Have you ever been to a concert put on by a band you like and been disappointed?
The band – mostly the original lineup – comes out on stage, plays most of their greatest hits and puts on a decent show, but the venue is half full and you leave disappointed, feeling that there was something missing from the performance.
That’s how I felt leaving the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last weekend.
When you’re a Northwesterner like me, to see a Sprint Cup race takes effort. The New Hampshire 301 wasn’t worth it.
The racing was fine and the facility was fine, but it wasn’t what I had hoped it would be.
From my point of view – that of someone who goes to dozens of races at every level a year – here are five things NASCAR can do to fix its problems.
1. Make fans feel appreciated
The day I was stepping foot on an airplane to fly to New Hampshire a letter arrived addressed to my deceased father New Hampshire Motor Speedway asking if he would like to purchase the same seat I purchased for the 2017 race.
Considering I’m a stockholder in the company that owns the track, Speedway Motorsports Incorporated, I was blown away.
The lack of personalization is amazing.
The security was as tight at New Hampshire Motor Speedway as the airports flying there, but it was a more anonymous experience than I had at a NASCAR late model race at Evergreen Speedway in Washington a month ago.
Reaching out to fans on a personal level can make a difference.
Things like sending a tweet or Facebook message to them would go a long way towards making fans feel welcome to the race.
2. Change the expectations
When NASCAR boomed in the 1990s and into the 2000s the track owners expanded seating greatly – or built new tracks with hundreds of thousands of seats – for good reason.
With one or two Cup races a year the chances to get fans to pay ticket prices was limited, so their best option was to put in more seats.
Now they don’t fill them.
New Hampshire Motor Speedway has a listed capacity of 89,000 seats. For example, Bristol Motor Speedway has 146,000 seats and used to have more.
I thought the attendance for Sunday’s race was pretty good compared to some of the NASCAR races I’ve watched on TV this season.
But on my way back to my boring rental car a police officer said it was the smallest crowd he’s seen for the race in years.
NASCAR needs to realize its casual fans have gone elsewhere.
3. Change the tracks on the schedule
The great shrines to motorsports that rose in the 1990s were boring, cookie cutter tracks, but fans showed up to the races in staggering numbers.
Fans now realize how boring the tracks are.
There are few tracks where NASCAR holds Cup races that might inspire fans to return, such as Indianapolis Motor Speedway or Daytona International Speedway.
At a place like the dirt track of Eldora Speedway, where NASCAR’s truck series raced this week, the place sells out because it’s different.
If NASCAR wants to spice things up it should add in different tracks every year.
The huge companies of International Speedway Corporation and Speedway Motorsports Incorporated control the majority of the tracks at which the series races at each year, and they rightfully should have the majority of the races.
But imagine what would happen if the NASCAR Sprint Cup series was to have only one race at New Hampshire each year and had one at Portland International Raceway or Grays Harbor Raceway in Elma, Washington, even if the series only travelled to one of those tracks once every decade.
The place would be packed, and the series wouldn’t feel so stale.
4. Give the diehard fans a reason to come back
At the first five short track races which I attended this season – most were season openers for the speedways – the grandstands and parking lots were packed.
These weren’t gigantic special shows paying ridiculous purses and featuring big name drivers, but they were good, honest dirt track races on a Saturday night.
In informal surveys I’ve conducted at race tracks all over the northwest throughout the course of the season, I asked people when was the last time they went to a NASCAR race?
I had one person say he went to the race at Phoenix two years ago, and everyone else said it had been longer than that.
These are the diehard fans NASCAR should be trying to lure back.
They love racing to a degree even I can barely fathom, and they watch NASCAR races on TV, but they aren’t willing to pony up to go to a race.
That’s because the hard-core racing fans detest fuel mileage races, competition cautions and those artificially extended.
Changing the distances of races, or doing races with a half-way break would be a welcome change.
5. Stop resting on big TV revenues
Speedway Motorsports Incorporated reported in its annual report to stockholders that 44 percent of its revenue – approximately $820 million a year – comes from its television contract.
But the ratings are falling: The Loudon race fell to 2.0 from 2.3 a year ago.
People are changing the way they watch races – on DVR or on YouTube – but that’s not the biggest reason for the rating drop.
There are no villains anymore.
There is no Dale Earnhardt, Jimmy Spencer or even Robby Gordon. The closest there is to a polarizing driver is Tony Stewart, but he’s retiring.
When the drivers are introduced before the race at Loudon, there were different levels of cheering, but not enough drivers were booed.
The lesson is good villains make real heroes.
More NASCAR articles on GYSN:
July 12: The Rundown: Kentucky driver grades