What F1 can learn from NASCAR II

Richard Petty, NASCAR, 1972

Regular F1 Fanatic commenter Robert McKay has written a guest article looking at what F1 can learn from NASCAR – a subject we’ve looked at here before. Here’s his take on America’s favourite motor sport.

I?ve recently started watching Sky?s NASCAR coverage.

Readers of Keith?s other blog, Maximum Motorsport, will know he?s a bit annoyed that Sky TV chooses NASCAR over the recently reunited Indy Car series for live coverage when they clash. It’s a strange decision given that NASCAR has always proven a bit impenetrable for the UK audience and that Indy Car is more recognisable to F1 followers. But that?s Sky for you.

I?m finding it hard to love, and so I?ll add the disclaimer that this is only personal preference and not an attack on NASCAR…

If you happen to like it, great ?ǣ different strokes for different folks. In my view, the racing is repetitive, there?s actually too much overtaking. I know, it sounds impossible, when you consider the discussion on the state of racing in F1, but trust me on this.

And it just seems largely random who wins. Yes it?s very complex, and probably there are reasons why this is the case, but the endless full-course yellows effectively randomise most races.

So there are plenty of things F1 should ignore ?ǣ spec cars with technology that?s years behind road cars, racing on oval tracks, is not going to be very interesting to most F1 fans.

Promotion

However, there are a few things Formula 1 can learn from NASCAR.

First, NASCAR promotes itself extremely well. I think it?s a bit like Premiership football in this country, in that the product is not always all it?s made out to be, but they do such a good job of selling the sport to the media that they and the general public seem to lap it up.

NASCAR is HUGE business in the States. The recent All-Star shootout had a purse for a single race of over a million dollars just for the winner! Because the sport is so well-marketed, there is no shortage of sponsors at all: some teams even rotate the sponsor?s logos on a race-by-race basis because they can sell the space over so many times.

There?s plenty (if not more) money floating around F1, but it seems to evaporate down expensive holes like ridiculously opulent motorhomes, endless, pointless testing, and silly technological ??advances?? (my favourite being, as Max explained once, the teams continual quest to reduce the weight of the car as much as possible, so they can replace this with the most expensive ballast money can buy).

Formula 1?s attempts at branding itself looks amateurish in comparison. Consider the horrifically expensive carbon-fibre mousemats no-one buys, the struggle to get a new Formula 1 video game on the shelves, and the rather dismal official F1 website.

The drivers

F1 drivers, Melbourne, 2008, 470313

NASCAR puts the driver at the heart of the action: they are the stars, and the personalities to boot. Before the All-Star race there was a segment when all the drivers and their crew are introduced to the cheering public with a huge fanfare.

It was terribly cheesy, but compare with Formula 1: the FIA have taken to putting a naff little photo on the grid graphic before the race, because people have very little feel indeed for who drivers like Nick Heidfeld actually are… as an effort to connect the heroes we see wrestling these supercars around the circuits of the world with the personalities off it, it?s absolutely pitiful. The driver?s parade, where a few uninterested dots miles away stand and talk to each other on a truck moving way from you, is equally naff.

OK the over-the-top approach would probably not work well outside America. But most of the Grand Prix drivers might as well be Top Gear?s Stig for all we see of them without their helmets on. Why not broadcast the drivers’ briefing at a Grand Prix weekend?

Big grids, more races

NASCAR grids are huge, about double F1?s increasingly anorexic fields. Qualifying for a race actually means something – it?s an achievement to get in the field, unlike F1?s process of arranging everyone who turns up.

Many of the drivers will also happily race the Sprint Cup, the Busch Series and the Craftsman Truck Series all in the same weekend. It’s roughly equivalent to Raikkonen getting in and driving the GP2 races after F1 qualifying is over, just for the hell of racing. I?m sure most drivers in F1 would love that, and Lewis Hamilton has even said he would.

And NASCAR?s guys are less afraid of having a rant, say what they feel, tell it like it is: something increasingly rare in F1?s ultra-professional, clinical environment.

What I also like about NASCAR is that, with such a big calendar (nearly 40 races), there is scope for changing the format, trying different race structures etc. Yes, it?s artificial, and yes, it?s probably needed as all that oval racing (there are only two road courses) gets repetitive, but wouldn?t it be great to see F1 also having non-championship races, like it did years ago?

Races where the drivers can go out and have fun and not worry about the consequences of a DNF because every point counts in the championship? Races with an opportunity to temporarily change the format, without upsetting the championship?

A couple of non-championship F1 races in the winter months could surely be achieved. Good for marketing, good for racing, good for the increasing number of tracks clamouring for a race?? No-one?s looking for a NASCAR calendar ?ǣ it?s just too long ?ǣ but if F1 is going to spend so much racing these cars let’s use a few more opportunities.

Television

And while we?re at it, let?s get a NASCAR level of TV coverage.

The ability to follow three of four cars at the pitstops with split-screen coverage, the gaps between drivers updated in real-time, the plethora of extra, rotatable, onboard cameras?? these are not and should not be beyond F1, but Bernie seems unable (or unwilling, after the pay-TV debacle of a few years back) to provide this level of coverage.

If there?s a message creeping through here, it?s this: I don?t like NASCAR?s racing ?ǣ it doesn?t do anything for me at all ?ǣ and a lot of the things it does get right it overdoes. But if F1 could adopt some of the things I?ve mentioned, even on a much smaller scale, I think the sport would be all the better for it.

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42 comments on What F1 can learn from NASCAR II

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  1. George said on 22nd May 2008, 15:07

    I agree 100% with Robert here – I’ve tried and tried and However, on just about every other tried and TRIED to find NASCAR exciting (mainly due to years of reading Nigel Roebuck – who is a self-professed fan), but I just don’t. As Robert says, it is too random and there really IS too much overtaking. However, off the track, they get a lot of things right and take the sport much closer to the fans than F1 manages, and the sport would be wise to learn from some of the examples Robert gives.

  2. Chalky said on 22nd May 2008, 15:50

    I liked Nascar before they brought in the restrictor plate. Now the super speedways are an accident waiting to happen as all the cars are held back.
    Yes, it was probably done for safety, but I preferred the insane speeds than the crowded “wait for the crash” type racing.
    I guess not having Sky Sports means I don’t miss too much now, only channel 5 highlights are available.

  3. Sush said on 22nd May 2008, 16:24

    NASCAR is great for adults no older than 12 years of age.

  4. Robert, I can’t agree more, the marketing, broadcasting, and licensing wings of NASCAR are to be commended through and through. Yes, they can’t generate 4 lateral G’s in the corner, and when and if Kyle Bush does ever get to try and drive Toyota’s “F1″ car (at least Ralph doesn’t happen anymore) he’s going to make it about 5 laps, BUT, you’re right, the access that FOX (the U.S. tv network, not the small animal) brings to the sport has enabled even my ivy league educated wife to find NASCAR interesting. While, clearly, anyone on this site is looking for F1 (as am I) it realy irk’s me that F1′s elf in charge is so backwards in his marketing of the sport we all love.

    Even from the simple issue of video games, you can see where the mistakes begin, Bernie waited for 1 single most expensive licensing bid, rather than to make the licensing costs available at reasonable ROYALTY prices (which would allow more companies to afford to develop more games, and only the better games would survive and make good money, and those same games would pay Bernie better (and vastly more than if he had his ridiculous manner of contracting). There are kids all over the planet (for example) that would gladly pay a wee bit of money for an online F1 game, but Bernie would never allow it, and there’s just one more way he’s shutting it down (saying nothing for the myriad marketing, broadcasting/licensing snafus Bernie generates on a daily basis.

    Too bad we’re all already hooked,, if he changed his ways, billions more would be too.

  5. Kathryn S said on 22nd May 2008, 17:57

    An interesting point about getting the drivers’ personalities out there–last year at the US Grand Prix there was a program where the drivers from each team came up on an outdoor stage on Thursday–without minders–to be interviewed by a rotating group of Speed TV personalities and answer questions from the audience. Apparently Bridgestone was instrumental in getting it to happen. It was hugely entertaining and really showed a different side of a lot of the drivers that I had never seen (especially those that don’t end up on the podium much). Sato was hilarious!!!

  6. William Wilgus said on 22nd May 2008, 18:05

    Crediting Nascar as racing is crap. It’s a show, it’s boring, and thank heavens F-1 isn’t anything like it.
    The only thing Nascar cares about is money, money, money. Finally, you think F-1 has favorite teams? Nascar has favorite drivers that get away with doing a lot that other drivers are punished for.

  7. MJohnHurt said on 22nd May 2008, 18:39

    I love watching the comments on these. Definitely agree about FOM and the teams missing the merchandising boat.

    BTW, were those hideous “puffy” McLaren shirts from 2007 fashionable in Europe, or were they considered hideous everywhere?

  8. Sush said on 22nd May 2008, 19:22

    William Wilgus, money money money?

    they should have had Abba fund Aguri Suzuki in that case.

  9. I largely disagree.

    Why we want F1 to be accessible is beyond me.
    Why we need F1 drivers to sign autographs and meddle with the common beats me.
    Why we want Average Joe talking about F1 like he’s an expert (hint, all nascrap fans talk like that) is well beyond any intelligent reasoning.

    F1 is elite. Period.

    We don’t want it to be otherwise. Oh, you say you do? Well, turn to nascrap and that pale shadow of champ car and you got what you want.
    Ridiculously opulent motorhomes you say? Well, we also have ridiculously incredibly advanced cars and I see no one complaining. It’s a natural evolution. Endless pointless testing? Come on, no one can seriously believe that. If we need anything it has to be more testing!

    Nascrap drivers can drive 4 races on the same weekend because they only have to lock the wheel on one position and act like they’re actually driving the damn thing. They’re a fat beer drinking bunch. F1 guys are top athletes (why would a top athlete want to sign autographs???).

    The ONLY thing F1 has to copy is TV coverage. And that’s where it ends.

    Seriously guys, I for sure don’t want F1 to become less elite than it is.

  10. Less elite that wasnt the point the point was F1 continues to be too distant(organisationally) also it isnt open and shooting itself in the foot by rule changes and circuits – where no one lives bar cammels – and lucky you will be see one – a real wild one that some sheik doesnt race with a midget on it’s back??
    We wont racing in europe and other places where there can be a chance of expanding the fan base and using both historical and new circuit’s.
    We dont want night races and really do the sponsors?? – nascar is full of people wanting to watch and pay good money for it they also have companies like m&m – washing powder etc falling over themselves to sponser the cars – with some of the current liveries in F1 – that may even be more attractive?
    Yes it is boring to us we weren’t brought up on it but the graphics and in car interviews – great and as for everyone of the pit crew being part of the pre race show – excellent too many times these unsung and often run over people have been neglected as part of F1 – kings and princes – so what or old rock stars – if they dont do their job to perfection (pit crew that is) – it doesnt matter who drives for whatever – without them it dont work – aaah that feels better folks

  11. Robert McKay said on 22nd May 2008, 21:04

    I think there’s been plenty of complaining about the incredibly advanced cars. I know I do my fair share :-D

    F1 is a bit like a private little club that opens its doors once a fortnight, gives you a little glimpse, then tells you to shove off again, even though it is largely built on the premise that you look in in the first place. And yes, there’s a certain appeal in that, and like I say the things NASCAR gets right it goes too far in that direction…but there’s a limit to how elite F1 should be.

    I’m fairly adamant on the testing – what three days at Catalunya was worth to anyone a week before they raced there is anyone’s guess. But like I say, just my opinion!

  12. the limit said on 22nd May 2008, 21:37

    I think it comes down to there being an American way of showing sports, and the way the rest of the world does it.
    NASCAR caters for the working class, American masses, largely based in America’s southern states, founded by boot leggers and speed demons after the Second World War.
    F1 is a more ‘gentleman’s’ sport, very much more elite and advanced. Don’t forget, F1 race in the rain, NASCAR delay a race even if there is a chance of light drizzle.
    F1 cars are faster, lighter, and run on a varied array of circuits, NASCAR cars are heavier, slower, but are not as delecate as F1 cars.
    You can tag another car, or hit the wall, and still stand a chance of staying in the race. In F1, it would 9/10 finish your race.
    In short, they are completely different sports with completely different fans, with completely different views on racing.
    In NASCAR, a driver can take out an opponent at 190mph, and not get punished by officials. Many races are won that way, and the sport’s best drivers have all crossed that line.
    In F1, a driver would be crucified for such an act, the beauty is in clean overtaking, skill, not thuggery.
    That is the main reason why I love F1.
    Anyone can ram another car into the wall, in affect cheat, to win a race. Passing using skill, and sheer driving panache, is something quite different.

  13. I am of the impression that F1′s greatest would race F1 without a single sponsor or spectator as long as it is made feasible for them.

    That means that by and large, they expect the publicity machine to be us at a grassroots level, or any press that will write about them, making the question, how do you keep them writing?

    The 1 (one) thing I find particularly fascinating about Indy that F1 might borrow (besides bringing back ground effect) is that most of the drivers are accessible, by design, because they know that if they don’t keep it friendly their sport will become extinct, and maybe that’s the charm for its fans. F1 would have a serious linguistics barrier if it tried to be that open, though.

    I can do without 40% of Nascar’s pro-wrestling borrowed antics, though, and I dislike most of the things Indy has that make it like Nascar: too many ovals, too many full cautions, wins are too random…

    Good piece, this is a debate that needs to be kept alive to some extent.

  14. bernification said on 22nd May 2008, 22:33

    Really, saying that there are things F1 could learn from NASCAR is like saying there are things F1 could learn from Wrestling.
    I think NASCAR is made to appeal to the same audiences as wrestling.
    I find this ‘sport’ crass and boring.

    Ernest Hemingway said that there were only 3 sports, bullfighting, mountaineering and motor racing.
    Possibly would have changed his mind had he seen NASCAR.

  15. Aha, great coment by “the limit” preciselly what I mean.

    When I happen to find nascrap on the telly, I only stay long enough to see them crash into each other and the barrier, have a laugh and change the channel. That is, about 5 laps or so.

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