Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The NASCAR State of the Union

President Obama just gave one of the longest State of the Union speeches on record. But even though he spoke for well over 60 minutes and mentioned everything from climate change to national defense, he failed to touch on what my readers care about most - the state of NASCAR in 2010.

I'm no politician. I'm not even a racing expert. But here's my take on the current state of the sport we all love.

Economic Downturn - Ticket sales are down. Souvenir sales have taken a huge hit. Sponsors are bailing. Clearly, NASCAR does not exist in a fiscal vacuum. As the fate of middle America goes, so goes the sport. Like the rest of Americans, race fans are facing job losses, pay cuts, and too much debt. And, as a result, the economics of racing have been adversely affected. NASCAR is trying desperately to adjust to the sport's new consumer reality by continuing last year's trend of discounting ticket prices and offering more manageable payment plans. A move we all applaud.

However, there are many fans I've heard from who are disappointed that the sport's newest weekly TV show will be aired on Showtime ... namely because they don't have the money to pay for the channel. I'm sure the folks at Showtime will do a stand-up job with the new broadcast. However, if a fan has to choose between paying for another cable channel or attending a live race, a live race wins every time.

A Move Toward Populism - The current "My NASCAR" advertising campaign seems to be echoing the recent populist political groundswell. Couple that with the sport's heralded "return to its roots" philosophy and I wouldn't be suprised to see Massachusetts Senator-elect Scott Brown pop up in the next round of commercials declaring NASCAR "the people's sport".

Health Care Reform - Probably the best thing NASCAR can do to promote driver/fan health is figure out a way to keep the cars from flying a la Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards. Time will tell if the recent changes to the Cup car will help keep drivers and spectators safer during Daytona and Talladega. If NASCAR can balance driver safety with good racing, fans will be happy.

Foreign Relations - With Juan Pablo Montoya's impressive Chase finish in 2009, racers from other series and other countries are being taken a lot more seriously in 2010. And with the news that controversial ex-Formula One driver Nelson Piquet Jr. will be making his NASCAR debut during the Daytona ARCA race, the sport is poised to expand its global reach once again.

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