Can NASCAR survive a generation that doesn’t care about cars?

NASCAR has been getting some really good press lately. Many of its most ardent fans celebrated the strong stand the sport, and its drivers took during the recent debacle about the National Anthem, and the excitement for this year’s Cup run is very strong.

After all, the Young Guns of stock car racing are coming into their own, poised to make some noise on tracks where legends have run. So, ardent fans are excited.

But, unfortunately for NASCAR, not too many other people are. Rewind to a few years back, and NASCAR was supposed to be the next big thing. Basketball was waning, and hockey hadn’t really caught on. America was looking for a new sport to embrace. NASCAR had tremendous drama and incredible characters. There was Junior, the closest thing NASCAR has to a royal legacy, and there was Jimmie Johnson, the wunderkind who could not be beaten. There was the baby-faced killer, the Rainbow Warrior Jeff Gordon, and the perennial anti-hero, Tony Stewart. There were also the outsiders who always contended, like Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards. A brand for every fan to love.

NASCAR Needs More Fans

So, why is NASCAR floundering in its attempts to win more fans and exert a larger influence in American sports? That’s a tough question to answer, and it’s one that NASCAR owners and promoters are desperately trying to figure out. They need to fill the empty seats on race day and get more people tuned in at home. Neither is happening. And that has led to other problems. Ratings are falling, so advertising revenue is diminishing.

And that’s not all. Merchandise sales will falter, with everything from t-shirts to lunchboxes and posters not moving like they once were.

So, what gives? Is it because NASCAR has expanded beyond its Southern roots and sacrificed some of its soul? Is it because these so-called Young Guns really aren’t as interesting as their hard-boiled predecessors?

Or is it something entirely unrelated to sports that is fueling NASCAR’s growth problem? If a sport wants to engage people outside its current sphere, it first has to grab people who are already fans of the central aspect of that sport. They need kids who are into cars. But fewer kids are into cars these days.

Millennials Don’t Care About Fast Cars

In NASCAR’s early years, American youth had an obsession with fast cars. That trend continued through the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. But, these days, Millennials just don’t care as much as their parents and grandparents did. And therein lies a huge problem for NASCAR.

Sure, they are still making Fast and the Furious movies, but those films have less of a connection with Americana than the Dukes of Hazzard or Smokey and the Bandit did. For sports to work, fans need to want to live vicariously through their favorite superstars. These days, fewer prospective fans look at cars – and those that drive them better than anyone else – in that way.

Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.

ronn torossian 5wpr ceo