Wheeler Says NASCAR Hurt Itself In '90s After Sport Became "Too Fancy"
Former SMI President & CEO Humpy Wheeler this week said that NASCAR "hurt itself by becoming 'too fancy' in the 1990s," according to Joe Marusak of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. Wheeler in a YouTube video added that the sport "soared in the 1990s and a lot of people wanted to change it." He said that this "happened as racing evolved from a regional to national sport." Wheeler: "They thought it was too country or unsophisticated or whatever. Those people were dead wrong." NASCAR has "grappled with perhaps its most troubling ongoing challenge: declining ticket sales." Wheeler "traced the sport’s struggles in part to Dale Earnhardt’s death" in the '01 Daytona 500. He said that cars have "become too expensive, preventing grass-roots drivers from rising in the sport." Wheeler added that corporate sponsors in NASCAR "tried to change the sport." He said, "By trying to change it ... a lot of people left, and they left by droves. Yeah, they kept watching it on TV some, but they didn’t come to the race track" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 8/15).
IS WHEELER RIGHT? In Charlotte, Erik Spanberg wrote, "Some of Wheeler’s assertions resonate." The size of TV audiences watching NASCAR from '05-12 "declined by 32 percent." Forbes data shows that average attendance at tracks "fell from 130,000 fans per race to 98,000" during that span (BIZJOURNALS.com, 8/14). FOXSPORTS.com's Darrell Waltrip wrote, "One of the biggest areas I think we need change in is the race schedule." Waltrip: "I think we are at the point where NASCAR really needs to sit down, take a hard look at the schedule and do something new, different and exciting. We’ve been doing the same thing over and over, year after year and that’s the type of things people are tired of. ... We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but we need to shake the tree every now and then and see what falls out" (FOXSPORTS.com, 8/13).