NASCAR 2012…. by the numbers!

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

# of races: 36

# of drivers who started all 36 races: 26

# of drivers who started at least 1 race: 74

NASCAR Nationwide Series

# of races: 33

# of drivers who started all 33 races: 13**

# of drivers who started at least 1 race: 143 (one hundred and forty three – spelled out to illustrate that this is not a typo)

** Of the drivers who started all 33 races, Danica finished ahead of only Mike Wallace, Jason Bowles and Jeremy Clements. Assuming that their equipment, plus their financial and human resources were all identical…. well, draw your own conclusions. I am only presenting the numbers. It is also a statistical fact that Danica finished ahead of more than 130 drivers in 2012.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

# of races: 22

# of drivers who started all 22 races: 17

# of drivers who started at least 1 race: 104

Butts in seats: less than last year

Eyeballs watching on the TV: less than last year

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NASCAR and the Olympics – Subtle Differences

Believe it or not, NASCAR racing is not an Olympic sport.

Back in 2010, I wrote an “Open Letter to Randy Bernard”, and in that letter, I suggested that the top sporting events in the world – including the Olympics – all have three key elements – or sides – to their “Success Triangle”;

1) they have the world’s best athletes

2) the athletes have talent that a majority of people can relate to, and,

3) there is a big prize – a significant reward for winning and devastation for losing.

Many people have tried ‘running’… which makes the talent of Usain Bolt easy to relate to. photo: Phil Walter – Getty Images

Both NASCAR and the Olympics have great competition and world-class athletes. Millions are invested on sponsorship and there’s plenty of live television coverage.

There are however, some differences.

Imagine training for four years, getting the opportunity to compete at the Olympics, and then falling off the balance beam, or finishing 4th in your race by 9/1000ths of a second… and getting nothing.

In the Olympics, if you finish 4th – or worse – you get nothing. And, some sports, like women’s gymnastics, are very difficult to come back to in another four years. The US women’s gymnastic team has not had a team member return for a second time for the last three summer Olympics.

So, 4th or worse?… you then must wait, and continue to train, for four more years.  Then you must re-qualify for the team, before you can try again. That’s tough. And most people can relate to this. High stakes indeed.

In NASCAR’s biggest event in 2012 – the Daytona 500 – David Ragan crashed on lap 1, finished 43rd and collected $267,637. He packed up and got to try again one week later.

The Olympics don’t have that.

The Olympics invented the concept of ‘go or go homers’ with many of their events being ‘single elimination’. In other words, if you lose, you go home… but the Olympics definitely do not allow ‘start and parks’.

In NASCAR, there have been 21 races so far in 2012. Of those 21 races, Josh Wise has entered 20, qualified for 19, and parked it in 18. And in the one race where I think he might have actually been racing (Richmond), he crashed about 1/3 into the race and collected over $70,000 in prize money.

Here’s the life of a NASCAR serial start-and-parker from a different perspective:

To date, there have been 5,746 laps run in NASCAR Sprint Cup. Josh Wise has completed 850 laps… or 14.8%.

Josh Wise has collected $1,516,570 in prize money…. so far, this year.

That’s $1,516,570 in prize money even though he showed up at these ‘professional’ sports events with “Quit” as an action item on his to-do list.

This is a tweet from occassional ‘start-and-quitter’ David Stremme. “I don’t always ‘start and quit’… so when I’m gonna race, I tweet that my quarter panels are on sale.” (He didn’t actually say that – I made it up. Really.)

In the official results on the NASCAR website, beside Josh’s name for each event, oddly, they do not list “I quit” as the reason for him “quitting”. They blame this on his team and his crew and ‘all the guys back in the shop’ when they use words like “Vibration” (6 races) and “Brakes” (6 races) to lie to us about why he quit.

The Olympics don’t have that.

In fact, Algerian runner Taoufik Makhloufi pulled a “start and park” in his 800 meter race. He had qualified for the 1500 final, and did not want to hurt his chances by running the 800. So, he started… then quit…. and was immediately kicked out of the Olympics. This came after four badminton teams had been tossed for purposely trying to lose their matches to get ‘easier’ draws.

NASCAR doesn’t have that.

Of course, this is not about Josh Wise, and it is not his decision to “quit”. His team owner makes that decision, with NASCAR’s ‘system’ being the enabler. I think Josh is probably a fine racer and feels sick about what he is doing. But, a guy’s gotta eat right?

In NASCAR, in qualifying, when one of the “go or go-homers” gets locked into the race, Mike Joy or DW will announce VERY excitedly…. “And Josh Wise WILL race tomorrow….” even though in actual fact; no…. he will not race tomorrow. He will “start… then quit” and his team owner will get about $75,000 for him doing so.

The Olympics don’t have that.

In NASCAR, the top athletes travel to their next event in their own private jet.

In the Olympics, the top athletes have to book time off work – both for training and to compete in the games – and then most of them must return to work after the games, gold medal or not. Of course, there are exceptions, but in general terms, most Olympic athletes are truly amateurs.

Which scenario is more relatable?

Of course, this comparison between NASCAR and the Olympics is not ‘apples-to-apples’. In fact, they are not even close.

But here it is…. here’s my point;

Both NASCAR and the Olympics are competing with each other…. for both sponsors and audience. As the Olympics have maintained strength in all three sides of the ‘success triangle’… that being;

1) world’s best athletes

2) talent that people can relate to, and,

3) the big prize,

NASCAR encourages and rewards mediocrity, and insults the audience about the purity of the competition. Furthermore, NASCAR blames the economy for their empty seats. If this was true, why aren’t TV ratings – in fact – rising? Why aren’t all of those “diehard fans” that cannot afford the gas to drive to the races watching at home, on TV – for free… resulting in all-time-high TV numbers?

This from an August 6, 2012 story from Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Daily Global Journal;

“Television ratings for NBC’s prime-time block were, by far, the early story of the Games and exceeded the most optimistic expectations. NBC averaged 35.6 million viewers through the event’s first five nights, putting the London Games on pace to become the most-watched Olympics in history.

But perhaps even more surprising were the business metrics around the Olympics. NBC sold more than $1 billion in ad sales — $1.02 billion to be exact — and started releasing new ad inventory into the market.”

NASCAR doesn’t have that.

I think that NASCAR probably wishes that they had strength in all three sides of my success triangle. Why wouldn’t they? What continues to bother me – and this is true in ALMS, Grand-Am and IndyCar as well – is that they are not taking big enough swings at change. They continue to do the same things over and over and over…. and then ‘hope’ that the sponsors and audience will come back.

They are not coming back until you change things, and until you do, the Olympics will continue to capture the audience, the sponsors and the cash.

One change the Olympics made – a big swing if you will – was to have the games take place every two years. From a sponsorship and audience perspective, I’d say that was pretty clever.

As the great visionary Frank Zappa once said….

“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”

Here is a link to my original “Open Letter to Randy Bernard”

Professional Sports Social Media Score Card

These stats – which change by the second – were current at the moment that I looked them up. That was throughout the day on July 11, 2012. The impetus for this was simple; I wondered how IndyCar stacked up against other major sports properties with Facebook and Twitter. It is interesting to me that the ‘scores’ reflect, in my opinion, a combination of corporate strategy, the popularity of the sport, and the engagement by the sports’ most popular athletes. The order is for the most part different from Facebook to Twitter – except for the current Champ with both… the NBA.

So…. what does it all mean? To fans? To corporate sponsors? To the media?

What do you think?

The Quest for the “Holy Tenth”

The following blog story may have references that resemble the real-life circumstances of my actual friends and acquaintances…. which is unfortunate.

“Looking forward to coaching today” popped up on my Twitter feed. The tweet was from a young American stud of a race driver who has an incredible racing resume. A young unemployed race driver, except for the occasional coaching and OEM ride and drive gigs. What really struck me about this was that another young up and coming go-karter had sought out professional coaching to gain that elusive 1/10th of a second – that “holy tenth” – even though the coach himself had not turned that elusive holy tenth into a viable racing career. To me, this would be akin to a medical student paying for tutoring from a former medical student who ultimately was not cleared to practice medicine.

Yes, that elusive 1/10th of a second…. that “holy tenth”.

The feeling was – and still is – that this holy tenth will lead to race wins, Championships and of course; sponsors; funding; corporate backing; partners… moolah!

So…. as young drivers are coming through karting and into open-wheel cars or sedans on their ascent up the ladder, their ‘team’ will spend thousands in search of the holy tenth. Many before them – and perhaps even their $500 a day driving coach – have actually found the holy tenth, and yet they remain unemployed.

I think owners and team managers get all goofy in search of the holy tenth as well. Invest $50,000 a day for testing – no problem! Invest $3,000 to have your marketing person attend a sponsorship and networking conference? – are you nuts?

Here is a sampling of the types of things that team owners, managers, drivers, parents and other supporters have always been able to justify spending money on;

  • testing
  • new tires
  • a better engine
  • a new race car
  • testing
  • data acquisition
  • shinier wheels
  • wind tunnel testing
  • 7-post rig time
  • a back-up car
  • new driving shoes
  • testing
  • a new 4-storey, 3 bed, 2 bath condominium for your pit box
  • a new website
  • CFD simulation
  • testing
  • driving coach(s)
  • fitness coach(s)
  • nutrition coach(s)
  • psychological coach(s)
  • motor coach(s)
  • testing
  • new helmet(s)
  • smaller, lighter, more reflective mirrors
  • a bigger transporter
  • new radios
  • iPads of course – w/carbon fiber covers
  • and did I mention testing?
Maybe I can find the holy tenth during green-flag pit stops by having a crew that does Yoga and eats Oreo cookies.
Marketing coach or new engine?? Marketing coach or new engine?…. No brainer!! You can’t dyno-test a marketing coach…
It doesn’t make sense to reach out to sponsors if I do not have a cool place for us to sign the contract….

These pit side condominiums are critical to success. This photo is actually outdated as the new condos have an elevator and parking; reserved and visitor. This team no longer exists because they lost their sponsors. Was it because of the holy tenth?

Some drivers even hire a “manager”. This “manager” will make sure that all of the team owners know if and when their driver finds the holy tenth. And then of course, their “manager” will negotiate the contract, commission the press release and hit up eBay’s “Private Jets” section…. right after they submit their monthly retainer invoice.

Now, I certainly understand that there are parts of “the job” that are undesirable. Some racers do not like to work out. Others could care less about interacting with the media. These mandated autograph sessions must really be bothersome to others. But to even consider that a young driver should become a student of marketing?? That… is…. ludicrous. Sidney Crosby and Tim Tebow didn’t need to do no marketing….

Think about it this way…. Let’s take two 14-year old racers – who are equal in every way, on and off the track – and have one of them mentored by a team of driver coaches, and have the other one mentored by a by a team of driver coaches PLUS a marketing coach. In the long run, which driver will be in a position to a have a sustainable career – as a racing driver – in motorsports? (If you answered…. “the one who found the holy tenth” – stop reading…. right now please…. no, really)

Hey, it sucks that talent is not the determining factor in racing today. But, until the organizing bodies figure out a way to create value-based sports properties instead of these cost-based ones, that’s the way it is.

As for securing sponsors, ten or 15 years ago, it was really more of a sales function. You were packaging your audience as an exposure play and just had to sell it. Today, if you want to play the exposure game, you’re done. In today’s search for sponsorship, you need to understand marketing – not sales. It’s a big shift, and it’s complicated.

A clear indication that someone has found the holy tenth… look at all of those sponsors!

Throughout my time in racing, I haven’t been shy about telling young drivers and their parents that they need to understand, and invest in, marketing. I can say without exaggeration that my message was offered to hundreds of drivers. Very, very few paid any attention.

“The holy tenth will set me free…”

One driver that listened was James Hinchcliffe.  Back in 2005, James, together with his parents took my advice. Imagine the look on all of their faces when I announced that James was going to be the Mayor of his own virtual city. That’s another blog story, for another day; “The strategy and tactics behind the Mayor of Hinchtown”. Stay tuned.

“Of course you can change the speed limit to 300kph in Hinchtown…. you’re the Mayor”

Ultimately you need to become a viable marketing platform that employs racing, as well as many other assets, to sell a company’s products and services. So, yes, the holy tenth is important – there’s no doubt. Testing, fitness and nutrition are all critical to success. And great coaching is mandatory.

But, you must ALSO be a student of marketing.

So…. make sure you get right on that, as soon as you and your driving coach get back from testing.

“Hey boss…. If we buy this $4 gagillion dollar car wax, we might finally locate the holy tenth,” explains team manager person. “Get two goddammit!!”

Racing Sponsorships Come and Go… but Twitter is Forever

In the mid-1980s, my wife, daughter and I moved to Southern California from Vancouver, Canada. I had a little office in a plaza and beside my office was a place that made ceramic teeth. One of the technicians in there greeted me one morning with a 4×6 photo of an open-wheel race car. An ex-Stuart Hayner/Wilbur Bunce Lola T320 Super Vee to be exact. He asked me if I wanted to buy it.

I didn’t know that I was in the market for a race car but apparently I was.

I only drove it once, but found fascination in the concept that this ‘thing’ could be used as a marketing conduit to sell stuff. My first sponsorship deal ever was with Circle Porsche Audi in Long Beach. I negotiated a parts discount for our race team in exchange for putting their logo on the massive rear wing of the Lola.

And so it began.

We moved back to Canada shortly thereafter and I gave the Lola back to the guy I had bought it from. Key word; “gave”. This would not be the last mistake that I made in motorsports.

I became consumed with motorsports as a marketing tool. I wanted to pursue this and did so with a passion. My ascent up the motorsports ladder was not unlike a driver’s. I started doing sponsorship deals in Formula Ford 1600s, then FF2000, Formula Atlantics, Canadian Superbike and more.

Creating an Indy Lights proposal for Jim Russell instructor Steve Wester in the early 90s got me into Gasoline Alley at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the rest is history.

The Steve Wester No Fear/Q107/Jim Russell/Big Brothers of Canada Buick March Wildcat

Fast forward to today, and I have to admit that I am disappointed, but not surprised, by what I am seeing in the sponsorship game in motorsports.

I think we are regressing.

There are some pretty common misconceptions that are still prevalent in motorsports marketing. We are a good 40 – 50 years into the business of sponsorship in racing, and we just should not be seeing some of the things that are happening today. We should be well past them.

Here are a few disappointing examples;

1) Run Good and We’ll Get Sponsored

Really? Do you still believe this? Ask Trevor Bayne or Ricky Stenhouse how they feel about that. How about Raphael Matos who has won a Championship at every level he has raced at – except the latest; IndyCar. Of all the misconceptions in the marketplace, this is the one that I wish were true. This is the one that fosters “ride buyers” and with ride buyers, the sport loses all credibility. “But Jim, as long as there has been racing, there have been ride buyers, and that’s the way it is.” I agree that this is the case, but the fact is that the best drivers are not ‘in the game’, and until they are, there is a credibility problem. But I digress…

Even SPEED thinks that all you gotta do is ask…

“Running good”, on its own, has never led to a sustainable marketing communications program. You still have to build on- and off-track strategies that solve business problems, such as increasing sales or proof-of-concept for your technology, as examples. Every single race team in the history of racing that has “run good” has lost sponsors. Seeing Roush Fenway and Penske Racing cars running around with words like “Roush” or “Penske” on them is all the proof that you should need. Last week, Kasey Kahne sat on the pole at the Martinsville Cup race with HendrickCars.com plastered all over the car. Not only do these teams “run good”, but Jack and Roger and Rick have a few connections and can get a meeting or two as required. They also have incredibly sophisticated marketing and sponsorship procurement departments. On the flip side, I could name lots of drivers who do not “run good” but have plenty of sponsors. If you think about it, they are also “ride buyers”. They are just using someone else’s money instead of perhaps family money. The companies that are buying rides for these drivers don’t care how they run. They have other assets that the sponsor finds appealing.

2) It’s My Passion!

“I love racing!”… or… “It’s my passion”… or “I just want to win!”. If you ever use words like “I, me or my” in your proposals, make sure they are followed with – as an example – “I only care about how I can provide measurable return on your marketing investment.” Or “My goal is to be a cost effective conduit between you and your desired client base”. … or… “This proposal is not about me, it’s about you.”  And if the company says to you; “Great!… how are you going to do that?”, your answer cannot be; “You can sponsor my race car!! Woooo-hooooooo!” You need to understand the challenges that the company you are talking to is faced with, and you need to know how to use racing-centric assets to fix that problem. You need to be a student of marketing and have a deep insight into how companies operate. Having said all of this, and to the detriment of most, there are drivers that get a ‘ride’ by running good. Every time that a driver wins a Championship and then gets a full-time paid ride, everybody stops learning about business and puts all of their focus back into “running good”.

3) All I Need To Do Is Tell Them That I NEED A Sponsor!

The icing on the “sponsorship is regressing” cake has been Kenny Wallace’s recent performance on Twitter. There’s no denying his passion, his sincerity, his accessibility or his desire.  He is what he is, and that’s why so many love him. But what he is doing… ‘tweeting for $$$’, is in my opinion…. ummm…let’s just say a step backward. Especially when you consider his tenure in the sport and his family’s influence and reach in the sport. Remember, his brother – and NASCAR Champ Rusty – had to shut down his racing operations because he was unable to provide a value proposition as a sports marketing platform for corporate America. Can you imagine the number of decision makers and influential people that the Wallaces have met over the years??

I think that Kenny Wallace will get someone to “sponsor” him. Someone will step up and give him $25K or $50K to say that they did it, get their hot pit pass and live the dream. But unfortunately, this model is not sustainable and it’s gonna end in tears.

Are there wealthy people that will spend their hard-earned money to support racing? Yes, of course there are. For the most part, they are called “team owners”.  These guys invented the well-known slogan; “How do you make a small fortune in racing? Start with a large one.”

Are there companies that could benefit from a well-executed motorsports marketing program? Of course there are…. but sponsoring you because it is your passion does not provide a sustainable business model.

Are there any companies left in the world that have NOT been pitched to sponsor a driver, rider, team, race event or series? I doubt it…. and unfortunately, most of those proposals are so bad that it will take many years, and countless success stories to get them to reconsider. Those bad proposals allow companies to actually have a written policy that states; “We do not sponsor racing.”

So…. what to do?

Become a student of marketing. Where do companies invest their marketing dollars? And why? How do they measure it? Who is their target audience? Once you know these answers, you need to be able to create a motorsports marketing program that meets all of their objectives, do so for less money than they are investing now, and with a measurably better return on investment. No problem!

Stop thinking that you are in the advertising game. Do you really want to compete with a billboard along the highway that works 24/7? Does a billboard have the costs that you have? Namely, a 53 foot tractor-trailer, 2 – 12 race cars, full-time employees and a rock star driver with needs? If you are playing the game by counting eyeballs, you’re done. Your program has to have a positive effect on every aspect of a potential sponsor’s business, not just some exposure metric where frankly, you can’t compete.

Stop looking for sponsors and look for value. Sponsors are everywhere. If there was a list of the Fortune 5000 (five thousand) companies in North America, my guess is that 99% of them sponsor something. You think that the only reason that they are not sponsoring you is because they do not know how badly you want to race…. and win. You are mis-guided. They are not sponsoring you because you have not provided them with a motorsports-centric solution to their specific business problem(s). You have not provided enough value. There are 100s of success stories where companies used motorsports marketing successfully. Study them. Find the case study of how Coca-Cola replaced all of the Pepsi (and other branded) vending machines outside of Home Depot stores in the USA. It is a fantastic, measurable success story that shows how motorsport was the conduit to a terrific opportunity for Coke.

Pull your head out of the sand regarding how hard this is. In the old model, all you had to do was show 3rd party data on your demographics, show your racing schedule, include a fancy graphic to show here their logos go…. and ask the simple question: “Would you like to sponsor me?” In today’s model, you have sponsors like Red Bull who are saying; “Your property (team, driver, series, event) does not address my business objectives so we will just go ahead and create, own and manage our own events and properties. We will also own the distribution rights and we’ll even go out and find other companies to sponsor our events.” This control over assets and audience is becoming more and more prevalent. And let me repeat…. they are getting sponsors – who could be sponsoring you – to sponsor them. They are taking those marketing dollars out of circulation. Does this concern you? It should.

The model; “Would you like to sponsor me so that I can win races and live my dream….??” is over. By employing this as your strategy, you are setting all motorsports back and closing the door for future opportunities.

Just stop it.

And for sure…. stop twittering about it.

My Weekend with Hendrick Motorsports

Being involved in auto racing for over 20 years gave me opportunities and experiences that I could have never imagined possible.

One of the most incredible experiences happened in the fall of 2004 – courtesy of Hendrick Motorsports.

In early 2004, I had joined Formula BMW USA and had taken on overall series responsibility. Soon after the series was announced, Tom Purves, who at the time was Chairman & CEO of BMW North America, called his friend – one of the most successful BMW dealers in the USA – Rick Hendrick and asked him to participate in this new series. I am not privy to the conversation(s), but when the series debuted at Lime Rock Park in the spring of ’04, there was one open-wheel Formula BMW race car on the grid owned by NASCAR icon – Rick Hendrick. Mr. Hendrick didn’t own the team that operated the car, he just owned the car and was listed as the car owner. The driver of the car was Brian Frisselle (who now competes in Grand-Am in a Daytona Prototype), the sponsor on the side of the car was Lowe’s, and the car number was 48.

My contact at the Hendrick Motorsports was Christian Smith who is Mr. Hendrick’s right hand man.

As the season went on, I would send results, pictures, media coverage and other info to Christian and we would talk from time to time about how the series was doing. Through Christian, we arranged to have representatives from Lowe’s at the Elkhart Lake event, where we showed them the marketing assets available through our series, and the series that we supported.

Sometime in the summer of 2004, Christian contacted me and invited me to be the team’s guest at any NASCAR Sprint Cup race on the schedule that I wanted to attend, as a ‘thank you’ of sorts for their experience with our series. I selected the October Charlotte race.

I flew into Charlotte on Thursday night of the race week. The Busch race was Friday night, and the Cup race was Saturday night. Christian was to pick me up at my hotel on Friday morning, which he did, and we headed for the race shop.

Christian took me on an extensive tour of the Hendrick Motorsports compound which included the engine and fab shops, the shops for the Cup teams and the Hendrick Museum. At the time, the 24 & 48 teams were in the same shop and we did get the chance to chat with Jeff Gordon as we went through. Chad Knaus also took time to say hello and express his delight with his brand new BMW.

As we went through the Museum, there was an area that was completely blocked off. Brian Vickers was doing a television commercial and promos for GMAC – one of his sponsors at the time.

This tour took the better part of the day and we ended up back at the administration offices. Our schedule now was that we were going to meet with Mr. Hendrick and then go with him over to the track to watch the Busch race.

After a nice conversation with Mr. Hendrick in his office, he said “Alright… let’s go”, and those three words set off a choreographed series of events worthy of induction into the “Time Management & Schedulers Hall of Fame.”

First, we left the office through a rear door and entered a garage with a black BMW X5. With Mr. Hendrick at the wheel, we left the garage and I assumed we were driving to the track – which is maybe one mile away. I was mis-guided. We actually drove about 100 yards and stopped in front of a helicopter that has obviously just landed. Whenever the conversation of helicopters had come up, anytime in my life, I was adamant that I would never, ever get on a helicopter. Before I knew what had happened, I was strapping into a helicopter! There was the pilot – an ex-military pilot (of course) – and there was one other gentleman – the Chairman of Lowe’s. The flight lasted 45 seconds. I was petrified. That was my first, and last, ride in a helicopter… or was it?

When we landed, there were two black Chevy SUV’s at the ready. Mr. Hendrick, Christian and I got into one, and the Chairman of Lowe’s – the other. The paddock gates opened, the seas parted and we were wisked to Mr. Hendrick’s motorcoach.

When we went into the coach, we immediately sat at the kitchen table and a perfectly prepared dinner was placed in front of us. Steak and roasted potatoes. Spectacular. As soon as we were done, the coach door opened and two gentlemen entered. They were well-dressed, in their early 40s, and clearly friends of Mr. Hendrick. I figured out that one of the men was Mr. Hendrick’s doctor who had recently performed surgery on one of his knees. The other – who was quite chatty – I couldn’t figure out. I wish I could have recorded the conversation though. They talked about a recent charity event that they had attended and how they had tricked Jeff Gordon into all kinds of things that he had not agreed to for the auction. If I recall, the auction item was dinner with Jeff. Mr. Hendrick, in an effort to drive up the bids, told the audience that in addition to dinner, Jeff would pick the winning bidder up in his car and drive them to dinner. When that bump in bidding was over with, Mr. Hendrick then announced that Jeff would also pick them up “anywhere in the USA” in his private jet as well. These guys thought that was real funny. Not sure how Jeff felt about it. After they were gone, I leaned over to Christian and asked who that was. He casually answered… “That was the Mayor of Charlotte”.

We then dispersed to the track for the Busch race. We spent some time on pit lane, and then visited Mr. Hendrick’s suite, and then back to the pits… and then checkered flag…. and then back to the helicopter… what???

I grudgingly got on the helicopter for the return trip and we were joined by Mr. Hendrick’s son Ricky, his girlfriend and their pet monkey. The monkey did not appear to mind the helicopter ride and I am positive it sensed my overwhelming fear.

For Saturday, we drove to the track and Christian had lots to take care of. I told him that I knew my way around and we agreed to meet at the 48 team’s pit box one hour before the green flag – which we did. Christian then gave me some instructions. He told me to try to be in the 48 pit box area for the first pit stop – and then he said to make sure I was back in the pit box with 10 laps to go.

For the first pit stop, he escorted me so close to the action that I could have reached out and tapped the gas man on the back.

Great stuff… and then the rear tire changer scooped up some wheels nuts and set them on the wall in front of me. He told me “these are for you – but they’re hot – don’t touch them yet”. This was all part of the choreography I mentioned early and these guys had done this many times before. Christian told me I could stay there or go wherever I wanted to, but reminded me to be back – at the latest – with 10 laps to go…. which I was.

When I got back, I let Christian know I was there. Jimmie Johnson was leading the race by the way. Christian then said “No matter what – make sure you stay with me after the checker flag…. “.

Jimmie won the race…. Christian and I jumped over pit wall and we sprinted down pit lane towards Victory Circle. He ushered me in and told me to “stay put” and that he would be coming back to get me. I was there for the champagne and confetti, the interviews and the hat dance.

After about 30 minutes, Jimmie went to the media center, the crew pushed the car out… and everyone, including Christian left. This was midnight… by the way.

So… there I was… staying put. There were a few people lingering about, but it looked to me like it was all over. What should I do? Well… I waited, and sure enough, shortly thereafter… here comes Christian, Mr. Hendrick, Jimmie and Chad. Christian grabs me and tells me to come up for a picture with the guys and the trophy… which I did.

What a weekend. First class at every step of the way.

Sincere thanks to Christian, Mr. Hendrick and the rest of the choreographers for the great memories!

And of course now… if anyone ever asks if I have been on a helicopter, my answer is… “Yes…. twice…. it was Rick Hendrick’s helicopter and my second ride was with a pet monkey.”

NASCAR’s Declining Audience – What would Steve Jobs do?

** I wrote this blog post on December 1, 2010 – 10 months before the untimely death of Apple visionary Steve Jobs. I still believe that Steve’s desire to challenge status quo and push creativity are the perfect benchmark for all to follow. RIP Steve. **

NASCAR’s Declining Audience – What would Steve Jobs do?

No matter how much NASCAR’s fan base has declined, I was reminded recently that they still have a massive audience. And yes, this is true. Whether it be a sports property, reality TV show or sitcom, most would be thrilled to have the large, loyal following that NASCAR still has.

Having said that, I still see reason for concern.

The first issue is simple. The audience is declining. This is a fact.

The second issue is also simple. The cost to participate is not declining. This is also a fact.

Let me address audience first. Growth and decline in audience are impacted by momentum. By attending a race, and/or watching on TV, fans get to join the conversation. The activity is validated by how many people are in the conversation, and you get this word-of-mouth growth. This used to (and did) takes years.  The conversations are sprinkled with questions like “Did you see….? Did you hear what (driver) did?” And when asked, you better have an answer and an opinion. So, the sport grows in popularity.

As soon as the conversation starts to contain language like; “I don’t care anymore”,  or “No, I didn’t watch that race”, or “I’m not going this year”, or “I can’t afford it”… the audience declines with steady, negative momentum.

Combine this with our new ability to communicate in real time, to likeminded people, all over the country(s), and you can see that momentum can and will shift faster than ever before, thanks to Facebook, Twitter, et al….

So, audience is declining, but it is still a large audience.

My other concern is on the cost side of the equation.  To put it in the simplest terms; the audience that Sprint will pay to reach today, is not the audience they bought. They paid for a larger audience. There are/were a lot of very clever people behind the language in those contracts – on both sides – so there might be clauses that increase the rights fee payable to NASCAR if certain audience metrics are exceeded. There may also be clauses that reduce the rights fees if there are declines in audience. If these clauses exist, NASCAR is getting lower rights fees, and that is not good. If these clauses do not exist, then Sprint is getting less value and that is not good.

And of course, where I used the word “Sprint” above, you could insert any team, series, or event sponsor. They are all getting less than they paid for.

TV rights fees are returned to the broadcast partners by selling advertising. Tough to make a profit – which they are entitled to do – with “less” audience.

The costs required to operate a race team, a race track, a licensed merchandise trailer or a hot dog stand have not declined. But their available market has.

On the race team side, in 2011, Roger Penske will end his 18-year sponsorship (partnership, loyalty, friendship) with Mobil1 and will move to Shell. Penske did this because he will get more ‘benefits’ (cash, in-kind, pass-through, technology, plus…). Okay, makes sense, but why would Shell move from Childress and Kevin Harvick – the team and driver that almost won the Championship? The answer is simple: audience. Penske brings an additional relevant, measurable ‘audience’. What the Captain has that Richard does not, is over 300 car dealerships that consume a massive amount of lubricants. With an overall decline in ‘audience’, Shell needed to find other ways to get measurable return on investment.

So, there are two strategies at play here. One is cost-cutting, and you can see that everyone is trying to do that.

To me, they should first and foremost cut the schedule. I could dedicate pages to the benefit of doing this. To over-simplify, let’s squeeze today’s audience into a schedule that will fill the seats at the track, and will re-energize TV numbers.

The second strategy is to grow or re-grow the audience.  And whenever I see a business in decline, I do what most of you reading this do. I ask myself a simple question: “What would Steve Jobs do?” (WWSJD)

So, if Steve Jobs was running NASCAR, he would declare that “the product is crap”, and that we need to “reinvent the customer experience with our brand!” Can you hear him saying that? I can.

He’d use technology  – at the highest level – to completely change the way fans consume the content. But he would not market the ‘technology’. He’d market the experience… the engagement. He’d make it cool to be a NASCAR fan. You would not just watch a NASCAR race on TV. You’d consume the content in a simple, user-friendly, meaningful-to-you, kinda way. At the track, it’d be same, only cooler.

Steve would also re-write the rule books and change the org charts of the teams. Technology would be encouraged that allows the fan to have a deeper understanding of the sport. This is key. The fan does not need to know how they got the content. They just need ‘content’ to deepen their relationship with the sport. When Steve rolls out the new iWhatever, his pitch always goes straight to the customer experience.  This is what he’d do with NASCAR.

And let’s be clear on technology. Formula1 owns “technology” in the mind of the consumer. That is not what we are talking about here. We are talking about the use of the highest technology for the benefit of the audience. Formula1’s use of technology is for braking, cornering, and accelerating… they can have that positioning.

As far as the org chart goes, they’d still interview Chad Knaus during the race, but they would also interview the team’s CEO – the “Customer Engagement Officer”. This person would manage how and where fans can consume their team’s content, in real time and on what devices. The good teams will build measurable audience by focusing on this deep engagement, and then learn to monetize it. NASCAR will want to do this as well, but the good teams will beat them to it.

Next, Steve would fire everyone associated with the television programming. No more Kenny Wallace…. Sorry! He’s just not cool enough. Steve would fix the TV product. If I knew how, then I’d be running Apple. I just know it’s broken – and that he’d fix it. It is the only TV that I watch that literally puts me to sleep. My family thinks it’s hilarious.

Steve Jobs would use technology that would allow fans to relate to the talent of the athletes. But he’d market the access and content, not the chips and ram and whatever else is in his box.

I think that “Have at it boys” was a necessary step – on the track.

I also think that Brian France needs to gather up his management team and offer them the same directive – “Have at it team!” – It’s time to make decisions for our brand with the belief that Steve Jobs will be presenting the ‘new’ NASCAR in a Keynote presentation.

It better be new and beyond cutting edge, and it better be cool…. And, it better be now.