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I was returning from an assignment this morning and I heard a discussion on satellite radio about travel expenses. Supposedly, the lodging rates for Daytona Speedweeks have become drastically more reasonable.

This is a consequence of capitalism, just as 10 years ago, the price gouging was a consequence of capitalism gone mad.

This, of course, is great news, if true. This week I’ve been talking with Clemson fans about how difficult it was for them to afford traveling to Arlington, Texas, one week and Santa Clara, Calif., the next to watch their Tigers try to win the national championship of college football.

Most who went last week to Texas are not going this week to California, and vice-versa. I talked to one man who is going to both.

If the cost of everything had gone up in the last 40 years as much as college education, health care and sports tickets, this country would be like Germany after World War I. We’d all be taking wheelbarrows full of dollar bills to the grocery store for a loaf of bread.

Apparently, the situation has gotten better. Any time the decline of NASCAR is mentioned, one of the more common excuses fans use is that it costs too much. Many may have written the sport off without realizing its very decline has had the effect of lowering rates again.

Another result of the decline is that I don’t get paid to go to the races anymore. I used to book flights and hotels early to save money. Most of us who did so were accustomed to getting phone calls later from hotels informing us that the rates had been doubled or tripled. Oft times we protested vigorously and wound up winning battles to maintain the rates we were promised when we made our reservations, but it was a hassle.

Perhaps fans still cite high costs without realizing they aren’t that high anymore.

It reminds me of one of the countless quotes attributed to the late Yogi Berra: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

The reason this strikes me as so important is that I think the people who have only a passing interest in NASCAR are mostly the ones who don’t actually go to races. TV cultivates interest, but intense fandom – after all, “fan” comes from “fanatic” – originates in the sound and thunder, the fire and smoke, the peril hanging in the air and the assault on the senses that racing of all kinds provides.

Some say the crowds are off because more people watch on TV, but if that view were valid, TV ratings would have remained high instead of declining at roughly the same rate as the crowds.

For NASCAR to recover, it’s got to get in people’s blood again. It’s still a great sport. I agree it’s not what it once was, but I still love it.