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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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Comments

Since: Mar 13, 2009
Posted on: March 23, 2011 10:07 pm
 

Battle over Bristol rages on

So much has hurt this sport over the years its a wonder it is even where it is at today.  The induction of the chase has hurt.  The same champion in the last five years hasn't helped.  A few of the traditional tracks are gone.  The addition of more 1.5 mile racing venues.  Nascar, thinking it can gain fans, really has deminished the sport.  Letting Toyota race was one of the worst decisions and don't be surprised to see a Honda or a Susuki car in the future.  If Nascar thinks it will help the sport, that is.  Racing will never be the same only because the evolution wasn't over-seen by a racing purist.

It didn't help that we saw the wierdest Daytona 500 ever.  That tandem racing was for the birds.  I am glad I didn't get to see this no-name kid win.  Flukes like that shouldn't happen at Daytona.  I don't think Trevor even led a full lap, but yet, he was there at the end when it counted.  And, it didn't even really count because he received no points.  Now, with another point system change it gets even more confusing.  With all the varibles hurting Nascar it seems that there is more to hurt the sport than there is to help it.



Since: Feb 21, 2010
Posted on: March 23, 2011 9:56 pm
 

Battle over Bristol rages on

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

This is what fans want to see. the fans still want another driver that will spin you out to win and for 55 straight races fans got there moneys worth at Birstol. "The ceral bowl" was one of Nascars if not the most popular track because everyone wants to see crashes. no with the new tracks a the COT you just dont get that anymore. The great races that you could see wrecks was Daytona, Talladaga, Bristol, and  Martinsville.

Fans want to see wrecks and bitter rivalies or in the anger anger moments and now no race track can can keep the wrecks following in attetion. 



Since: Dec 4, 2007
Posted on: March 23, 2011 9:13 pm
 

Battle over Bristol rages on

I don't get how people claim this to be a dying sport.  Even though ratings are down, NASCAR remains the second highest rated sport in the US behind the NFL.  Every sport is down in this economy, its just more obvious in NASCAR where teams rely on sponsors more so than other sports.



Since: Jan 13, 2007
Posted on: March 23, 2011 8:57 pm
 

Battle over Bristol rages on

I just believe people have grown tired of NASCAR...as mentioned in the other posts it's boring,people don't want to watch spec cars racing,Toyota has hurt NASCAR some...some people just want to see the Ford vs Chevrolet vs Mopar battles and can't stand seeing a Japanese auto company in the mix.The economy plays a part but only because prices have sky rocketed in everthing that is attached to going to a race starting with tickets.Years ago I use to sit in the grass at bristol and it was a blast,since the track has changed I haven't been back and don't plan to...NASCAR is fading fast and a lot of different reasons and it won't come back to where it was several years ago unless they make some major changes.A man can take his family to a Saturday night race at the local dirt track for $15.00 a ticket,take his own cooler in,see better open wheel racing not to mention the Stock cars and the Bombers and have more fun and get more  bang for the buck.What would you rather do?



Since: Mar 12, 2009
Posted on: March 23, 2011 8:15 pm
 

Battle over Bristol rages on

Economics is the root of this problem.  Disposible income is down and gas prices are UP.  Sunoco should lead the charge to lower pump prices and spur the "Hey, let's roadtrip" attendees.  After it is ecenomically feasable the fans will return.  With the "Magician" sweeping Bristol and JJ having a good finish, JR in the mix and Carl being so strong this year.

It's the Economy!  Period.



Since: Feb 5, 2008
Posted on: March 23, 2011 7:25 pm
 

Battle over Bristol rages on

Oh, and the steady diet of corporate hacks that NASCAR and the networks steadily trot out as objective analysts isn't helping, either.  Michael Waltrip is exhibit one; this clown does nothing but chase fans away.
NASCAR needs a Union so the governing body cannot just change things willy nilly and so that there is some consistency in the teams.  Drivers are constantly being shuffled around and no one knows who is driving what, anymore.  The rules are changed whenever Brian France has a bad hair day and drivers are forced to tow the company line and are not allowed to speak their mind for fear of losing their jobs.



Since: Feb 5, 2008
Posted on: March 23, 2011 7:20 pm
 

Battle over Bristol rages on

"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."
Yeah.  Considering the fact that television ratings are also down, I'm pretty sure this theory holds absolutely no water.  NASCAR just isn't very exciting.  It never was, but Bristol was definitely one of the tracks that bucked that trend.  Not anymore.
This is a dying sport and ratings and sales figures bear that out.


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