The e-mails almost all start the same way.
“I have been a NASCAR fan for 30 years,” they begin, “and the sport is just not what it used to be.” Sometimes it's 20 years and sometimes it's 40.
Sometimes “the sport is just not what it used to be” comes out more like “Compared to the good ol' days, NASCAR today stinks like a skunk that just crawled through a sewer.”
But the point is always the same. NASCAR is going to hell in a high-speed hand basket and if the people who run the show don't do something, and do something fast, the sport is going to be extinct in a matter of months, if not weeks.
The smart thing for me to do, of course, would be to delete these e-mails. Or, I could fashion one of those “I deeply appreciate your feedback and hope you will continue enjoying our coverage of the sport in the future” and just send it back as a standard reply.
Nobody ever accused me of being smart, though.
Call me silly, but I think fans who take the time to send me their thoughts deserve more than a perfunctory reply. They might not like my opinion, but most of them at least seem to appreciate the fact that I read what they had to say.
NASCAR isn't going to have it easy for the next 18 months or so. The economic issues that are being felt by virtually every industry and every household in our country isn't going to spare stock-car racing.
Attendance has been down at some of the tracks where the Sprint Cup circuit has been this year. Tracks are having to work as hard as they have in a long time to sell tickets and that will get worse before it gets better.
The fact is some of the people who buy tickets to attend a track's races year after year are getting their renewals for next year right now, and some of them are going to decide they can't afford that expense next year.
Some of the tickets that were bought but went unused this year might not be bought in the first place next year, and tracks are going to have to deal with that.
Teams are facing tough times, too. How many full-time teams will there be in the Cup Series, the Nationwide Series and the Truck Series next year? The best answer I have is fewer, and that's not a good thing.
Every time you hear about a car not being on the track, what you have to remember is that means there are 40 or 50 people, at least, who've lost their jobs.
The sport has gone through difficult times before. Manufacturers might pull out? That's happened before. Teams might fold? That's happened before. Seats might be empty? That's happened before. And through it all, NASCAR has survived.
In fact, if you look at things over the long view, the sport has flourished.
It also has changed. Something that has been around for 60 years has to change to stay alive. It's bigger, it's faster and it's far more complicated than it was 30 years ago, there's absolutely no question about that.
But if you've been a NASCAR fan for 30 years, please allow me to ask you to consider something.
Which do you think has changed more?
It's a serious question. Let's say you're a 50-year-old man. In 1978 you were 20 years old. When you went to a NASCAR race, do you think you acted a little differently than you would at a race today?
Fans tell me they don't go to as many races as they did 30 years ago. Well, they also probably don't go out dancing as often as they did when they were 30 years younger.
They've got many, many more reasons not to go to a race or to the movies or to a concert than they used to – little things like jobs that make them tired or grass they need to cut or children they need to get ready for bed.
I will promise you that if you back up and read a weekly racing magazine from 1978 you will find letters from fans swearing the sport is falling apart and the end is drawing near. They thought NASCAR was crooked and races were rigged. They thought ticket prices were too high, hotel rooms cost too much and traffic was bad.
Remember when you were 20 and you hated it when people told you the music you listened to was just obnoxious noise? You know you've said the same thing about what today's 20 year olds are listening to.
Racing is different than it was five years ago – even than it was last year. It's going to keep changing, too. But so are its fans, and the question of which is changing faster is a pretty good race in itself.