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Why isn’t NASCAR popular in the UK?

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The United Kingdom is a country that loves sports. The United States of America is also a country that loves sports. Unfortunately, the sports that are popular in one country don’t tend to be popular in the other. The USA is slowly becoming more receptive to soccer (or “football” as it’s known in the UK,) and the US variant of football is very slowly building a larger audience in the UK, but that’s about it. Most people who might be interested in the NFL on the British Isles watch rugby instead. Basketball, hockey, and baseball have never caught on in the UK at all. While the percentage of sports lovers among the general population of both countries might be about the same, the sports they watch are entirely different. 

This difference in taste, as we all know, extends to motor racing as much as it does any other sporting competition. There are millions of motor racing fans in the UK, but they watch Formula 1 racing more than they watch any other type of motorsport. They also enjoy rally driving, which is nominally similar to NASCAR but goes offroad rather than sticking to a looped track. Even IndyCar, which has more than a little in common with Formula 1, can’t get a look in. We all know that NASCAR is the most thrilling white-knuckle motorsport in the world when the drivers are at the top of their game and the season is at its peak, but why has it never found an audience with British fans? 

One thing we can say for sure is that it isn’t for want of trying. There have been NASCAR shows on television in the UK before, but they tended to be shown late at night and were mostly watched by American ex-pats missing home. Even now, the BBC’s website helpfully publishes a calendar of upcoming NASCAR races, but it doesn’t do anything to promote those races. The names of Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt Sir, Jimmie Jordan, and all the rest mean nothing to the average British sports fan. If you were to mention them, you’d likely get a blank look or an apology for not knowing who you were talking about. The cultural crossover between the USA and the UK is extensive, but NASCAR isn’t part of the deal. No matter how hard people have pushed for it or tried to promote it in the past, it simply hasn’t broken through into the public’s collective consciousness over there. 

Despite the bleak tone of this article so far, this doesn’t mean a potential audience doesn’t exist. There is such a thing as the NASCAR Euro Series. That competition involves races at Brands Hatch, which is one of the UK’s most famous and celebrated racing tracks. Thousands of Brits flock to events like that, but they travel from all over their country to reach it. Even if tens of thousands of them were to turn up to an event, that wouldn’t translate to much in terms of a television audience. That explains why so few TV channels are willing to give the sport a prime time slot. It’s true that the British population is dramatically lower than the American population, but it would still be considered a failure for a prime time sport to attract fewer than half a million viewers there. Based on attempts that have been made in the past, it would be lucky to attract one hundred thousand. 

The sport exists in a sort of “Schrodinger’s cat” state, where people know it exists but don’t necessarily want to know or understand when and how it happens. People know that NASCAR is a motorsport, but the finer details escape them. It’s a trustworthy-enough brand to appear at online slots websites, which are hugely popular in the UK, but not on television stations. You’ll find slots like “NASCASH” featured among the archives of several of the biggest online slots websites, but they don’t attract a fraction of the number of players that a top slot like “Chilli Heat” would attract. That’s the issue in a nutshell. There’s an awareness among the companies who own online slots websites that a NASCAR-themed slot can make them a little money, but not so much that the slots are featured prominently. Similarly, TV broadcasters are aware that there are members of the public who would consume hours of NASCAR content happily, but not enough to make a TV show worthwhile or attractive to advertisers. 

Perhaps the fact that there’s never been a truly successful British NASCAR driver might have something to do with it. With Formula 1, they have the current world champion in the shape of Lewis Hamilton, who is in many people’s minds the greatest F1 driver of all time, with seven world championships to his name. No Brit has ever excelled in NASCAR. They might have one on the horizon in the shape of Keenan Tully, but he’s a young prospect rather than a surefire success. NASCAR has seen plenty of them come and go in the past, and Tully is just as likely to join their number as he is to change the fact that no Brit has ever recorded a win at any of the top three levels of NASCAR. 

The idea that NASCAR is “too southern” is often presented as an explanation of why the sport isn’t popular in the northeastern United States, but that wouldn’t necessarily make the same true of the United Kingdom. Skill is more important than background when it comes to how Brits view sports, and there’s a definite appreciation for the skill of NASCAR drivers among the precious few cheerleaders that NASCAR has among the British press. Southern accents won’t put Brits off NASCAR drivers, and nor would the frequent high-impact crashes and general carnage of a NASCAR race. They often view F1 races with big crashes as being the most exciting of the season. Something is obviously getting lost in translation, though, and we don’t know what it is. NASCAR has all the excitement and drama that Brits traditionally love in their sports, and yet it can’t grab eyeballs. Will Keenan Tully change that? Will anything? All we can do is wait and see, but it’s probably high time a brave TV executive gave it another chance on the other side of the pond.

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Posted by on February 8, 2021. Filed under Cup Series,Featured,NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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