Saturday, March 13, 2010

Iron Gladiators

In the race last week, one driver intentionally wrecked another. They didn't even try and "spin" the reasoning. After the race, the driver said he wanted to wreck the guy and he did.

Some have blamed these measures for making the races less exciting. Drivers complained that the Car of Tomorrow limited their ability to drive aggressively. Harsher penalties for tough on-track tactics - in a motor sport where "trading paint" used to be the norm - also contributed to more conservative driving.

Even worse, as races became more staid, ratings declined, and attendance dipped - and not all of it can be attributed to the recession. In 2009, attendance fell about 10%; this year's February 14 Fox broadcast of the Daytona 500 was the lowest-rated Great American race since 1991. "You can't watch these races without seeing swaths of empty seats in the superspeedways," notes David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California

What NASCAR is discovering is that it's fans really don't care about cars turning left for 3 hours. Sure, there's some racing purists who are geeky about the sport. I used to watch it quite a bit and it was interesting following some of the teams and drivers from a techincal point of view. It's similar to following Formula 1, except not quite as dynamic.

The problem is the vast majority of the beer-swilling red-neck fan base are just there to see wrecks. If somebody dies, that's just a bonus. It really is a scaled down version of Roman gladiator fights.

Can you imagine if there was a NASCAR race and there were zero crashes? From the point of view of the teams and drivers, it might have been the most intense race in the history of the sport, but the fans would feel cheated.

NASCAR is grappling with their desire to make a bunch of money, and try and not get anyone killed in the process. They know fans want to see people wreck, and so they're trying to instill a Jerry Springer style personality into the sport, that encourages drama and violence, but at the same time not get anyone killed. It's a very thin line.

I remember years ago, when one driver crashed out the race, and later waited on the track for the drivers to pass by, just so he could throw his helmet at the other guy's car. That was frowned upon, and penalties resulted. Today, that's exactly what they want. NASCAR fans are, for the most part, pure Americana.

Me.. I'd rather watch circuit racing.. or better yet, turn on the simulation and play around with it myself.

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