Modernizing NASCAR

I like NASCAR. I admit it. I like watching the cars vie for position, fenders almost touching, screaming at speeds way faster than I’ll ever be able to go. But I’ve also noticed I’m one of few. Especially living in Minnesota. The state may have a former wrestler for a governor, but it’s not exactly a bastion of NASCAR fans.

And while I’ve been thinking about why people don’t like NASCAR, I’ve realized it has a lot to do with NASCAR’s poor public image. So here’s a few things NASCAR can do to improve their reputation and become a more acceptable sport in America (and Minnesota).

Say goodbye to Winston. For more years than most people can remember the top NASCAR series has been the Winston Cup Series–sponsored by Winston cigarettes. You can’t talk about NASCAR without advertising for a cigarette company. If NASCAR ever expects to be the most loved sport in America, they need to dump tobacco. And it wouldn’t hurt to take a second look at the advertising adorning the rest of the sport. I certainly don’t expect all advertising to disappear from racing, but perhaps they should reconsider beer, chewing tobacco, and cigarettes emblazoned on Taurus’s, Monte Carlos, Grand Prix’s, and Intrepids. There’s something a little disconcerting when an eight year old is wearing a t-shirt of their favorite driver–inadvertently becoming a billboard for beer.

Learn how to turn right. The number one reason people don’t like NASCAR is because they think it’s boring. Those of us who understand the sport scratch our heads and scoff. But if you take a closer look, perhaps it could use some spicing up. Of the 34 races only 2 are on road courses, tracks where the drivers turn both left and right. All the other tracks are some sort of circle, in varying degrees. If NASCAR switched to more road courses the racing would be more exciting, and more accessible to the common person. After all, I’ve never driven on a circle track with 18 degree banking. But I have driven on some twisting, winding roads.

Perhaps the biggest concern stems from the tragedy at this year’s Daytona 500. A number of people have condemned NASCAR as a sport of death. This is an issue with no easy answer, but it’s one NASCAR needs to address. It doesn’t help that wrecks seem to increase ratings–of course the drivers aren’t fans of twisted sheet metal, but the television coverage doesn’t shy away from including as many fender benders as possible in the highlight reel. Perhaps it’s simply the rubbernecking effect, but it doesn’t do the sport any good.

Finally NASCAR should take a giant leap into the new millennium and do something extraordinary to boost it’s value in the public’s eye. NASCAR should leave behind the gas-guzzling V-8 internal combustion engines and become an environmentally friendly sport. Certainly this throws the whole idea of “stock” car racing out of balance, but imagine the possibilities: a sport that becomes a testing ground for high-performance environmentally friendly vehicles. Has there ever been such a thing? High-performance and environmentally friendly have never even been used in the same sentence. The sport would suddenly be transformed from a red-neck, gas-guzzlin’, tire smokin’, testosterone fest to a techno-weenie meets tree hugger out to save the planet meets somebody who’s actually cool. Sure I’m playing off all the stereotypes, but that’s marketing for you. Imagine the possibilities. If car manufacturers ever wanted to get serious about global warming and finding a way to make alternative vehicles sell–race them. Nobody’s gonna call it a wussy eco-car if it can do 150 mph on the race track.

By no means is this an exhaustive list of ways to make NASCAR a more accepted sport, but it’s a start. Maybe I should write an article about this. Let me know if you have any more ideas on how to make NASCAR cool to the scoffers. Also let me know if you’d like to buy the article.

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