NASCAR In Our Day—Have We Been Reduced to Fair-Weather Fans?

Tanya TaylorCorrespondent IJanuary 18, 2009

I obsess about NASCAR.  It may seem an unhealthy habit to some, but it’s an adrenaline rush to me.  

I go into a slight phase of depression during off-season and literally go into, what best can be described as a sugar high, when I arrive at the track.   Race Days are MY days. 

I don’t talk work, school, family; I don’t even discuss what’s for dinner – only racing talk is allowed.    I cannot be the only one, but sometimes I feel alone in my ways of thinking.

Talking to my friends and co-workers, I just don’t see the same enthusiasm or fixation that I have.  The excitement level seems to fading with many of them and I am finding it harder to actual carry-on an intelligent conversation about the race with anyone anymore.  

Conversations with my peers are focused on how someone did Dale Jr. wrong, Kyle Busch is just a punk or Jeff Gordon has lost his guts for racing.  Small meaningless talk for a true diehard race fan, but sometimes I have to settle.  

It started me contemplating why so many fans are becoming detached to the true NASCAR.

1.  No relate ability?   I hear it from fans a lot.   There is no driver out there to relate too.  The days of Dale Sr. are gone and today’s drivers are multi-millionaires with giant houses, 100K cars and private jets.  

I don’t think the fact that these guys make the money actually bothers the fans; it’s that some of them walk around like they are worth that amount of money.    It reminds of a story that my boss told me. 

He received a garage pass and during that time, he was a Kasey Kahne fan.   Kasey wasn’t engrossed in a conversation with anyone or had his hands full, he was just standing around. 

When my boss tried to approach him, a young lady (which he could only assume was a PR person) stepped in between Kasey and him.  My boss asked if he could get an autograph and the lady turned to Kasey to make sure that was okay.  He shook his head and the lady motioned for him to leave.  

Another time, I was in Nashville attending a Nationwide race when Carl Edwards came out of the garage area down “fan row”.  As hundreds of his fans yelled for him, he turned his head and kept on walking – no wave, no smile, no nothing. 

Drivers don’t have to act “stuck up” to not be relatable to fans.  Just looking through Jeff Gordons website in his Fab 5section, he list some his favorite magazines as Robb Report – Luxury Homes, Yacht International and Conde Nast Traveller. 

Besides the fact he’s married to a supermodel that probably wouldn’t look twice at him if he didn’t do what he does, or the fact that he charges over $100.00 for a bottle of wine that most of his fans couldn’t (or wouldn’t) be able to afford just pushes him further away from those fans that have spent their life supporting this sport.   

I don’t mean to just pick on Jeff, just turn on CMT and check out the new episode of Cribs.   Did you see Kevin Harvick"s pad? 

Don’t know about you guys, but if someone came to my house, they’d see blankets on the couch, snacks on the table and dogs running through my yard.    The house seemed like something I’d see in an issue of Homes & Garden magazine, not the home of a NASCAR driver.   

I was excited when I heard they were featuring Kevin, Denny and Kyle’s homes, but is it really how they live?   I wanted to see the guys hanging out with friends, NOT Miss Hawaiian Tropic, playing poker, maybe some Nascar 09 on the X-Box, having a cook-out, tearing down some cars.. something that made them seem real.  

I started thinking about the thousands of fans that have been hit hard by the economy.  Was that just another blow to their pride? 

2.  Nothing to cheer for? Or no one to boo for?   I can remember a time where Dale Jr. fans would NEVER be the same as Jeff Gordon fans.  Where there would be no way Jr. would leave his fathers team and head to the enemy team (team Hendrick). 

Well, that day has come and gone - So have the days of true rivalry.  Fans got excited to see the confrontation between Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick last season, but it was short lived as they made up on Tony Stewart Live at the end of the season.   

Although getting along and loving each other may be the most politically correct thing to do, it just isn’t fun for the fans! Keep in mind that wrestling has lasted so long due to the antics, rivalries and drama.

3.  To root for the team or the driver.   With drivers switching teams on a whim, teams having to disassemble or merge just to keep going, it is hard to have and hold onto loyalties.   

Many fans couldn’t imagine a season without a Petty or Earnhardt team, and although the names will probably live in for years, it’s just not the same.  Now it’s Earnhardt-Ganassi racing with no Earnhardt racing under the banner and being led by the likes of one Juan-Pablo Montoya.  

Same goes for the soon to be merged Petty Enterprises with Gillette-Evernham Motorsports.   Kyle Petty was released during the negotiations which left a team of up and comers like Kahne, Sorrenson and Allmindinger.   

This year I am feeling the struggle to maintain my love of Joe Gibbs Racing with the addition of young Joey Logano.   The struggle for me comes from team Gibbs passing on some great drivers that were in a need of a ride for someone who, I personally feel, hasn’t put in his dues to be a Sprint Cup Racer.  I hear that other fans struggle with the same issues.

4.  Talking about dues – where are the boys that work on their cars and then go out and drive them?  They are a dying breed.   You just wonder how much some of these guys really know about cars anyway.  

5. The semi-ugly beast of corporate NASCAR.  I understand the need for high dollar corporate sponsors to keep NASCAR running smoothly, pay those outrageous salaries and to make it more widely available to a wider larger audience, but there are some downsides to the corporate influence. 

First of all, since money is so important, some drivers are being kept around only because of their marketability, not their driving ability, while many drivers are passed over for rides because they are virtually unknown.  A good example is the recent situation with Elliott Sadler.  

Elliot has fans that will always follow him, yet his less than average performances should have forced Gillette to kick him to the curve and replaced him with another driver that has some potential.   Well, we all saw how long that lasted.   

Same goes for Casey Mears.  Mears couldn’t keep up with his teammates for one of the top teams so how is he going to make it at an organization that does not have the same resources?  

Corporate NASCAR forces drivers to speak with the reporters and crews of TV, radio and print media, but also prevents the drivers from saying what they really think.   They have to be more careful on what they say as not to offend sponsors that are keeping them in operation.   Watching some of those post race interviews seem so rehearsed.

So what can be done to keep the loyal fans and to broaden a loyal fan base?   That’s what they hire those big boys as NASCAR marketing for.   Once they get that figured out, the better the sport will be.

Just a personal note to the drivers:   I know you get tired of fans walking up to you, asking for photos and autographs and gawking at you like you’re a new species that has just been discovered, but coming from a fan that spends 80% of her vacation savings each year on NASCAR races, pit passes, hospitality passes and buying countless unneeded NASCAR memorabilia, please treat fans with some respect. 

I will never forget the kindness that Greg Biffle showed me during my first pit road visit.   During that time, I was struggling for money, but still managed to come up with the over $100.00 needed to purchase a pit road pass just so I could get as close as I could. 

After qualifying, he pulled up and jumped up out of his car.   I was so excited since I was wearing my #16 hat and really thought if I ever had the chance to meet Greg, I would tell him what a wonderful man he was for supporting the animals through his foundation since that is where my heart lies too. 

I finally conjured up the nerve to walk up to him, only to spit out the words “would you mind signing my hat?” I actually interrupted him speaking to his crew and could have easily ignored me or said no, but he turned around and signed my hat with a smile. 

It made me feel so wonderful and it didn’t matter if I saw anything else the rest of the day.   My point being – you never know if that fan may have spent their dinner money to be able to afford a pass to a race, or maybe that day is the only day of the year they were able to get out an enjoy themselves from their lives of working 2 full-time jobs just to keep food on their tables. 

It is amazing what kind of influence you may have on someone’s life today.  You never have to apologize for what you have, where you live or what you drive, just remember that we are all family, part of the human family and each of us deserve to give and receive respect from each other. 


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