Summer Bedgood · Wednesday June 22, 2011
It goes without saying that NASCAR is in somewhat of a drought right now. Even with ratings slowly on the rise again and grandstands still drawing large crowds, the economic slump has hit the sport just as hard as its core demographic, and the numbers show it.
Yet one thing still remains: NASCAR fans are still some of the most loyal, passionate, fun-loving fans in all of sports. Oh, sure, there are those that say they are “leaving the sport” forever for a variety of reasons (Chase, lack of brand identity, NASCAR losing its roots, etc.), but most of them still can’t help but stop and watch the remaining few laps of the race or checking the headlines (here at Frontstretch for instance!) to see what’s going on. This isn’t something that someone with a masters in project management can set up; loyalty and passion comes from within.
Not to mention the multitude of fans who still tune in each and every week, watching the countless hours of coverage which includes practice sessions, qualifying, and the race itself across all three series from February to September. And even though the crowds may look small due to the large amount of seats most of the racetracks boast, the numbers are still enough to make most sporting events blush.
Even if fans are disenchanted with NASCAR, though, there is one element that keeps them coming back for more each and every weekend: the drivers.
If fans aren’t specifically loyal to NASCAR itself, they are most certainly loyal to their favorite drivers and the sponsors that seem to encompass every nook and cranny of the racecars (if they’re one of the lucky ones, anyway). It doesn’t take a person with an MBA or an online MBA to see this.
In my years of NASCAR watching and observing, and thanks in large part to social networking and at-the-track meet-ups with fans, I’ve picked up on certain trends with drivers and their fans. Specifically, fans seem to reflect the attitudes and personalities of their favorite drivers just as much as the hats and t-shirts that adorn their person every weekend.
So, to get away from some of the negativity and chaos surrounding the sport right now and just for the fun of it, I wanted to grab a few of the sport’s most popular drivers and the detail the tendencies I’ve noticed with some of their fans.
Please note: This is no one way meant to be stereotypical, derogatory, or mean-spirited to the fans of NASCAR or any of its drivers. I respect each and every fan for their opinions and standpoints within the sport, and think NASCAR fans are some of the greatest people to spend time with. Obviously these “trends” won’t apply to everyone, just the groups I’ve come into contact with.
Fans of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – You didn’t seriously think I’d write a column about driver fans without mentioning Earnhardt, did you?
Aside from the beer-bellied, cigarette smoking, shirtless Southern rednecks the Earnhardt names seems to be associated with, Earnhardt fans are just like the rest of NASCAR Nation: passionate, motivated, and extremely loyal.
No, seriously. Extremely. Every other driver I’m going to mention has been in Victory Lane several times in the past year, yet alone since 2008 when Earnhardt won his last race. Yet Earnhardt still maintains a fan base that transcends all others, winning Most Popular Driver for the last eight seasons and garnering some of the loudest cheers each and every weekend.
One trend I’ve noticed with Junior Nation, though, between online communications and meeting fans at the track is this: They’re a pretty cool group!
For some reason, the general opinion from what Junior Nation might refer to as “the haters” seems to assume that Earnhardt’s fans are in denial about his recent struggles and the fact that he is indeed not his father.
The thing is, they aren’t. In fact, it’s quite the opposite! They’ll be the first to tell you that he is certainly not nor will he ever be at his father’s level as far as on-track numbers are concerned, nor will they deny that for whatever reason his tenure at Hendrick Motorsports has been less than satisfying.
But they stick by him anyways. Basically, what it comes down to, is they believe in Earnhardt and really enjoy his down-home Southern persona that is sorely lacking from a once-upon-a-time truly Southern sport. They know he’s not the most talented driver out there, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of winning races, and they know that eventually he’ll be back in Victory Lane. And if they aren’t right there in person cheering on their favorite driver, they’ll be screaming in front of their TV sets for a moment of victory that they’ll forever cherish. And, who knows? Maybe the next one is right around the corner!
Fans of Carl Edwards – Edwards fans—some of whom refer to themselves as “Edheads”—are, like their driver, some of the nicest fans you will ever come across. They’re usually a wild and excited bunch when seen at the racetrack, and they have quite a presence on social media as well (I have several Edwards fans on both my Twitter and Facebook that are a blast to talk to).
But, also like their driver, they can have quite a mean streak when it comes to defending the driver they pull for every weekend. From some of Edwards’ most damaging rivalries such as the incidents with Brad Keselowski at Gateway and Atlanta, to some of the heated exchanges with Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, etc., Edwards fans were right there defending their driver with their own verbal jabs and punches.
Now, Edwards fans, before you fill up my inbox, in no way am I saying that’s a bad thing! In fact, every driver has a threshold of passionate fans waiting in the wings to attack any enemy, and sometimes the opposing driver’s fans receive the brunt of it. It’s just the way in the world of NASCAR, and nothing you won’t see on any side of an argument.
However, when it comes down to my experiences with Edwards fans, it has generally been pleasant. They are normally just an all-around fun group to hang with, just don’t ask them their opinion of Kyle Busch. Things might get hairy!
Speaking of Kyle…
Fans of Kyle Busch – Oh boy… Where do I even begin?
If I had to nominate a group of fans as “most entertaining”, I might just have to go with Busch’s loyal legion of followers. In fact, the best way to describe them might just have to be the moniker already bestowed upon Busch: Rowdy.
Like Busch, almost every single one of his fans that I’ve come across have had that air of confidence and, dare I say, cockiness that Busch is so well known for. In fact, when actually in a face-to-face conversation with KB fans at the track, I can’t help but pick up on an attitude that seems to say, “Just TRY and insult Kyle! Just try! I dare you!”
And because of Busch’s recent success, there really isn’t much to be said. Are his brushes with the law, on-track antics, and off-track brawls (whether he was the instigator or not), cause enough for criticism? Well maybe, but bring any of them up to any one of Busch’s most avid fans and you’ll probably hear a storm of curse words and insults (not necessarily in that order) the likes of which you’ve never heard before—and I don’t mean towards you! Bring up Richard Childress, for instance, to a Kyle Busch fan the next time you are at the racetrack and I bet you the next words out of their mouth won’t be “Oh I love RC!”
Regardless, though, I love them for it! Watching the groups of folks wearing No. 18 t-shirts at the track—which seems to be growing every week—during driver intros provides some of the best entertainment of the weekend, sometimes better than the race itself. You may not like Busch himself, and, if so, you probably don’t like his fans. But, also like Busch, they really don’t give a rip! They just love their driver!
Fans of Jimmie Johnson – You might expect Johnson fans to be cocky and conceited—and really, considering Johnson’s dominance for half a decade now, they deserve it.
But heck, Johnson isn’t cocky about his championships, so why should his fans be? They are enthusiastic, no doubt, but when it comes to “in your face”, they usually save those for the detractors who accuse Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus of cheating or who say Johnson’s championships don’t count because of the Chase.
And that’s when the claws come out. Do NOT in any way insinuate that Johnson’s championships and victories came from anything but raw talent and teamwork unless you want a severe tongue lashing from an otherwise fairly laidback fan base.
I could probably tell several stories about encounters with fans at the track and how they feel about their drivers, but you get the picture. Regardless of favorite driver, all fans are extremely passionate and enthusiastic about the sport they love and the drivers they support. And, really, that’s all anyone asks.
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