When Furniture Row Racing announced that they would cease operations Tuesday, my first reaction was shock. But as the news sunk in I realized that it should not have come as a surprise but rather another indication that NASCAR’s efforts to reduce the cost of operating a team at the premier Cup Series level are failing miserably.
I won’t pretend that I have any answers. To say that NASCAR needs to cut costs is simplistic at best. What I do know is that the current system isn’t working and hasn’t been for some time. Fans aren’t attending races and we don’t need the track records to verify this. All we have to do is view the television broadcast on any given Sunday and it’s impossible to miss the empty seats. Television ratings are down and the only competitive teams are those that are funded by the owners with the deepest pockets.
But as I pictured those empty seats I immediately thought about this past weekend at Darlington Raceway. I remembered standing outside and looking at the grandstands and realizing that they were packed with enthusiastic fans. So enthusiastic that when the threat of severe weather forced the track to announce that everyone should leave their seats and find shelter, hardly anyone moved. Those fans were not about to miss one minute of the upcoming Southern 500.
Maybe Darlington has found at least some of the answers that have eluded NASCAR. Their throwback weekends have certainly been a success although it’s not a formula that would work anywhere else. But the ideals behind it just might. It may not address the main issue of cutting costs but it’s a place to start and a step in the right direction.
What they do best is give fans what they want and it starts with tradition. Past winners include the men who laid the foundation for NASCAR, names like Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Herb Thomas, David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt, and Bill Elliott, to name a few.
And each year, Darlington continues to pay tribute to its storied history. This weekend Richard Petty, one of NASCAR’s most iconic and influential ambassadors and winner of the 1967 Rebel 400 held court at the track. He was joined by others such as Jeff Burton, Ward Burton and Ricky Craven, all past winners at the “Track Too Tough to Tame.” Local dignitary, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, an ardent supporter of Darlington Raceway, was there as well.
The track itself adds another distinctive element to the race’s appeal with its unique design, making it a standout among the newer cookie-cutter venues that are almost interchangeable. While adjusting the schedule to include a more diverse selection of tracks is not something that can be done overnight, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed, sooner rather than later.
As for the next step, consider this tweet from Michael Waltrip, as he suggests a way to address risings costs.
“Listen people closely and I will tell why making a NASCAR team work financially is nearly impossible. NASCAR stands for National Association for STOCK Car Auto Racing. The Stock piece of our name is gone. Bring back Stock and you might fix a broken business model.”
Waltrip’s idea may sound good in theory but it is also unfeasible.
Although it’s impossible to turn back time, it is never a good idea to forget the past. It’s time to embrace what drew people to NASCAR in the first place – competitive racing, passionate drivers who aren’t afraid to speak their minds, a sense of community and tradition. Focus on the basics; the fans will come and the sponsors will follow.
What steps should NASCAR take to get back on course? That is the million dollar question.
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