The Fans & Bruton Smith Need to Read This & Smell the Coffee

Bruton Smith is willing to spend one of his millions
in response to “The Fans”

Bruton Smith has been listening to a lot of fans since the March 18th race at Bristol Motor Speedway left a lot of people within NASCAR wondering, why there were so many open seats in the stands that day?  Mr. Smith, says that day was an embarrassment for the legendary track, known for years as the hottest ticket on the circuit.  

After listening to fans and their perspective, Bruton Smith made an announcement Wednesday that he would make some changes, in an effort to bring fans back to his track.  What exactly are those changes? No one knows yet, as the man footing the bill for this make-over said he will provide those details in a couple weeks. 

Let’s hope within these next two weeks, Bruton Smith conducts a more in-depth analysis before spending $1 million, or more to address the empty seats of March 18th. Many think that money should be spent on re-surfacing the track to create the nostalgic racing of yester-year’s bumping and grinding. There are times when the majority or the most vocal may not have the right perspective – and this may be one of those times. Re-surfacing or re-configuring the track may not be the answer. 

Let’s just step back a moment and think about what’s been happening within NASCAR and the world of fans over the last few years. 

For instance, NASCAR’s declining fan base didn’t just happen overnight in the month of March 2012. Take a look at this blog from Brandon Brown in October of 2010. He makes some great points for consideration that were valid then and still hold true now. Brown’s article covers a great deal more than the racing on the track. 

What happened on March 18th? That same declining fan base and the economy together caught up with the hottest ticket on the circuit at Bristol Motor Speedway.  

At one time, getting a ticket to a race at Bristol was nearly impossible until someone died and left their cherished season ticket to a family member or it was sold at a premium price to the highest bidder. This is simply no longer the case, for a few reasons. 

First, let’s put this point into perspective. Looking at a newer track, with a similar concern is Chicagoland Speedway. Getting a ticket to see a race there was nearly impossible. You had to know someone with an inside connection to get a seat, as tickets were sold out nearly as quickly as they became available. At one point, there was talk of expanding the seating at the track to accommodate the demand. However, that talk has quickly diminished because the demand has declined over the last few years. 

In fact, Chicagoland Speedway and many other tracks are now creating incentives and giving away tickets to get fans to the track. Although the economy is not affecting the larger majority of people, it is affecting a larger percentage of people than ever before.  It is a fact, a larger percentage of people are cutting back on the number of races they are attending. Obviously, not all fans are affected by the economy, but there are enough fans that are affected, that we are seeing open seats at more than just one track.  

Although, both Chicagoland and Bristol are similar in seeing declining numbers at their track, there is also one big difference between the newer ten-year-old track – Chicagoland Speedway – and the historic 60-year-old track, Bristol Motor Speedway.  That difference is their seating capacity. Chicagoland Speedway’s seating capacity is 75,000, while at Bristol its 160,000. How many fans attended the March 18th Bristol race? 102,000 fans were in attendance that day – which is down from the 120,000 attending in spring of 2011. So, it’s not as if there is no interest in the track or the racing any longer. 

Here’s another point of consideration – Kentucky Speedway now gives NASCAR fans the option of another track in the area for attending races during the season and during a warmer time of the year. There’s also Bristol’s August Night race as an option for fans. So another way to analyze the issue of empty seats in March is to consider a redistribution of fans from the two venues to now three venues, with two of those venues conducting their events during preferred warmer weather time-frames.

Getting back to the declining numbers at tracks across the board, anyone thinking the economy is a non-issue for the declining numbers at the track, needs to re-assess their perspective. One need only ask Kenny Wallace if the economy is affecting his chances of racing from week to week. His update this week to fans on Facebook and Google+ is simply this: 

“Here is a UPDATE for my NASCAR driving career: My race team RAB Racing is not shutting down and I will NEVER quit racing, HOWEVER here is the situation. We need money to keep paying our employees at RAB Racing. I will FOR SURE race at Talladega and both Chicago races and Kansas and Michigan because I have sponsorship from “Family Farmers and American Ethanol.” If another driver comes along and HAS MONEY to drive MY CAR I will support that because we need to keep our employees. Thank You all, Kenny”

Or David Stremme, who on twitter yesterday said “heck we would like just for someone to pay the tire bill.” He said this in response to a fan asking “what do we need to do?” This fan didn’t have money to pay the tire bill but offered to send brownies or cookies to keep up the morale, if it would help.  

Sponsorship was much more accessible a few years ago too – it’s simply not as accessible now. Even high-power teams with consistency, and young guns performing well are not fully funded for 2012. For example, Roush Fenway Racing’s Matt Kenseth – 2003 Sprint Cup Champion, Trevor Bayne – 2011 Daytona 500 Winner and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 2011 Nationwide Series champion – are all not fully funded for 2012. 

Saying the economy is not a factor for the attendance at Bristol is simply ignoring what’s happening right before our eyes. Keeping this in mind, one has to wonder if it really is good common sense to stretch sponsorship dollars even thinner by promoting drivers to beat and bang on each other at the track. 

Unless fans are willing to pay more to cover the cost of repairing and replacing the damage that comes along with this type of racing, then these same fans need to accept, the changing environment around us. We no longer live in the NASCAR world of it’s heritage and this is not the 1980’s or 90’s or even the world as we knew it ten years ago. 

Bruton Smith has no reason to be embarrassed and hopefully he is willing to listen to more than one perspective before spending his $1 million in an attempt to revert this short track to it’s glory days. 

Let’s be real here, if Bruton Smith accommodates “The Fans” saying they want him to bring back “beating ‘n banging” for a win at Bristol, what’s the next out cry from “The Fans” when “the seats” are still e-m-p-t-y?  Changing the surface of the track will not put money into even one fan’s pocket allowing them to be at the track, let alone the 58,000 fans leaving seats empty in March. When asked, most fans will say, they are cutting down on the number of races they’re attending this year, because of either time or money. 

Answering this question before it’s asked…No – we saw some great racing at Bristol! But for some, this question needs to be asked… 

Was the racing so bad on March 18th, that “The Fans” are willing to sacrifice future sponsorship for their drivers?  

From week-to-week fans are not sure if fan-favorite Kenny Wallace will be racing within the Nationwide series. Why? Because even without the added bill for “beating ‘n banging” at the March Bristol race, there’s no sponsorship for Kenny to race full-time. Last weekend, Kenny Wallace finished in the top-ten – will he be able to contend for a championship this year? Without a sponsor – probably not. 

Folks, it’s time to take a good hard look at the “real-world!” 

Anyone smelling coffee?

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