Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, December 20, 2014, 11:02 a.m.
One of the first lessons I learned about the NASCAR beat was away from the track, and I was slow on the draw. I should have already known it by then.
I was young and foolish. Somehow, I thought I had achieved some laudable goal by securing a job that took me to most parts of the United States. I loved it when friends, at some New Year’s Eve party or local bar, asked, “So, you know all the drivers, huh?”
Oh, yeah. Talk to them every week.
“What kind of guy is so-and-so?”
Never answer that question expansively. Say something upbeat but noncommittal. What I think doesn’t matter. Never mind that I deal with a person on a regular basis, and my friend has never met him. He will place no importance on my opinion if it differs from his (or, notably, hers). If he likes the driver, he tells it like it is. If he doesn’t, he’s a whiner.
I always tried to think like a reader. My employer even used it as a slogan for a while. I didn’t need the slogan. I always thought it important to hang around at a hardware store, or a barber shop, or a car dealership, and see what the fans were saying. It was easier in the 1990s and early 2000s. It seemed then as if everyone I encountered was in love with NASCAR.
You write about NASCAR? I love NASCAR.
Nowadays, the more common response is, Oh, I know it’s big. I just don’t much care about it. Or, I used to be nuts about NASCAR. I don’t know. I just got tired of it.
Most of them don’t know why. They don’t think about it.
Even this time of year, a week seldom passes in which I don’t see someone trying to explain what’s wrong. The economy. Room rates. Gas prices. High-definition TV. A lot of the analysis begins with the assumption that the racing is wonderful, the Chase sublime, and, so, it must be something else.
I don’t think fans analyze it the way writers do, and with writers, it takes one to know one, so I do. The input that most of us get is from those who are still passionate. Most fans don’t write me. They just watch the races. Or don’t. Combining all the various platforms, and allowing for duplication, probably about eight thousand people pay attention to me via those areas. Others link when a slug catches their fancy via Jayski or some other connection, retweets, shares, et al. I wrote one NASCAR tome this year that wound up being passed along and clicked upon by somewhere north of forty thousand. That’s rare. It happened once. Another fell just shy of twenty thousand. Most times, NASCAR blogs hit a thousand. Some of my blogs get read by a hundred. I’m kind of selfish. I generally write what strikes me as interesting and just figure that might be true of others. It’s the freedom of the jobless, and, hence, the bossless, and the nothing-left-to-loseless.
By conservative estimate, five thousand fans don’t know what I write for every one that does. I appreciate every one of them.
My basic view is that NASCAR is firmly anchored in the country’s sporting mainstream, and that is anchored to a loyal core that’s similar to other tribes that intensely follow the progress of hockey, soccer, rodeo, the X Games, and something else at any given time. At the moment, NASCAR has maxed out its credit card with the young, but that is fleeting and will continue to be so. NASCAR’s original sin was in alienating its most loyal fans and throwing all its marketing fireworks at the fans who were bound to be here today and gone tomorrow. It’s lingering sin is forgetting that it is capable of being wrong.
Tomorrow came. The Hula Hoop didn’t last forever. Neither did MySpace. Or chat rooms.
Did some of the fans get tired of Jimmie Johnson? Sure. They got tired of everything else, too.
Everyone wants simple answers, and not just in NASCAR. So many oversimplifications. The Chase was a result of Matt Kenseth not winning any races. (Note: No Cup champion has ever been winless.) It’s been changed because of the letter J (Johnson up, Junior down). It’s that damned Brian France. Or that damned Kyle Busch. Or that damned Brad Keselowski. Everyone has his (or her) own private something to damn.
It’s like saying the American Revolution was fought over tea.
NASCAR has panicked in a tricking up the Chase, tearing down the grandstands, making everybody dizzy kind of frenzy.
Slow down / You move too fast / Got to make / The morning last / Kicking around / The cobblestone. – “The 59th Street Bridge Song,” Simon and Garfunkel.
Hold your horses. Count your money. Maybe one day, NASCAR will start feeling groovy again.
Thanks for reading, you one in five thousand. I’d like to invite you, the few, the proud, to read my short fiction at www.wellpilgrim.com, and take a look at my books.
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