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Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Thursday April 19, 2007
NASCAR has long been known as a sport whose athletes are accessible to fans, and it is. Despite numerous sponsor demands on any given race weekend, many drivers take even more time out of their hectic schedules to meet with fans at souvenir trailers and other locations. Many teams and drivers play host to corporate guests in the pits and garage in addition to the meet â€˜n' greets in the hospitality area each week. Drivers visit with kids from Make-A-Wish and other similar organizations at the track, too. But to many fans these days, that just isn't enough.
I've heard far too many complaints from fans that a driver didn't wave to them when he drove past on a golf cart on the way somewhere. Or that he didn't sign their t-shirt/picture/assorted body parts. Or that they bought a pit pass and didn't get to meet their driver of choice. That so-and-so blew them off, that there weren't enough tickets given out for a scheduled autograph session, that the driver at the session didn't talk to them for five minutes, that he hid in the hauler until the garage was closed to fans. The list goes on. Many fans seem to feel that they are entitled to special attention from a driver or crew member.
But they are not. Race drivers, when at the track, are at work. In the office. Just like most people don't want Randy from the next cubicle popping up every five minutes to ask an irrelevant question, tell unfunny jokes, and ask if you're going to eat the chocolate bunny on your desk, teams don't want to be distracted while they are working. Their job happens to be our entertainment, and they are doing a great job of it. It's unfair to ask for, no, to demand more.
If a fan purchases a pit or garage pass from a track, even if he or she is given the holy grail-a hot pass from a team or sponsor-they are receiving the right to observe the teams in their workplace-nothing more. Even so, many drivers are amenable to fans in the garage, signing a few items if they have time, saying a quick hello. Unfortunately, it's not the ten drivers whose signatures a fan gets who you hear about-it's the one whose they didn't. Never mind that that driver was working at the time.
It isn't a fan's right to meet a particular driver, although many act like it is. Most drivers make an appearance somewhere during race week, and many of these events give out a set number of tickets for drivers' signatures ahead of time. These are claimed very quickly, and many complain that there weren't enough given out, or they were given out too early, or some such nonsense. A couple hundred autographs take up a significant chunk of time, and that driver has to sandwich that time between sponsor commitments, drivers' meetings, team meetings, and family time. A few more may not seem like a big deal, but on a tight schedule, it is. Entrance to these events is usually on a first come, first served basis, so anyone who arrived early enough to get a spot earned that spot fairly.
Should drivers acknowledge fans as they pass them on their way to a commitment? Well, probably. But just like anyone's attention can lapse when concentrating hard on some personal or professional puzzle, a driver can be mulling over something important and miss a friendly wave or hello. It doesn't make that driver a jerk, or arrogant, or an ingrate. They are human, just like the rest of us. That is all, as fans, we should ever ask them to be. Their job, driving a racecar, is taxing, and dangerous and purely for our enjoyment. Their lives are not and should not be.
Race fans have the right to view and enjoy a race with the cost of their ticket, nothing more. Ditto garage or pit passes. There is a time and a place for everything, and in their workplace on a busy workday is often not the best for meeting and/or making a request of a NASCAR driver. Fans need to remember that drivers are human beings with stressful jobs to balance with family. Fans can cheer for them, and expect then to pour their heart and soul into driving the racecar every Sunday. Nothing less, but also nothing more. Meeting and interacting with a particular driver is a truly special experience, but not one to be resentful or impolite about missing. These drivers put their lives on the line weekly for their fans-they owe them nothing more.
©2000 - 2008 Amy Henderson and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
Very good article. NASCAR fans are very passionate, and sometimes that passion results in unhealthy attitudes and expectations. Getting an autograph from any of these drivers, I don’t care who it is, is a privilege.
Right on! Great article. I hope it gets pounded into some peoples heads, but I doubt it. A year ago we had garage passes for the first time! We were overjoyed! We could not believe how fans? would chase drivers down, yelling and pushing to get something signed. What made us mad was that they all seemed to have gear from every driver to be signed. If I could have gotten close to my driver, I would have been thrilled to just get him to sign. How much of this stuff was on Ebay by Monday morning? My son and I decided to just stay out of everyones way, take some pictures and enjoy being there. Your ticket purchase entitles you to watch a race. Not have 30 minutes of “bonding” time with every driver so you can make a profit on Ebay.
In March of 1995, I stood for 3 hours in 30 degree temperatures to get an autograph. The racer was Dale Earnhardt, the article signed was an edition of Winston Cup Illustrated Magazine, January 1995, I believe. He had just won his 7th championship, and graced the cover of the magazine. It is one of my most prized possessions. Dale didn’t know me, I didn’t know him. He didn’t owe me anything. I appreciated his willingness to sign countless autographs, and listen to hundreds of stupid comments from us fans. It is a time I will never forget. Everybody thinks that he or she is special and someone famous should go out of their way to do something extra for that person. The truth is, that person does a job. It just happens to be one that garners a lot of attention, and we enjoy. End of story. If they didn’t sign an autograph or make a single personal appearance, it wouldn’t lessen them a darned bit. End of story.
I think itâ€™s amazing how fan friendly NASCAR is. Name another big league professional sport that allows the fans to get up close with the players. You can go to a base ball game and get there early for batting practice, but players never interact with the fans. Itâ€™s like the fans are invisible to them. They donâ€™t give out autographs, have fan outings, nothing. The best you get is a â€œfan appreciation dayâ€ at the end of the year, but itâ€™s just another game promoted by the ball park to get people to come out to the park.
Our drivers are gracious by interacting with the fans. To expect them to make time to personally acknowledge you, sign multiple items, have unrestricted numbers of people at an appearance is just ridiculous.
And from what was reported with â€œfansâ€ taking team helmets from a pit box, it wouldnâ€™t surprise me if, in the future, they donâ€™t stop people from entering pit road and/or the garage area.
Great article, Amy.
2 things. I write a weekly nascar column for a newspaper. the 1st race I attended with credentials was the Feb 2003 Rockingham race. I asked Jeff Burton if he had time for a question. he said “No!” and walked away. I turned and walked out of the garage into the rain. Then Burton yells, “Wait.” He comes up to me and said, “I had no right to talk to you that way. I’m sorry. What was your question?” And he stood in the rain and talked to me for 40 minutes. he got a fan that day.
At Michigan 2004 I approached the King with a question. While speaking to him a lady came up and interrupted us. Richard excused himself to me while this woman pulled out a stack of photos and started showing them to Richard. It was obvious he had no idea who she was but he stood there for about 20 minutes and made her feel like he was interested. Then he huged her and came back to me. “Gotta keep em happy,” he said with that huge grin.
These two events showcase why NASCAR fans love these guys. They are accessible BUT we have to respect them when they have work to do. simple as that. Or we will lose that accessibility.
Very well said being a race fan of Sr & Jr I’ve seen some outright rude behaviour of fans in the past. For the most part most if not all drivers will take time out to accommodate the fans when they have time. The fans these days need to realize the amount of time, effort, and concentration needed to compete let alone worrying about a fan clamouring for his or her attention.
Recent articles from Amy Henderson:
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
Fans To Decide Format of Sprint Unlimited at Daytona
UNOH and Kentucky Speedway Extend Sponsorship Agreement
Earnhardt Out For Charlotte and Kansas After Talldega Concussion
Piquet, Jr. Wins K&N East Opener
Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.