Blog Entry

Battle over Bristol rages on

Posted on: March 23, 2011 3:02 pm
Edited on: March 23, 2011 3:18 pm

By Pete Pistone

Forget Old Coke vs. New Coke, “Tastes Great” vs. “Less Filling” or the age-old battle between boxers and briefs.

The NASCAR argument that matters most today is “old” Bristol Motor Speedway vs. “new” Bristol Motor Speedway.

When track management decided to tear up the Tennessee half-mile track and reconfigure in 2007, little did they know just what a monumental can of worms was being opened.

After the construction work was finished gone was the narrow-grooved track layout that only allowed for single file racing and in its place a progressively banked configuration which created opportunities for side-by-side racing.

Almost instantly drivers began to praise Bristol 2.0 and the virtues of being able to actually pass another car for position without having to ram it out of the way as was the only option in the track’s previous incarnation.

But not so fast. Although the competitors have embraced the track’s change with many members of the media also echoing the praise all is not well with the most important voice in NASCAR – the fans.

There were early rumblings from some long-time fans of the sport when Bristol was reconfigured but a lot of those complaints were chalked up to the simple fact that most fans simply don’t like change at all.

But the vocal group has gained more and more followers in subsequent years and that discontent may have reached a pinnacle last Sunday when the cavernous coliseum of a race track was maybe half full.

The startling sight of a half empty Bristol was jarring to say the least especially in light of the track’s recent streak of 55 consecutive sellouts when 160,000 fans would jam into the second smallest track on the Sprint Cup schedule.

When that streak ended there were rightfully many theories as to why, many of which still hold true.

The economy hasn’t gotten any better for a number of fans and the cost of attending any NASCAR race just isn’t possible with dollars so tight. The rising cost of gas has hit all fans with the hearty souls who camp and drive RVs really taking it on the chin. The sea of motor homes that usually surround Bristol was non-existent last weekend and the prospect of spending maybe $1000 on fuel alone certainly had to be part of the equation.

Lodging of the hotel variety isn’t plentiful in the Tri-Cities area by any means and those who are lucky enough to procure a room are forced to pay double or triple the establishment’s regular rate as the unfortunate law of supply and demand is put to its most extreme use.

Bristol’s parent company Speedway Motorsports Inc. probably didn’t do itself any favors by purchasing  Kentucky Speedway, which this summer will host its first Sprint Cup race. Less than 400 miles away, Bristol’s new sister track is most likely responsible for many fans staying closer to home in early July for their NASCAR fix and not incur the time, travel and expense to come to “Thunder Valley,” which certainly accentuates the original point NASCAR had about Cup racing at Kentucky and the fear of over saturating the area.

Some have also pointed to the downward trend in corporate ticket sales as taking a huge chunk out of Bristol’s ticket sales. Companies that have had to cut back sponsorships and marketing initiatives also don’t buy luxury suites or blocks of tickets for employees or customers any longer. That revenue has been lost and its impact on the number of people in the grandstands is significant.

And finally there’s the theory that NASCAR’s aging audience simply doesn’t have it in them any longer to go through the sometimes-arduous task of attending a race. Those who didn’t think twice about piling into a car or van with a group of pals for a NASCAR weekend in their care free younger days now find themselves with families, responsibilities and other duties as well as interests that make sitting on the sofa rather than in the grandstand Sunday afternoons a much more viable option.

That’s a pretty impressive laundry list of reasons why the bloom is currently off what was once considered the toughest ticket not just in NASCAR but also in the entire sports world.

But let’s go back to the discussion of the Bristol of old and today’s BMS. In recent days I’ve heard from hundreds of fans who swear that the racing just is not the same as it used to be and until it’s restored Bristol will never return to its glory.

The conveyor belt racing that created 500 wreck-filled laps, resulted in an average of 20 caution flags a race and a garage full of destroyed racecars is what these fans seem to want back. Drivers fighting with one another and high emotions on display is what “Boys Have at It” was all about and I can understand fans wanting to see that kind of passion. And apparently when it comes to Bristol, they want it done in demolition derby style.

Which still confuses me.

Whenever most people who don’t know anything about NASCAR or auto racing for that matter discuss the sport with me, they contend fans only watch because of the crashes. I’ve fought diligently over the years to argue there’s much more to racing and its speed, strategy and excitement are just some of the sport’s virtues that have helped it become popular.

While crashes and accidents are certainly a recognized by product of racing and there is no doubt a quotient of the audience attracted by that aspect, I would argue true race fans aren’t as interested in the carnage as they are of all the other interesting elements to the sport.

In Bristol’s case, I guess I was absolutely wrong.

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Since: Jan 31, 2008
Posted on: March 27, 2011 3:19 pm

Battle over Bristol rages on

The change in the track has made a big difference in the attendance.  Bristol has lost the excitement it had before the change.  Your car would have to be good and if you had a bad car you either got out of the way or they moved you out of the way.  Now you can get away with having a decent car.   I feel the majority of fans don't want to watch a 1 1/2 mile race at a 1/2 mile short track.   Short track racing has always had the reputation for beatin and bangin.  NASCAR fans don't want that to change

Since: Jul 18, 2007
Posted on: March 27, 2011 1:32 pm

Battle over Bristol rages on

A-men brother.

Since: Mar 12, 2009
Posted on: March 26, 2011 10:47 pm

Battle over Bristol rages on

Money right now is tight for 10's of Millions of Americians (Economy).  For the benefit of the doubt Hundreds of thousands of NASCAR fans are effected and cut their travel budget to 3 races down from 10 (Economy).  As Justareader3 indicated he himself has disconnected cable 2 years ago (viewership reduction) potentially in part to not spend money on (Economy) "anything good enough to pay to watch" (Interest).

Things's a fact of life.  The "older fans" eventually need to get replaced if through death itself or change if interest.  Dale Jr. who has been the fans awarded most popular driver for 5 plus years is a statement of the demographic shift already.  Jimmy Johnson's drive for five has provided the competition a target to beat not to give up.

Gone are the days of working for one company for their career, that ended 15 years ago (Economy).  Drivers will come and go, and so will sponsors like Dupont (Economy) which were stalwart supporters.

Since: Oct 9, 2008
Posted on: March 26, 2011 7:53 pm

Battle over Bristol rages on

Putting 43 cars on the grid at Bristol or any of the short tracks is something only a moron would think wise.  Since when is passing something to loathe?  Grow up, you crash-loving fartknockers, and get with the idea that the fastest car and/or the smartest driving is SUPPOSED to win once the pistons fire.  That's what NASCAR is.  If you like twisted metal, I'm pretty sure there's a demo derby nearby you might enjoy in its stead.

Since: Aug 19, 2006
Posted on: March 25, 2011 11:20 pm

Battle over Bristol rages on

RE: whiner86....Jusareader3 must be Warren Buffett in disguise with his "money is not a problem for me" attitude...

Here is just another example of someone who 'hears, but doesn't listen'.... reads, but doesn't comprehend.

The statement was, quote, pay attention now... "The Economy is not the reason I don't go to races anymore"...


That's not a Warren Buffet attitude.... that's a 'I've totally lost interest in this thing' attitude.... big difference, if you read and understand the English language.

Brian France keeps hoping it's 'just the economy, period' too.... but he's wrong, like you.  He changed the sport SO MUCH that the older fans just don't see it as the same sport anymore (the majority of us anyway;  some people go along with anything, even warm yellow rain.....) and the newer fans have so much sports entertainment to choose from, they don't have the same 'cult following' sickness that we had in the past.  For the most part, that is...there may be 'some'....

Another reader noted that a bigger indication of how the sport has lost interest amongst fans is the drop in TV ratings.  If so many fans were staying home due to 'it's just the economy, period', then TV ratings would be through the roof, as all those rabid fans would be watching their favorite sport on TV, for FREE!!!!!

Except, their watching X-Games and motocross and gay marathons and  other stuff.  And, NOT being Warren Buffet in this economy, I had my Cox Cable disconnected 2 years ago, for lack of interest in anything good enough to pay to watch.  I catch an occasional race on Fox Sports over the air, but when the races are on the various non-air cable networks (TNT, ESPN), I don't miss 'em a bit.

And, just to not diss Nascar for going the IROC route, I also used to be a huge USAC/CART fan, back in the Ilmor Chevrolet days and before....when a guy could build a car to spec and drop any motor he wanted to in it, like Danny Ongais and his stock block Chevy powered indy chassis....:)

When Baskin Robbins drops all the other flavors and serves just Vanilla, (hey, if Brian France took over, they would, lol!) I bet they lose a lot of loyal customers, too... 'sameness' gets very old, very fast, and some of us just can't stay interested enough to spend our entertainment budget on it.

Since: Nov 26, 2006
Posted on: March 25, 2011 12:45 pm

Battle over Bristol rages on

I do miss the old Bristol. It was one of the most exciting race tracks fan wise on the circuit. If you came out of the race with a clean car, you either were not racing very hard or you parked it after the green flag. Fender banging, bumper puncing was all part of the race . As everything else in this day and age things change. The old track was getting so old that the track its self was tearing up cars, so it was time for improvements, and like everthing else when you improve something you lose something, therefore the crash bang racing at Bristol is history. The drivers love it and I can see why, for one thing they have a better chance of finishing the race(with a few scares of cource). Owners like it because they are not wasting a car by it being totaled. The driver like it because they can actually race instead of bullying themselves around the track. With the economy the way it is today and the lack of sponsores, I have to say it was probably a good move in disguise. There are some owners that are running on a shoe string, even though they don't do very well in some races we still need them just to fill a 43 car field. If they wreck to many cars, they can't afford to even bring a car to the track let alone race. I still miss the old Bristol though.

Since: Mar 12, 2009
Posted on: March 24, 2011 11:40 pm

Battle over Bristol rages on

Jusareader3 must be Warren Buffett in disguise with his "money is not a problem for me" attitude.

rtdreep hit it closer to home.

As I said, Ecomonics is the issue.  How it drives the issue is what materialized Justareader3 emotions.  I too want to see knock down competition.  I too like cars racing hard and going upsidedown but we as fans paid too high of price loosing Dale for some blog poster to say "lets go back to the old days".

Speeds have gone up and safety costs money.  SAFER barriers, HANS systems were needed changes.  Tracks became more and more expensive to build.  I agree that NASCAR has gotten more coporate, without a doubt.  You have to apease the corporate sponsors as they have been tapped to foot the bill for "THE SHOW".

Economics forced some of the rivals Buick and Pontiac Justareader3 mentioned to leave the sport opening the door for Toyota to bring out their checkbook and make the "CORPORATE" thing more noticiable.

In the "Olden days" the saying "Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday" still holds true.  Marketing is what modern motorsports is all about now.  The Icky shuffle has turned into Backflips and Bows.

Stickers for headlights really sucks and the sameness of body is hookey but as costs have risen so has ticket prices, earnings over the last two years has gone down or maybe stayed the same as people take an additional night time or weekend job reducing the ability to participate.

NASCAR still provides roof racing as Carl Edwards has shown us and Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton can still mix it up after a wrong was comitted.  I would go to more races if my disposable income was higher, prices were lower even with the Jimmy Johnson era dominance.

The days of "Run what you Brung" does not exist in NASCAR except for the fruit fly of the sport, "start and parkers".

Since: Sep 16, 2006
Posted on: March 24, 2011 8:58 pm

Battle over Bristol rages on

okay just maybe the tv ratings were down, do to the fact of the NCAA  Tournament who had Wash and North Caroline down to the last shot and surprising Wolverines had a chance with a last second shot to tie Duke , I would expect the same this weekend as well

Since: Feb 5, 2008
Posted on: March 24, 2011 7:33 pm

Battle over Bristol rages on

So?  It was the second highest rated to the only other major sporting event on television.  I'm not sure that is a good thing.
Also, ratings were down . . . again.  Attendance was down . . . again.
Another point, ratings and attendance were falling before the recession. The sport simply enjoyed a temporary bubble that is now deflating a bit.

Since: Feb 5, 2008
Posted on: March 24, 2011 7:29 pm

Battle over Bristol rages on

No, its not the economy.  Television ratings are down, too.  If it was the economy, those ratings would be up, not down, as people stayed home and watched the race.  It also ignores the fact that attendance and ratings were falling before the Bush recession/depression.

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