Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.
If you follow NASCAR, you’re used to hearing fans and participants alike criticize it for being a law unto itself. However, this debate puts an interesting topic on the table for us – should NASCAR let outside entities influence how the sport is run, especially with regard to race length? The simple answer is yes.
The fact is that professional auto racing of any type would not exist without outside entities. Amateur racing will always exist as long as two guys want to see whose car is faster. But professional racing relies on sponsors to fund competition. For NASCAR, the web grows even wider because NASCAR would not exist in its current form without the participating car manufacturers and broadcast partners who put the sport on the air, in turn drawing larger sponsors due to increased visibility. If you do not cater to these outside entities in some way, they will take their business elsewhere. That leaves you with a shell of a professional sport.
The genesis of this debate was reading about how FOX may be exerting some influence on NASCAR to shorten races in order to boost ratings. While that may appear, at least to some, to be a corporate entity trying to bully NASCAR, I believe there’s something different taking place there. If NASCAR races were a four hour cash cow, FOX would want to make them longer. The fact that they want to make them shorter means that they are likely listening to the most important outside entity to any type of professional motorsport – the fans.<br
FOX’s thinking is that more fans will watch if the races are shorter. Since many drivers at the Sprint Cup level acknowledge that the vast majority of the race is spent fine-tuning a car (and probably not running it full out), FOX is keen to cut down on that vast majority of the race that many fans – especially the casual ones – find boring.
Many traditional stock car fans grew up going to their local Saturday night stock car track and watching 15-20 races in the span of four or five hours, as opposed to one race taking that long. FOX wants to cater to the fans because the fans are the ones whose eyeballs drive the advertising that makes the whole cycle work.
NASCAR seems to be moving in the direction of shorter races, but at a glacial pace. This is dangerous, and speaks to a more global problem in American professional sports. As the NBA and NFL stare down the barrel of a possible work stoppage, I think many fans wonder whether or not professional sports really exist to serve their interests. This may be especially acute for hardcore NASCAR fans because many of them believe that the sport betrayed them by expanding its reach beyond its traditional markets and racetracks. Fans also know that NASCAR can quickly change things if it wants to, such as the points system.
Simply put, debating whether or not outside entities should influence NASCAR is not the core of the debate here. Especially with professional auto racing, those outside entities typically represent the one entity that keeps the sport alive – the fans. Within reason, sanctioning bodies should cater to the fans. I’m not advocating NASCAR should force the cars to jump through flaming rings if the fans say it’s a good idea. With appropriate respect paid to the history and traditions of the sport, NASCAR should listen to its partners – and fans – and shorten the races.