Forget all that stuff you might have heard about about the demise of wild restrictor-plate racing. Fox has unveiled a bodacious 30-second promo for this weekend’s 500-mile race at Talladega that is accompanied by footage of a half-dozen “Big One” wrecks from the past.
The voiceover goes like this:
ANNOUNCER: Talladega might just be the wildest race of the year.
COMMENTATOR: It’s going to be a wild one. We’re going to see some sparks fly!
ANNOUNCER: Maybe because it’s just so darn fast.
COMMENTATOR: Some say this track is haunted!
ANNOUNCER: Maybe it’s that curse the old-timers talk about. Or maybe it’s when The Big One hits.
COMMENTATOR: Oh, look at this!
ANNOUNCER: The only thing you can expect at Talladega is the unexpected. The Geico 500 from Talladega at 2 p.m. Eastern on Fox, and the Fox Sports app.
To hammer home the point that non-stock-car fans might be interested in the sight of sparkly, tumbling, disintegrating stock cars, there is a quick shot in the commercial of a delighted boy wearing headphones (and camo) waving a foam finger in possible response to a Big One.
This will be the first Cup race in 31 years at Talladega or Daytona without mandated restrictor plates, intended to trim horsepower and keep the cars from flying into the seats. “Tapered spacers” replace the restrictor plates to accomplish generally the same thing. There still will be packs of very fast cars on a big ol’ trioval.
So there will still be potential for mayhem, and Fox does not want potential viewers to think that this race will be another three-hour parade. Fox won’t promise a car race gone haywire, but it is pointing out that a pileup could be around the corner. Racing is much safer than it used to be, so Fox can sell that sizzle.
In the previous 20 Cup races over 10 years at Talladega, there were 17 wrecks involving at least 10 cars. There were three races that had two Big Ones, and only six races with no Big Ones. So it is mathematically likely there will be at least one Big One on Sunday.
NASCAR’s true-blue fans insist they don’t like Big Ones, much like “real” hockey fans don’t like fights. The old-timers would rather see the cars race side by side, not on fire or wadded up into scrap metal.
Drivers have looked over the years at races at Talladega and Daytona as crapshoots. If you can avoid trouble, they say, you can win — but just try to avoid trouble, because you really can’t. Not to mention the fact they can still get hurt.
But a Big One is still quite a sight, because these big stock cars look like little Matchbox cars in a tumble dryer, with parts flying all over the track through clouds of gray tire smoke.
They are just so unnatural, and Fox figures it might be worth tuning in for three hours just to watch one — then see every conceivable replay of the big wreck. A Big One is almost as good as a last-lap sprint to the checkered flag. Sometimes, last-lap sprints lead to Big Ones.
Fox needs to go for it. The TV rating for last year’s spring race at Talladega was a 2.85, with 4.746 million viewers. The rating for the 2017 spring race there was a 3.53, with 5.897 million viewers. The 2018 numbers represented a 19% one-year drop in rating and audience.
The 2016 spring race on Fox at Talladega, which included wrecks of 21 and 12 cars, had a lower rating than the race in 2017. But the numbers for the 2015 spring race were a 4.4 rating and 6.9 million viewers, meaning the race lost 31% of viewers and 35% of rating in three years.
The numbers on Fox’s NASCAR telecasts so far this year are virtually the same as they were a year ago, suggesting that the nosedive has leveled off. In an era when holding viewers of any telecast is seen to be positive, any gain is regarded as a victory.
The Fox promo includes a lot of fast cars, a couple of clips of smoky wrecks from the old days and winners celebrating in Victory Lane. But the wrecks steal the show. They always do at Talladega, and they still will.
The last time a spring race at Talladega did not include a Big One of at least 10 cars was in 2011. May the streak continue, and may NASCAR pick up some new fans.
Oh, and if you need to pass some time, NASCAR.com has a photo gallery of “wildest Talladega wrecks.” The “haunted” part? That goes back to several stories from the past involving Native Americans in the area. Another cool thing.