Ever since Brian France took over the reins of NASCAR, he has unabashedly stated that two of his primary goals for the future of the sport were as follows: be as popular as the NFL, and capture that elusive creature known as the “casual fan.”
Those are undoubtedly mighty ambitious goals for a man who is so despised by the very fans of the sport over which he presides. Things have gotten so bad as of late that even the President of the United States, when he wants to feel good about himself, compares his “approval ratings” to those of France.
The first goal, known to everyone else on the planet except France as pure folly, sadly will never be realized until the France family actually purchases the league in its entirety, throws away the rulebook, officiates all its games as in the same manner as racing, and renames it the NASCAR Football League. Not all has been lost during this personal quest, however. For example, NASCAR would now command respect that is equal to, or more likely surpass, that given to the sport of professional wrestling.
The second goal of capturing the “casual fan,” I must admit, has always been, until recently, a mystery to me. Just what constitutes a “casual fan?” Is it someone who dresses slightly better than the longtime fan upon which the sport is founded but oddly, vehemently hated by France? Is it the fan at California Speedway that, while not actually watching the race from the stands, casually glances up at a monitor strategically placed as he/she dines on cuisine prepared by Wolfgang Puck? I just never knew. Until now!
As fate would have it, I actually met a “casual fan” just the other day. Well, to be totally honest, I didn’t “just” meet him – I’ve known him for 27 years! I consider him to be one of my best friends. There have been times that we have shared a residence together and, if memory serves me correctly, I have even been his “best man” in at least one of his weddings, possibly more. So, imagine my surprise to learn that he is now a “casual” NASCAR fan! I was utterly and totally shocked – and I will tell you why.
A little background for you first: this is a man that owns all things Bobby Labonte and most things Tony Stewart. This is a man that, for years, tried to drag me to a race back in the early to mid ’90s, a trip which never seemed to work out until after the new millennium. This was the man that, when it did finally work out for me to go, was jealous of ME because my first NASCAR race (and every year thereafter) was the “Holy Grail” of races: the Bristol night race.
This is the man that has the connections to get as many Bristol night race tickets (at cost) for us and our friends and even people we’re not too fond of, as we need them. This is the man that is on the yearly renewal list for tickets to Michigan and Darlington. This is the man that, when I go to his house, I have to ask him to turn on the TV for me because I haven’t a clue as to which of the seven remotes to use or the sequence you need to use them in order to get a picture on the screen. This is the man that has DVR, DVD, UHF, VHS, HDTV, big screen, small screen, TiVo – as well as the APR associated with financing such things. If the program has racing in its title on his system, trust me – it’s being recorded. Doesn’t matter if it’s opossum racing – we can sort it out and erase later, and it is still recorded. Don’t want to miss a thing!
I know what you are thinking. This guy sounds like a racing fanatic, and that may have very well been true in the past, but now he is a “casual fan.” How do I know? Recently one Sunday, my phone rang. I answered it, and the conversation went something like this:
Me: “Not much. Why? What are you doing?”
Him: “Mowing the lawn and drinking.”
Me: “Ahhh, I see. In other words, your dog is hiding again!?”
Him: “Yeah, go figure. Seems that every time I get on the mower she disappears. Why is that?”
Me: “Dunno. Self-preservation perhaps? Hey, ”
(Bear with me. This is the edited version! Word count restraints prohibit the full text.)
Me: “Why ain’t you watching the race?”
Him: “I’m mowing and drinking! ‘Sides, it’s gotten to the point that I don’t care if I watch it or not. I’ll hit the highlights later. See all I need to that way.”
Me: “, , , , .”
Him: “Hello? Hello? You still there? Where’d you go? Hellooooo?”
It was at that moment that I realized I had met a “casual fan.” I also realized, all my NASCAR writing aside, I must be one myself – because try as I may, I had no argument to his logic.
So congratulations, Mr. France! You have your “casual fans.” Enjoy ’em while you can.
Stay off the wall, (but email me if you are looking for tickets to this month’s Michigan race, seriously)