waltrip

Longtime network television announcer Darrell Waltrip is a beloved figure in the NASCAR family for good reason, but he projects a grandfatherly and overly positive approach for a sport sponsored by an energy drink maker that promotes an “edgy” lifestyle.

A great hunt continues at the top levels of NASCAR.

The targets are a powerful but elusive force known as millennials.

We already know the basics of this urgent and lucrative quest.

For example, millennials were born between 1982 and 2000. They tend to be tech-savvy, physically active and prone to buying sprees, but they also have short attention spans. Very short.

For NASCAR to end its over decade-long decline in spectators and television viewers, a large number of millennials simply must be enticed into the stock car racing fold and retained.

Here are a few tips to accomplish that goal.

Shorten Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races - Thanks to their ever-present and increasingly snazzy smartphones, millennials tend to converse in 140 character tweets and consume news via 40 second video clips. Asking these folks to devote over three hours for any sporting event is a challenge.

Service the customer - For some race fans, cell phone and Wi-Fi coverage have become as important as driver lineups. Other sports venues, especially at large college football stadiums, are gradually catching up to the new go-go generation.

Broaden the race-day experience and food menu - Since its inception, NASCAR has catered to a hot dog and cold beer clientele. It’s time to follow the lead of modern baseball and football stadiums and equip speedways with an array of restaurants that offer quality views of the track along with healthy food and adult beverage options. Whether they are interacting on social media outlets or just enjoying an Espresso coffee drink, millennials like to hang out in groups and mix their favorite sport with socializing, networking and partying. The idea of a Kids Zone, which Bristol Motor Speedway officials unveiled Tuesday, is also a wise way to please and build a customer base.

Adapt with the times - Along with larger-than-life drivers, fearsome tracks and the danger element, the success of NASCAR was once based on the car culture in America and the manufacturers battles that played out at each track. Ask any car dealer now and they will tell you that millennials care more about shiny gadgets, flashy gizmos and satellite radio than brands and horsepower. So enough with the Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota talk.

Shake up the TV booth - Longtime network television announcer Darrell Waltrip is a beloved figure in the NASCAR family for good reason, but he projects a grandfatherly and overly positive approach for a sport sponsored by an energy drink maker that promotes an “edgy” lifestyle. How about bringing an actual objective journalist into the booth instead of a former driver or crew chief who still has friends and business connections in the pits.

Change the conversation and take risks - The introduction of stage racing has brought some much needed spice to long events that once bordered on tedious. Let’s put more focus on the stages instead of bogging viewers and listeners down with discussion of arcane rulings, mechanical parts and other items of pit road trivia. The drivers are the stars here, not the cars and commentators.

Goodbye NASCAR Dad and hello NASCAR Chad - The traditional and conservative fans that once populated the grandstands at tracks have retired to their cozy dens while their kids are more selective with their spare time. For pre-race show, stop relying on country music eye candy, faded legends and disinterested celebrities (can you say talk show host Jim Rome) who leave the track seconds after promoting their latest movie or projects. Instead, let’s expand on some of the current sideshow efforts outside the track and promote some overdue cultural diversity by featuring different brands of music, thrill rides, pro wrestling or mixed martial arts cards, and the growing eSports culture.

Excite the senses – In an earlier era of stock car and drag racing, few sights were more exciting than spotting a muscle machine, dragster or race car being towed to the track on an open trailer. Let’s follow the lead of 1960s era drag racing impresario TV Tommy Ivo and transport NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and truck series rides in glass enclosed trailers up and down the interstate system.

It’s would be easy to dismiss all these ideas as painful gimmicks, but something must be done to bring millennials into the fold and even lure some old-timers off the couch.

Tradition is great, but corporate shareholders do not react well to empty seats and lackluster TV ratings. The bottom line simply cannot be ignored.

NASCAR events may now be ruled by brainy engineers who mastermind races with clever strategy and build indestructible machines that never spin out, but any activity that features 40 cars traveling at hyper speeds should never be boring.

Once they are brought into the tent, maybe the millennials will get on board with the sensory overload that is NASCAR.

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agregory@bristolnews.com | Twitter: @Greg_BHCSports | (276) 645-2544

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