Originally posted by McGuire
That is in part how NASCAR ate their lunch: by planning and building three, five, and ten years down the road.
While I don't disagree in total I think many people these days give NASCAR way too much credit for having had a vision they really didn't have on how to become popular. I recall and still have on tape somewhere a panel discussion on "Inside Nascar" around 1990 or a little after led by Ned Jarrett where numerous people in NASCAR were basically saying not a single one of them had anticipated the then surging popularity of NASCAR. They were saying this had happened on its own without any planning on their part. They cited the non stop ESPN coverage in the 1980s at a time ESPN didn't have much content as having gotted the drivers known to the public. And most of them were attributing a lot of it to the Tide Sponsorship and the fact that NASCAR had started to attract women fans. The fact that they had doubled their fan base was primarily being attributed to the fact that women had joined the audience in ever-increasing numbers. Not because they were being dragged there by men, but because they actually enjoyed it and understood what they were seeing and they were talking about efforts to keep that trend going.
So what I'm saying at the time it was happening the people in the upper echelon of the sport were not claiming they were all that brilliant in their marketing strategies and in fact they were claiming it had happened all on its own without any particular clever marketing strategy or anything they had done. And this was before the split in open wheel racing so that had nothing to do with it.
That said however NASCAR going back to the 1950s was always far more interested in putting on a show than putting on a pure race and spectator entertainment was a far higher priority for NASCAR than it ever was in open wheel racing which was expected to attract attendance based on the fact it was the best, the top level in public perception and had been for 50 years.
In the mid 1950s Bill France used to call up my dad in Chicago every year and try to use every form of economic persuasion to get him to bring his racing team down to the south to play the role of Yankee villains. He needed someone for his redneck fans to hate and boo and be the bad guys and he was willing to pay first and 2nd Place money to our cars at every race entered regardless of finishing position as well as pay for all the damage the good old boys laid on our Yankee butts for the thrills of the crowds and when that was turned down additional bags of gold beyond even that was offered. He made this offer multiple years in a row and my dad turned him down every time and so did others who raced against us. Tom Pistone went and Bob Pronger made a race or two but nobody ran the whole season and was billed as the invading yankee team like France envisioned doing to create controversy and resultant attendance.
Although it was all friendly business discussion France never offered to fix the races or anything. It was expected that we would be competitive but lose more than we won and if we didn't they would make sure of it because our role was to be the black hats. Why did we turn it down. Because frankly the South was a hellhole in the 1950s and my dad and driver did not want to move there and they were making a very good living racing stock cars around the Midwest and primarily Chicago which had multiple tracks at the time and they both had real jobs too and young families to raise. So despite how well paid it may have been they had no interest in becoming a part of a NASCAR charade soap opera and live in an alien culture.
My point is even back to the beginning of NASCAR the management was focused on putting on a good show to please the spectators. AAA, USAC, and CART never had anywhere near the same commitment to be entertainment because they were committed to being real unadulterated racing without manipulated results. While they weren't totally opposed to people showing up and watching they certainly weren't going much out of their way to assure it. Those sanctioning bodies were all about running the races, not being promoters and not looking up the road thinking maybe we should get more of this kind of driver or that kind of driver to please the fans. Because that's the way it always was done.
But it's true that NASCAR always had far more of a promotional aspect which originally worked quite well in the South and then they expanded that fan friendly approach nationwide. But to say their success was craftily manipulated Svengali like from NASCAR headquarters with a step-by-step point by point plan is a fallacy. They were just as surprised around 1990 as the rest of us how successful they had become and at the time were grasping at straws to try to figure out why.