NASCAR is unique from other sports in that fans are fans of a driver more than that driver’s race team. Jeff Gordon feels that teams should work at changing that as Toby Christie of Racing America reports.
I think we have a role as race teams to build our brand up, maybe not as much as the star power of the driver, but in a way where drivers — and we’ve seen this recently with Jimmie Johnson, Dale Jr., and myself, several big drivers that have huge fan followings stepped away from the sport, and I think it had a big impact on the sport. Because the fans seem to not have a connection to the team as strongly as they did to the driver.Jeff Gordon in Racing America
What can race teams do to connect more with these fans as Jeff Gordon theorizes? How much would it help the sport if those connections could be made?
Why Race Teams Struggle to Connect with Fans
Before looking at potential solutions, it’s important to look at the situation as a whole. NASCAR has not been so much about the race teams during its entire existence. In the early days, it was about what kinds of cars were on the race track along with the drivers, but not the team owners.
As time went on, it became less about the cars and more about the drivers, but most of the drivers drove for single-car teams. As a result, if fans were to gravitate towards a race team, they were going to gravitate towards one driver anyway. On top of that, every competitor out on the race track is ultimately competing for themself.
Yes, you have teammates, but, only one driver gets the trophy, unlike other sports. As a result, it’s easier for fans to root for a driver on the track than the team he drives for. As a result, when that driver retires, fans may have a hard time investing in the sport like they once did.
The one they root for is no longer competing. It’s as if the Carolina Panthers just retired from the NFL and never competed in the sport again. Race teams have a hard time picking up that slack because fans are attached to the driver, not the race team.
What Can Race Teams Do?
Appeal to Home Fanbases
Not every race team could do this because most race teams are based out of the same area North Carolina. However, race teams that have bases in other parts of the country could work to build their brand with their home fans. Trackhouse is the most prominent race team that could do this as they have offices in Nashville, Tennessee.
They could try to promote their race team to the people of Nashville. Not just bring Ross Chastain or Daniel Suarez to an event, but bring all drivers to an event to present Nashville with their “NASCAR team”. Again, not everyone could do this with how many race teams there are in North Carolina, but, some teams could.
More Closely Color the Team Cars
There needs to be some distinguishing qualities between the cars on a race team, but maybe having the cars run similar paint schemes to each other could help more closely distinguish them. Now, this does depend largely on sponsors, but, whenever teams have a chance with drivers that have the same sponsor, they could give them similar elements to show they are a team car.
As it is now, every race car on the track tends to look completely different from the next, which makes it hard to distinguish which race teams are represented on the track. Now, this is not exactly practical given sponsor obligations and driver brands. However, if this could happen from time to time, it could help better attach fans to a team brand.
Promote the Owner’s Championship
As it stands now, the drivers Championship is the one Championship that fans largely pay attention to. If NASCAR could find a way to make the Owner’s Championship more appealing to fanbases, it could allow come to more attach themselves to race teams. Again, NASCAR would have to find a way to make this appeal to the fans and make it fair.
As we suggested below, maybe NASCAR can come up with some sort of an aggregate system to separate the Owner’s Points from the Driver’s Points somewhat. NASCAR needs to give the fans a reason to care about the Owner’s points to make this work, and it could allow some fans to watch for which teams are doing well rather than just an individual driver.
Could this actually happen? It’s tough to say just because of how long NASCAR has been about the drivers more than the race teams. It would take a lot for a change to be made in this direction, but NASCAR cannot go too far in one direction either.
If they go too far towards promoting the race teams over the drivers, then the drivers lose their star power, which is why a lot of people watch in the first place. Maybe there can be some promotion done by the race teams to better connect with fans, but, they would have to be careful.