(Atlanta - September 4, 2014) It's no secret that NASCAR attendance is dropping across the country, including here in Atlanta. Perhaps there's a reason.
Early in 2013, NASCAR announced that it would no longer be publicly divulging attendance estimates of its races. In Atlanta, we know that the size of crowds has been progressively getting smaller and smaller in recent years; and now it appears likely that NASCAR will cut back to a single major race in Atlanta each year, effectively ending the tradition of a major Labor Day race in Atlanta. But the trend is not just in Atlanta, as races are being cut from other venues; and some venues are reportedly cutting out huge portions of their grandstand capacity for the remaining races.
NASCAR, and car racing in general, has long been a primarily Southern sport gone national. The popularity of racing spread nationally over the last 20 years after existing for multiple generations mainly at Southern tracks with rural Southern blue-collar fans in Southern states. In fact, just a few short years ago, NASCAR racing appeared poised to become one of the largest national sports in America, even boasting the largest average attendance of any sport. So what has happened within a single decade to effectively end that chase for popularity and, instead, turn into a situation where major racing venues, especially across the South, are having trouble even filling their stands where once it was literally standing room only?
In 2012, NASCAR made the decision to ban the appearance of the "General Lee" Dodge Charger from the former television series "Dukes of Hazzard," citing as their reason, "The image of the Confederate flag is not something that should play an official role in our sport as we continue to reach out to new fans and make NASCAR more inclusive," according to NASCAR spokesman David Higdon. Ben Jones who played "Cooter" on the former television show -- and who now serves as the national Chief of Heritage Operations for the Sons of Confederate Veterans -- said this about the decision back in 2012, "At a time when tens of millions of Americans are honoring their Union and Confederate ancestors during this Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, NASCAR has chosen to dishonor those Southerners who fought and died in that terrible conflict by caving to 'political correctness' and the uninformed concerns of corporate sponsors."
But NASCAR made the decision to abandon its Southern roots right after the turn of the new century. Echoing the sentiments of NASCAR spokesmen and executives, Dale Earnhardt, Jr said as far back as 2003 in an interview with Complex Magazine about the Confederate flag, "Anybody who is trying to show that flag is probably too ignorant to know what the hell he's doing."
More and more over the last decade, NASCAR has become dependent upon television deals to make up for the declining attendance of actual people at their races -- the rank and file rural Southerners who have been the traditional fan base of racing since the first moonshiners raced out of the hills with their cargo and defiance of what they viewed as tyrannical and intrusive federal authorities.
Back in 2010, NASCAR spokesman Steve Phelps reportedly stated in an interview, "We don't condone that type of display and putting the flags out, the Confederate flags. That is not something that we think is good for the sport, candidly. So it's something that we see, candidly, we see fewer and fewer of them as you go to races and you know, ultimately it'll be something that'll die away completely." Ironically, NASCAR's continued attack upon the Confederate battle flag and Southern heritage symbols appears to be having unintended consequences, not the least of which is that it appears that it is NASCAR racing, itself, that seems to be dying away.