For eight years, Lanette and Jim Williams of Missouri said they traveled to an average of nine NASCAR races per season. They’d pack their PT Cruiser, drive for a day or two and arrive at the racetrack to tailgate and soak up every moment of their favorite sport. Sometimes they’d follow the circuit for two or three weeks at a time. They were passionately loyal fans who, even when they weren’t on the road, parked themselves in front of the television for every practice and qualifying session.
But after the season finale in 2013, they stopped. The Williamses haven’t been to a NASCAR race since.
USA TODAY Sports asked about 200 fans at tracks, on the phone and on social media who have reduced their racetrack trips to explain why. The three most-cited reasons:
–Cost of the trip. Fans said tickets are the smallest impact on their financial decision, because ticket prices are dwarfed by the cost of hotel rooms and transportation to events.
–NASCAR’s competition-related decisions and constant rules changes have hurt the sport’s credibility and turned off some traditional fans.
–The experience is different. Instead of a midway with souvenir haulers, there’s now one merchandise tent area. Prerace entertainment such as the Sprint Experience and Fox’s NASCAR RaceDay TV stage are gone.
The Williams are just one example. Though the couple’s health insurance has gone from $300 to $800 a month, finances are not the main reason they stopped traveling to events.
“The constant changes NASCAR does, it doesn’t have the same good feeling it used to have,” Lanette Williams told USA TODAY Sports. “We’ve just lost interest in NASCAR. NASCAR has lost interest in us.”
Jim, 65, and Lanette, 63, said they were disgusted by some of NASCAR’s decisions in a five-month period starting in September 2013. They did not agree with how officials handled the aftermath of the Chase for the Sprint Cup manipulation at Richmond International Raceway, which included NASCAR CEO Brian France putting Jeff Gordon into the playoff as an extra driver.
They were even more upset when NASCAR changed its playoff system in January 2014 to create a winner-take-all race among four drivers in the season finale.
Instead of attending races, they’ve taken trips to Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, Louisiana and South Dakota – vacations, Jim said, “where we’re not annoyed.”
“The first year was tough,” Lanette said. “… There are just so many things involved, but there are a lot of disenfranchised, disheartened people like us.”