The Frontstretch: What Kind of Fan Will You Be? An Open Letter to NASCAR Fans by Amy Henderson -- Monday February 8, 2010

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What Kind of Fan Will You Be? An Open Letter to NASCAR Fans

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Monday February 8, 2010


Dear Race Fans,

I suppose the 2010 season has officially kicked off. The Budweiser Shootout, at least, is behind us and in a scant three days, the field for the Daytona 500 will be set. The whole season – 38 weeks’ worth of racing – stretches ahead in front of us. But there are no points winners yet, and nobody has succumbed to mechanical failure and heartache. It all feels like new, and anything can happen as the eternal optimism of a clean slate lies before us.

However, it’s not going to be a perfect year – far from it. The issues and problems that NASCAR is facing did not go away during the offseason, no matter what you might have heard. The race tracks on the schedule, the teams at the top of the pecking order, and the Chase and the top 35 rule have not changed.

Still, the weight of those issues shouldn’t alter the fact this season feels like new. It feels fresh every year when spring comes to Daytona Beach, in full bloom before it arrives in the rest of the country a month later. Hope springs eternal in tandem with the weather, and there’s a sense of anticipation that will not be felt at any other time this year.

But if you’re not feeling that way … then something’s different inside of you. For some, it will never be the same as it once was – too much has changed, gone wrong, been fixed with a Band-Aid instead of a body cast, and will never be the same again.

That’s understandable. I see it every day: the “fixes” that haven’t worked, paired with fans’ frustration over a Chase system that just doesn’t seem to want to listen. This sport’s gotten too big, too fast, and cannot go back to the smaller, more intimate circle of friends in many respects. There is no Fountain of Youth: no matter what happens from this point forward, NASCAR cannot recover its innocence any more than anyone else can.

Sure, you have every reason and right to be bitter. It hurts to see the sport move further every day from its tradition-steeped roots, to know once-thriving racetracks lie dormant, and to watch drivers be pushed aside for younger ones, especially when it’s clear that their ability to race hasn’t diminished. It’s no easier to witness talented young drivers stand on the sidelines as some with less potential take up spots with a name, the family business sponsoring the car, or a pretty face. It’s hard not to be bitter in times where the rides go to those with the dollars – not the driving expertise.

Maybe, you have watched less and less as the years have taken the sport further from what it was in the beginning. While some changes were necessary (surely no fan begrudges anyone the safety advances the decades have brought), others seemed simply an attempt to make the racing something it is not and has never been. Many of you are leaving something behind that you barely recognize anymore.

But others haven’t been fans that long. You never really saw the sport until it was thrown into the mainstream, and you were transfixed at first. All that color and sound and speed – everyone around you, it seemed, wanted to watch this once fast-growing sport. Just not anymore; and now, like many trends before, you’re losing interest, as the racing isn’t enough to make you want to stay home on Sunday.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that February day, nine years ago now, when, for numerous fans, the sport as you knew it ended with a last-lap crash that took one of the sport’s most popular personalities – and one of its greatest drivers as well. For those fans that lived through it, things have never been quite the same since that day. It took a long time before I stopped looking for that black No. 3 on the racetrack, and I often wonder how the sport would be now if things had turned out differently.

For all those reasons and more, for all types of fans it’s just not the same – and it never will be. So, what now? Does that mean that any of you, whether you have followed the sport for six years or sixty, should stop wanting it to be better? No. The moment fans stop wishing for change is the moment that change will cease to happen. But despite your best efforts, some things will not change, and there is nothing you can do about that. In fact, many things should not change, because they keep the drivers safer, and that is something you need to accept.

So where do we go from here? As the new season starts, race fans, I ask one thing of you. Don’t try to take the optimism I have for the new season from me (however misguided it may prove to be). Don’t try to take that from anybody – it should come from inside yourself. And as hard as it may be to watch sometimes, as bitter as you may be (and as I said before, with good reason), please don’t get down on those if us who want to believe that NASCAR can and will get better. That hope is what carries us through, in good times and bad, during this nine-month marathon. Be as pessimistic as you want, but don’t attempt to make everyone feel like you do. I still love the sport, despite the bruising it has given my heart on many occasions. That does not mean that I am a fan of the sanctioning body or the way they run things. That, in turn, doesn’t mean that I won’t applaud them when praise is due. I may be a member of the media, but I don’t have a company line to toe. Like many fans, I love racing. I will not, nor should I be expected to, apologize for that.

As the new season begins, remember that every driver is tied for first in points. So spend at least double the time you take putting down other drivers to cheer for your guy instead. Most drivers don’t care if you talk trash about their competition, but it means more than you know for them to hear that people are pulling for their success. Remember, the fan sitting next to you isn’t a bad person because he or she cheers for a driver you don’t like. In fact, he or she has more in common with you than you give them credit for. That person loves the sport, too, and believes in their driver enough to be there in the stands along with you. So use your energy to cheer your guy home – energy spent on hoping some other driver has a bad day is simply wasted.

All NASCAR fans, large and small, will have some big decisions to make on how to react as the 2010 season unfolds. Which path will you choose?

The bottom line in this life is that you have two choices about any situation that comes your way: make the best of it and realize that this, too, shall pass, or complain and do nothing else until you drive yourself mad with anger and hurt feelings. Some fans choose the former, and still enjoy what they can in the sport. Those fans hope for change and want things to be better, but they still watch, dream, and cheer for their driver to cross the finish line first. But others select the latter path, and some of those seem to be supremely unhappy unless you can drag the rest of us down with you: berating the sport (often correctly, but also often misguidedly), degrading others for their optimism, and booing other drivers more than you cheer for your favorite.

Race fans, as 2010 begins, I hope that the racing is better than in 2009, whatever your definintion of “better” may be. I hope that you find the excitement that you once saw in the sport, or that the excitement has never dwindled. I hope your driver crosses the finish line first. But as the year unfolds, your reactions to adversity are defined solely by what’s within each of you – not with NASCAR, not with the race tracks, and not with any driver in the field.

So the next time the chips are down, I hope that you will ask yourself, what kind of race fan am I? And what kind of fan do I really want to be?

I hope you make the right choices.

Happy 2010,


Contact Amy Henderson

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Bad Wolf
02/08/2010 02:02 AM

I’m the same angry fan I have been since the advent of Fox taking the broadcasts to the lowest common denominator. The same fan who has utter contempt for the Child King Brain France. I am the same fan who longs for a return of a real stock based race car. I am the same fan who hates seeing another media phenomanon (Princess Penelope Patrick) foisted on the sport in the quest for growing ratings at the expense of actual known talent.

I am one of the angry fans who has made Nascar at least take a look and think about un-doing some of the boneheaded changes they have instituted. I am one of the angry fans who will stay angry until more is done to reverse the inept changes made by Brian France.

Without angry fans change does not happen. If all fans put fingers in their ears and sang LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA so as not to hear any criticism of the sport thinking all is sunshine a lollypops the product on the track would continue to get worse. We disgruntled fans do a service to the sport, and someday you will thank us.

02/08/2010 07:07 AM

You said it all Bad Wolf!!!Well said!

02/08/2010 07:30 AM

If you don’t like NASCAR then don’t watch. Which begs the question: why would a NASCAR columnist write an article geared towards an audience that doesn’t like NASCAR?

If NASCAR is so bad – why are there record number lead changes in races, closer margins of victory, more competative teams, and more HP and speed than ever before?

And if you hate the chase – watch the Nationwide Series. See how exciting THAT points battle is.

02/08/2010 08:24 AM

Bad Wolf has said it all!! And like last year, DansMom has not learned a thing…..

02/08/2010 08:24 AM

“It’s hard not to be bitter in times where the rides go to those with the dollars – not the driving expertise.”

Not many drivers out there with more expertise than Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. And – if NASCAR really targeted drivers with expertise, they’d try to get some IRL and CART drivers – oh, yeah they already do.

Kevin in SoCal
02/08/2010 03:41 PM

I happen to agree with DansMom on this. The Cup points battle has been closer in the last couple of years with the Chase than the Nationwide and Truck battle has been without the Chase. (except for 2008 between Hornday and Benson). Last year we knew Hornaday and Busch were going to win by September. The Cup battle was just getting started in September.

02/08/2010 04:34 PM

Hey dansmom. According to the tv stats alone about 30 million less fans watched nas$car last year. That’s why we’re seeing some changes. Hopefully we’ll some more reverse changes in the near future. For you to tell me, a nas$car fan for 30+ years, to tell me to watch something else if I don’t like it, you obviously don’t get the point. All we want is good racing. And with the rules changes this year and the deletion of the wing soon, we’ll get it. I don’t know your age (never ask women their age), but I hope you’re not a new fangled fans of just a few years. If so, I can’t take you seriously at all. We’re all entitled to our opinions whether you like it or not. I’m actually optimistic this year which I haven’t been in a while, but I reserve and deserve to say whatever I want about the state of nas$car.

02/08/2010 04:42 PM

Let me add this. Before Saturday I was very skeptical of Danica Patrick coming to nas$car. I wondered how she would be able to handle a big nas$car type vehicle as opposed to an indy car. She impressed me enough to arouse my curiousity and not in the way that the go daddy commercials are supposed to. She deserves any cudos she gets for her debut. I’m still not totally sold on her, but this is a step in the right direction. Go girl!

02/08/2010 08:01 PM

I won’t begrudge anyone their optimism for the start of the new season.
Get rid of Brian France, the Chase, the COT, and the Top 35, and I may get optimistic too. This is not “longing for the past”, this is longing for a true racing series, not a show. But I guess there’s hope. Danica’s here to save the sport for all of us.

02/08/2010 08:33 PM

This new feeling is the same every year. 2009 was a bad year they can’t take it back they know it we know so they should stop defending it. They know what we want and have heard what we are complaining about so they should fix it. Na$car should stop the arrogance that they know what we want more than we do. They know the fixes they just won’t do it.

Brian France Sucks
02/09/2010 05:55 PM

As usual Kevin in SoCal is drinking the France Kool-Aid. You left out the part about how two years ago the Cup points would’ve been much closer with the old system than the farcical Chase. Also left out the part about how the media coverage has devolved in concert with the Chase. As well as revenue. All of the goofballs who think everything is swell as it is have no concept of what NASCAR was or could be without inept leaders like Kim Jong France at the helm. The whole reason that FRANCECAR is changing rules is due to the fact that they’ve alienated a large percentage of their historical fan-base to chase fickle soccer moms/dads with reality-themed broadcasts and lame cartoon characters. Now they need us back because the numbnuts in charge is ruining the bottom line. You optimistic fans can thank us naysayers for the mediocre, albeit improved action this year. Don’t forget to purchase your Digger dolls and t-shirts.


Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
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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.