SPEEDWAY—The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of the most historic and exciting venues in racing. Check that. It is one of the most historic and exciting venues in sports. Countless moments have been made at the monster track that has often housed enough people to fill a small city during big races. The Brickyard 400 has become exactly that. One of the most popular races in Nascar. But on Sunday, the grandstands were not filled to capacity. The fans were not able to come together in one giant mass and emit a deafening roar. There simply were not enough people.
It is somewhat difficult to put into perspective. 138,000 racing fans is a lot. But this is a big time Nascar race at the preeminent venue in racing. The stands should have been filled to capacity. There should have been so many people roaming around the complex that golf carts became useless in the sea of people. But that is not what happened. Racing fans showed up, but many stayed home and Nascar executives were left to pout yet again.
There was a time not so long ago when Nascar was viewed as an unstoppable train on a course to domination. There were the many pundits who refused and still refuse to accept Nascar as a sport or the drivers as athletes. But, it made no difference. Nascar was growing and making money, lots of it. The years of prosperity seem like a long time ago now.
No one seems to be able to put their finger on the cause of declining attendance. Racers have not decided to stop going fast. Drivers still have fiery personalities and rivalries that create storylines. Jimmie Johnson is in the midst of the most historic streak of supremacy the sport has ever seen. Danica Patrick seems to be making her way over and support for Dale Earnheardt Jr. remains in tact despite his losing streak. Young drivers like Trevor Bayne with his Daytona 500 win have proven anyone can take the checkered flag and the young guns must be respected. So why are people not showing up anymore?
The reason could be simple. The economy is horrible; so bad that maybe fans simply cannot afford the extra expense. Nascar fans are not known to be in the upper class with money to throw around. They are the average joes with kids to feed and mortgages to pay. Jon Smith may be a life long Nascar fan, but will he choose to attend the Brickyard 400 or get his daughter all of her necessary vaccinations for school.
Unfortunately, it will do Nascar no good to sit around and do nothing, hoping the economy improves and their fans return. They are trying to bring an edge to racing and draw in new fans as well. The addition of two wild card drivers to The Chase based on number of race wins is an improvement in the eyes of most fans. It is a shame to see a driver win big races and miss The Chase. It's not a bad idea especially because the move brings Nascar closer to formats of the NFL and MLB. It is a more progressive approach and could help lore fans of those sports.
The drivers will continue to work hard and promote their sport. Everyone is aware of the issues at hand and the fact that this has become a critical juncture in Nascar history. If attendance continues on a downhill trend the sport could be in serious trouble. However, that sentiment has been said many times for multiple sports. The athletes can do nothing but give their best and engage with fans as much as possible. Nascar drivers seem to realize this as Brickyard 400 winner Paul Menard took some time away from victory circle interviews to talk to fans and sign autographs. Racing fans are still out there and they still love the sport. It's Nascar's job to make them remember that and convince them there is nothing quite like seeing a race in person.