The Frontstretch: It's Better To Be Marketable Than Good by Amy Henderson -- Thursday September 13, 2007

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It's Better To Be Marketable Than Good

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Thursday September 13, 2007


Remember, not to long ago when NASCAR was a well-mixed blend of veterans and younger guys? Me too. And it occurred to me how much that's changed recently with the influx of corporate sponsors who want more bang for their buck. Very young drivers were once a minority-it was not unusual for a driver to begin a career in the top series at age 30 or older. But not any more.

It's a rather disturbing trend that has veteran drivers being shoved aside for youngsters who have yet to prove they have the talent to belong at NASCAR's upper echelon. They certainly don't have the experience. Even if they have raced from the time they were five years old, the upper levels of NASCAR are not the place to learn the sport. But the sponsors don't seem to care.

If a driver is young enough to sell to the all-important 18-34 demographic and good looking enough to make the teenage girls swoon, it seems as if a ride is virtually guaranteed, regardless of the fact that a large part of the airtime the sponsor gets is often the marketable young driver hitting the wall-or causing someone else to hit it instead.

Now call me crazy, but how exactly is that marketable? (Although even I have to admit there is a certain irony about the AAA car creating the need for an awful lot of tow trucks this year!) When did looks become more important than talent, drive, and experience? If I were looking to dump several million dollars into the paint job on a racecar, I'd want a driver who isn't only going to get airtime when wrecking someone more popular. I'd want it on a driver with miles under his belt, especially if I were investing in a team capable of contending for wins every week from the get-go.

Meanwhile there are a host of talented drivers with proven track records and scores of fans settling for any ride they can find-if they can find one at all. Sterling Marlin, Ken Schrader, Joe Nemechek, Kenny Wallace, and Ward Burton are casualties of no longer looking like David Ragan, David Gilliland, J.J Yeley, Brian Vickers, or AJ Allmendinger. These veterans have 23 Cup wins between them. The young guys listed? One. Taking into account that Wallace never had a great ride for more than a few races and Burton only ever drove for a mid-level team at best; while all the young guys, with the exception if Allmendinger, have raced for the sport's top organizations, it's hard to fathom the sponsors' insistence on the younger list.

And it isn't as though none of those drivers have a large fan base. All five have many fans and have had stellar relationships with sponsors. None are wreck magnets or get bad press for…well, for anything. All five have proven themselves in the Busch and Cup ranks. Obviously my degree is not in marketing because…I don't get it. Why on Earth would looks be more important to a sponsor than talent? Sure there are good looking, talented, winning drivers, but what gives?

Makes you wonder what would have happened to the likes of Benny Parsons, Buddy Baker, Dave Marcis, and others had they been entering the twilight of their careers in this new era of marketability. It wouldn't have been good for racing then, and it isn't good for racing now. It must pad some pockets somewhere, but not having the number of solid veterans in top rides in the series as there once was, simply hurts the racing. Where a veteran can find or make a hole, relying on experience and respect, a youngster may not be able to.

And then the wrecking starts. Not to mention, the young guys used to have to learn and earn respect from the veterans who surrounded them on track every week. Now many of them seem to take for granted that someone will move for them simply because they are the Next Big Thing-and it doesn't work that way. Maybe it's simply a microcosm of our own society, where people seem to feel they're entitled these days, but it translates into stupid moves and avoidable crashes on the racetrack. Nobody benefits from this type of racing, but it's only going to get worse.

I don't watch racing to look at all the cute drivers in commercials. I watch racing to watch racing. And I want the best drivers to be doing it. Even if teenage girls don't squeal over every driver (Even IF?! More like thank goodness they finally shut UP!), the racing is (or at least WAS) the point. Good racing is marketable. Yet another DNQ or DNF might net you some airtime and another shot of a cute face on TV-but it doesn't buy credibility for the team or driver. If the trend continues, I can image lots of NASCAR fans sitting on the porch with their grandkids, saying "Back in MY day the drivers had this one little thing. It was called talent. But wow, your guy, Bob Wrecksalot, he sure is cute on TV!"

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09/14/2007 07:44 AM

It is quite obvious that the cautions records are being broken right and left and most of it isn’t NASCAR’s infamous debris cautions. It is because of the inexperience of the “young guns.” Frankly, most of these guys don’t do a thing for me. They have no personality and about the only thing they know is to constantly hawk their sponsor’s wares. There is little excitement in NASCAR other than their little weekly petty spats that todays fans seem to think are the norm. That is not to say that those things didn’t happen a few years ago, but they were rarely a weekly thing. I was just reading Jayski and thinking, “why such a big fuss over who Jr’s sponsor will be?” You can subsitute any other name. In the past, we cared little about who the sponsor would be. They came and went with little notice. Now, it is all about money and the the focus is on who the sponsor will be and what driver the sponsor will choose. The other night on Letterman, with the exception of Stuart and Burton, the top 12 were simply a bunch of look alike baby faces.

09/14/2007 07:47 AM

‘When did looks become more important than talent, drive, and experience?’

A ‘The world is full of shallow people who value style over substance’ – Scott Addams, creator of Dilbert

Mark Rubley
09/14/2007 09:03 AM

Now All we $eriously Care About is Revenue – NA$CAR….. has lost the greatness is once was. Their desire now is not to put on a great race, but to put pretty faces in a racecar. Go back and look at some of the great drivers – Petty – Martin- Wallce – Waltrip (the elder)- Parsons – the brothers Allison -to mention just a few. They were hard workers, hard racers and not just a pretty face in a pretty racecar. NA$CAR and the owners have let the true base of the sport get away. But maybe it’s just that, a product of our society. Too bad, racing used to be fun. Turn out the lights and someone please don’t forget to bring the flag.

Mike C
09/14/2007 10:19 AM

Very astute article. Form over substance. That would be the current NASCAR. The racing is now considered a marketing tool. The show isn’t important, it’s just a way to get people to the track or to the television so they can be bombarded with advertising. If NASCAR could figure out a way to capture the fans attention for three or four hours without having a race at all , believe me there would be no race.It tends to interupt the commercials. They have become nothing more than a conduit from the advertisers to the fans.

09/14/2007 11:50 AM

Being marketable is way way more important then talent. Just look at JR and kyle busch. Thats a perfect example of a marketable driver with lesser talant taking the ride a proven driver with limitless talent.

Mike C
09/14/2007 12:45 PM

You have to keep in mind that sponsors who decide to come into NASCAR are usually unaware of how the sport operates. So the 26 year old marketing department underling at NASCAR leads the new sponsor along with the best way to utilize their ad money. The underling has no idea that there is anyone other than the young good looking driver in NASCAR because he doesn’t particularly like the loud cars , and doesn’t make an effort to understand the sport. Thus the sponsor just believes that the young drivers are the only marketable drivers in the sport. Other advertisers follow that lead because they fear they might be left out , and so the owners can’t get new sponsors unless they can put a young driver in the car. Older drivers just keep getting pushed closer to the edge of the cliff. Makes a true race fan want to cry.

09/14/2007 06:16 PM

Wow Mike C.
You have to keep in mind that sponsors who decide to come into NASCAR are usually unaware of how the sport operates.

No Mike. Nobody gets into something that costs tens of millions of dollars of the company’s money without having a pretty good knowledge of what they are getting into.

Underling at NASCAR that doesn’t understand NASCAR? That’s a sports marketing job according to you. Not exactly the same as your job-of-the-week worker.


Janet H
09/15/2007 01:47 AM

It would be great for true race fans if Nascar would allow the drivers to RACE, not just drive around the tracks. Now it seems that if a car touches another car or tries 2-wide or 3-wide racing, in most cases, there will be a penalty. I don’t want to see wrecks and most definitely not injuries, but I would really love to see some “old-time” racing excitement EVERY race, not once or twice a season. It’s the RACING excitement we want!


Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

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Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.