When NASCAR fans hear about Hall of Fame candidates of their sport, they typically think of a driver with a room full of trophies, an innovative crew chief or perhaps an executive, someone responsible for turning stock car racing into one of the most popular sports in the nation.
A naked guy covered only by a tire? That doesn’t often come up.
But prepare for that perception to change during the Aaron’s 499 race weekend at Talladega. This weekend, someone will receive Hall of Fame accolades not for changing tires in record time but instead, wearing one around his waist… and not much else.
Chris MacNicol, a.k.a. “Tire Man” will actually be one of three inductees into the Talladega Superspeedway’s inaugural “Fan Hall of Fame” class. The concept is part of the track’s three-part program which honors and recognizes its most loyal supporters. The inductees, who were nominated by other fans and family members, will be honored during pre-race ceremonies and recognized by a permanent display at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
Just what does someone need to do to be considered for this prestigious award? Well, in Tire Man’s case, it was coming up with an unconventional use for a common product, a Goodyear Eagle. It all started when MacNicol, a loyal Talladega attendee since 1993, purchased Joe Nemechek’s right-front qualifying tire for the 2004 Daytona 500. Quickly realizing the awkwardness involved with carrying around his souvenir, the half-dressed, athletically built fan slipped into the tire, lifted it up to his waist and viola! The 45-pound chunk of rubber stayed without any support and Tire Man was born! MacNicol, who appeared to only be wearing a Goodyear Eagle and a straw hat became an instant hit with fans, and to some extent a passing police officer, at least after she realized that yes, he was wearing shorts.
MacNicol’s story is just one of many that exist among the infields and grandstands at tracks across the NASCAR circuit, indicating that the folks selecting the finalists for the Fan Hall of Fame probably had hundreds of good candidates to choose from. After all, it is the fans that are the heartbeat of the sport and the NASCAR Library Collection book _“The Weekend Starts on Wednesday”_ documents the details of why they are such a special breed. Andrew Giangola, the sport’s Director of Business Communications wrote the book after traveling from track to track, sleeping in school buses and mingling with fans while capturing their stories firsthand.
Those experiences, creating hundreds of pages of colorful stories confirmed his belief that NASCAR fans are second to none when it comes to passion about their sport. “If there were a showdown among sports to crown the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable fans, my money is with NASCAR Nation,” wrote Giangola. “I’d take a random selection of people plucked from their campers at a NASCAR race against anyone from anywhere else.”
You don’t always have to go to the great lengths Giangola did to witness the spectacle, though. Now sporting a homemade contraption that allows him to attach suspenders to his rubber attire, Tire Man has been featured on “The Sporting News,” the SPEED Channel, and ABC News’ “Prime Time Live” while becoming a household name for scores of people from every walk of life. “I have met everyone from CEO’s to the gainfully unemployed,” explains MacNicol. “But for five days twice a year, we hail from the same place and hoot and holler side by side. After doing this a few years, I’ve built a lot of friendships and going to races is really like a reunion.”
This unequivocal passion, worthy of national attention and displayed by fans all over the country isn’t the only reason why Talladega Superspeedway has decided to honor the NASCAR faithful. Supporters of the sport have proven to have a deeper connection, from the stadium to stores around the country while transforming into the most brand loyal fans when it comes to sponsorship. This fact becomes especially noteworthy in NASCAR as sponsorship involvement is critical to its future success, perhaps more than any other sport. Research has shown that fans are three times more likely to purchase the products and services of companies involved with the sport than those that are not. Furthermore, fans are ten times more likely to think that a NASCAR-associated brand is better than other brands for a particular product. In fact, four out of five avid race fans believe that when they see a product with the NASCAR logo on it, they know it will be a quality product.
To say that fans drive the sport itself would be an understatement. Team executives, who have been scrambling for their piece of an increasingly difficult to tap sponsorship pool, can tout these statistics to potential marketing partners to prove that NASCAR goes beyond awareness – it translates into purchase intent. Without the funds associated with such sponsorship deals, the teams that compete in the sport would struggle to even exist. Without the support of such a loyal fan base that drives that sponsorship, the sport would not exist as we know it today.
Not only is the level of brand loyalty notable, but the wide range of people who are displaying this loyalty is impressive as well. The NASCAR fan base tends to be between the ages of 18 and 44 and almost evenly split between males and females, with a slight advantage going to the men. Fans have also been found more likely to be affluent and live in parts of the country that mirror the U.S. population. There are very few outlets where sponsors can reach such a diverse group of individuals who are eager to purchase products that bear that name of their favorite sport.
Whether they are buying Sunoco fuel, drinking Coca-Cola products or purchasing Goodyear tires to place on their car or start a new fashion trend for that matter, Talladega Superspeedway and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame is ready to honor those that are responsible for driving the sport: the fans. When the three Fan Hall of Fame candidates are honored in front of thousands during the Aaron’s 499 pre-race ceremonies, spectators should take a moment to think about their contributions to the sport, and brainstorm about how to create some nifty brake rotor Uggs or exhaust pipe trousers. Maybe next year, one of them will be walking across the stage as the newest Fan Hall of Fame inductee.
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