Saturday, January 20, 2018

Is Our Sport Dying Part II

Part II- Is our sport dying? Actual NASCAR attendance figures are difficult to come by, but according to securities filings, ticket sales revenue fell by 38 percent over the past five years at its three publicly traded companies. Daytona International Speedway did not open the 57,000 seats on the back straight for the July race. Once again an empty seat does not pay a bill. Locally, attendance was down, we blame the heat, we blame the economy, we blame running too late into the season, is that it? Are we charging too much for a ticket, both nationally and locally?

Let’s take a moment and look more in depth at the Baby Boomers. A baby boomer is a person who was born during the demographic post-World War II baby boom between the years 1946 and 1964, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That means in today’s terms those individuals having celebrated their 48th through 66th birthdays. During those years there were 75 million babies born.

This group of children grew up with the 57 Chevrolet, the Mustangs, the Camaros, the Corvettes, the Chargers, the Challengers, the Chevelles, the GTOs, the Barracuda, and the Monte Carlos. Brand names associated with the Big Three Auto Makers (Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler). Those in this age group know exactly what company brand goes before the name of each of those individual types of cars.

This generation was infatuated with their cars. They worked on their cars, installing FM radios, then eight track tape players eventually leading to cassette tape players. Seat belts expanded from lap belts to should straps. The backseat was a romantic location for this generation.

They learned from their fathers how to change oil, how to pack wheel bearings, how to change transmission fluid, how to pump gas. They worked on carburetors. They tinkered with various junk yard parts. They took cars apart only to put them back together just to learn. They learned to build stock cars and race them at local tracks. This group was being born at the same time Bill France started the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR).

The local race track was the place to be. Tracks would literally pop up in every town. My uncle built the track in Mountain Grove, Missouri. We would race on Friday night at Cabool, Saturday at West Plains, and Sunday in Mountain Grove. The older baby boomers were the racers, the younger baby boomers were the ones peaking through the fence at Riverside Stadium to catch a glimpse of the race cars or riding in the trunk of a car to sneak into Lakeside Speedway. Families would pack up and park on the terraces at Lakeside Speedway enjoying racing and a cookout before it was called tailgating.

Marketing campaigns have been designed for the Baby Boomers through out their life time. Up, up and away fly TWA, Some cars fake it. These make it. – Chevrolet. Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet. Ford has a better idea. An American Revolution-Chevrolet. Built for the road ahead.-Ford. The Heartbeat of America-Chevrolet. Quality is Job one-Ford. All these slogans were geared towards the Baby Boomers, along with one of the most famous – Win on Sunday sell on Monday.

The Baby Boomer generation has been such a force that they buy 77% of all prescription drugs, 61% of over-the-counter drugs, and 80% of all leisure travel per Wikipedia. As the Baby Boomers aged more marketing was aimed at their comforts, cars with heated seats, surround sound vehicles, individual heating and cooling, GPS so you don’t have to listen to the wife (maybe because gas station attendants disappeared), and with these comforts came computers. Computers took this generation out from under the hood.

The baby boomers control over 80% of personal financial assets and more than half of all consumers spending. The age wave theory seemed to hit it on the head when they projected an economic downturn as the baby boomers started retiring during the years 2007-2009. As this generation ages, they become grandparents and the grandkids become more important than racing. They retire to travel, to leisure, to visiting and once they miss one race it becomes easier to miss additional races. We need to find a way to keep them at the track.

When you go to the racetrack look at the grandstands, how many of the fans in attendance are over 50. Look at our racers, how many are over 50 (Gene Claxton, Tom Charles, Tim Karrick, Joe Cobb, Hank Thompson, Kenny Wallace, Ken Schrader) and where would we be if they retired? Out of the 285 drivers that graced Lakeside this past year with their driving talent, the baby boomers accounted for 25% of the drivers. The baby boomers loved their cars, they loved racing their cars, they love competing in their cars, they love the sport like no other generation, but did they pass their passion on?

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