NASCAR'S Negative Fan Bases: Good or Bad for the Sport?

Roberta CowanContributor INovember 9, 2009

TALLADEGA, AL - APRIL 26:  Fans watch race action at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 26, 2009 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Shortly after this weeks Nascar Race at Texas, I started surfing the various racing sites and Twitter. I expected to find a lot of banter about Kyle Busch's attempt at the trifecta. I expected to find a lot of banter over the shift in the points with the unfortunate wreck involving Jimmie Johnson on Lap three. What I wasn't quite prepared for was the negative comments about Jimmie Johnson and others in the field.

The negative comments abound. Everything from cheering at the time of the 48's accident, something that is totally inappriopriate. To wishing difficulty to the 18, 2, 24, 88, 42, 11, 5 etc. It made me stop and think; is this really good for the sport?

The answer is yes and no. The passion of Nascar's fans is what has kept it alive through the hard times, financially, and situationally. Nascar fans are more loyal than any other fans to their teams and drivers. The vast amount of money spent on merchandise alone is staggering. With some drivers showing six digits in earnings per race, their devotion to their drivers and their sponsors is so legendary, that it is the sole reason that corporate America continues to court Nascar teams and drivers in an economy that is devastated by unemployment and corporate collapse.

Perhaps the best of example of that loyalty is Dale Earnhardt Jr. Although he is suffering through a miserable season of bad luck, mechanical failures, personnell changes, and driver and team errors, his following only seems to be growing. The group known as Jr. Nation, still makes up a big part of the Nascar audience. Much to the disapproval of the followers of other drivers, Jr. Nation remains loyal to their driver and his team.

Although vocal about their wishes sometimes to the point of distraction, they remain steadfast. Many have stated that it is that group of devoted followers that caused Rick Hendrick to pursue the six time Most Popular Driver in the first place. No matter how unlikely that statement is, it gives one cause to ponder with the season of heartbreak that the driver has had.

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That loyalty doesn't just exist at the souvenir trailers. It exists on message boards and electronic communications across the internet. Their favorite target is Kyle Busch. Nascar's bad boy has a following that rivals Jr. Nation in every way. From sales and devotion, to words and emotions, with members dropping folks off of communcation lists simply because they cheer for the other driver, heated exchanges over negative comments about their driver and ugly parodies typed antagonistically to provoke the others following.

Strong, passionate words are used like hate, despise, numerous explertives and personal attacks on the drivers themselves. The drivers themselves for the most part stay out of the frey. Except on the rare occasions they feel the need to defend their supporters. In one such incident Dale Jr referred to his fans as "Good people who would handle themselves."

Obviously, the standard by which a great many of Nascar's fans judge a driver, Earnhardt Jr stated, "It's not good for the sport for anyone to call out the fans." And for the most part, it would make sense that would be true if you wanted to continue to have a job. But then again, some of the statements made are seriously ugly and negative.

I read numerous posts this evening of people who actually cheered when Jimmie Johnson wrecked on lap three. This type of behavior is unacceptable. It was unacceptable when it was done to Kyle Busch earlier in the year, and it was unacceptable when it was done to Dale Jr last year. To quote Ryan Newman, "If you are here to see wrecks, you don't belong here."

In the last 10 years, we have seen serious and life ending injuries result from wrecks that appeared to be minor. And minor if any injuries in wrecks that seemed life threatening. To cheer when any type of wreck occurs brings to question whether you are a fan or whether you are simply there to see carnage. If the later is the case, then Mr. Newman is correct you don't belong here.

Nascar fans passion however, is the life blood of the sport. If not for the rivalries' between teams, drivers, and fan bases there would be little excitement between races and the much dreaded off season. Nascar promotes this rivalry with their media coverage and exposure. Kyle Busch is the bad boy of Nascar; Dale Jr is the darling.

Jimmie Johnson is the vanilla, but charasmatic champion who walks the line of what is professional and appropriate. It is the game of personalities that is utlitzed by every smart sports marketing group in the business. From the NFL, NBA, MLB as well as professional sports entertainment organziations who have perfected the concept.

The fans passions light up the message boards and the merchandise trailers cash registers. In their eyes, their foes have earned their wrath either by their actions towards or their lack of acknowledgement of the fans, or a wrong delivered toward their favorite driver. These passions are not always directed at other drivers, often they are directed at team members and crew chiefs to be exact.

Two very prominent victims this year: Tony Eury Jr and Steve Addington. Their crime, their drivers didn't win and didn't perform to the standards the fan base believed them capable. Lets be fair here, history supported that assertion on both counts.

Although the negativity that is sometimes expressed in their passion is disconcerting at times, it is an accurate gauge of the success of the sport and how it has grown. That passion will continue to fuel the growth of the sport much as Sunco's high test fuels the engines of the drivers that have earned the passionate embrace of the fans.

White hats, black hats, good guys, bad guys it doesn't actually matter at the end of the day. All of these drivers are among the 43 best in the world at what they do. Just as you and I see and do things differently, so do they. Nothing will change that. One can only hope that should the unthinkable actually occur, God forbid, that same passion would be directed toward supporting that driver's fan base, family, and team.

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