At driver introductions before every NASCAR race some drivers get booed more than others. Some don’t get booed at all. Some get cheered loudly and some don’t. Some get a good dose of both. That’s the NASCAR crowd.
Jeff Gordon understands the boo bird phenomenon as he gets plenty of cheers and boos every time he is introduced at races at least 36 times a year. Gordon recently discussed rivalries and Jimmie Johnson dominance.
“Even in football, people love to hate the dominating team out there,” Gordon said. “But in the NFL you don't see a whole lot of domination.
"I just think it depends on the rivalries and the stories. If you're dominating but you're battling a Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Tony Stewart and you build that rivalry; the good guy/bad guy kind of thing; the Ford vs. Chevy and all that sort of thing. I think the stories are still there. The interest is still there. But when you're out there dominating and nobody is really your enemy, then I think it pulls away from you a little bit.
“What we need is Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart to be butting heads and banking and trying to beat one another and talking trash, that's going to be good television.”
Recent NASCAR rivalries have resulted more than just spirited verbal exchanges, high speed airborne crashes like Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski at Atlanta have dominated motorsports news. NASCAR announced at the 2010 Charlotte Media Tour that they were going to let the drivers police themselves, a “have at it” policy. It’s very likely they didn’t mean crash your adversary at will so Edwards did go beyond that with his deliberate nudge.
Edwards drives a Ford, Keselowski drives a Dodge, but Ryan Newman sees rivalries between teammates as substantial discord.
“I think it has the biggest potential for conflict of all things we do in NASCAR, any teammate is a competitor,” Newman said. “That sense of pressure I guess, especially with the extra hype now with the Chase and everything else, it makes it a higher level of potential for that conflict on the racetrack.
“I think that's the biggest reason why. You got the same equipment. You got the same a lot of things. The biggest difference is your results. That creates a little internal rivalry at times.”
Keselowski has probably drawn more ire than Edwards as a track foe in the past with aggressive driving angering Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch among others, but drivers are expected to compete. In the aftermath of the Atlanta episode, NASCAR responded with a three race probation period for Edwards. They were very concerned about the car getting airborne at a mile and half track and will study that data over and over. Both drivers will undergo a face-to-face session with team owners present.
The Edwards/ Keselowksi crash ignited many passions pro and con and probably took away from the exciting victory by Kurt Busch at Atlanta. Maybe even boo birds were busy taking new sides.
Busch gets his share of boos still, but there is nothing like winning to attract a larger fan base. That won’t silence boo birds, but increasing cheers is a good way to improve introduction moments. Busch commented on fan perception and media focus.
“I’ve always tried to make everyone’s job in the media center easy by giving good answers, but sometimes that will hurt you as well,” Busch said. “The other night, the NASCAR officials didn’t chuckle like everyone did when I gave that quote that I was making too many laps in the ambulance versus the racetrack. The track safety guys took it as, ‘What is Kurt complaining about? Did we take too long to get him to the infield care center?’ Sometimes things get misconstrued when it comes out of my mouth and maybe I haven’t connected to the race fans out there as easily as I should.
“I love racing. I’m a racer at heart. I’ve come from nothing, very humble beginnings. My story is the same as anyone out there sitting in the grandstands except I got a unique opportunity to drive a race car when I was 17 years old. Back in Las Vegas a guy called me up to go race his Late Model, but years before that I was sitting in the grandstands at Las Vegas Motor Speedway watching races. I was at Phoenix International Raceway watching races. My dad and grandfather went to the Milwaukee Mile year after year watching races. I was just a spectator, but I got a unique opportunity to drive a race car.”
Authentic boo birds have to respect those words, even if they won’t let it alter their throaty tone.