NASCAR at its best when con­nect­ing with fan base

Out­reach by young driv­ers can help bring crowds back.

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Jenna Fryer

Fer­nando Alonso doesn’t like ev­ery as­pect of his job but un­der­stands pro­fes­sion­als have obli­ga­tions they must meet.

For the two-time For­mula One world cham­pion it meant daily press brief­ings dur­ing his stints in the In­di­anapo­lis 500 and the Rolex 24 at Day­tona. He flew to North Carolina to pro­mote the Rolex, made a video at NASCAR’s re­quest for Jim­mie John­son, par­tic­i­pated in au­to­graph ses­sions at both events and signed au­to­graphs for fans in the garage.

“You un­der­stand there are some obli­ga­tions when you ac­cept a job, and you try to en­joy those obli­ga­tions, even if it’s not your fa­vorite part of your job,” Alonso said af­ter yet another visit to Day­tona’s me­dia cen­ter.

Then he ex­plained that fans had sent him pho­tos of the scor­ing tower at In­di­anapo­lis when it showed him lead­ing the race. When he led two laps in the Rolex over the week­end, fans sent him sim­i­lar pic­tures.

“I think those mo­ments, they pay off what­ever obli­ga­tions you have to do,” he said.

There’s a de­bate in NASCAR, started last week by Kyle Busch, over the way the se­ries is mar­ket­ing its driv­ers. The cur­rent push is be­hind a crop of young, fresh faces who should cap­tain the sport for the next two decades.

That irks Busch be­cause he didn’t re­ceive the same mar­ket­ing sup­port early in his ca­reer, and he be­lieves some of NASCAR’s at­ten­tion should be placed on the veter­ans. It’s a fair point, but one that likely an­noyed NASCAR brass.

Why? Be­cause Busch is part of a gen­er­a­tion of driv­ers that grew far too en­ti­tled to re­mem­ber how the sport grew to its cur­rent heights.

The driv­ers in the Hall of Fame right now used to sit in chairs out­side their haulers chat­ting with any­one who stopped. They leaned against stacks of tires to talk busi­ness, they killed time hang­ing out with NASCAR’s com­pe­ti­tion of­fi­cials in the at-track of­fice.

Then came the pri­vate planes and mo­torhomes and golf carts. Driv­ers now ride carts out of the gated mo­torhome lot at Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way and through the fan zone to get to the grid. They don’t walk through the crowd and sign au­to­graphs. They go from Point A to Point B and don’t want any­thing im­ped­ing their trip.

There was a time when NASCAR in­sisted that the top 12 driv­ers in the stand­ings hold a news brief­ing ev­ery week­end. Even­tu­ally, the manda­tory me­dia ses­sions for the NASCAR driv­ers went away. Now, just a hand­ful of driv­ers agree to hold news con­fer­ences.

NASCAR has a crop of young driv­ers who are ac­tive on so­cial me­dia, they en­gage with fans, they un­der­stand that if they want to own a pri­vate plane one day, they’ve got to put the work in to re­build the sport. When the con­ces­sion stands weren’t open dur­ing a re­cent test ses­sion at Texas Mo­tor Speed­way, Ryan Blaney spent his lunch break eat­ing pizza with fans.

So, yeah, NASCAR has picked the right group of driv­ers to mar­ket to its fan base. They’ve got­ten be­hind driv­ers who don’t mind do­ing ex­tra work, who don’t turn down ev­ery re­quest.

If more driv­ers had the same ap­proach and at­ti­tude that Alonso ap­plied to Indy and Day­tona, NASCAR would be much bet­ter off.


Fer­nando Alonso, a two-time For­mula One champ, is one of the driv­ers tak­ing more ini­tia­tive in reach­ing out to draw fans back to auto rac­ing.

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