If you know anything about the history of NASCAR, then you have probably heard more than a few stories about Humpy Wheeler. This guy has had a huge impact on NASCAR. He was the past track president at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and got famous for giving the people what they wanted in some of the most attended races and events in the NASCAR season. His opinion of NASCAR today? Nascar in the 1990s turned itself away from the roots and into something that is just “too fancy”.
Well, I guess there is some hope out there. Humpy is probably one of the best people when it comes to the marketing of NASCAR to a level that people love. His pre-race shows had all sorts of things, including car jumps and the like. He knew that the racing worked best as a show, and he is seeing that NASCAR in the 21st century has turned into something else, a corporate selling system and not much more.
As I mentioned a few days back, NASCAR’s top drivers are getting old, the younger drivers are not coming in like they should, and the costs of racing in NASCAR have reached a point where it’s sponsors making the choices and not the teams. With Ryan Newman talking 20 million plus in sponsorship needed for him to get a seat next season, you can see the problems. 20 million is a huge amount of money, over a 36 race season that means a team is spending more than half a million dollars per race just to run, no matter where they finish. That is insane amount of money for “stock” cars.
The problem that Hummpy addresses is that problem: “We’re not getting all the best drivers, because they don’t talk right, they don’t look right, they may not be corporately inclined,” he said. “Corporations, to a certain extent, have put us into this.” The results are teams scared and unable to afford to try something new, some of the top names in the sport running either unsponsored cars or “house” sponsorship like “Hendrick Cars”, and barely enough cars turning up each each to make the field.
Don Miller, retired president of Mooresville-based Penske Racing South said “I think they have lost their base, which had always been the blue-collar guy”, which seems to be pretty clear here – they have lost a fan base, stopped being “cool”, and become another collection of stuffed shirts repeating the old “the oil thingie energy drink Chevy was fast today”. It’s such a joke that it’s exactly what Lightning McQueen was saying in the first Cars movie. People don’t connect to that stuff.
Perhaps it’s wasthe deaths of Dale Earnhardt and Alan Kulwicki that did the sport in. These guys were one of us, not scared to pick up a wrench and do it themselves, no scared to show up in front of the cameras and speak their minds, and not at all scared to mix it up to get the win. These days it’s all about points racing, all about “got a good finish today”, the artificial chase for the championship, and making 101 sponsor appearances and such. It’s disgusting to see the drivers at the end of an on camera interview take a swig from an obviously empty can or bottle of their sponsor’s energy drink, just to try to get some on camera time and “value” for the sponsor. When NASCAR drivers are down to whoring themselves out to that level, something is dearly wrong.