One item expected to be discussed in this week’s Drivers’ Council meeting is fan access. That’s a discussion some fans should be paying attention to, because in the end, it does affect the fan base. While NASCAR fans do have some unique access to the sport and its teams through pit and garage passes, it’s become increasingly difficult for teams and drivers to do their jobs (remember, for them, the track is their office), and that’s created some unnecessary ill will.
Teams feel like they can’t get their jobs done. On the other hand, fans feel slighted. In order to keep fan access among the best in sports, there may need to be some compromises in the future. Here are a few ideas for giving fans a chance to meet and mingle while giving the teams a little more breathing room.
1. Use that souvenir area for some appearances
The new, huge, one-stop-shopping Fanatics area has taken some getting used to. On one hand, it’s great to see every team represented, though there could be more variety. Not every team had a souvenir hauler before, so fans couldn’t get t-shirts or hats for some drivers when that was the norm either. That has changed, but the atmosphere is different.
It’s been a few years since you saw 10 or a dozen drivers signing at their trailers, but why not bring a few to the new shopping area during the weekend? It would need to be a ticketed event, so why not give those tickets to the first 100 fans to buy their drivers’ gear or give some out to fans as a prize for something that doesn’t require a purchase. Driver appearances are bound to attract people to the souvenir area, and if they’re already present, it’s likely that they will shop a little. It seems as though it would be a win-win for fans, drivers, the Fanatics tent, the track and vendors in the area.
2. Controlled access
Instead of handing fans an open-ended pass as some tracks do, perhaps it’s time to shift toward guided pit tours. If tracks and teams pooled their resources, it might mean getting those coveted autographs more easily while keeping work areas clearer and not having so many people in the same place at once. That’s what many of the teams have an issue with, and it could be avoided while still allowing fans that insider’s view. It could be an even better view with smaller crowds to navigate.
3. It’s all in the timing
Another option would be to more strictly limit the time fans can be in the garages or pits. Perhaps clearing work areas an hour or two sooner on race day would alleviate the congestion. Again, the idea is to limit access so that teams and drivers can do their jobs, not eliminate it. Giving teams a little breathing room close to race time would help them focus.
4. Release the hounds… er, drivers
This is something I’ve said before, and I believe it’s a key to improving the weekend experience for fans. Drivers used to be more accessible. Throughout the weekend, several of them would go to their haulers or other areas to sign items for fans and maybe chat for a moment. On any given race weekend, a dedicated fan could come away with an autograph or two – perhaps not their favorite driver, but someone they knew and liked – without having a pit pass at all.
Now, drivers are tied down to more corporate appearances, which are good for sponsors, but not so good for PR. Some drivers do the occasional Q&A, but don’t sign, which means more people can attend, which is good. But for those wanting signatures, it’s a bit of a let-down. Fans should be seeing more of the drivers during race weekends, and not necessarily in restricted areas.
5. Spread it out
In the same vein as adding more group tours in order to aid with the congestion, one more possible option is to have passes that are good for a more limited time. For instance, some passes would be good Friday, some Saturday morning, and some Sunday morning. That way, as many or more fans could visit the pits, but not all at once. Teams would be able to have room to work, and fans would have a chance to glimpse the inner workings of the sport.
About the author
Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.
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