Tom Sorensen

NASCAR threw a heckuva party last week. Maybe it needs more of these gimmicks.

Years ago I talked to a wise NASCAR entrepreneur who said that every new race track should accommodate at least 100,000 fans. NASCAR had been discovered. Other sports had work stoppages because of player-owner battles. NASCAR did not and never would. Drivers looked as if they drank milk not merely after an Indianapolis 500 victory but all the time.

Yet the sudden popularity was like inflation, a temporary burst based on a false premise. Fans departed and popularity fell, and it continues to sink.

What do you do to regain that popularity? Maybe you sell NASCAR. But that won’t suddenly make the sport popular again.

But if I’m a driver, or a crew chief, a team owner or a tire changer, I tire of the weekly assessments of my sport. If I throw a party, I care about the people that show up, not the people that don’t. Nobody is obligated to attend. Let’s have a good time with those that want to be there.

Fans at Charlotte Motor Speedway had a good time Saturday at the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race. That race is the reason fans go to the track and jump and shout, or jump and shout on their sofa as they watch on TV.

Lead changes? You’d lose your voice if you had to recount them all.

The Big One?“ Of course there was a Big One, and it had big names.

Daring? Cars went three-wide through the turns and, one occasion, I swear that four cars raced side by side.

TheBigOne-AllStarRace
This “Big One” had names. Martin Truex Jr. (78), Kurt Busch (41), Kyle Busch (18) and Brad Keselowski (2) wreck in Turn 4 as Jamie McMurray (1) and Matt Kenseth (6) try to get by during Saturday’s Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Terry Renna AP

We live in a short attention-span world. As thrilling as the NBA playoffs are, look at the fans at courtside. Count the fans talking on, or taking pictures with, a cell phone. Or, to save time, count the fans that don’t.

Bank of America Stadium invested in Wi-Fi because fans demanded it. Fantasy Football is going on. As popular as the NFL is, the game no longer is enough.

Saturday at the speedway, the race was all that was needed. If you were on the phone, it was because you were texting to make sure your friends weren’t left out. Do you know how good this is? Man, you ought to be here.

A lot of very bright and very classy people are involved in NASCAR. Spend time with Richard Petty, Rick Hendrick, Ray Evernham, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson or Martin Truex Jr., and you are having a pretty good day.

Then there are young stars such as Kyle Larson. If you can’t market Larson, it’s your fault, not his.

Not every race is going to be good any more than every NBA game is. But the NBA is having a heck of a successful season.

To capitalize on the momentum and stop NASCAR’s free fall into the sports abyss, it needs to bring elements of the All-Star Race, a race people still are talking about, to points races. Not everything. But something.

You can call the All-Star Race gimmicky.

But it’s not a gimmick if it works.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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