The thrill is gone, and the numbers prove it.
After decades of phenomenal growth, NASCAR’s popularity has hit the wall. At Bristol Motor Speedway a couple of years ago, Jeff Gordon told reporters he couldn’t believe the rows of empty seats. Where were the cheering fans who normally packed the stands and infield?
Attendance is down at NASCAR races, and no one seems to know why. Even the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte is languishing. Though marketing analysts predicted 800,000 paying visitors would pass through the museum’s doors in 2011, only 272,000 showed up, resulting in an operating loss of $1.4 million. New augurs were enlisted, who soon promised higher attendance for the Hall of Fame’s second year. Instead, the number of visitors dropped another 30 percent.
So what happened? Like many other relationships, the one between NASCAR and its fans dimmed because both parties have changed, making the old love affair impossible to carry on.
First of all, you know a relationship is in trouble when one of the parties says it wants to see other people. That’s exactly what NASCAR has told its Southern fanbase.
NASCAR used to be an all-Southern event. At every race, hundreds would wave the battle flag. The Rebel 500 at Darlington, South Carolina, opened on Confederate Memorial Day. Its opening parade featured a Confederate soldier waving a battle flag.
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