. In 10 years, nobody will even remember what it was like to not have a playoff and won’t understand why it didn’t all along.

I think that’s about right.

Not all change is good, but change itself is inevitable. We will all find out together if it is helpful to a sport that sagging up and down the line, or a setback in the quest for relevance.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, January 20 2011
7 Comments

7 Comments »

  • Keith says:

    It does not matter how they have the point structure set up but if they reset the points in any way and have a playoff format it will be a farce.

  • Gail Forrester says:

    I totally disagree that fan reation to the new points system has been miexed. Every website and blog I have visited shows the fans nearly unanimous in saying they HATE the proposed new system, because it devalues winning. The argument about consistency versus excellence has been going on forever, but the fans want winners. Period. The prospect of a non-winner taking the championship last year was real, and NA$CRAP has responded by making it even more likely. The differential between first and second should be INCREASED not decreased, whether it is done by the structure of the points system or bonus points. I do not want the Detroit Lions winning the NFL championship by some weirdo points system based on points scored or yards gained. I want WINNERS in the Super Bowl. Even the Nationwide championship last season was a joke. Brad won the points, but Kyle seemed to win every race he entered. Who really had the better season? Kyle did, by a landslide. This whole scenario stinks – it is almost as if Brian France is TRYING to drive fans away. I will follow IRL or F1 rather than NASCAR if this sport becomes nothing but “stroking for points.” My grandmother could do that.

  • Cotton says:

    Terry has it right with one exception. Neither he nor I can still cheer the blue oval from near or far, I wish we could. To me, one of the most disconcerting changes NASCAR has made has been to effectively remove automotive brands from the race track. Long before the COT, brand identity was gone. I don’t care so much what the cars look like as who actually designs and builds them. The Strictly Stock Division of NASCAR was created to race stock cars, not race cars. I don’t want to go back to racing the unsafe stock cars of the 50’s or 60’s but I see nothing wrong with racing purpose built cars that have stock body,tire, and engine configurations. Like Terry, I expect, I believe a stock configured Ford will still outrun a stock configured Chevy.

    Cotton

    • Terry says:

      Cotton,
      The best you will be able to hope for is a nose change to make the 2012 car look more …..well like a car. The 2013 is suppose to be an all new clone car. They may hopefully continue to at least distinguish the front clips for us vision impaired geezers. The S in NASCAR stands for “Simulated” and will from now on. That is a ” change ” you have to live with.
      Terry

      • Cotton says:

        Yep! You are absolutely right, Terry. I guess the only good thing about it is that I can still cheer for “Awesome Bill” when he gets in a “Chevy” this year.
        Cotton

  • Gordon82Wins says:

    There are three things NASCAR must do to get fans back, and they are not going to do any of them:

    - Make the race broadcast less of a commercialpalooza.

    - Lose the Chase.

    - Go back to Rockingham or North Wilkesboro, or at least tracks like them, that routinely produce great races and get away from the superspeedways where only aero matters.

    Not seeing any of that even close to happening, and I see the fan base continuing to decline sharply in 2011.

  • Terry says:

    Jim,
    Jan. 22,1961…” the torch has been passed ” were the words then.
    You are correct. The core fan, traditional, old school, or crotchety old guy’s………how ever you want to phrase it are NO longer relevant.
    We are not opposed to change. We embraced the OHV,Sputnik, and the Beatles. We have smoothly transitioned computers and the downsizing of the cars at the track and home.
    We have long tolerated the slow downward spiral of NASCAR racing. We do not have to like it.
    Remember 1900 to 1980 boxing was BIG. You and I knew who held the DISTINCT titles. Now look at the Jr. WBOIBCWBAeieio light heavy middle mess it is today.
    I think our two fisted instance on retaining some tradition will make the remaining sport better for the future fans left.
    I do believe our passion and our money will be missed.
    NASCAR will pay homage to us just long enough to buzzard pick some Social Security meat off the bones of the
    old dead LIONS of Racing’s Golden Age.
    Me and JFK will soon be passing memories. Only, I can still cheer the blue oval from afar.
    Terry