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.
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