NASCAR is one of the most popular motorsports in the world, and the majority of its fan base resides in the USA. Millions of spectators attend the events each and every year, and millions more tune in to watch the races on TV. But are these numbers going down, and is NASCAR dying off?
NASCAR is not dying. Viewership is decreasing, and attendance at races has been dropping. But there is no sign of NASCAR going away anytime soon, with so much popularity and money still involved in the sport.
We will look in more detail into the trends in attendance, TV viewer statistics and more below, in order to determine whether or not NASCAR is losing its following. As a hugely well-known motorsport, and one with a rich history, nobody wants to see it disappear.
Some Facts & Statistics
Drop In Viewers
One of the main reasons that some people think NASCAR is dying is the decline in viewership and attendance at the races. These kinds of trends can be seen across many different sports throughout their histories, and sometimes it is just a result of the changing times. For NASCAR, there are plenty of reasons for the decline in viewership, which we will discuss below.
In 2014 the average viewership for Cup Series races was 5.3 million. In 2019, that number had dropped to just 2.92 million. That is a decrease of nearly 50%, and in some races this kind of decline could be seen in the stands too. The Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2019 drew in just 38,000 spectators, with the venue capable of holding more than 150,000 people.
Bristol is one of the most popular locations on the NASCAR calendar, so these attendance figures are quite baffling. Moreover, tracks like Daytona which see even more popularity have seen a similar decrease, from more than 13 million viewers back in 2010 to just over 9 million in 2019. These viewership and attendance figures would be worrying for any sport, not just NASCAR.
But there is not a huge amount of solid information out there regarding attendance and viewership. These statistics are only estimates, and the NASCAR Series stopped releasing official attendance estimates in 2013. Sure, this could be because it was becoming more difficult to do so and costing too much time and money, or it could have been to stop broadcasting the decline.
But let’s forget about the decline of NASCAR for a moment, and first remind ourselves of why it is so popular in the first place, and why it most likely will stay around for a long time regardless of viewership.
Why NASCAR Is Popular
NASCAR is popular for lots of different reasons, depending on who you ask. The fans that attend the races love them for the atmosphere, along with the intense feelings of connection that being up close to a race car travelling at 200mph can bring. The events of any sport are what make them spectacles, and fans of NASCAR will definitely agree with that.
The intensity of the races sets it apart from a lot of other motorsports. With 40 cars on the track, every millisecond counts. This makes for dramatic finishes, massive crashes and crazy moves that keep people watching every weekend. The cars are some of the fastest in motorsport, and this makes for excitement, even if you are watching from home.
But the sport also has a long, rich history that makes it an interesting one for new and old fans alike. From its roots in prohibition to the famous tracks that have held some of the biggest races for decades. Some people remember Dale Earnhardt’s dominance and loved to see his son do the same years later.
This brings the sport across the generations and makes it easy for people to understand why it has been so popular in the past and continues to be to this day.The cars are iconic, and although they have changed a lot over the years, they are still amazing to watch. Stock car racing holds a place in many people’s hearts, and that is something that will continue and prevent it from dying out.
These are all solid reasons for NASCAR’s popularity, but what about the figures we quoted at the beginning? What is causing people to stop watching NASCAR?
Is The Aspect Of Safety Ruining NASCAR?
One popular theory for the decline in NASCAR viewership is very controversial. Some think that safety has a big part to play in these reduced numbers, and not a reduction in safety but instead the fact that the sport is becoming safer. There have been lots of implementations in recent years, with many coming after the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001.
These implementations have helped to make NASCAR a safer sport for everyone involved, and undoubtedly have helped to keep the sport from being ditched completely in an era where health and safety is so important. If the sport did not try to catch up with others like F1 in the bid to make it as safe as possible, it is likely that a lot of sponsors would have pulled out.
Famous For The Crashes
But has the massive focus on safety caused NASCAR to lose a lot of what makes it so brilliant? Everyone knows the sport is famous for its crashes. The massive pile ups are what many associate with NASCAR, and many watch it solely to see them. Nobody does this hoping that anyone gets hurt, but the danger factor of NASCAR definitely makes it appealing to many fans.
But nowadays cars can crash very heavily and have the driver walk away unharmed, which for some seems to remove some of the danger. Surely this is a good thing, and we should be striving to constantly make it even safer? There is no doubt that if crashes never happened the sport would lose a lot of its flair, but as long as they are safe, and nobody is badly hurt they definitely still make it exciting.
Safer Is Always Better
The argument that safety features and safer practices, such as cars being pitted or retired for minor bumps in the fear that the driver may be at risk, is responsible for the decline in viewership may be somewhat true. But that definitely does not make it justified, as every fan should want the sport to be as safe as possible, and not have it impact their likelihood to watch it.
The Loss Of Big Names
Every sport offers up a variety of top names who dominate the sport or stay at the highest level for a long time. But unfortunately, they can’t stay in the game forever. For whatever reason, stars need to eventually step down, whether it be due to their age, fitness or any number of other possibilities. NASCAR is no stranger to superstar names.
One of the biggest names was Dale Earnhardt, who was tragically killed in a race nearly 20 years ago. This hurt fans, but it was the departure of his son from the sport, Dale Earnhardt Jr., that is the example I am going to focus on here, for modern relevance. He retired from the sport in 2017, and many fans saw this as the end of an era, which it definitely was.
The Earnhardt name had been in the sport for decades, starting with Ralph Earnhardt in the 1950s. It is what a lot of people associated with NASCAR itself. Dale Earnhardt won 7 championships, which cemented him as one of the greatest of all time. His son didn’t manage to win a Cup Series Championship, but he won the award for being the most popular driver 15 times.
This last part is crucial, as it showed just how well loved he was as a driver, and how important a role he played in the sport. Many people watched NASCAR just to see the Earnhardt name on the screen, and he is of course not the only big name to have retired recently. Other favorites like Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon have retired in recent years too.
There are still lots of talented drivers in the lineup, there is no question about that. But the fact is that a lot of the drivers that got many fans into the sport have stopped racing. This can make it hard for those fans to find someone new to root for, and this can cause them to lose interest in the sport. Is this the right way to approach any sport? Definitely not.
A Possible Link
But there is no denying that any sport loses some of its appeal when your favorite contender hangs up their boots for good. The loss of some of the biggest names in NASCAR could have something to do with the decline in viewers.
Other Reasons For The Decline In Viewers
The Racing Has Changed
There are lots of other possibilities when it comes to what causes these declines in viewership and attendance. Some say that the racing is not the same, and this goes hand in hand with the idea of safety. It could be perceived that less is tolerated in the modern era in the way of contact, in order to reduce the chances of big, dangerous crashes.
This makes some fans think that the racing itself has changed and become too easy. Again, this is really the wrong way to look at it, as it is almost more exciting to watch drivers get super close to one another and still manage to avoid colliding. Not only is it safer, but it is often more entertaining. This is an essential part of F1 for example, where the slightest touch can mean disaster.
Not So Stock Cars
The cars are also very different to what they used to be. The cars were intended to be stock cars, that is cars that have not been modified from their original factory configuration. Obviously, some modifications can be made now, but the idea is that the cars being raced resemble those that fans could go and buy for themselves from a dealership.
But the modern NASCAR vehicles are very far from stock cars. They are built as a shell, in order to look like the cars they represent, but in truth they are miles away from them. Some of the vehicles do resemble their road counterparts well, but many believe that the link and connection felt between fans and those on the track has been gone for years.
Old & New Fans
Plus, it is worth considering the idea of old fans outnumbering the new fans. This doesn’t strictly mean they are old in age, but it is perhaps a case of NASCAR struggling to bring in new fans as quickly as older ones are getting fed up, too old or simply unable to watch it anymore. The sport needs to bring in a new era of fans continuously, and this could be the difficult part.
People of all ages enjoy car racing, but at a young age there are lots of other sports that are far more accessible to kids. Football, basketball, athletics and tennis are all easy sports for kids to get into with minimal equipment and cost. Car racing usually involves the kids being involved in expensive karting when they are younger, which is just not as common as other sports.
Tough To Get Into
This means the kids are relying on finding an interest through their parents or friends, in a sport that they will most likely never be able to compete in themselves. You can watch basketball on the TV and get right into it, knowing you can go down to the court yourself with some friends and emulate what you were seeing on the screen.
With NASCAR, the enjoyment comes solely from watching the drivers do what they are doing, as few people are able to race cars themselves. This doesn’t mean NASCAR and other motorsports are not as enjoyable as other sports, but it does make it slightly more disconnected. This may make it harder for NASCAR to bring on new fans, but it is definitely not the sole reason for the viewership decline.
Is NASCAR Losing Fans?
Other Ways To Watch It
But numbers are not everything. Sure, the popularity might look to be decreasing on paper, but it would be naïve to assume that the fanbase has just vanished into thin air. Instead, NASCAR is now available to watch through various media, with some preferring to just catch up with the highlights on YouTube as a free way to get their NASCAR fix, driven in part by higher ticket and TV package prices.
Others may be streaming it online in other ways, as this is also becoming much easier with the ubiquity of the internet. Thus, it is not fair to assume that because the TV figures and attendances are down, NASCAR is losing fans. On the contrary, it could even be gaining fans, due to the ease with which people can now access at least some aspects of the sport.
NASCAR is not dying, although it is seeing a decline in viewership and attendances at the races. This could be due to a number of reasons, including the changes in racing styles, the loss of big names in the sport and the difficulty with which sports must try to breed a new era of fans each year. But this does not mean NASCAR is losing fans, and it is definitely not dying any time soon.