DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Ever since its birth on Daytona Beach in 1948, NASCAR has for decades been one of the most thrilling, unpredictable and dangerous sports Americans love to watch.
But enthusiasm for the sport has been sputtering in recent years and now NASCAR is facing record declines.
In 2004, 8 million people tuned in to NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series. Last year, only 4.6 million did, a decrease of almost half.
There are also fewer fans in the stands; Admissions are down 30% since 2010.
David Scott, who covers NASCAR for the Charlotte Observer, says the new generation of drivers is more corporate than so-called ‘good ol’ boys’ who made the sport famous.
“They kind of have to watch what they say and what they do a little more carefully than they did in the old days,” Scott said.
The second reason is safety. In the past, fans would fill stadiums to watch their favorite racers crash into each other.
But times have changed.
“The safety has been improved so much over the years there’s just not as much risk of serious injury as there used to be,” Scott said.
Nineteen-year-old Gray Gaulding is the youngest racer on the circuit. He says the sport sells itself.
“I feel like there’s so many fans that we have,” Gaulding said. “They love coming to the races. Yeah, you can watch it on TV, you can see it on your phone, but you don’t get that feel until you show up at the race track, smell the fumes, you see the tires.”
“I feel like a lot of people still come to the races just because it’s so exciting,” he continued.
Promoting young drivers like Gaulding is part of NASCARS strategy to counteract an aging fan base.
They are also changing the race itself, with a point system that is meant to create more action on TV.