Friday, Jan. 23, 2009 | 10:17 p.m.
To say that Bruton Smith, Chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc., is a colorful character is like saying Tony Stewart has a temper. It’s glaringly obvious. Smith isn’t afraid to speak his mind, and I like that.
Since shyness is not a word that’s in Smith’s vocabulary, reporters start to salivate at the possibility of a verbal blast of hot exhaust anytime he’s near a microphone.
Smith didn’t disappoint this week, when answering questions from reporters, by mentioning that a blackout should be imposed in television markets where the races aren’t sold out. Smith believes this is a good way to fill the grandstands. “It worked for the NFL,” Smith said.
Wow. As if many NASCAR fans aren’t already feeling alienated. This idea has a punitive smell to it that would only further anger fans who feel the sport doesn’t address their concerns. Not to mention that it would seem to result in lower television ratings.
Working class families with dwindling disposable incomes aren’t going to be threatened into attending a race, assuming they even have enough money to purchase tickets.
Fortunately, NASCAR’s Brian France and Mike Helton aren’t taking Smith’s idea seriously.
Nevertheless, Smith did have another point about boosting attendance that I liked. He contended that the drivers should spend less time “running and hiding” and more time signing autographs. Absolutely! I’m not sure I agree with his stipulation that drivers who aren’t available for autograph sessions should forfeit 10 percent of their winnings from the race, but I think accessibility to a driver can do more than just about anything to solidify a fan’s devotion to the sport.