Posted on December 12, 2018
by Steve Janowick

You had me at hello!

It was a week or two after my birthday in 1998.  The Super Bowl was in the rear-view mirror and I was anxiously awaiting the baseball season to commence.  February can be a blah time for a sports fan living in a city without a basketball or hockey team to root for.  So, there I was, channel surfing on a lazy Sunday afternoon. And it was then and there that you sunk your hooks into me.  

Growing up as a poor, suburban kid in Maryland I was never really exposed to you.  Sure, I had seen blips of races here and there, some Indy, some Formula 1, and even a few of yours, but I never really paid any attention-and they certainly never resonated.  But that afternoon I was watching your Super Bowl.  The most anticipated and exciting event on the most exciting track in your series.

The Daytona 500!

Even through the television, I felt an energy.  An incredible energy. The rumble. The roar. The sea of spectators in the stands anxiously on their feet.  The excitable commentators with their thick, southern drawls. It was the last six laps and the entire field was chasing the leader-this guy in the black car.  I didn’t know the drivers, lingo or the rules-or anything at that time. All I knew was this driver in the number 3 car was badass! He was operating that vehicle like a wild man and doing everything humanly possible to keep his lead.  Bumping, cutting-off, dangerously maneuvering for position. I hadn’t witnessed anything that exciting on television in a very long time.

I was immediately hooked.  I was a fan.

And turns out this guy in the black, number 3, who went on to win that race, was your marquee guy. Your superstar.  And he rightly garnered that label. The Intimidator had a mystique about him. He was a no-nonsense, good-ole-boy from North Carolina who embodied everything great about your sport.  I certainly could relate to him-every man’s man could. Dale Earnhardt was tough and cool and larger than life. He was Steve McQueen reincarnated. I sat there mesmerized as he did his victory burnouts and popped the champagne, and I couldn’t wait until next Sunday to see it again-and every Sunday thereafter.

But not anymore.

Three years after that race you lost that ambassador of your sport in a crash and I lost a hero.  And I’ve watched your once great product slowly deteriorate ever since. A once great bastion of Americana, you’ve morphed into a conglomerate of greed.  Gone are the red-necks and simple men who birthed you with nothing more than four tires and a tank of gas. When the stock cars were actually stock. When your drivers and sponsors cared more about maintaining your integrity rather than the all-mighty dollar.  Now you answer to CEO’s and accountants and guys in fancy suits.

You lured me in, NASCAR, then you threw me away.  Along with millions of others just like me. We can’t even keep track of your driver’s names much less your ever-changing point systems, car regulations and sponsorship mega-deals.  You sold out. Dumped your core, middle-America fans to court the sexier (and richer) international ones. The red line in the RPM gauge replaced by the bottom line on a balance sheet.

Look at your recent television ratings, NASCAR.  Look at all the empty seats in your stands. You need to make a serious and drastic change soon if you want to survive.  Sometimes progress isn’t so…progressive. Sometimes it’s best to just keep well enough alone. You were doing great, but you got greedy and wanted more.  But maybe it’s time you looked in the mirror…and went back in time. A time when you were fun. A time when you mattered and were relevant. A time when the everyday, common man and woman could enjoy you.  A time when your product and image meant more than your wallet.

I’ll be here, with my three fingers held high in the air, waiting.

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