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Humpy Wheeler: How to get fans back in the NASCAR grandstands by Mike Pryson, Autoweek CHARLOTTE MOTOR SPEEDWAY'S FORMER P.T. BARNUM SAYS SPORT NEEDS LESS AERO PUSH, MORE PERSONALITIES, MORE RIVALRIES MAY 2, 2017 Howard "Humpy" Wheeler was rarely, if ever, at a loss for ideas when it came to promotion as former president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway. Now 78, Wheeler is still passionate when it comes to racing. And, yes, Wheeler noticed last weekend's version of the incredible shrinking NASCAR attendance, this time from Richmond. And, yes, Wheeler's take is worth sharing, as he did Monday night on his Facebook page: The Richmond Dispatch just published a story on the decline of crowds in NASCAR stating as an example that at one time the track had 112,000 seats but bet only 30,000 were sold Sunday in the 400 lapper won by Joey Logano. They further went on to say that just about every NASCAR track was going through a similar decline. To those of us who watch NASCAR this is old news and it would be good to reflect on why. First, what fuels sport is personalities and rivals. You must have both. What would Ali be with Joe Frazier; the Redskins without the Cowboys, etc.? Name me one intense rivalry currently in NASCAR that could compare with Petty/Allison; Wallace/Waltrip; Allison/Yarbrough? Oh sure there are outbursts like the recent Kyle Busch and Joey Logano but they swiftly cooled. The old rivalries came from intense competition for the lead, not third or fourth place, and the reason we don't have (this) is that recurrent disease called the AERO PUSH when the lead car ... Let me explain AERO PUSH. Something about these cars enable the lead car when he gets into open air to continue to take an insurmountable lead. Obviously if Kenseth is not quite as fast and through a daredevil attack passes car B will probably get passed back and then car B will soon have a 500-600 foot lead because he is riding in clear air. Now back where a bunch is fighting for 5th place there is disturbed air and this doesn't happen. This has been going along so long that the late Bill France Jr. and I would talk about back in the early 2000s. NASCAR has attacked this issue for at least 15 years and it is still with us and until it is solved we will continue to have little back and forth passing for the lead when those rivalries begin. But, whatever mystery must be solved to eliminate AERO PUSH it must be done. Granted the racing is better this year because of the segments but due to aero push how many times have you seen drivers fighting for the lead at the end of the segments? Few. Again the culprit is AERO PUSH. Personally, I believe it is because these cars are go-karts in the corner because of the massive springs that go up to 15,000 lbs compared to 600-800 not long ago; the highly sophisticated shocks that require a shock engineer and are about $5,000 apiece compared to the $60 we used just a few years ago and all of other sophisticated equipment that is entirely not needed. By returning to less expensive equipment we could eliminate the AERO PUSH and enable more racers to try the Cup series. I have found out that sometimes you can go backwards and make great progress in racing. Now the question of personalities in racing with the loss of Stewart, Gordon, Edwards and soon Earnhardt Jr., we need a new personality that will galvanize fans the way Richard Petty, Jr. Johnson, Bobby Allison and others did but to do this the sponsors must back off and let the drivers be themselves and not automatons. NASCAR can only do so much with the drivers. It is the sponsors who keep the lid on them. What about that wild man driver in the sagebrush of Texas who doesn't talk right, dress properly with the stringy hair and crooked teeth but can drive the pure wheels off any car he gets in. No way he will make it even though he might become the greatest Cup driver ever. Give that driver a chance. He might be the next Earnhardt Sr. NASCAR is clearly in a period of transition, and it's not necessarily heading in the right direction (see empty grandstands), and Humpy gets it. Let's hope the right people are listening. MIKE PRYSON - Mike Pryson covered auto racing for the Jackson (Mich.) Citizen Patriot and M-Live Media Group from 1991 until joining Autoweek as online motorsports editor In 2012. Promoted to motorsports editor in 2015.