Struggling Nascar's Plan to Get Back in Gear

Aging red-state fans. Cars that have gotten too boring. How racing is trying to reinvent itself for a new generation-at 200 m.p.h.

Christopher Morris / VII for TIME

A pit crew loading a car at the NASCAR Michigan International Speedway, 44th Annual Pure Michigan 400, August 16, 2013.

ESPN is a repository for all kinds of sports — baseball, football and basketball, not to mention billiards, X Games, cheerleading, Frisbee, even soccer. But as of 2015, it will no longer carry NASCAR, perhaps the most God-and-country of all American sports. It wasn't that ESPN lost a bidding war with NBC, which bought the rights earlier this year for $4.4 billion to populate its new sports network. ESPN declined to bid at all. What was one of the hottest properties in U.S. sports a decade ago has become a loser for many networks as ratings fade, sponsors flee and ticket sales drop. Persistent unemployment, a slow wage recovery and high gas prices have thinned raceway crowds like the hair on a 47-year-old — the average age of a stock-car-racing fan.

NASCAR is hardly the only iconic American institution left reeling by the lingering economic downturn and demographic shifts. The decline of traditional households, a growing Hispanic population and tightfisted consumers have challenged companies from Walmart to Best Buy.

In many ways NASCAR finds itself becoming a sports analogue of the Republican Party: solidly popular in red states but with a declining base that skews old, white, Southern — and in NASCAR's case down-market. The question now is whether it's too late to attract the younger, more diverse audience NASCAR needs to grow.

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now

Subscribe
Subscribe

Get TIME the way you want it

  • One Week Digital Pass — $4.99
  • Monthly Pay-As-You-Go DIGITAL ACCESS$2.99
  • One Year ALL ACCESSJust $30!   Best Deal!
    Print Magazine + Digital Edition + Subscriber-only Content on TIME.com

Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!