It’s Hard to Like a Winner! What Does the Fan Base Really Want?By Justin Tucker
NASCAR fans since the inception of the sport have long had their favorite drivers and ones they respect and admire. Win or lose fans would stick with their favorites through the best and worst of times. Richard Petty had one of the sport’s biggest fan bases throughout his racing career. The King won 7 Winston Cup championships and 200 races over his illustrious 35 year career and seemingly never met much fan opposition to his domination of the sport.
Dale Earnhardt also had one of the sport’s most loyal and massive fan bases. Like Petty, Earnhardt won 7 championships over his 27 year career and grandstands from Daytona to Talladega would come alive when Earnhardt wheeled his famed black #3 Chevrolet across the start/finish line to take the checkers.
The names Petty and Earnhardt are considered to be royalty among all NASCAR fans and rightfully so. Their accomplishments speak for themselves. But when you look at today’s NASCAR that kind of dominance seems to be less well received. In fact NASCAR’s fan base seems to shy away from those drivers who seemingly win every race and are always in contention for a championship. Maybe it is something else. Could it also be the fact that NASCAR has become more politically correct in the era of major corporate sponsorship and driver endorsements. Why is the dominance of some of today’s stars not as universally accepted as what the dominance of Petty and Earnhardt was?
One example of this is Jeff Gordon. No one dominated the 90′s like Gordon who won 49 races and 3 championships in that decade. Crowds from coast to coast would grumble as Gordon would seemingly dominate race after race, week after week. Another example is Jimmie Johnson, the man who has dominated the last decade by winning 60 races and 5 championships. The mere mention of Johnson’s name drives some of NASCAR’s fan base absolutely crazy. My only question has to be Why? Drivers like Gordon and Johnson don’t come around very often. I think it is safe to say we will never again see two drivers dominate the sport at as high of level as what they have in the modern era of NASCAR.
As impressive as their on track performance has been nothing compares to what they do off the track with their charitable organizations and many other worthwhile causes. But still the vast majority of NASCAR’s fan base can’t fully warm up to them. So that begs the question. What do NASCAR fans look for in a driver? It seems like winning races has taken a back seat to other factors and variables in today’s NASCAR.
Kyle Busch is another name that draws race fans ire. Kyle’s competitive and aggressive nature behind the wheel is a throwback to the days of old but in the eyes of many race fans it is something they can do without but are the first to complain if drivers aren’t aggressive enough behind the wheel.
Brad Keselowski seems to be closest thing to old school in a new school NASCAR but not even Brad who is quickly growing one of NASCAR’s biggest fan bases can get the majority of the fan base to widely accept him on or off the track. Keselowski seems to be a young man who is genuinely devoted to the growth of the sport but seems to always to find a way to rub someone in the wrong way to the eyes of many.
I guess the question is what does the NASCAR fan base want? Do they want a driver who may not win races but is a nice guy and that carries more weight than anything or do they want a driver that wins races and carries himself in a professional manner on and off the track. It is sometimes hard to put your fingers on the pulse of this sport. Fans want aggressive but quickly shun those who turn the intensity up a notch. Fans used to love a winner but now winning seems to be growing less and less important while the battles at the merchandise trailers seem to be now what matters and what determines who has the biggest fan bases. You will get many different answers as to why fans root for certain drivers and may not others. Could be race team,car owner,manufacturer, sponsor,race wins,championships, and etc. One thing is for sure the old saying “Winning never gets old” doesn’t apply to a vast majority of today’s NASCAR fans.