NASCAR Needs Another Way to Skin a "Digger"

Mary Jo BuchananSenior Writer IMay 7, 2009

You've heard the saying, "there must be a better way to skin a cat," often used when someone is trying to find an alternative solution to a problem.  Well, in a slight parody of the saying, NASCAR needs to find another way to skin a "Digger."

If you are a NASCAR fan, you have seen the "Digger."  Introduced by Fox Sports in their television coverage of the sport, Digger first appeared as a scared little gopher popping out of a hole on the race track.

The "gopher cam" was designed to provide a unique camera angle for racing, right there in a hole on the track.  The critter innocently pops out, only to have to leap back into his hole as the race cars zoom over him.

Admittedly, it was kind of cute at first.  And the camera angle was amazing, allowing the viewer the sensation of having the tires practically running right over you.

But the gopher popped up more and more frequently and Darrell Waltrip, legendary NASCAR driver and Fox Sports analyst, decided that a contest should be held to name the little creature.

Fans weighed in and affectionately named the vermin "Digger."  And with his new name in place, Digger began to pop up even more frequently during the Fox telecast.

DW, never one to pass up a marketing opportunity, helped Fox launch an entire line of Digger products.  This season, the critter even comes with an entire family and a cartoon at the beginning of each race broadcast.

Fox Sports chairman David Hill makes no bones about it.  Digger is all about "developing another revenue stream" and hopefully attracting a whole new audience to the race broadcast.

Digger pals Annie, who is actually named after Hill's daughter, and villain Lumpy Wheels are all part of Fox's new cartoon extravaganza.   Hill says Fox may also air the cartoons during any red flag conditions on the race track, saying "What better way to break the tedium than Digger?"

Fan reviews of the Digger have been mixed, some hating the critter popping up at inopportune moments in the race.  Yet others, particularly parents with young children have found that this is a great way to get their kids involved in watching the race.

Yes, the Digger has now become the best way to attract the next generation of NASCAR fans.  Or is there another way to skin this Digger?

There certainly must be at least a few better ways to grow new NASCAR viewership and make it attractive to our youth.  Many NASCAR race tracks have indeed faced this challenge head on, coming up with several good alternatives to Digger.

One Digger option that has been developed is the brainchild of Marilouise "Looie" McNally, the eldest daughter of Dr. Rose and Doc Mattioli at Pocono Raceway. 

In an effort to attract more children to the track, she developed an innovative partnership with the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, an untapped market for the Raceway.

Pocono Raceway began to sponsor a Race Day at the Franklin Institute.  Children could go to the Institute to learn more about the technology of racing, weaving the science involved into the excitement of being at the track.

Children at the Franklin Institute participated in all kinds of activities relating to racing.  There were many contests and the child who won the grand prize had the opportunity to come to Pocono Raceway to give the command "Gentlemen, start your engines" at the beginning of the ARCA Re/Max race at the track.

This is just one of the more intelligent ways that Pocono Raceway is trying to attact children to NASCAR racing.  In the 2009 race season, the track is undertaking a new initiative, Kid's Day at Pocono Raceway.

The track will feature free grandstand tickets to the ARCA Re/Max race, as well as free admission to the Cup practice sessions that day.  There will be special kids' activities in the pavilion space, as well as autograph sessions with NASCAR drivers and the opportunity to ride in a race simulator.

Pocono Raceway plans to offer over 10,000 general admission tickets for this promotion.  They are also making Kid's Day available to special needs children and will have volunteers on hand to assist in making this initiative possible.

So, move over Digger.  Pocono Raceway is just one track offering  a few, more intelligent ways to attract the next generation of NASCAR fandom. 

Yes, NASCAR, there are indeed other ways to skin that Digger!