Thoughts on the Coke 600

Posted: May 28, 2009 in NASCAR
Tags: , , , , ,

The 2009 Coca Cola 600 certainly lived up to its billing as the longest race in the Cup series season taking over 24 hours to complete. In all seriousness, I was glad to see NASCAR trying to get its hometown race completed under green flag conditions, but it did make for a long Sunday and Memorial Day just waiting to see if the track would be able to come to life. There are a few things that I have been pondering since.

First Victory for Michael Waltrip Racing

As with anyone, a first victory in the Sprint Cup series is one to be celebrated no matter how the race is won, after all a win is a win. I would like to say congratulations to David Reutimman and the 00 team on the win.

Yet, as much as I would like to say that another driver/owner team is turning the corner I can’t in this case. Reutimann said it himself that they had a top 15 car, which though solid would only add to the inconsistent finishes that MWR has been experiencing. I’m going to hold off further judgment in this case and see if MWR can hit on a string of good runs before I can give them a passing grade in the team category.

Why NASCAR is Losing TV Viewership

The COT

It’s interesting that NASCAR would call this the COT because you need a cot to watch one of these races so you can sleep through the 100 to 200 laps where the drivers are all running the same line. What it comes down to is this, the COT cars do not like to pass one another; you have heard it from multiple drivers they can’t pass. The other issue is that usually the car in the front pulls away and doesn’t look back. All of these issues are cause by the dirty air that the cars create. With the new boxier design, the COT creates more dirty air that makes passing other cars nearly impossible.

I know that the COT is much safer for the drivers, but the trade is that NASCAR is losing the competition that the older cars provided. Less interesting races equal less fans and sponsorship money.

The Age of the P.C. Driver

I had forgotten until this race that Tony Stewart has an attitude. Good for him for going after Billy Bad Butt-into- conversations-he-has-nothing-to-do-with. NASCAR has tried to groom drivers into Jimmie Johnson and they all have come out looking vanilla. They can get podunked at 200 miles per hour and when the cameras are in front of them say that’s racing. This shouldn’t happen. I understand that they don’t want fisitcuffs every weekend but slapping drivers with a fine because they let a profanity slip out or got in the face of the person who took them out of the race is too much. More importantly people want to see drama, they want to see the drivers’ real personalities. It’s unfortunate to see a sport that was created by moonshiners succumbing to political correctness.

Pre-Race Circus

Why do we need the hour-long countdown to green where the commentators rehash the same things over and over? This is not the Super Bowl it’s a NASCAR race. As someone who attends two NASCAR races a year, the pre-race festivities are great for people in the stands. Most of the time I end up not seeing them because they relegate the pre-race show to the front stretch and I’m sitting on the back stretch, but for those people in the stands it helps the time go by quicker.

As a television viewer, when the NASCAR Web site says the race is at 2PM I now know not to turn it on until 2:45 or later because of the time it takes before the cars get on the track. If people don’t see action in the first 15 minutes of the show they aren’t going to stay on that channel long.

Engage the Fans

As a NASCAR fan, all the time I hear from people who don’t watch the sport, “How can you watch that; it’s so boring?” Promptly after which, I go into an explanation that there is a lot more behind racing than going around in circles. I start to talk about listening to a scanner to hear what the drivers are saying and understanding the amount of work that goes into getting ready for and competing in a race. They never believe me at first. Why? Simple, because you don’t see the guys who work 70 plus hours a week to breakdown, fix, put together, and set-up each car for every weekend. After I give them a taste of what a regular race week looks like and explain the technical side of racing they suddenly become more interested.

The reason why I have the knowledge of racing that I do is because I have been around the sport since I was young. The casual fan NASCAR is trying to get to watch on a Sunday afternoon most likely has not been around the sport. They don’t understand that you can get more involved in NASCAR by following blogs, points, team communications, and other announcements that come out each week. Another issue is that most people do not want to make an effort to get this extra information.

NASCAR needs to make more of an effort to reach these people who are going to be looking in the weekend section of their newspaper as opposed to the sports section. With its official sponsors, NASCAR has the opportunity to co-brand items. One of the best programs NASCAR has going to reach the casual fan is the Sunoco Free Fuel 500. I believe a few more of these co-branding deals could really reach the demographic NASCAR is looking for.

Another avenue for NASCAR is through the home track system, which is advertised during the races but could also be used as advertising for a local track. NASCAR must reach out to these casual fans and show them how to create the NASCAR experience and what better way to do so than at that person’s local track.

One-step forward is the new Hall of Fame opening in 2010 with many interactive exhibits. NASCAR should make mobile exhibits and take them to locations of official sponsors. One such exhibit could be the NASCAR licensed living room that shows how you can create a track experience in your own home. This would give NASCAR a chance to showcase RaceView and sponsor products.

The greatest thing about auto racing is that it is an experience for the fan. Sure you can go to Fenway Park or Gillette Stadium and get an experience but those can’t compare to a race. In the stands, you can feel the wind and the rumble of the cars, the fans physically feel the experience. NASCAR must make an effort to engage the casual fan demographic and show them that a race is worth the hours spent in the stands and how they can make watching a race on television an equal experience.

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