I really didn’t want to have to write this post. I figured that everyone was smart enough to really see things clearly and think logically, but I’ve been proven horribly wrong. After Jenna Fryer’s AP story about NASCAR “secretly” fining drivers that appeared this week, there has been a ton of discussion about the topic. I can respect people’s opinions on both sides of an argument, as everyone is entitled to what they think, but in this case some out there have completely lost it.
Before I even say what I want to say, I’m going to do you a favor. What I’m about to write will probably make some of you angry, and I’m cool with that. So before you call me a “NASCAR homer” in the comment section, stop. I’m going to side with NASCAR on this one, and I already know where this is leading. So save your energy.
Now, as everyone seems to know, NASCAR is currently in a tough spot. Attendance has been falling at tracks across the board and TV ratings continue to slump. NASCAR has made a ton of changes to try and fix what they believe the problems to be, and more changes are coming. NASCAR hopes these changes will bring people back to the track and get more people watching on TV, which in turn will hopefully bring sponsors back to racing that left, and also attract some new ones.
As NASCAR attempts to get back what they lost, what they really don’t need is a ton of bad press. And what do drivers do that continually bad mouth the sanctioning body and its decisions to the public? Create bad press.
ESPN has reported that they know who the drivers are that were fined by NASCAR, but to me, it doesn’t matter. What all of the drivers need to realize is that the media and the fans listen to what they have to say. If people didn’t care what they had to say, nobody would interview them. And don’t even try to tell me that fans don’t need to listen to the drivers to see how bad things are with NASCAR. If Dale Jr. can convince JR Nation to go out and buy Amp to the point that Amp’s sales go up 70% in the first year of the sponsorship, and Amp’s market share jumps from sixth in the category to fourth, this guy and all the other drivers can affect fans’ opinions.
Right now, it seems that fan frustration is pretty high. We read comments and emails from folks all the time about how they are close to quitting all together, and more from people that have given up. By criticizing NASCAR to the media, the drivers are just adding to the fan frustration and helping drive more of them away. And when fans leave, so do sponsorship dollars. So really, these drivers are really just hurting themselves, because with less sponsorship, there will be less rides for them to occupy, and less money available to pay them big salaries.
With all of this said, NASCAR must do all they can right now to protect their brand. They cannot afford to lose any more of the race fans. NASCAR wants the fans to be happy, because happy fans buy race tickets and merchandise, and watch on TV. So when a driver becomes overly critical of the sport, action must be taken. In this case, NASCAR decided fines were necessary to show not only the offending drivers, but everyone else that this would not be tolerated. What’s interesting to note here, is that according to spokesman Ramsey Poston, NASCAR warned all the drivers about the possibility of fines months ago.
For those of you who claim these fines violate free speech, try again. NASCAR did not fine these drivers because they had an opinion. They fined them because they chose the wrong forum in which to express that opinion. If the competitors really have a problem with the way things are being run, they need to take those opinions directly to Mike Helton, John Darby, Joe Balash, and Wayne Auton. Complaining to the media and fans won’t get them anywhere.
Moving on to this idea of “secret” fines, at what point did anyone say these fines were secret? There is a big difference between “secret” and not making something public knowledge. The original AP story has quotes from Poston in which he acknowledges that action was taken. He didn’t deny it, nor were these drivers told to keep the fines a secret. NASCAR is allowed to deal with problems internally, and not everything warrants a press release. The last time you were written up at work for being late 47 days in a row, something tells me your HR manager didn’t send out a press release to the local paper.
I also want to point out here that if NASCAR wanted something to be secret, it would remain secret. The community is extremely small, and if you think there aren’t things you don’t know about, then you are sadly confused.
With all of this being said, I’m not the enemy here. I agree with you that the drivers need to have their own personalities, and be able to speak their minds. Showing emotion is what makes us love and hate these guys. But drivers can show emotion without bashing NASCAR every five minutes in their post race press conferences. There is already way too much negativity in the press, the drivers don’t need to help.
I’m siding with NASCAR on this one because they were right to do what they did. Myself and thousands of other people depend on this sport and the jobs provided by it to pay our bills and feed our families. Fans not showing up and sponsors pulling out affects me and a lot of other people I know personally. I’m lucky to still have a spot in racing, but I know a ton of guys who don’t.
So the next time a driver wants to bitch and moan in an interview about what they perceive to be phony debris cautions, maybe they should think a little more about the ramifications of their words. It just might turn out that they unknowingly killed their own career.