NASCAR, Losing Fans In A Hurry, Needs To Step Up The Pace – Forbes

NASCAR executives spend a lot of time wondering why fans don’t go to races or watch them on television like they used to in the good old days of, say, 10 years ago, but Sunday’s race at Michigan provided another clear example. Take a look at the numbers posted immediately after the race.

Kyle Larson, one of the sport’s rising stars, won the 400-mile race with an average speed of 150.903 miles an hour. The race took 2 hours, 40 minutes and 38 seconds, not counting a 5-minute, 39-second period when the race was stopped late to clear a wreck.

That was the fastest winning speed in a NASCAR top-series race this season. Not counting road-course races at Sonoma, Calif., and Watkins Glen, N.Y., it was also the quickest race of the season to complete. But it still did not groan to an end until after 6 p.m. Eastern time.

People just don’t spend three hours to do much of anything any more, but 14 of 23 Monster Cup Series races this season have lasted at least three hours, with four more races dragging on for at least 2:50. Isn’t this sport supposed to be all about speed? People don’t have all day.

This season, NASCAR has added “stage racing,” in which races are divided into segments, with bonus points awarded for winning races within races, but the fans continue to walk away. If anything, most races need to be shortened, perhaps by as much as an hour.

This, of course, is not just NASCAR’s problem these days. Major League Baseball has taken on the challenge of picking up the pace at ballgames, once treasured because there was no clock but not so much any more. The NFL often cracks down to finish games under three hours (which is still too long for me). A college football game can be timed with a sundial.

I remember talking to Dr. Joseph Mattioli about this very topic 20 years ago. Mattioli was the irascible but delightful Northeast Philadelphia dentist who built and ran Pocono Raceway in Northeast Pennsylvania. NASCAR races at Pocono lasted 500 miles — and four-plus hours. People went home with deep sunburns.

When  I suggested to Mattioli, whom everyone called “Doc,” that 400-mile races would be just as entertaining, he boomed that he’d have to cut ticket prices by 20 percent. End of discussion. After Mattioli died in 2012, races at Pocono were promptly shortened to 400 miles.