Playing Paintball with Kyle Busch at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Playing Paintball with Kyle Busch at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Playing Paintball with Kyle Busch at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Response to "Nascar needs to get more young fans interested in racing"


I was inspired by an article on SB Nation by a 14 year old Nascar fan named Megan Leben. (See here)  Like Megan, I see Nascar’s longevity as a national pastime waning due to many factors, but the most ominous is its inability to attract new, younger fans.   While this may be disconcerting to Nascar management, the problem isn’t insurmountable if some basic strategies are implemented. In some cases, these strategies are already being carried out at certain tracks, they simply need to improve their ways of catering to the family-friendly atmosphere.
My son plays with a chalkboard
at Charlotte Motor Speedway's
4th turn Kid's Section

I completely empathize with Megan’s plight; she has no one to talk to about her favorite sport. As a teacher in a school of over 1,000 students, administrators and employees, there are only a handful of people on campus that I can discuss Sunday’s race with on Monday morning. Nascar’s ability to attract the younger generation is quickly slipping away.  My personal opinion, and my reaction to Megan’s article, is that Nascar sometimes misses their target. For instance, Megan mentioned that Nascar should use Science and Math to attract the younger generation. On a recent visit to the Nascar Hall of Fame on educator’s day, the administrators there mentioned that they have field trips for Science and Math classes. While I understand their intention, teachers usually try to use practical examples that interest the students already. So, if they aren’t interested in Nascar, then trying to apply a school subject to an already boring sport (in their minds) isn’t going to help. Nascar needs to take a step further back. Their focus should not be directed at the middle or high school student, but the elementary student and younger.
While I agree with Megan on all of her other points, I would argue that the younger generation should be Nascar’s focus. Once a kid has positive feelings and memories of the race track, the fondness for these experiences will never wane. Yes, it will take some investment of resources and time, but in the long-run it will be worth it. For instance, my sons (ages 3 and 6) are already asking about our next trip to the racetrack!
My 3 year old at Joe Gibbs Racing shop
At some tracks, they’ve already implemented strategies to target kids and their families. First, they’ve incorporated other things that kids already LOVE in their race weekend activities.  Bounce house inflatables, petting zoos, rides, and even meeting the teenage mutant ninja turtles and other characters are the highlight of my kids’ trip to the track. Yes, for now, it’s not really about the race, and that’s ok. They are slowly learning to follow the sport and their favorite driver. (I celebrated last week when Jimmy Johnson wrecked in Phoenix and my six year old son danced and booed Jimmy Johnson. While I actually like the #48 car, my son loves Kyle Busch, who was currently leading the race. He understood that Jimmy being out of the race helped Kyle.  Even at 6, he’s slowly understanding the implications of other drivers in each race.)  Obviously, there is always room for improvement in the kid’s attractions at the track; for instance, they need to have other entertainment opportunities for the kids during the race, in case a kid needs a break from the monotony.
Some speedways, like Charlotte Motor Speedway, are making strides with kids entertainment.  They even have severely discounted children’s tickets and pit passes for each race. CMS recognizes that if they can get a kid to the race, they may have found a fan for life.
The TMNT hauler!
With that said, here are a couple ways that Nascar can improve. The family campgrounds at the tracks need improvement. Just like a KOA or Good Sam Campground, the tracks need a dedicated kids area with a playground so that the kids can play while at the campsite. Secondly, they need to find a way to get these drivers to more school appearances throughout the year.  At our school of 1,000 students, what do you think would happen if Jeff Gordon or Dale Earnhart Jr. showed up at an assembly the Monday preceding a race? Ticket sales would explode.  Thirdly, I think Nascar is doing a fairly good job of fostering younger drivers, for instance the fourteen-year old Gray Gaulding of the PASS series. He’s a great young man, and an amazing ambassador for racing (as well as Krispy Kreme doughnuts), but this series doesn’t seem as interested in offering the same deals for kids as its Nascar counterpart.  I recently considered going to their regional race, but the cost of the race would have been more than I paid for the kids section in turn four for the Bank of America 500. I simply couldn’t justify the purchase.  Lastly, Nascar should be better implementing their four “Nascar Speedway” parks, not as mere money making opportunities, but rather as ways to inspire people to follow the sport.  At this point they are just “another go-kart resort”, so why not team up with an organization like the World Karting Association to have regional or state competitions? If someone had a friend or a family member racing a kart at one of these events, they’d likely attend. And if I they enojoyed the race, this could inspire them to attend the next Nascar event.
Lastly I want to applaud Megan and sbnation.com for publishing her thought-provoking article, and I have a feeling that Nascar will take it seriously. After all, it’s their profit and future at stake. 

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