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Are NASCAR Fans Moving On To Dirtier Pursuits?

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 21 2012

The racing was side-by-side but the fans were not elbow-to-elbow at Bristol over the weekend. Have fans moved to the swamp? (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Anyone who cares even a little bit about auto racing has to be saddened by the empty seats at Bristol Motor Speedway last weekend and at other tracks on the circuit, as well as the sluggish ratings for broadcasts of races.

It can’t all be blamed on the economy. If people were true fans, and couldn’t afford to travel to races, wouldn’t they be tuned in at home in large numbers?

It can’t be blamed all on the race tracks, a criticism that Bristol gets from some quarters these days. Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth put on a Petty vs. Pearson kind of battle for the win on Sunday, a battle that should have been a crowd pleaser. But in an era when the pre-race TV promotions in general tend to focus on one wreck after another, the perception seems to be that anything less than a wreck-fest is boring.

An idea as to the whereabouts of the NASCAR fan base can be found in an article in USA Today last week.

In an article entitled ‘’Rednecks swamp TV as viewers seek grittier reality”, writer Carol Memmott took an interesting look at the reality TV shows that have become the rage of late, shows like “Swamp People” and “Hillbilly Handfishin” and “Lizard Lick Towing” that feature the same kind of “real people” that used to drive stock cars back in the day.

Have drivers become too neat and clean for some fans? (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

And, as the article pointed out, it’s not just men that are tuning in. April Masini, a relationship expert, said swamp people and those who catch catfish with their bare hands are a hit with women as well, something NASCAR discovered about its drivers decades ago.

“Any guy who considered his Porsche, cashmere sweaters and Italian shoes chick magnets, take note. The new man that women are looking for is rugged and fearless — and reality TV has capitalized and is bringing women ‘the new firemen’: men who go into swamps and catch big fish with their bare hands, mano a mano,” Masini is quoted as saying, adding that “Ernest Hemingway would be drinking gin in front of the television, watching “Mudcats” if he was alive today.”

In the article, executives from the History Channel, which carries several shows including Swamp People, said their network is second only to ESPN in viewership by men and that “Swamp People” averages 4.5 million viewers per episode.

Lizard Lick’s Ron Shirley is quoted as saying shows like his feature folks that viewers can identify with, something NASCAR once enjoyed when many of its top drivers grew up in the textile mill villages of the south.

“What America has been looking for for a long time is real people,” Shirley. “They want real politicians, they want real doctors, they want real lawyers. They want people who understand them and are like them.”

It wasn’t that long ago that fans would run into NASCAR drivers at gas stations and restaurants on the way home from races. Now drivers fly in and out of race tracks on private jets and either commute to races on those jets or stay in luxury motorcoaches behind secure fences. They have to be careful what they say or risk trouble with NASCAR or their sponsors.

It’s not the drivers’ fault that they’ve become wealthy, but it’s a sign the sport has changed. Maybe there’s some wealth envy among fans, or maybe they’re looking for a driver like Dale Earnhardt, who hunted and fished and raised chickens and cows away from the race track and on the track seemed like a man who could catch a catfish with his bare hands.

Maybe NASCAR just hasn’t gotten over the loss of Earnhardt. Maybe there’s just not enough drama these days – before, during or after a race.

There’s not much excitement in hearing a Cup driver recite a list of his sponsors and talk about having a good points day. But it is to hear Troy Landry last season, wrestling with a mean alligator on the line, turn to his Swamp People fishing partner, Liz Cavalier and yell: “Shoot ‘im Elizabeth!”

It’s not exactly Danica Mania, but many of the same people that NASCAR used to count on to buy tickets and tune in for race broadcasts sure seem to enjoy it.

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

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 21 2012
5 Comments

5 Comments »

  • dick says:

    There’s enough blame so that you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a dozen reasons, first of all. But I think the root problem is NASCAR’s insistence that they’ll be all things to all people!

    First foul was to take stock car racing out of its natural environment and attempt to convert the entire nation into a “the South shall rise again”-style audience.

  • Mike Thiltgen says:

    Maybe, just maybe — People are sick of the Waltrip brothers and there Toyota commercials. I personaly mute the tv and listen to MRN. I hate the IROC cars and the little box that they have to play in. Somebody is going to come along and start a real stock cars racing division with factory race cars and it will all be over for Nascar. They will have no one to thank but themselves for there demise. I have been a huge fan since the Wide World of Sports days but most of my friends just are not interested anymore.When you go to the race they want $10 for a hot dog $300 for a motel room 70 miles away from the track and they want you to rent the room for 4 days. What has Nascar done to talk these scalpers out of doing this? Most of the races stink because there is no testing for teams to dial in a setup for the race. It all started in 92 with the radial tires to save the teams money(realy)the next year one tire cost the same as 4 bias ply tires cost the year before. When was the last exciting race I saw — 1991 when you could actualy slide a car sideways with the tires smoking lap after lap. GOOD LUCK WITH IT

  • mr clause says:

    It’s going to be interesting to see how NASCAR reacts when they realize that it’s corporate boardrooms that are dictating to them instead of NASCAR dictating to them. HMS this week just may have begun to swing the pendulum of power away from BZF and his henchmen. The supposed violation put aside, NASCAR received a rather large smack upside the head by someone who did not fear them and was willing to fight them for his belief that he was in the right. Maybe, just maybe, the message sent to the ivory tower will be recognized. But on the other hand I’m not at all sure that the inspection process for HMS is going to be a lot of fun for quite a while. All said and done folks, NASCAR has had this coming for a very long time, it just took the right man to do it. A man just as powerful as NASCAR itself. By power I guess I mean wealth. The recently posted value of HMS alone was estimated at $400,000,000, that’s not including the dealership empire Hendrick has built. NASCAR screwed Carl Long and a lot of others over the years, this time they met their match.

  • Delbert Crudney says:

    The real problem with NA$CAR is summed up in your last sentence. If NA$CAR has sunk so low that it depends on some chick who will NEVER win a NA$CAR sanctioned race to generate buzz they are already too far gone to be relevant. My suggestion to NA$CAR is this : If you are going to use a female to “reinvigorate” your sport then at least use one that actually resembles a real woman, not some skinny, spoiled, snotty midget.

  • Webb Racing 97 says:

    Corporate racing has ruined NASCAR! I use to get autographs from drivers all the time in public venues. I actually caught Ricky Rudd (@Indy) walking out to his rental car as he was leaving the speedway to go get some lunch. Heck, he invites me to join him. Unfortuantely I had no way to tell my friends I waa going to be gone for a while. In hidesight, I should of just went. That was the year he won the brickyard 400 in the Tide ride!