We are now more than 25 years past the introduction of the World Wide Web. As a guy in his mid 30s, computers and the internet have been part of my everyday life since I was able to get Web TV back in the mid 90s on my 56k telephone connection. Most have called the age we live in now “The Information Age.” I would argue that technological advances over the past couple of decades are having an adverse effect on NASCAR.
Why is that? For starters, let’s talk about the racing heroes of those over the age of, say, 50. If you were born in the late 1960s, and you became a NASCAR fan growing up, you probably cheered on guys like Richard Petty, David Pearson, the Allison brothers, Cale Yarborough, A.J. Foyt, Benny Parsons, and Buddy Baker. Every generation of fans will have drivers they hold near and dear to their heart so nothing has changed on that front. What has changed is our accessibility to the competitors of today. With Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. we have nearly instantaneous availability to our favorite drivers. Before internet and even widespread television coverage, the drivers for the most part were a mystery to fans. When something is mysterious and unknown the human mind wants to learn more. Fans in the 70s probably didn’t know much at all about the person behind the driver and that’s why these guys appeared larger than life. They weren’t just names, they were superheros. Now we know what they eat for breakfast, where they vacation, the status of their family lives, and so much more.
Could you picture Cale Yarborough Tweeting a selfie with his whole wheat breakfast bagel on his patio during a cool spring morning? Or how about Donnie Allison giving us a peak on his Caribbean Cruise? The whole dynamic of interaction between drivers and fans have changed and I think not having some of that unknown still there actually hurts NASCAR. The fans today know most everything they want about their favorite drivers including their fears, favorite foods, and what they had for lunch yesterday. It’s hard for these great drivers to be larger than life characters when we know so much about them.
Now, am I saying that it’s a horrible thing? Absolutely not. I think it’s great to see that nearly 100% of the drivers on the circuit seem to be good people. We know how many charitable organizations the drivers of today support and get to see first hand through social media how they help change lives. That’s fantastic and welcoming so the whole debate can have good arguments on each side.
Aside from the fact that drivers are so accessible via social media platforms technology as a whole is having a negative effect on the sport. How many channels can you get via satellite or cable in 2018? Also factor in streaming services, devices with tons of free content like Roku boxes, and YouTube and you can see where this is going. There are 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every single minute! If you are a fan of old NASCAR races you can find hundreds of full races there for your viewing pleasure. It’s almost information overload.
The way we absorb information, how it’s hardwired into our systems, has changed with the fast-paced society we live in now. Long gone are the days of anxiously waiting for that Monday newspaper to see a couple of sentences, if you were lucky, about the race the previous day. There was a palpable anticipation of wanting, needing to know what happened the previous day. Now, we can watch every race as it happens while reading real time Tweets from teams. Again, I’m not saying that we should go back to the way things were but I do feel that we are so spoiled now with the amount of access we have as NASCAR followers that it can feel less important. The whole, “Ah, I can watch the race later on the DVR” mentality is pretty strong. Not only that, but you can watch highlights immediately after the races and catch up on the most important events of every race in just a few minutes. That sense of urgency and anxiousness is long gone. It has been replaced by the urgency to constantly refresh our Facebook pages, update our Instagram, and making sure that we don’t miss something. By trying not to “miss anything” I think many times we are all missing out on more than we know.
What do you think? Do you think that part of the reason NASCAR has had such a sharp decline in recent years is that we have too much access and information? That we have too many more options than ever before? Or, do you think the main culprit is so many recent driver retirements or even the amount of rules changes over the past several years?