Pedley: Change Is Inevitable; In Cup, It’s Constant
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org Comments