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Random Lugnuts:  Couch Potato NASCAR Fans

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Random Lugnuts, NASCAR
What is Random Lugnuts?  It's random bits of stock car racing commentary written on an irregular basis by an irregular racing fan.  The name is a reference to the lugnuts that go flying off a car during a pit stop:  you never know where they are going to go, what they're going to do when they get there, they can be annoying, they're often useless after a race, and every once in a while someone gets hit and they don't know exactly where it came from.
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Bill Crittenden

Bill Crittenden
March 19, 2011

Random Lugnuts:  Couch Potato NASCAR Fans

I watched Dave Despain's Wind Tunnel last week and caught a few comments about whether NASCAR should focus on being a real sport for the ticket-buying fans or entertainment for television, and whether a fan was a true fan or not if they didn't spend the money on the sport.

At least, that's what I think they were talking about.  Either that or the cough syrup I was taking had a lot more alcohol in it that it says on the bottle.  Since I don't remember exactly what they were talking about, I'll just make this up as I go along.

I guess the first question is whether or not the guy sitting in his living room is a real true NASCAR fan or not.  If they're not spending the money on tickets, as an argument I've heard before goes, then they're just a "casual fan" and aren't as important. They come and go and aren't the people really supporting the sport.

First of all, that statement may have held some weight back in the mid 90's when the economy, and the sport, were growing faster than anyone could have expected.  But this is 2011, and two out of the big three automakers have gone bankrupt since then and the only economic indicators that are high are unemployment and foreclosures.  A NASCAR race is an expensive outing for a working class family of three, and I don't think anyone can blame a family for choosing rent payments over race tickets.  Telling people that have fallen on hard times that they're not even real true NASCAR fans anymore because they can't afford to be NASCAR fans is just kicking people when they're down.

Being a fan shouldn't be about how much you're able to spend but rather how you feel about something.  Would you describe yourself as a NASCAR fan to someone you just met, not caring how they may judge you and knowing that's how they may remember you for a long time to come?  Then you're a NASCAR fan.

Besides, it's not as though the TV fans don't spend their money on the sport in smaller ways.  Sure, I haven't been to a national NASCAR series race since 2008, but in the meantime I've added a few die cast to my shelves.  I've never seen Dale Jr. drive the 88 in person, but I have a t-shirt to wear on race days spent on the couch.

Secondly, even if a fan watching on TV isn't handing over his own cash at the ticket booth, they're still putting money in the pockets of NASCAR teams.  Have you ever been to a house with a little box on top of the TV with blinking red lights and the guy who lives there has to enter your gender and age into the box when you're watching TV there?  That's how TV ratings are calculated.  NASCAR is an advertising-funded sport, and the more eyeballs there are in front of the screens, the more the advertising is worth.  In an extreme example, this is why commercial time during the Super Bowl cost a hell of a lot more than commercial time during late night reruns of How It's Made.

The more viewers there are, the more money that Fox, ESPN, and Speed can charge for commercial time.  This makes the programming worth more to them and NASCAR can get more money from them for broadcast rights to its events.  The more people watch, the more sponsorships are worth, and the teams get better funded.

Now, the big question is whether NASCAR should concentrate on attendance or ratings?  I'm going to argue for ratings, and not just because I'm one of those couch potato NASCAR fans.

For my argument I have to say that I think that concentrating on attendance is an issue of geography.  If it's an exciting race in person, it's probably an exciting race on TV, and vice versa.  I've never actually gone back and watched a tape of a race I've gone to, but one has to assume that an exciting race is an exciting race and a boring race is a boring race no matter where you're watching it from.

So some races are less exciting than others but are held in areas of the country that don't have a more exciting venue to race on (by the way, who decided the cookie cutter track should be a mile and a half? why couldn't Bristol have been the model for the "cookie cutter?").  The worst example of this is the Nationwide race at Road America, an absolute snoozer of a race held in the stock car friendly northern state of Wisconsin while the historic Milwaukee Mile sorts out its problems.  How about Fontana?  Sure, the last five Cup championships have been won by a driver from California, so it's got a lot of potential as a market for NASCAR to grow, gain fans, and make money, but watching that race on television usually results in an involuntary Sunday afternoon nap for me.  If NASCAR keeps putting on shows like that, they'll find that people probably won't pay to see something they won't even watch for free on TV.

Speaking of which, consider this: the average NASCAR fan outside of the Carolinas has maybe three or four Cup races within a day's travel of their homes, leaving over 30 events that are largely out of reach to all but the most dedicated fans.  And for the sport itself, there are only a few hundred thousand seats to fill on any given Sunday, but millions can fit into all the bars, man caves and living rooms that have their TVs tuned to the show.

Including the TV in front of me here in Woodstock, where there will be at least two (sometimes three) race fans comfortably enjoying the broadcasts each week.  Keep up the good work, and one of these years we'll fill some seats in Joliet.  Eventually, Daytona and Charlotte, too.  And a return to Indianapolis, if NASCAR is still racing there.

Which is the last point I'm trying to make:  just concentrate on putting on a good show, and the attendance will take care of itself.



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