Longing for the old days of racin’
There is no more racin' to be done these days in front of thousands of screaming fans and corporate executives. Unfortunately, the loss of racin' leaves us with corporate motorsports, a multi-million dollar enterprise where the race represents more of a business event than an actual competition for the sport's true fan base. At one point in time, racin' was a highly contested sport of contact that was primarily based in, but not limited to, the South and the Midwest.
The landscape of the sport changed when someone realized it could be turned into a money maker. When a sport and/or subculture finally gets exposure in the public eye, it often loses its original grit, tenacity and especially its authenticity. Nowhere was this cold, hard fact more apparent then during a recent luncheon at the area's state-of-the-art racetrack.
The Kansas Speedway enjoyed a kickoff luncheon inside the Speedway's infield. Some of NASCAR's most influential figures were there including Richard Petty, Kyle Petty, Benny Parsons and NASCAR President Mike Helton. Having an event with this many well-known NASCAR drivers and executives would make any racin' fan excited right? Well, not exactly. Each guest, including the King himself, walked up to the podium and announced how great it was to be in Kansas City. All of these well-respected NASCAR people reminded me of rock stars who scream to their fans "How are you doing, Kansas City?" These well-respected motorsports personalities didn't care if they were in Charlotte, Chicago or Walla Walla, Washington. The audience was an even more interesting mixture. Some of the 1,000 people attending the luncheon seemed to be true blue race fans who vigorously followed their favorite driver and weren't embarrassed to sport a NASCAR T-shirt. And then you had the corporate audience who decided to jump on the NASCAR bandwagon after big name sponsors and high television ratings made stock car racing an American craze. NASCAR marketing experts should begin to market its own line of bathing suits during winter in Alaska because they were able to promote something that had a niche market in the past.
Even the veteran drivers have tailored their own personalities to corporate America because that is what they have to do to survive in today's racing world. "Sponsor Speak" seems to represent a second language that all NASCAR drivers have to learn. Kyle Petty is one driver who can relate to both the corporate and blue collar race follower. When Kyle Petty jokingly said that if anyone didn't have Sprint phone service he wanted them to leave the luncheon tent right away, it seemed humorous to the long time race fans, many of whom are fed up with the "Sponsor Speak." The good folks at Sprint, however, were pleased to hear Kyle cite their name in his speech.
These days, the hoopla around racing is bigger than the actual race itself. Sure, there will be a few people who could give you an entire recap of what happened during a NASCAR race, but many of the new fans focus their attention on the pre-race receptions, meeting a famous driver and sitting in their comfortable luxury seats.
NASCAR has finally caught up to many American sports, and their debt to corporate America seems even more apparent than a high profile sport like basketball. While professional basketball may have an arena named for a company, NASCAR has primary sponsors for each car and dozens of co-sponsors and smaller decals on the cars. That's right: 43 vehicles driving around in circles for about three or four hours on a television network like Fox. Even if those mildly interested in racing turned on the channel, they would be exposed to many different product names. This is an advertiser's dream and corporate America should not be criticized for entering such an opportunity.
Some of the smaller area race tracks are a racin' fans dream. Lakeside Speedway, I-70 Speedway and Heartland Park represent a variety of small tracks in the area. Kansas Speedway will be a great addition to the area's economy; nobody is doubting that for one minute.
But if real racin' is what you want to see, you might want to head over to one of these racetracks.