ANDY CAGLE: Columnist Misses Mark On Loyalty
I usually do not write columns in response to what other NASCAR or sports columnists have written.
It's a bad habit to get into, and I would hate for anyone to get in the habit of writing columns to bash what I have written -- I don't think my insight would hold up under strict scrutiny.
I am going to make an exception this week, however, because David Caraviello has inspired me with his column last week titled "To some traditionalists, loyalty only goes so far."
While Caraviello or, as my brother calls him, NASCAR.com's resident redhead now that Marty Smith is at ESPN, makes some very valid points about apathy being the main reason for lackluster attendance in NASCAR's traditional heartland, he has grossly oversimplified the problem and assigns blame to the wrong group.
Sure, NASCAR fans in the Southeast have grown apathetic to the sport that they helped to build.
But David, can you blame them?
It's not their fault that they are turning their collective backs on NASCAR in droves.
In the column, Caraviello writes "In the final analysis, Rockingham died not because of location or corporate greed or some sort of NASCAR manifest destiny, but because fans didn't show up. Even in the track's final days, when it became evident that only big turnstile numbers could save it, there were too many empty seats."
While it is true that Rockingham struggled to fill the stands after new seats were added after Roger Penske bought the track in 1997, NASCAR didn't do the track any favors. Rockingham was never given a favorable date. In fact, the spring date was pushed back from mid-March to late February in the early '90s.
North Carolina in February is cold.
The only reason Darlington is still holding on is that NASCAR made the track a deal for taking the traditional Labor Day race date by giving them a prime date in May.
Well, I shouldn't say the only reason. Darlington has an outstanding staff that works hard to make sure that the track is relevant. I think Chris Browning is on a divinely inspired mission to prevent what happened to Rockingham from happening to Darlington.
NASCAR turned its backs on this group of fans first.
NASCAR fans weren't the one that grew apathetic to races in Rockingham, Darlington, Martinsville, Myrtle Beach or North Wilkesboro.
The fact of the matter is that NASCAR demonstrated, and is still demonstrating, a great deal of apathy toward racing in the Southeast, in favor of the bigger, sexier market. The organization quit caring about the fans long before the fans quit caring about them. And if the traditionalists are demonstrating a lack of loyalty, it's because NASCAR has shown an utter lack of loyalty for tradition. NASCAR and International Speedway Corporation (which is to simply say NASCAR again) sold the North Carolina Speedway out to keep its finances out of open court in the Texas Motor Speedway lawsuit.
And some people have the nerve to blame us, the race fans. For a number of people that I talk to it's a matter of pride.
Tell me this, Mr. Caraviello, would you keep going back to a woman who consistently let you know that you just weren't that important to her? That's exactly what NASCAR did to the Southern race fan.
There are folks that grew up with the races in Rockingham -- people who helped build the North Carolina Speedway and Darlington Raceway -- who refuse to buy tickets to a NASCAR race because what NASCAR has taken away from communities like Rockingham, Darlington, North Wilkesboro and, possibly in the not-too-distant future, Martinsville.
In these places, those tracks, not even so much NASCAR, but the tracks themselves are deeply woven into the fabric of the community and for someone to write "... Or just maybe those fans don't take NASCAR for granted, assuming it will always be there whether they show up or not" is just plain offensive and exceedingly narrow-minded.
Andy Cagle's can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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