(NASCAR Media photo)
Guest Column By Cathy Elliott
As Father’s Day rapidly approaches, it is only natural that our thoughts should turn to family.
The term “NASCAR family” is bandied about frequently, and rightly so. It is an apt description of the racing world.
Think about it. During an event, drivers jockey for position like schoolkids boarding the bus for a field trip. They squabble. They form temporary alliances and gang up on each other. When they misbehave, their elders sit them down for a good talking-to.
Kids these days; how are we going to get through to them? In a time when discussions often turn toward new ways of appealing to younger fans, incidents like this one can most definitely attract attention and inspire discussion, but that tends to fade away as soon as the next sensational story hits the news.
So, according to NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France, we’re going to speak to young people in a language they can relate to. We’re going to invite them into the technological candy store, and give them the run of the place.
“Our history couldn’t be more important … We’ll always keep our eye on the ball,” France said in a press conference on May 20. “But on the other hand, we’re reacting to social media, we’re reacting to the digital media landscape that’s changing quickly ... We’re reacting to how young people, in particular, are taking in their favorite sports or learning about their favorite sports.”
NASCAR is doing a tremendous job of making its presence felt on the modern landscape. Fans can get inside the lives of their favorite drivers and other racing personalities on places like Twitter and Facebook, and can even get inside their heads on race day by tuning in to the teams’ in-car radio communications. All these things provide quite a unique learning experience.
And for those who like a dash of old-school education every now and again, a new book uses retro-cool tools like words and pictures to teach kids one of NASCAR’s most fundamental lessons.
“Funny Dan the Race Car Man” is the story of a mid-level driver in stock car racing’s top series. Dan is no five-time champion like Jimmie Johnson, and he isn’t wildly popular with fans like Dale Earnhardt Jr. His Cheap Pete’s Appliances team is so financially strapped that having burgers for dinner is considered a splurge. Still, because he loves what he does, Funny Dan maintains his sense of humor and, most importantly, a positive attitude.
Author Tim Packman, who formerly worked for well-known racing media outlets like the Motor Racing Network (MRN) and NASCAR.COM, says Dan is based on a driver he met early in his own career. “His attitude was so self-deprecating and upbeat. As long as he was having fun, he was happy. That really made an impression on me,” he says.
“I decided to make a kids’ book out of it and share the moral of the story, which is that if you’re out there doing what you love in life, and you’re doing it well and you’re treating people with respect, then you’re doing a good job. Even though you might not go to Victory Lane, you’re still a winner.”
The mobile NASCAR community that sets itself up in track infields each week provides a comforting sense of home, regardless of the location. The drivers and teams, lined up with their families on pit road on race day, is a beautiful sight to see. At the Darlington and Michigan race weekends, run respectively on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day weekends, the sight of parents and their famous kids waving to the fans is consistently heartwarming. The total effect is one of true togetherness.
But there is another racing panorama that is grander still. It is the couple strolling along hand in hand, one wearing a Kyle Busch cap while the other sports a Kevin Harvick T-shirt, and the kid jumping up and down with delight upon getting his (or her) first-ever look at Jeff Gordon’s car on the track. Like a jigsaw puzzle with millions of individual pieces, it all comes together bit by bit to form the biggest of pictures.
The NASCAR clan is simply too big to be contained by the boundaries of a racetrack. It may well be the best example of an “extended family” in the country.
It’s like that candy store, in a lot of ways. Too much of it can make you a bit dizzy, and on occasion it can demonstrate a certain amount of nuttiness, but for the most part, it is simply very sweet.