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Saving NASCAR: Step to the plate, Jeff Gordon....and NASCAR's George Silbermann 'feeding' the grassroots


Remember NASCAR's drive-for-diversity program? The economic morass may have slowed it (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   Saving NASCAR from the spring doldrums, that's the next item on the sport's agenda. And the next major stop for the Sprint Cup tour will be right here, at the place Bryan Sperber has been running for the France family's International Speedway Corp.
   Maybe Jeff Gordon, now that's he's not only atop the tour standings but also a tour winner again, can help save NASCAR from fading into the pollen clouds of April and May, from fading into the shadows of American sport, as major league  baseball cranks up, and the golfers get their games in shape, and all those rival activities start stealing everyone's time.
   Usually NASCAR gets a head start on everything, by some January Daytona testing and then Speedweeks in Florida and the Daytona 500, and then high-profile tour stops in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Atlanta and Fort Worth.
   But so far there seems to be a case of the blahs clouding the sport.
   Under the surface, however, Daytona execs are churning hard – and one of their new game plans is, of course, to leverage Jeff Gordon as much as possible – apparently at the moment on the Canadian side of the border, with some type of race track, presumably another PR shot at promoting the late summer NASCAR stop (still just Nationwide, not Cup) in Montreal.
   Another game plan – to hit even harder with the sport's local-track action.
   George Silbermann, NASCAR's 'short-track PR czar,' will help host two end-of-season awards banquets in Charlotte for NASCAR's short-track champions from around the country.
   It's grassroots stuff, and that's something missing from the sport for the past several years, since R. J. Reynolds pulled out of the sport.
   Silbermann has been trying to revive that key element of the sport for two years now, with national TV marketing campaigns promoting NASCAR's weekly short-track action – as the place where NASCAR's big-named stars of today first earned their spurs.
   "This is a tremendous opportunity to raise the bar for all of NASCAR's developmental racing series, by bringing the champions from all of our series to the core of much of the motorsports industry," Silbermann says.
    "In addition to these two prestigious awards banquets, we are planning a number of special activities for our series champions, for attending track operators, and for the industry. We look to take full advantage of what this hub of the stock car racing industry has to offer."


NASCAR effectively killed

NASCAR effectively killed short-track racing as it once was, and now they're trying to "bring it back"? There are now 8 Cup races on Saturday nights between April-September, 4 of which are over the next 5 weeks when the short tracks are just getting cranked up. Not many race fans are going to the short tracks when there is a Cup race to be seen on TV. When attendance shrinks, so do the purses, and so does size of the field of the feature races. Not only has having so many Cup races on TV on Saturday night shrunk the size of the field, there is hardly any working your way up from the short-track ranks anymore. Now the drivers come from open-wheel racing or they are taken from a go-kart at age 14 and groomed to be in a Cup car by 18. This is as much the Cup car owners' fault as it is NASCAR's, but NASCAR is not helping matters a bit by killing the short tracks and killing the regional and feeder (Nationwide) series. Gone are the days when the short-track hot shoe could hope to land a ride in a regional series car or a Nationwide car to try to continue working his way to a Cup ride. Now, all the Cup drivers have the Nationwide rides, and NASCAR killed all but two of their regional touring series. The two best regional touring series these days are not NASCAR sanctioned: ProCup and PASS. ProCup has been the best series to watch over the last 8 years, but Hooter's pulled out and the series is now struggling. PASS is not, as it had 39 cars show up at Hickory for it's Easter Bunny 150. I point out the other series to demonstrate that there is great local/regional stock car racing that NASCAR has nothing to do with. These series' have succeeded in spite of NASCAR seemingly uncaring that they are hurting the tracks these series race at. While there is still a chance to work your way up - see Vickers and Reutimann - the chances of it happening are far less than in the days when you had to earn your way there by showing something on the track before being handed the seat to a Cup ride. With that "ladder" no longer in place anymore, the fields at the local tracks dwindling, and a Cup race on TV, what incentive is there for someone to go to there local short track?

You're quite right....and the

You're quite right....and the reason for Saturday night Cup events? Beats me. Now Sunday night, yes; that's a good TV night. But Saturday night typically brings poor ratings. Darlington was moved to Saturday night because of Mother's Day Sunday; Richmond works well on Saturday nights and so does Bristol -- but both would work just as well on Sunday nights. But could NASCAR's TV partners bring themselves to do anything like that in May Sweeps? Doubtful. Hey -- so why not switch some of those events to another spot on the schedule? I think NASCAR needs to find a good business partner for the grassroots campaign, a business partner that is in some consumer product line. NASCAR has had to pick up the slack left when RJR left, and when Dodge went nowhere with its own marketing down there....And there needs to be a solid marketing tie-in between NASCAR's weekly short-track 'series' and the Cup series and its other series. The bottom line is the problem is marketing -- and I've never quite understood why Sprint Nextel didn't see, or understand, the importance of grassroots marketing. Gosh, aren't there Sprint stores in every town in America? We can look back now and see how RJR's marketing synergies worked so well -- to promote the Cup series at the grassroots level as well as to promote grassroots stock car racing. It was win-win. Someone dropped the ball. Silbermann has been trying to put together a new package, but without a strong Cup link, I don't think it's going to work. Really, it's up to NASCAR to get Sprint, or one of it top Cup sponsors, to set up a new campaign.

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