June 1, 2012
By Rebecca Gladden
Two years ago, in July, 2009, I wrote a column here entitled, “When the Expectation Exceeds the Excitement,” discussing the ongoing concern of uneventful Cup races that fail to live up to their hype.
In that article, I stated that boring races “might be the biggest problem facing the sport today.”
Now, two years later, it seems the rest of the world is catching up with me.
Following a very lackluster Coke 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway - one in a series of unexciting NASCAR races this year - everyone is suddenly talking about the issue of boring races.
The 600-mile race at Charlotte - the longest Cup race of the season - was almost mind-numbingly dull. There were only five cautions (four for debris and one for a single-car incident). Two drivers - Greg Biffle and Kasey Kahne - combined to lead 300 of 400 laps.
As some of you know, after ever Cup race I ask my 8000+ Twitter followers, many of whom are diehard NASCAR fans, for a one-word description of the race.
On Sunday, the vast majority of responses were highly negative. They included: boring (by far the number one descriptor), disappointing, uneventful, unfortunate, long, awful, tiring, blah, ‘yawn,’ and even ‘sucky.’
One person equated the excitement level to watching a high school golf match.
If that is what hardcore race fans thought - the ones willing to stick it out for 600 tedious miles despite any compelling reason to do so - imagine what casual viewers or those who already think NASCAR is nothing but “driving in circles” must be thinking.
Still, when the issue of boring races is brought up in social media circles, a few pundits leap to NASCAR’s defense, decrying the critics as being too “negative” and arguing that they must not be “real” race fans.
But the undeniable truth is that there is a problem. To deny its existence simply perpetuates the problem.
And please don’t think that it is only naysayers or ‘haters’ who are critical of the direction the sport has taken.
Last week, Kendra Jacobs, who grew up around racing and was a high-profile driver PR rep for several years, including two seasons with Mark Martin, wrote the following in a series of Twitter updates:
“Spending a lot of time with my family this week. Interesting to hear their thoughts on the current state of NASCAR. Some family members who are diehard race fans say that the races are too boring and there's too much Danica talk. It’s interesting to hear their perspective as viewers. (They) don't go to the races. (They) watch them on TV. Or used to anyway. And more info coming ... they DO like the Truck Series. Feel races are better and drivers try harder.”
Then there is this tweet from driver and SPEED TV analyst Kenny Wallace, who posted the following during Saturday night’s Global Rallycross event at Charlotte Motor Speedway after the Nationwide Series race:
“OH OH! There are MORE people at the Rally Cross than there were at NASCAR NNS race, OUCH!!! What have we learned??”
Good question, Kenny.
No doubt these examples are strictly anecdotal. But, when NASCAR’s Perennial Pollyanna Kenny Wallace says something so very critical of the sport, someone should take notice.
And, even if some of this criticism is perception, when it comes to attracting viewers and filling seats, perception is reality.
There are no simple explanations as to why races have become boring and what to do about it.
But, as they say in various recovery programs, the first (and most important) step is to acknowledge that there is a problem.
NASCAR fans are hungry - starving! - for some excitement, controversy, drama, and rivalries. Right now, they are just not getting it.
During Sunday’s televised race broadcast, FOX even segued into a visit to NASCAR Race Control by stating (paraphrasing), ‘even though there isn’t much happening on the race track right now, there is a lot going on in Race Control.’
Still think there isn’t a problem?
I am convinced that NASCAR is at a critical juncture.
The sport must find a way to inject new juice on a consistent basis - not the ‘points racing, fuel mileage, only passing is on pit road, debris caution bunches the field, who took the wave-around, who got the lucky dog, who was speeding on pit road’ kind of excitement - but real racing action.
Or risk irreversibly withering on the vine.
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