NASCAR Sees Return To Track As Opportunity To Gain Fans
NASCAR will return to action this weekend at the First Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway, and many see this as "quite possibly a seminal moment for stock-car racing," according to Godwin Kelly of the Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL. Some within the sport are putting the race "in the same category as the 1979 Daytona 500 (the first race broadcast live on network television) and the addition of the Brickyard 400 to the Cup Series in 1994." Driver Kurt Busch said, "I feel like this is a genuine opportunity for many different reasons." Driver Erik Jones: "We have a huge opportunity on Sunday to bring in a new group of fans that maybe never watch NASCAR." Kelly notes the mission is to "put on a good show for the TV audience and not potentially spread any present COVID-19 at the track" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 5/15). In L.A., David Wharton noted NASCAR will "get the jump on other major sports in returning to network television," and it "has a chance to grab the national spotlight." Driver Alex Bowman: "I really think we can put on great shows and do that safely. And I think that will be really good for everybody” (L.A. TIMES, 5/14).
WHITE HOT SPOTLIGHT: ESPN.com's Ryan McGee noted it would be "naive to believe that the surprising success of eNASCAR broadcasts (roughly 1 million viewers per week) hasn't fed into NASCAR's desire to get back to the live track as soon as possible." NASCAR President Steve Phelps has "never disputed that." However, much of the motivation "has been to be the only live sport on television on Sunday afternoons for the foreseeable future." There will be many observers "watching on Sunday to see if the road back to normal does indeed run through Darlington." Track President Kerry Tharp said, "I've heard from a lot of people who work in a lot of different sports. They all want to see if all of this we are doing to make this race happen works. They are all hoping that it does" (ESPN.com, 5/13).
LEADING BY EXAMPLE: In Charlotte, Tom Sorensen writes NASCAR "did the best work of any sport during the COVID-19 shutdown." Fox televised "seven NASCAR iRacing events and attracted large audiences," and Sunday's race is an "opportunity to begin to win fans back." The safety of athletes and crews and all the people who participate in such a massive undertaking is "essential." Sorensen writes, "I trust NASCAR will get this right. I hope so" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/15).