NASCAR has undergone a mountain of changes in recent years.
More changes are coming, most notably the race schedule in 2020. Some of these changes have helped the sport move forward, but many of them simply have bogged it down and added unnecessary layers that did not exist when the sport was at its most popular.
And NASCAR seems to have taken the first step in fixing that issue by admitting they made a mistake. That’s as far as NASCAR President Steve Phelps went earlier this month when he appeared on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s podcast.
“I think that there was, this was in an interview I did around Daytona, (where I said) ‘Hey, we made some mistakes.’ Listen, we’re not the only business that’s made a mistake,” Phelps said, as transcribed by NBC Sports.
“I think we chased a new fan at the expense of an existing fan. We’ll never do that again. It doesn’t mean we can’t have new fans in the sport, of course we can,” he added. “But we want our new fans and our existing fans, avid, longtime, loyal fans, we want them to kind of nurture and grow these young fans or these new fans, young or old, I don’t care what they are. As long as there’s more people that are coming into the sport. We have a great sport. We want to share it.”
NASCAR faces the same issue that many major professional sports leagues face: attracting new fans. Major League Baseball is facing that issue, as is the National Hockey League.
But NASCAR seemingly is the only one to fundamentally change their sport in a massive way over the last decade, introducing a playoff system, which has changed several times, in 2004, and creating “stage racing” in 2017.
None of that has stopped the downward trend, however.
Ticket sales are down. There used to be a backstretch grandstand at Daytona International Speedway — it was taken down because Daytona was having a hard enough time selling out the main grandstand. TV ratings are down as well.
The easiest way to make new fans, and keep old ones, is by getting them to the racetrack. But a NASCAR weekend still can be a massive expense for a family of four — or anyone, really.
That appears to be the next step that Phelps is eyeing. The first is to make race weekend more enticing for fans, which New Hampshire Motor Speedway has done for this July’s race. The next is to make races more accessible by adding tracks, preferably short tracks, in places that lie in the sports’ base.
NASCAR never will obtain the kind of popularity the NFL has, but it could see a return to its former glory. And it starts by understanding their fan base.
Thumbnail photo via Peter Casey/USA TODAY Sports Images