Wednesday, April 4, 2012

3 comments Frank Deford Wishes Life was Still Like the Movie "Grease"

I remember growing up reading Frank Deford's articles in Sports Illustrated. Reading his columns today is like seeing Willie Mays in a Mets uniform or watching any other once-great athlete (author) dealing with impending age. I felt the same way about Furman Bisher, though it was still fun to write about him here, I am able to recognize he was once a great writer. Anyway, Frank Deford is concerned about NASCAR's popularity, those darn kids who like to listen to their iPods in the car, and how this relates to fixing cars. The article is about NASCAR, but it is also about how people don't like messing around with cars anymore. Clearly, the Internet is to blame. Also, where is everyone's leather jacket and does nobody roll up cigarettes in their t-shirt sleeve these days?

Individual sports are always volatile, and after being the next big thing, NASCAR's popularity has stalled. A lot had to do with the economy.

This is absolutely true. The economy is probably mostly to blame for the decline in NASCAR attendance. Since this article is about NASCAR, let's straighten one thing up at the very start. NASCAR is struggling with attendance right now, but the ratings for NASCAR races are very, very good. Since the premise of this article is NASCAR is declining in popularity, I feel it is important to mention that while NASCAR attendance is declining those square boxes with all the colors, we call them televisions, show that NASCAR still has a fan base who don't mind watching the sport. So the idea Frank Deford furthers (and then rambles away from until he is talking about iPods in cars) fails to be in true in my mind. Attendance is down, but the popularity of NASCAR doesn't seem to be on the decline as much.

And as for fans, when it became cut-back time, they had to think twice about gassing up those big old RVs and driving a far piece to sit in those ear-shattering stadiums.

I'm "Southern" which means I was born in the South and I have never watched a NASCAR race in person or on television. I always wanted to go to a NASCAR race just to see what it is like, but I also don't think I would enjoy it very much. I envision pony-tails, mullets, an extreme lack of shirts on men and women, really loud pop-country music, and a lot of dirt. Before I die, I want to go to a NASCAR race, but attending a NASCAR race doesn't seem like something a casual fan (or non-fan like me) of NASCAR would enjoy doing. I could be wrong and perhaps I'm not the best example to use.

So, NASCAR invested $5 million in research to find out how to get back out of the pits. To me, the most fascinating finding was that all those old, white guys, who were the bread-and-butter NASCAR constituency, were not being replicated by their sons and grandsons. Frankly, the younger generations don't care to mess around with cars.

Here is the problem with this finding...younger generations didn't want to mess around with cars in the early 2000's when NASCAR was peaking in attendance and popularity. Why was attendance great a decade ago, but is flattening out now? Am I to believe a decade ago the younger generation liked to mess around with cars, but the demographics have changed very drastically in the last decade?

But what NASCAR found out was that it's now only a platonic relationship. No more hands on. A whole cohort of our young boys -- and girls -- has been growing up without any interest in "tinkering" around with cars.

The first problem I see here is why would I want to "tinker" with my car when it works perfectly fine? If there is nothing wrong with my car, and I have no need to make it go faster than it already does, then I'm not going to "tinker" with the car. If I want to "tinker" with my car to make it go faster then I'm probably needlessly getting speeding tickets and endangering the lives of other drivers on the road. That's a different story, I guess.

Frank Deford doesn't link this study that NASCAR funded, so I am not sure exactly what the study revealed. I'm not sure NASCAR even had a study. Maybe Frank Deford got confused and there never was a study. There has to be a better reason for the decline in NASCAR attendance outside of young boys and girls not wanting to "tinker" with cars. I say this because plenty of people seem to be watching NASCAR on television, so the interest is still there. I think the first answer, which is the economy, is the issue at-hand. I know people who like to "tinker" with cars who don't watch NASCAR, so I do struggle a bit with this article saying the decline in the American love story between man and car is the reason for NASCAR's struggling attendance. People are watching on television, so there still seems to be interest in the sport.

In fact, it made me think that the last time I ever heard anybody talking about looking under the hood was Ross Perot,

Annnnnnnnnnnnd, we now begin our little trip down the rabbit hole that is Frank Deford's thoughts on cars, Ross Perot, and Indians.

when he ran for president back in '92, and he kept saying that all we had to do to fix all things in America was to just look under the hood.

To which, after being elected President, Bill Clinton spent eight years trying to look under the hood of interns and various other women to the disgust of the Republicans. Didn't Ross Perot say to look under the hood? Clinton just wanted to see what made this nation tick under the hood and it turned to be a combination of thong panties and cigars. Clinton was just trying to do what Ross Perot claimed he would do as President.

Well, NASCAR found nobody much wants to do that anymore. There are no more gearheads growing up in America.

Zero. None. There are no gearheads in America. Frank Deford saw the (unlinked and uncited) NASCAR findings, saw NASCAR has found the younger generation doesn't like "tinkering" with cars and has latched onto this as why NASCAR attendance is down...yet ratings are up. It's almost like fans like the sport, but don't go to the races because it is too expensive.

Sure, younger people still view automobiles as a necessary evil to get from A to B, but no less so than do Brazilians or Indians or Chinese.

Except for the French. Those bastards don't see a purpose for automobiles other than to get them from A to B. Don't even get Frank Deford started on how Egyptians view automobiles.

In fact, Americans aren't satisfied only to drive.

They want to drive AND have the air conditioning work. We can't have it all people!

They otherwise want to talk on the phone, eat and drink,

And this is relevant to NASCAR declining attendance in what way?

plug in their iPods, change CDs or fool around with the GPS.

Clearly Frank Deford doesn't have an iPod or a GPS. Most likely someone is plugging in their GPS and fooling around with the iPod, not the other way around. Though I do like the image of a person fooling around with the GPS. Does Frank Deford realize if a person fools around with the GPS it will constantly change the destination and make it very hard to reach the desired destination, thereby ruining the purpose of having a GPS?

(Frank Deford's wife) "Set the GPS for Atlantic Beach."

(Frank Deford sets the GPS for Atlantic Beach and then begins fooling around with the GPS to see how far it is to South Dakota)

(Four hours later Frank's wife gets concerned and wakes Frank up from his nap) "Are you sure we are supposed to be passing St. Louis on the way to Atlantic Beach?"

(Frank Deford) "Probably not, why are you driving this way?"

(Frank's wife) "It's what the GPS told me.

(Frank Deford) Oh, well I was fooling around with the GPS and wanted to see how far it was to South Dakota."

(Frank's wife opens the car door while the car is still moving and dives out of the car)

How many Americans would even get into cars if they couldn't be entertained while driving?

Considering millions of Americans get into their car everyday to go to work...I would say millions of Americans would get into their cars if they could not be entertained. Also, what does this have to do with NASCAR again?

If the government could just eliminate all the amusing stuff from cars, not many would get in them,

This is so absolutely false. I leave my mom's attic everyday to go to work 8 miles away from my house (ok, "work" is just another friend's attic where I spend the day watching old Star Trek episodes and try to create the first completely computer-automated baseball player). I'm not taking the bus nor am I walking to work. So if the car ride was just a boring ride without any music playing I would still get in my car because I am too good to ride the bus and I'm not walking 8 miles my friend's attic. I think this is probably true for the majority of Americans (my general feelings about not driving, not the part about working in a friend's attic).

And yet, I'm still not sure what Americans liking entertainment in their cars while driving said cars has to do with NASCAR's declining attendance.

and there goes the demand for foreign oil right there.

Sounds like you have everything solved then. So back to the whole NASCAR attendance issue? Any further thoughts on that which don't deal with "young people don't like cars, they like hip-hop music and pissing on my front lawn"?

Moreover, when it comes to cars, kids grow up being primarily accustomed to watching cars crashing in movies and on TV.

Yes, but the cars crash going very fast, which should be of interest to "the kids." Also, didn't older movies also feature cars crashing? I swear I remember a car crash or two in "Rebel Without a Cause." Not to mention, I'm pretty sure cars crash during a NASCAR race. So wouldn't the crashing of cars cause "the kids" to enjoy NASCAR more if they enjoy these types of television shows and movies, even if "the kids" don't know how to fix a car?

Cars aren't admired for racing anymore, for going fast.

If only there were a movie called "The Fast and Furious" and it made a ton of money at the box office and then spawned a bunch of sequels. Then, and only then, could kids appreciate how fast cars go.

And tinker? Researchers at the University of Michigan found that the kids who tinker more with the internet delay getting their driver's license.

You had to figure the Internet was to blame at some point for this problem of NASCAR's declining attendance. If kids would stay off the Internet and go "tinker" with a car then those kids would also eventually get into watching NASCAR and buy tickets to race. What I'm saying is we should really get rid of the Internet.

Not wanting a driver's license? Next to making out, that was the most important rite of passage in an American teenager's life.

Which it still is an important rite of passage. I'm pretty sure this article advocates excessive spending and pre-marital sex, preferably in a car, which I wouldn't expect from Frank Deford.

What's funny is this study in reality had nothing to do with "tinkering" with cars, racing these cars or even NASCAR. What was it about? Moving skills to areas of the United States during a tough economy. So even when the answer to the NASCAR attendance problem isn't about the economy, it still ties into the economy in a certain way. So while Frank Deford is correct about this conclusion, it still takes a few degrees of separation for a child to get a license, then enjoy messing around with cars and finally wanting to attend a NASCAR race. I'm not sure why, outside of the economy, the younger generation enjoyed "tinkering" with cars a decade ago when NASCAR attendance soared and now this need to "tinker" is non-existent. Frank doesn't sufficiently explain this huge demographics change to me.

Look, I wish NASCAR well. I hope it gets people back to the races,

The ratings are really good. The trick is to take his popularity on television and translate it into attendance at races.

but it will have to do it with stars and steroids and point spreads, like all the other sports.

I'm not entirely sure what steroids have to do with NASCAR and no matter how many people like racing the stars of the sport are always going to help drive attendance. This would be true even if every person in the country loved "tinkering" with cars. Stars drive sports.

Nobody cool wants to look under the hood anymore. They want to look at Facebook and YouTube.

Then watch a NASCAR race on television. We also have to remember NASCAR tracks can hold over 100,000 fans in attendance. That's a lot of people to fill up the stands.

I can officially declare that, as of 2012, the American love affair with the car is over. Cars are so Greatest Generation.

Which explains why NASCAR races are second only to the NFL in television viewership. Gee, with the popularity still seemingly high, there must be another reason fans aren't attending the races as often. Tickets to a NASCAR race are free, right?


HH said...

Here is the problem with this finding...younger generations didn't want to mess around with cars in the early 2000's when NASCAR was peaking in attendance and popularity. Why was attendance great a decade ago, but is flattening out now? Am I to believe a decade ago the younger generation liked to mess around with cars, but the demographics have changed very drastically in the last decade?

Actually, with the baby boomers aging and hitting retirement, we're going through a massive demographic shift. Not sure if that's relevant (I don't care enough about NASCAR to study it) but it's possible that the NASCAR demographic has passed the peak age of NASCAR attendance and they have to get used to permanently lower attendance numbers.

rich said...

I always wanted to go to a NASCAR race just to see what it is like, but I also don't think I would enjoy it very much.

Grew up in Texas near the Texas Motor Speedway, got a chance to go to an Indy Race and a NASCAR race.

They're boring as fuck.

Because of the speed that the cars are going, it's damn near impossible to see anything. Then you add in the fact that 1/2 the race happens half a mile away from you and you get something that might be worth watching on TV, but not paying money to go see.

To be fair, that's true of most sports, baseball in particular where there's a lot of downtime. The difference is that instead of grabbing a beer and talking to the people around you, you're more likely to be terrified by the person sitting next to you.

I'm not a huge fan of NASCAR or Indy, but I like cars and I'll watch the occasional race or two, but holy shit you could not pay me to go back to a race.

The first five or six laps are awesome, you hear how loud it is and you see how fast they're going and it's actually a really amazing experience.

Once the excitement of seeing it wears off it's just noise (headaches!) and things moving too fast to actually see anything happening.

There are no more gearheads growing up in America.

This is absolute mother fucking horseshit.

1) One nice thing about America's economy is that if you grew up in the lower middle class (or higher), you didn't have to fuck around with your car, you took it to your mechanic.

It's like saying "no one builds their own electronics, so there are no more engineers."

There's a difference between people not having to (because they can't afford to pay an expert to do it) learn a skill and no one learning that skill. I know a ton of people who are gearheads, they just do it sparingly when it's necessary.

2) Does it help if you're really into cars? Sure, but that just adds a layer of interest to the race.

It's like when I watch a football game with friends who didn't play football growing up. We all watch it and we all enjoy it. Sure, my ability to recognize defenses and call plays and analyze things is something that makes the games more enjoyable to me, but fuck if I'm telling someone "unless you know what the A gap is, you just go ahead and change the channel."

Sure, younger people still view automobiles as a necessary evil to get from A to B

Again, just because I don't know how to fix my engine doesn't mean I don't enjoy driving. I love driving, it's probably the most fun I have all day (traffic willing). There's absolutely nothing that says that if you don't know everything about something, you can't enjoy it.

I'm a PhD in engineering, I love science, but I have no clue how the space shuttle does what it does (in depth). Fuck Deford for implying I can't enjoy watching shuttle launches on youtube because I don't know everything about the shuttle.

plug in their iPods, change CDs or fool around with the GPS.

These aren't things we do because driving sucks, these are things we do because they make driving better. I also don't know one person on the planet who goes "Oh man driving sucks, let me play around with my GPS." You play around with your GPS because you're lost (not fun) not because you don't enjoy driving.

They otherwise want to talk on the phone, eat and drink,

I know I've said this before Ben, so please bare with me:

If you can apply a sentence to anything else, then it's not a good argument.

There are literally THOUSANDS of things people do while on the phone, eating or drinking.

Going out to lunch with your friends clearly means you don't enjoy spending time with friends.

Watching a movie? Don't get the popcorn or soda!

Going to a baseball game? You better not get a beer or a hot dog.

And they wonder why newspapers/magazines are dying?

Bengoodfella said...

HH, I did think about the massive demographic shift with the baby boomers also. I thought the shift couldn't have happened this quickly over the past 10 years. NASCAR had great attendance just a decade ago, or less. I find it hard to believe demographics could change so drastically in just a decade. I could be wrong though. I have no proof. It just seems like the economy is a more viable reason.

I grew up in the heart of NASCAR country. I lived 25 minutes from Charlotte Motor Speedway and I never went to a race. It is on my bucket list, so I can say I went to one, but I'm not in a hurry to go to one. I would worry a/b many of the reasons you didn't like the race. I would probably have to watch a race on television to know what is going on. I tend to have some sort of semi in-depth knowledge of what is going on to enjoy a sport. I think a NASCAR race would be better on television because you may be far away from the race at the track.

You are correct there is a difference in no one learning a skill and no one having to learn a skill. I used to change the oil in my car, and I know how to do it, but I don't do it anymore because it is much easier for someone else to do that for me. I think there are still gearheads, they just don't necessarily fix their own car if something goes wrong if they can afford to pay someone. I am sure some do, but others don't.

I completely play with my iPod in the car because I want a different song on, not because I'm bored. It adds fun to the ride, but I would certainly get in my car and drive to work if I didn't have a radio.

Even if you have said it before, it is still true. I check the Internet while I watch television. It doesn't mean I don't enjoy watching television.