Are You “Really” A Race Fan?
Well What Kind Are You?
Being out with friends this past weekend there was a little friction caused and remarks made because I wanted to watch the race at Bristol. It was in rain delay but it was Tony Stewart’s last race and Bristol is my home track. I wanted to watch. They are not race fans and I understand that but I am 100%, through and through, burning rubber, roar of the engines, die-hard race fan and have been for over 30 years. On the trip home a couple of us got to talking about race fans and the kinds of race fans and how they would never sit out and do this and that for a race and it just stirred some things up in my mind and my soul so thus this article came about. No research, no dates, no facts just seat of the pants and from the heart writing about my feeling of race fans and what it means to be one and the a many kinds there are. Some people out there that are masquerading as race fans. They know absolutely nothing about the racing game and really don’t care to. They go to the races for the corporate suite experience or to be seen with a media member or to be photographed with a driver with short shorts and stilettos. No real race fan walks around in the pit all day knowing the racing game in stilettos. They have ulterior motives. WAGS (Wives and Girlfriends) usually wear comfortable shoes, most would fit right in with the crowd and be unnoticeable with the exception of Samantha Busch who looks like she’s stepped out of a catalog. I guess she has a clothes line to sell and publicity is the name of the game but for the most part if you’re there for the race you dress comfortable for the race. From the fan vantage point DeLana Harvick is the consummate race fan and wife. She is a wonderful representative of her husband as well as of the sport and it is obvious she is a long time knowledgeable fan of the game.
I threw the question out there to some friends and ask them to truthfully tell me how they would describe themselves as a race fan and a wide variety of answers came back. I want to share a few of them with you. See if you find yourself covered in them. If not, leave me a comment and let me know some type I haven’t discovered.
- Spectator- Do you go to the races just to see the wrecks? Be part of the event, the hoopla. You can name a couple of the most popular drivers but couldn’t tell you a thing about the owners or sponsors or who won last week. You roam the merchandise trailers for merchandise for NASCAR family and friends’ gifts. You buy key chains, stickers and magnets and the occasional diecast because it’s was grandpa’s favorite driver. Before the race is half run, you’re over it and would as soon be home because you really don’t care who wins. Unless it’s checkers or wreckers the excitement is over for you.
- Party Fan-You have a driver you pull for but the weekend is all about the party and how much beer gets drunk. The race gets thrown in there in the middle and you’re the one who yells the loudest and shoots the bird the most often and sometimes gets removed by security and never sees the end of the race and if you do you don’t remember it the next morning. You usually come in for the weekend, start early and party it down. To be this kind of fan control is the key. Knowing how to manage the intake of alcohol and being able to make the great memories and meet the people and characters from all over who are just like you that make this kind of fan unique. You are loyal to your driver and have every t-shirt he’s ever had out and even a few bootleg ones. It’s all about supporting your man and the fun of the party with the boys…..and girls!
- Diehard Fan-This fan has been a fan for at least 25 or more years. They have seen NASCAR change. They know what old school means and they love it and they miss it. That was real racing. Speeds may be higher now but the racing is watered down and the driver’s hands have been tied too much. You don’t see drivers today hanging out the window washing the windshield or by sheer will wrestling a car to make it do things it wasn’t supposed to do because the tow was out or he’s lost power steering. This fan is still hanging in there and he knows the game. He’s seen the changes and he doesn’t like them all but he loves racing. He loves the desire born in a racers gut to drive and to win and to sacrifice and give whatever it takes to make the race. This fan may have a favorite or did had some point and they are gone now but they still are a fan of the race for the race. They usually pull for the driver they feel has the biggest heart and the greatest desire and most God given talent not the biggest name or the most heralded sponsor or the slickest media darling. Racing was born on the short tracks and the backroads and they remember it and love it. This fan is becoming more and more rare. They are jewels in my opinion.
- The Student Fan-This fan usually dreams of one day getting behind the wheel or working in the world of racing. They soak up all the information available on set-ups, times, corner entry and exit, shocks, springs and how to best adjust. They have drivers they pull for but you find them to be crew chief fans also you hear their hero’s are names like Knaus, Childers and Zipadelli. They covet the pit/garage pass to be in that element and it’s not just to get a glimpse of a driver, they want to see how it’s done and feel the excitement in the air on race day as preparations are made for the green flag. They study the tracks and the set-ups and the speeds. Technology is their friend feeding the hunger in their gut for the food they so passionately crave.
- The Historian Fan-I can’t think of this category of fan without thinking of the sport’s Most Popular Driver, Dale Earnhardt JR. He’s a driver but he grew up in the sport at the knee at one of if not the greatest to have ever strapped in a car. He has lived a lot of history but over the past few years it has become obvious to those of us who really follow the sport that he loves the history and he wants to preserve it. He knows history is being made now and he wants to see it is properly preserved also. In my book Dale JR is a precious artifact that needs to be preserved for the history books also even if he never races another race. He doesn’t have to make history…..he is history and should be revered.
- Passionate Fanatic-I guess I would have to place myself in this group. I live and breathe racing. It is part of my daily life. I have been an avid fan for over 30 years so I’ve seen the changes. I’ve had 2 favorite drivers in those 30 years. When my favorite goes out of the race the race goes on and I’m in till the end. I was the one that used to sit in the stands with the stopwatch checking to see if a car was gaining on losing on the leader. I love the game the strategy. Of course I want to support my favorite driver so I have the hat, the shirt, the socks, the bag, the earrings and whatever else is available to support my man. I read every article. I know his hometown, his birthdate, his interests away from the track, his family, his kids, all his sponsors, his car owner, his contract details, what he likes in the car, where he’s traveling…..could I be a stalker? No, just a passionate fanatic! I went and still go when possible to the racetrack for the rush and the adrenaline, for the smell of the burnt rubber and the burning fuel, the roar of the engines as I feel the blood course through my veins and my heart pound. There’s nothing like it!! At first I wasn’t much for technology but now I’m the one who’s gotten a little older and not as able to travel to distant tracks so you will find me connected at race time. I watch the TV for the broadcast, headset for driver communications and tablet for times and telemetry. I am more informed now than ever not to mention a tweet from someone in the pits almost every second!! I am a happy person and my hunger is fed. I have an opinion about almost everything but I’ve learned when to voice them and when to keep quiet so I have friends who support many other drivers and we are a family. We travel the roads to tracks together and we do our share of partying together. I think this fan has a little of all the others in it. We’ve been in and we’re staying in. We might not like and mostly don’t like some of the changes NASCAR has made to the sport but for now we are living the sport we love.
Well there you have it, a fans view of fans. I know I have a little of all them in me. A big thank you to all those I have shared a seat with, a hell yeah, a high five, a random beer or passed toilet paper to in a bathroom at some distant track. A special thanks goes out to my race family that traveled the roads with me for years and made some of the most special memories I will ever have. You know who you are and I love you. To the Dale SR. Brotherhood, you had to be a part to understand our loss that day. To the Smoke fans who are dreading that last race in Homestead I will say this. Tony is a ‘real’ racer. He is not leaving us. He has only just begun. He is being reborn and will now be even more accessible to his real fans and he will change the face of not only NASCAR but of the small tracks and dirt track racing and generations to come will celebrate the name Tony Stewart. Do not cry for Smoke. He is rising and he is free!! As fans we have a lot to look forward to in the years to come. Pick a driver! Buy a shirt and “Let’s go racin’ boys!”