NASCAR at its best when connecting with fan base
Outreach by young drivers can help bring crowds back.
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.