NASCAR Needs A Hero
Tyler Shugart Host of Bump and Run
The Daytona 500 is next week as the green flag drops on the 2021 NASCAR season. Here in South Carolina we are in the heart of NASCAR Country.
Many of us grew up on the sport and have many memories of our favorite drivers and big wins, wrecks, and even fights in the pits or garages. We love going to the tracks and smelling the gasoline and burning tires from wrecks.
I grew up a fan of Dale Earnhardt. Earnhardt was and is NASCAR royalty. He was such a dominate driver in the 80s and early 90s and his record speaks for itself with more than 70 wins in NASCAR’s premiere circuit and seven Cup Series titles. Earnhardt was a hard racer. He would spin somebody out or put them in the wall in a second to advance his position or win a race. He would also cuss you out and threaten to fight you in the garage if he had a problem with something you did on the track rub him the wrong way. I remember Earnhardt saying many times after wrecking someone and being questioned about it by a reporter, “That’s just racing.” He earned his moniker “The Intimidator.”
NASCAR has changed from the sport that I watched growing up. Drivers like Earnhardt probably would be kicked out of the sport by those who run it. Drivers that left it all on the track like Earnhardt were usually loved by fans or absolutely hated by them. There was no in-between with Dale, you were either a fan or you hated him but most everyone respected the 3. The rivalry in the 90s between Dale and Jeff Gordon brought NASCAR to its peak popularity. Depending which side you were on NASCAR had a good guy and a villain. Either way it was the personalities that brought NASCAR into the mainstream and made these guys household names. The sport today doesn’t have that. While Kyle Bush tries to be the jerk and the villain, it’s the hero that may be missing.
Since the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001, and Bill Elliot winning the award for a final time in 2002, NASCAR’s most popular driver was Dale Earnhardt Jr from 2003-2017. While JR was a great ambassador for the sport, and my favorite driver after the death of his father, his failure to win big and often hurt the sport, in my opinion. Had the most popular driver been able to obtain and maintain some large scale success than the sport could have grown instead of actually shirking in popularity.
What can NASCAR do to fix the problems it is currently having? Well for one stop alienating your fan base. Quit moving races away from the historic tracks like Rockingham, North Wilkesboro, and others that help build the sport. While I understand you can’t encourage drivers to wreck each other stop doing so much to discourage hard racing. A lot of folks just watch for the wrecks and I for one like the mindset of checkers or wreckers.
However, the biggest thing that can be done right now is out of NASCAR’s hands. It rests in the hands of NASCAR’s new Most Popular Driver, Chase Elliot. For the last three season Chase has been NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver, and last year he did what Junior was unable to do during his run as most popular and won the championship. In fact Chase Elliot became the first driver to win the award and the championship since 1988, when his father Bill Elliot accomplished the feat. That feat has only been accomplished seven times since 1949. If Chase Elliot can maintain a high level of success while being the most popular driver could be exactly what NASCAR needs to return to the glory days.
Also, I wouldn’t mind seeing someone put Joey Logano in his place again.