CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Story by Race Chaser Online Senior Editor Tom Baker — Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images North America photo —
Day one of NASCAR Media Week got underway in Charlotte with some of the sport’s executives sharing their thoughts on where the sport stands going into the 2015 season, introducing some remarkable new pit road technology and revealing this year’s Drive for Diversity finalists (see here for more information on the D4D class).
Daytona Speedway’s President Joie Chitwood discussed the progress being made in the two-year “Daytona Rising” project, designed to create the sport’s first true “Motorsports Stadium”. The 4.5 million dollar initiative is designed to provide spectators with innovative amenities and the finest at-track experience. 40,000 new seats are being installed along with wider concourses, vertical transportation (elevators/escalators) and unimpeded views.
Chitwood said early response from fans to the first stage of changes has “been very exciting” and he expects a historic 2015 Budweiser Speedweeks, in part because of the project’s initial impacts.
NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France spoke at length about the sport’s overall health and some of the challenges he and his “team” of Executives face perpetually as they look to maintain the sport’s No. 1 spectator status in what he called “the most diverse sports landscape in the world.”
Asked what his biggest challenge was, France pointed to “getting the rules packages where we want them”, explaining that as the teams continue to innovate and develop new strategies and ways of doing things, it gives NASCAR officials the necessary feedback to help them to keep the playing field the same for everyone.
The goal, he said, was to have the 2016 rules packages distributed to the teams “sometime in the spring” of this year, which would be the earliest that has ever happened.
He addressed the issue of declining attendance and fluctuation in TV ratings as he noted that unlike other sports in which the spectators are made up mostly of local and regional fans, NASCAR fans travel long distances and therefore are far more impacted by the economy. He expressed optimism that lower gas prices and a rebound in economic factors will help to stabilize the attendance at the tracks.
On the subject of TV ratings, France pointed out that with the increasing dependence on digital technology and NASCAR’s never-ending quest to find more engaging and innovative ways to take advantage of “millennial fans” preferences toward getting information from smart phones and other wireless devices, TV ratings numbers are no longer the only measurement of the size of the fan base that engages with the sport on a daily or weekly basis.
“NASCAR is still the dominant sport in North America,” he emphasized. “And we feel like we’re becoming increasingly competitive throughout the world through continuous advances in mastering the latest in technology communications.”
France also made it clear that no major changes in the Sprint Cup Chase format were imminent any time soon, stressing that he thought last year’s Chase showed that they had something that was “simple” in design while acknowledging that it would take some time for the fans to be able to get used to and “digest” the strategies that were necessary now to win a championship under the new system. For that reason, there were no plans to make any further major changes in the near future.
With the issue of domestic violence sitting front and center throughout the sports world in recent months and the ongoing Kurt Busch investigation, the Chairman was emphatic that he would have no reservations about taking definitive action in any situations within NASCAR but that it was important to let all the facts be presented and the legal process play out before reaching any decisions.
NASCAR’s new “Pit Road Information System” was explained and demonstrated as well. Over 40 cameras will be installed at each event above the grandstand (for the ovals) which will each be focused on two pit stalls throughout the race. The cameras will engage with cutting-edge technology capable of immediately analyzing information about each stop a driver makes.
Pit officials will now be seated inside a specially-equipped transporter watching the stops via laptop computers, where they will be able to immediately approve any necessary penalties.
The new technology isn’t just for race officials, however. Fans and teams will have access to unprecedented video and information produced by this system, enhancing their respective experiences on each race weekend.
Later-day events including a presentation from Joe Gibbs Racing and a world premier evening event at Charlotte Motor Speedway were also on the docket.
Race Chaser Online will have ongoing coverage throughout the week both on our site and on our Performance Motorsports Network radio shows.
Tonight’s Motorsports Madness (7 p.m. Eastern) and Thursday night’s Stock Car Steel/SRI Motorsports Show (also 7 p.m. Eastern) will feature complete reports from the week’s events. Visit PerformanceMotorsportsNetwork.com to listen live or listen via either the TuneIn or Aha Radio Apps available for free on your mobile device from your App Store.