CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Column by Race Chaser Online Senior Editor Tom Baker — Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images photo —
Over the past month or so I’ve heard some rumblings that some within the NASCAR circle are quietly pondering the question of whether or not to shorten the length of some of their Sprint Cup Series races. I’ve also been a part of several fan discussions on social media about this issue.
There are valid points to be made on both sides, and I can appreciate the pros and the cons.
With that being said, I believe it’s time to take the idea of decreasing the length of some of the races seriously. I am going to share with you the reasons why.
First, let me clarify that I don’t think all the races should be shortened. I think there’s a way to keep the length of your “signature” races (Daytona 500, Brickyard 400, Coca Cola 600) the same and still accomplish the big-picture goal of making the races more entertaining and attracting more fans.
I understand that the traditional fan base is used to three- or four-hour marathons and that they don’t want to see that change. I also understand that many of them are not watching the whole three-hour marathon, because they take a nap or spend part of the time doing other things, unless they are at the track.
The overarching point here is — we need new, younger fans if the sport is going to continue to thrive, and those younger fans are growing up living a different lifestyle than us older fans did.
We grew up playing ball in the yard, working on our own passenger cars and having few choices for weekend entertainment. Nowadays, kids grow up with computers, smartphones and Internet gaming. They’re not hanging out in the garage with Dad, learning to change oil and spark plugs and tune up the motor in the family ride.
There just aren’t as many “gearheads” as there once were. If anything, the younger ones who start driving a race car at a young age want to be engineers, so they go to a University for that degree and then use a computer to help fix a car. Why? Because engineers make more money than shop mechanics.
We live in an age of instant gratification. Attention spans are shorter. It’s hard to even have a conversation with a college student now without him or her looking at their cell phone every minute.
So, the sport needs to either adapt…or perish, whether we traditionalists like it or not.
How can we entice new fans and still keep the older fans happy?
My idea on race length is that no race on the NASCAR schedule goes over 200 laps, except the Coca Cola 600. This keeps the 500 milers on the 2.5 mile tracks intact, while shortening some of the other races to make them more exciting and make every lap and pit stop more important.
Can you imagine a 200-lap Sprint Cup race at Martinsville or Bristol? How exciting would that be? No time for follow the leader trying to get to the end of the race. Get up on the wheel and go!
It would also reduce the tedium of the 1.5 mile tracks, because, with all due respect to those facilities, the racing is simply boring in the middle. That’s why we take naps!
How many times does one fall asleep at the Saturday night short track?
Another bonus would be that it would also cut some of the costs out of most of the races for the teams, and maybe give more teams a chance to be competitive in those events. It seems NASCAR is looking to cut costs and also be more environmentally-friendly, so shorter races would accomplish both of those things.
If you think the fans would be less likely to travel for a race that was an hour shorter, how about giving them a carnival or concert like some tracks already do in order to provide the additional family fun?
At the shorter tracks, you could put a class like the K&N Pro Series, Modifieds or NASCAR Late Models on the card for a 10 a.m. start and run them for 100 laps. Televise that live as well, and make it a strong paying race. This would also serve the purpose of allowing NASCAR to more closely tie the future to the present, letting fans get to know some of those they might be seeing in the “Big Three” divisions in the coming years.
And, it would give the teams in those divisions some valuable TV time to help them be more marketable to sponsors, making it easier for them to compete as well.
Here’s another idea — once in a while, bring in an outside division like the pavement sprints or supermodifieds and treat the fans to some variety for their ticket price.
I realize that shortening the race itself would reduce in-race advertising availability, but you can easily make that up in other ways. If it becomes more entertaining to more people, the revenue will follow.
It’s always been my thought that when NASCAR decided to put tracks in more markets, they should have built tracks a mile and under. I know it’s less room for spectator seating, but isn’t it better to have a waiting list every year for tickets at a track where the racing is exciting than to have people disguised as empty seats and have the race be boring?
Since the 1.5-mile tracks aren’t leaving the schedule anytime soon, shortening the races and adding other types of entertainment to the race weekend may be one way of getting new fans who otherwise wouldn’t even bother to come to the track to check it out and discover that the racing actually is exciting.
TV never does any race justice. I know tons of people who’ve said that once they actually got to the track and saw it all in person, they understood that it’s more than just “running around in circles”. It’s a sensory experience like no other, and it turns into an adrenaline rush.
Unfortunately, most young people’s first introduction to racing is on TV, so TV has to be compelling enough to get them to the track so they can “get the whole picture”.
I realize that the blending of technology at the tracks now into the race day is becoming more and more prevalent and that’s a good thing. But that only serves those who are already there.
Shorter races would increase driver intensity, make for more passing and would be just one way to increase the likelihood that you could hold a new viewer’s attention long enough to make them want to show up next week at the local short track, where they have a chance to get up close and personal with the most exciting sport on the planet.
That’s my 2 cents. What’s yours?