Ramsey Poston, NASCAR's director of corporate communications, says that nobody in his office is drawing a direct line between attendance and TV numbers. "TV ratings fluctuate," he says. "What we have found is that fans are waiting longer before they make the commitment to buy tickets." Poston theorizes that ratings are up because the series has stopped tweaking its cars, its points systems and its championship format. "It's time to let those changes mature," he says. "Fans have been able to focus on the racing."
Maybe, but the simplest explanation for an attendance drop might just be the high cost of a tank of gas. NASCAR says that RV parking spots continue to sell out early, but if ticket sales have slowed, it's a pretty clear sign that people are spending their money on other things—or just trying to save it. And watching the races on television doesn't cost a thing.
5 What about the lawsuit?
The $225 million suit brought by former Nationwide Series official Mauricia Grant on June 10 charging NASCAR with racial and sexual discrimination and harassment, is a shot to the gut of a sport that has tried hard to change its Old South image by diversifying its workforce. So it was a surprise that NASCAR's reaction came off so clumsily. On June 14, CEO Brian France spoke to the media for a half hour. He stressed that NASCAR works to prevent the sort of behavior Grant alleges, going so far as to require all employees to take part in yearly sensitivity training. He made appropriate points, but lessened their impact when he seemed to lash out at Grant, noting that she made the suit "about money," disputing her contention that she reported the alleged problems and saying, "Anybody can say anything that you want and hire a p.r. firm."
NASCAR would be better served by simply reiterating that it takes Grant's charges very seriously and is conducting a thorough investigation—and not get bogged down lobbing counter-charges. NASCAR will get a fair hearing in the courtroom.