CONCUSSIONS IN NASCAR

Concussions have been talked about in depth recently in the sports world. Thousands of players are suing the NFL because of the way it handled concussions in the past. Concussions may have led to two suicides this year of former NFL players Ray Easterling and Junior Seau who took their lives possibly because of the long term effects of suffering from multiple concussions. But it was not until a few weeks ago that concussions made headlines in another sport, NASCAR. This is when the sport’s biggest superstar, Dale Earnhardt Jr., announced that he would be sitting out two races because of a concussion that he sustained in a crash at Talladega Superspeedway on October 7. By doing this, he was essentially giving up any chance at winning the championship this year. But unlike the NFL, NASCAR has no way of testing for concussions or any protocol for sitting drivers if they have a concussion. Dale Jr. was sat down by his doctor because he went to him with headaches. Would other drivers that are in the Chase for a championship suffering from the same thing sit and lose any hope of winning? Two of the most popular drivers, Denny Hamlin and Jeff Gordon, say that they would not sit. “If I was in my position, I’d probably hide it,” said Denny Hamlin, who is fifth in the standings, 49 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson. “I’d race on, or at worst, I’d run a lap, get the points, get out and let someone else do it.” “Honestly, I hate to say this, but no, I wouldn’t (see a doctor),” Gordon said. “If I have a shot at the championship, there are two races to go, my head is hurting, and I just came through a wreck, and I am feeling signs of it, but I’m still leading the points, or second in the points, I’m not going to say anything. I’m sorry.” This may cause NASCAR to look at the way, or lack of a way, they handle concussions. There could be baseline testing done on each driver and the same test administered after a crash to see if the driver sustained any head trauma during the wreck. You can read about the specifics of baseline testing here: http://www.sportsconcussions.org/ibaseline/2011-07-08-05-45-58/testing-baseline. To implement such procedures would not only help with the safety of the injured driver, but the safety of all drivers on the track. I know if I was out there racing at speeds over 200 mph, the last thing I would want is the driver beside or in front of me getting dizzy and wrecking other cars because he is impaired by the effects of a concussion. DH

The Fox Hole

After negotiations ended this past Monday between NASCAR and FOX TV, the television station may consider ducking for cover as fans are left hanging with many questions. When Fox TV signed contracts on Monday giving it the right to air the Sprint Cup Races through year 2022, it failed to give fans and consumers the lowdown on how it will go about televising the races starting in 2013, with the first races during Speed Weeks at Daytona. Their new network, Fox Sports One, will be the rebranded name of the SPEED network, but will it provide the same satisfaction for fans?

In relation to the benefits for the motor sports industry, this deal with FOX TV will boost NASCAR’s income, as well as the income for tracks and teams. This income, in turn, will help maintain lower ticket prices for fans and increase race winnings for teams, which possibly reduces the level of corporate sponsorship. However, this scenario may be at cost to the fans watching at home. Not only will Fox have rights to air the first 13 Sprint Cup races and the entire Camping World Truck Series, but it also gets the digital rights for online streaming yet it is unclear whether fans will have to pay for online access. With FOX also announcing that the new deal will take some of Sprint Cup races off network television, internet access for fans will be even more crucial than before.

The next big issue for fans is the question of how FOX will go about televising the practices and qualifiers. With no official word on the status of televising these events, it leaves fans with the possibility of not being able to watch at all. Even though Fox could air those events on its subordinate stations like Fuel TV or FX, the fans at home will not be pleased having to watch multiple channels to get their fix, especially when they could previously watch everything on the SPEED network.

The biggest issue comes from the clash between what commercial sponsors want and what the fans want. Considering that Fox TV is such a highly rated network, commercial sponsors will be fighting to place their ads during as many NASCAR events as possible. Unfortunately for fans, this means more interruptions that could prevent viewers from seeing their favorite racer cross the finish line or catching the wreck they’ve been waiting for the whole race to see. With the amount of money spent on ads by sponsors, the proposal for a split screen for commercials will not go over lightly. In the end, Fox has a lot of people to please, and it’s a sure thing that not everyone will walk away happy. JH

THE COST TALLY OF THE FINISH AT TALLADEGA

The finish of this past weekend’s Sprint Cup race at Talladega was mayhem. The 25-car pileup, which resulted from Tony Stewart’s careless maneuvers to try to block his way to a win, was a spectacle to the fans on the front stretch but could have been deadly for all of the drivers involved.
The Richmond Times Dispatch quotes Dale Earnhardt, Jr. as saying, “If this is what we did every week, I wouldn’t be doing it, I’ll just put it to you that way. If this was how we raced every week, I’d find another job… It’s really not racing. It’s a little disappointing. It cost a lot of money right there. If this is how we are going to continue to race and nothing is going to change, how about NASCAR build the cars? It’ll save us a lot of money.”
While watching the final turns into the front stretch and the pileup occur, I could only imagine how frustrated and outraged many teams would be that their cars would have to be dragged off the track as a twisted heap of metal.
I am curious to know, in a dollar amount, how much the teams could salvage from their car given the severity of the damage. I know that the price in salvaged parts would be nowhere close to the total cost of running the race, but each team must be concerned with getting the maximum amount of money out of its investment. Talk about a risky investment.
With increasing costs in racing, saving money has to be at the top of every team’s “To-Do List”. The point that Jr. made about having NASCAR build all the cars brings up a great point that may be heavily considered in the near future.
One may be surprised how much money could be saved by individual teams if NASCAR had a factory that churned out a pre-built models and then distributed them to each team to finish off. I am not sure if this is a concept that has been considered before but it would appear to be fair and cost effective. If NASCAR could save each team $100,000 a week then that would add up to a hefty chunk of change at the end of the 36-week race season.
At this point in time the money invested in each car may not be a big deal to the larger teams such as Hendrick Motorsports or Joe Gibbs Racing, but to many of the smaller teams it could be a huge step in helping reduce costs. If teams were able to reduce costs each week, possibly new opportunities would be opened up for sponsors. NASCAR may not like the idea of having to build the cars for each team. Many teams may be completely against the concept, but something will have to change in the future. Something must be done when a major figure head of the sport openly says that if something does not change, he plans to find another job. SP

Have NASCAR Rules Become Too Stringent?

Have officials in NASCAR become too tough on drivers and car specifications? If you were to ask Clint Bowyer, I’m sure he would say absolutely. After his win in New Hampshire, Clint Bowyer thought he was one step closer to his first Sprint Cup championship, but during a post race inspection at the NASCAR Research and Development Center, officials found that the backend of the car did not meet regulations. Instead of being second in points after the win, Bowyer was docked 150 points and wound up in twelfth. Bowyer and owner Richard Childress had been warned about issues with the rear of the car after the Richmond race, but no further action was taken until his win at New Hampshire. Bowyer was certain that the car was legal before the race and thinks it must have been damaged when the car was pushed into the winner’s circle or during the cool down lap after the race, according to ESPN.
It seems that the officials should consider the damage that happens to the cars during a race. With bump drafting rules being lightened, cars are receiving more damage than the past few years. I think that if NASCAR wants to add more excitement by allowing more bumping and banging around, it should adjust the rules and templates to match. I think that if NASCAR is worried about car tolerances and specifications, it should do more pre-race inspections. While this may not be feasible, it would add more to the fairness of the current rules. It would also alleviate the issue of cars not meeting specifications after receiving damage during or after a race. TL

NASCAR’s Drop in Attendance and TV Viewership

NASCAR doesn’t seem like it would be a very popular sport to many people, but it is. The NFL and MLB have not been lacking in viewership and attendance but recently NASCAR has seen a drop in viewership and attendance. Why is this? What is the cause for people not wanting to see the second most popular sport in America? Is NASCAR really losing fans or are the fans just not caring as much?

I think NASCAR TV viewership has decreased for two main reasons. The first reason is due to the fact that more popular drivers are not racing as well as they did in the past. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Mark Martin, and Jeff Gordon are some of the drivers I grew up watching and who always seemed to win. Although these drivers are still winning, they are not exactly at the top of the list as they were in the past. Drivers such as Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, and Kevin Harvick are beginning to climb the ladder. This change has actually caused me to stop watching the races. The second reason, which I believe is the more important, is due to the economy. The economy is down, people are losing jobs, people are trying to find jobs, and no one wants to spend a lot of money. One would think people would sit down and watch TV since they are not working, but it seems like they are doing the opposite. Even though people may not have a heavy budget, they seem to spend time doing things they didn’t have the time to do when they were working. Instead of watching TV, like a NASCAR race, people are out cleaning up the yard or straightening out the garage. They still may be huge fans, but the significance of watching the race has been overturned by something of greater importance. BW

Impact of TV Viewership

The impact of declining TV viewers in NASCAR is being brought to the forefront. The biggest issue is that young males ages 18-34 are losing interest in the sport of racing. Fox has reported that of the 13 races it covers television attendance is down .3 million from 2009. This drop can be argued that the decline is in response to rain delays, competition with other sports and shows, or the economy, but I think we can all agree that these things will happen every year; it is inevitable. You might ask, what does this mean for NASCAR? Decrease in sponsorships, advertising, and revenue all have an effect on NASCAR, the tracks, and potential clients of NASCAR.
Attendance at the tracks has also been on the decline; tracks that had been previously been sold out for years to come are now seeing empty seats in the stands. According to the International Speedway Corporation, admission revenues for the season are at an all time low. This race attendance also affects television, because viewers and sponsors do not want to watch an evening with empty seats–they might ask themselves what is happening to NASCAR. In order to build a brighter future for NASCAR, we need to educate our youth and find ways to bring them to the sport. CH

NASCAR and Sponsorship–Is It Worth It?

All marketers are essentially working for the same thing, introducing their product to new consumers and developing a lifelong customer relationship; the smart marketers invest in NASCAR. Studies have shown the brand loyalty between NASCAR sponsors and their fans is stronger than the loyalty between average consumers and their products of choice. It’s a pretty simple relationship: “I like Dale Earnhardt Jr., and he drives for Amp Energy Drink, therefore I like Amp,” and a new customer is born. The above example is easily changed to other drivers/ sponsors/products. Generally, this relationship lasts for years and in some cases passes from generation to generation. Yes, it can cost a company millions of dollars a year to be involved in the business of NASCAR, but spread that train of thought across a few million people and your ROI goes off the chart. There’s no denying that sponsorships in NASCAR cost a pretty penny-but for the most part, it’s worth it. CS

WHAT IS GOING ON?

As a brand new NASCAR fan, I am enjoying the array of sponsors and recognizing their specific products in stores. I can see now where the brand loyalty statistics come from because just today I saw Coke Zero in a grocery store and remembered getting a sample of it at the concessions at RIR. However, it has been reported recently that many big brand sponsors are pulling out of the Sprint Cup Series. Jim Beam and Jack Daniels both announced recently that they are not including NASCAR in their marketing plans in the near future. In addition, Lowe’s has announced that it will not hold the naming rights for the Lowe’s Motor Speedway after an 11-year relationship with Speedway Motorsports Inc. Is the declining economy to blame? Are companies struggling with the high costs of marketing and advertising their products within the Sprint Cup Series? It is really interesting and coincidental that two liquor companies pulled out, one after the other. Are NASCAR fans more likely to buy beer than liquor? What is the future for alcoholic beverages and sponsorship?

I am not sure exactly what is going on with these particular companies but I am assuming it is a combination of issues. It will be interesting to see what happens with the naming rights of the Charlotte Motor Speedway and if any other alcoholic beverage company announces an ending sponsorship.

And that’s the view from here.

SM

The Car of When?

The Car of Tomorrow is causing several different waves through the world of NASCAR. The Car of Tomorrow or CoT has been a working prototype for the last seven years, after Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s crash in 2001. Many believe that new regulations and perfection is needed to help make these mandated vehicles to a level of working performance for the drivers. First the intent of this car was very genuine and well thought. Wikipedia explains, via NASCAR.com, “[t]he primary design considerations were ‘safety innovations, performance and competition, and cost efficiency for teams.'” These are all important factors for a team to be able to race safely, efficiently and for less money. However there are many concerns that these are not enough considerations and cause larger problems.

Just a few of the complaints are the dimensions of the vehicle itself. The bigger, boxier, and less aerodynamic body shapes are creditable causes for less speed and moving agility on the track. These are valid concerns with drivers. The speed and performance of the vehicles is more labored and harder to control for a long amount of time going at speeds we can not fathom, though we would like too. However, there are people who will praise the vehicle for different features such as safety, but will criticize for size and lack of maneuverability.

As a spectator I want to see the effort that a team can put into a car within the guidelines. Each team has mechanical geniuses willing to work hard and promote originality within the cars. This is a sign of the times, everything is standardized and boring. Though it does depend on the driver and how they handle the car, it is also about the team and how far they can get the driver.

No room for design ability, just rules.
That’s the unfortunate view from here.

H.F.