"Something to Think About"
April 28th, 2013


"What Are We They Expecting?"

Question: What would you have if you eliminated the strong association between the drivers and the car that compete in in "NASCAR Sprint Cup" racing, eliminated "replays" of exciting "whoa moments", and eliminated all interviews and updates with the drivers before and during their races?

What if you took a typical NASCAR race, such as the race last night at Richmond, or the race a few weeks back at Texas where Hamlin and Logano tangled... and eliminated just those three things.... That's it, just those three. What would you be left with?  Would fans still tune in next week?

Let's take a look at each of what at first glance might seem like three ridiculous suggestions that I made above:

1.  Eliminate the association that you have between car and driver. By that I mean, imagine if you didn't know anything about the drivers.... For example, if I mention the #48, you probably can picture Jimmy Johnson with his head held up, with a slight smile and a look of confidence on his face.... If I mention the #2, do you see Brad Kesolowski with a little case of crazy in his eyes... and probably with his cell phone in his hand. If I mention the #14, you picture Tony being "Tony."

In fact, I'll bet that most of you on this board reading this could picture the driver's face and could provide a sentence or two about over 1/2 of the current "Cup" drivers just by me mentioning their car# and/or sponsor.... If I mention the Lowes #48, can you picture Jimmy Johnson? If I show you a picture of the Mobil #14 can you visualize Tony Stewart?... What if all the other cars at a Sprint race were just that... a bunch of "cars" with different #'s, with "a somebody" inside. Pretend that you had no mental picture that came to mind when I mentioned names like Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Truex, Gordon, Edwards, Boyer, Martin, Kahne, Harvick, Kurt Busch, Earnhardt Jr, Logano, Biffle, Newman... Pretend that all you had was 40 differently "wrapped" cars with different #'s, stripes and sponsors... with little or no idea about who was under the helmet in most of them. How long would that hold your attention? Ask yourself, how do I know these guys? Was it by accident, or was it by design?

2. Eliminate Replays Try watching a race and whenever they begin to show a replay, turn away from the screen.... If you DVR'd it, do the same.... Fast Forward through any/all replays... (a replay showing a pass for the lead, a replay of a caution, the replaying of the caution from 96 different angles... a replay of an "almost caution"...., the replay of of anything that happened on pit lane (getting in, getting out... a dropped lug nut...), contact between cars..., a replay of cars rubbing up against each other after the race because of a disagreement....a replay of a shoving match between driver's after the race..... Try just watching it as if you were there in person and nothing had been recorded other than the memory in your mind from the time you actually saw it... that is "if" you happened to actually be looking that direction to see it in the first place.

3. Eliminate the interviews with the driver's and crew chiefs before and during the race.  Don't watch or listen to any interviews with drivers after they were involved in a crash. Same goes for when a driver experienced a mechanical issue and suddenly pulls behind the wall into the garage area.... Don't listen to him or his crewchief being interviewed. Close your eyes and hit the mute button!

What would you have? What effect would it have on the overall enjoyment of watching the event? Would you feel like it was time well spent? Would it be unpredictable, compelling and fun enough for you to want to tune in the following week?

So, getting back to the question I asked at the top of this post: "What would you get if you eliminated the strong association between the drivers of each car and the car they compete in, eliminated "replays" of exciting "whoa moments", and eliminated all interviews and updates with the drivers before and during their races?

Answer: You'd get what's being offered at many short tracks today.

There is no doubt that there are moments at a short track that cause fans to sit up in their seat and maybe nudge the person sitting next to them to say, "did you see that?".... There's also something exciting about hearing and "feeling" the cars in person, especially when a pack roars by or on restarts.  These are just a few of the things that bring those of us with ties to the sport back week after week... but is it enough?  Are we getting a "complete experience?"  More importantly, forget about "us guys" for a minute... Is it enough to attract new fans to the sport?  Maybe fans that are expecting to experience something with some resemblance to what they see on TV? 

Name any short track in the Northeast that doesn't do a good job with any of the above and then ask yourself, "Is not offering those things holding the sport back?" (I know, I know... local short tracks do not have don't have the technology to do some of the things above... and don't have the resources to make them happen, but don't stop the discussion just yet....) What I'm getting at is that if Fox or ESPN eliminated any or all of the above 3 points, what would you be left with? Would there be enough "show" to get fans to want to tune back in next week? Or to make this a little more "local", can today's spectator be expected to return often to a their local short track races without any of these 3 things even being attempted? Are folks expecting to have more interaction with the driver's or at least having some way of knowing who is in each car?  Are they expecting to see replays... hoping to hear updates on behind the scenes happenings?  Are any of these something things possibly expected by new fans, and are any of them something that might be worth consideration?

Let's take a look at all three things mentioned, but this time identify what is being done and what isn't... and maybe what can be done to capture some of the "good" of each and bring it to a local level:
 

1. Eliminate the association that you have between car and driver. By that I mean, imagine if you didn't know anything about the drivers.... Make it as easy as possible to create an association of specific drivers to their specific cars.

Think about the driver's at your local short tracks,... Some you've watched for years..... Here's a test: If I mention just the car #'s and sponsors of their cars, can you visualize the drivers? Would you be able to tell me as much about them as you probably could about Tony Stewart or Jeff Gordon? If so, then that speedway is doing a great job of making you care about their driver's. If you can't, then you gotta ask, why not? Why don't you know what a driver looks like who you've watched race at your local short track for 3 seasons but you know that Jeff Gordon is married to a model and Greg Biffle likes animals... and Clint Boyer is a dirt tracker who was just on Duck Dynasty?

There's ways for short tracks to help build this "association" between driver and car, which eventually builds a "relationship" between driver and fan.... One way is to always have a couple of driver's with their cars on display at different times of the night with the driver in uniform standing nearby in an interactive way. Have them greet folks as they come through the admission gate at the beginning of the night... Maybe have them rip the ticket stubs or put on the arm bracelets for the "customers".... Make it impossible for people to not know that he is the driver of a specific car so that later in the night they will have someone to look for, and will feel like they know someone out there behind all that sheet metal and under all that safety gear.

  • Have a few cars on display with drivers in uniforms at intermission if their division is already done for the night. (Bridgeport does a great job with bringing the starting field behind the grandstands before the feature and the top 5 after the feature.) All these little things help.... And maybe there's more to be done:

  • Maybe have a special race where driver's come out and line up in a special location on the track, in front of the stands, each representing a section.  Let them stand outside of the car like a gladiator as they are introduced to "their" fans, and then climb in and due battle... each representing just their section. As those who were defeated head back to the pits, have the winner of the "Fan's Challenge" stop in front of his section, wave to the crowd and then throw a few T-Shirts up in the stands to his victorious supporters.

  • Have some kind of a big screen monitor located directly across from the starters stand so that when the lineup is read, a shot of the car and driver could be displayed.... (I understand that this is a big expense so limiting it to one area would be necessary, but those that were interested would make it a point to sit there and would get more value from the show.)

  • Perhaps have have one of those scrolling LED message boards that would continuously display the driver's names, car #'s, hometown, etc of the participants in that race.... That way, if you are a new fan, or if you missed the announcerís lineup, it'd be something to look at during periods in between events and during the yellow flag laps...
     

2. Eliminate Replays  Have Replays! Many tracks have very talented videographers capturing much of the action. Some even have the ability to instantly look at a replay to determine line up positions and whether to impose a penalty for "rough riding."

  • Rather than just looking at replays on a small screen in the tower, show replays on a big screen so that those fans that were interested could see it too. (I know that there wouldn't be all the angles, and often times the action would not have been captured, but that shouldn't be reason for why never to show anything.) I also know that showing replays may lead to more controversy, but the last time I checked, controversy is sometimes the driving interest for why folks watch NASCAR and other major sporting events. 

  • Yes it's expensive, but so are some of the other things I've seen tracks spend $'s on and I think by comparison, a big screen that a sizable amount of fans could see would really improve the fan experience. It seems to have somehow not found its way into short track racing, but having some kind of a big screen display on site at any kind of outside/stadium sporting event has become as expected as A/C and color TV is when staying at a motel! (Sorry about that, but I crack up every time I see a motel with a sign out front still bragging that they've got A/C and color TV ... Not considering having some type of outdoor big screen projection at a professional sporting event in 2013 might not be that far off from that comparison...) When replays weren't being shown or biographical info on drivers was not being displayed, track sponsors could be displayed to help offset the cost of a permanent or of the "rental" big screen.
     

3. Eliminate the interviews with the driver's and crew chiefs before and during the race.   Interviews driver's and crew chiefs before and during the race. I'm not talking about the "filler" interviews you see over and over again on TV that are nothing more than an opportunity for a driver or crew chief to mention his sponsors for the billionth time, or to hold a bottle of CocaCola a certain way as he takes a swig just before answering the first question and just as he finishes answering the last..... I'm talking about interesting in the pits and on the track updates and interviews... Maybe fans want to hear from a driver that wrecked the week before or who got "wronged" and what he has to say about what his game plan is for tonight.... Maybe we also want to get an update from a driver after he's involved in a wreck... or maybe from a crew chief to see if a they are going to be able to get the car back out in time for a the consi (that is if you are fortunate to be at a track that still needs to run consi's...)

  • Interviews could be during periods of the show when there is a lull in the action - Long accident clean up, intermission, etc. They should not delay the show if done right.

  • Take a golf cart and a roving reporter with a wireless mic and let him break in from time to time with some interesting, well timed updates.

  • Stick with it... Some nights will have more interesting "updates" than others, but the key is to stick with it and make it part of the show every night.

  • There is no excuse in 2013 to not have the technology to have a the ability to broadcast from multiple areas of the facility (pits, grandstands, scales, accident scene/infield). If a track doesn't have it, they should get it. If they have it and it doesn't work, fix it.

Oh well, enough from me... I've talked to a lot of folks and I hear a tremendous amount of disappointment in what they are telling me they are seeing at their local short tracks. For the most part, I see enough that makes me want to be at a track each week, but if I look beyond what it takes to get me to show up somewhere each week, I don't consistently see enough to grow the sport beyond folks like me and that's a sad thing to accept.

If your favorite track is doing a good job, let them know. If not, maybe email them a few suggestions and if possible, offer to help out at the track. Let them know what you like and let them know what you didn't. Some will feel threatened by the suggestions. Some will totally ignore them. Some may embrace them and may have already been working on implementing exactly what you were hoping to see...Don't get disappointed if change is slow to come. Give them a chance. When possible, support those that are doing "the most" things that are consistent with what you feel this sport needs.

As was said to me about a few years ago from a then member of a speedway's management team, "This sport is in a very fragile state and it's really in the hands of just a very few individuals." I couldn't imagine then that I would one day look back and think that at the time that statement was made, it was still really "the good days of the sport."

In the past, we always could blame the yuppies... or the mall developers... or the politicians.... Who we gonna blame this time?
 

Visitor's Comments To add your comments  - Click Here or email us at:  maincontact@3wide@optonline.net
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Comment:

04.29.13 Denson There are things I like about going to a short trrack and it might be more interesting if they had replays and stuff but I don't think you will see it locally.Tracks have a way of doing things and kind of do the same things the same way because that is how it has always been.
04.29.13 Poorboy Nascar has many ways to get you to know about ther drivers tv,comercials,radio.  That is why you know who is in ther cars. My local track doesnt have that to use and neither does other tracks.
04.30.13 3-Wide I appreciate the comments above guys.

I don't really expect any big changes to the three areas mentioned above.  That really wasn't the point, (at least I don't think it was.)  It may have come off like that, but I'm not trying to bully anyone into doing anything when it comes to running their racetrack, and the truth is that there are things being done and probably more being considered that will support some of the above ideas.  I'm sensitive that some tracks are just hanging in there right now, doing the best they can to provide a solid show, and investing in speedway improvements is out of reach for most.

There may be a few tweaks that can be done here and there to strengthen the association between specific cars and their specific drivers (and as mentioned, some tracks are doing a better job than others on this.)  That might help get folks to want to comeback more often to see how "their" driver is doing.  As for some kind of a big screen or video display, it would definitely require an investment and personnel to bring in any type permanent of large screen(s) for replays and for displaying images of drivers/cars, etc.  Maybe some good hearted race fans/electronics experts could volunteer to advise their local speedway on what is available and what it would take to make this happen.

I do think that doing remote interviews/updates/reports from the scene via a wireless mic (if coordinated right) could be very effective and although you'd have to have the right person for the job, I don't think it would require a huge investment, (but that's easy to say when I'm not the one signing the check.)

I guess the main point (if there was one) was just to ask, "Is there enough of a show?" and/or "Is the show being presented in step with what fans need to see and experience - today?  I don't think anyone goes to their local short track and expects to see exactly what they see on TV, but can we all agree that there are some elements that would really be cool and would make for a more complete experience if they could be incorporate to watching the event at the track? 

Like I said... I'll be back.  I can' tell you that unless it's raining on a Saturday Night, I'll be at a short track.  It's all I know.  But there are fewer and fewer returning spectators each year for a variety of reasons and I just hope that us "insiders" aren't overlooking what really may have become basic expectations of today's fans and potential fans...., those fans that will need to be there to replace all of us in order for the sport to exist. 

As mentioned at the top of the page, the question isn't really "What are You (or I) Expecting?", but instead, "What are They Expecting?", with "They" referring to those new fans that the sport must always find a way to attract today so we race tomorrow.

     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

All Previous Editions of: "Something to Think About..."
"Putting Competition Back into Qualifying - The "Top Half Advance" Qualifying Method"
"This Time, It's an Inside Job"
"What Are We They Expecting?"
"Is The Problem Really Under the Hood?"
"The Best View..."
"Local Boys Have at It?"
'Are You Going to the Races Tonight?"
"The Bigger The Bodies, The Smaller The Attendance?"

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