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NASCAR fans are the best

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Darrell Waltrip

Darrell Waltrip — winner of 84 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and a three-time champion — serves as lead analyst for NASCAR on FOX. He was selected for induction into the prestigious NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012. Want more from DW? Become a fan on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

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You know folks, I was at Lowe's Motor Speedway for race week. I spent the week over at my office and museum there on Hudspeth Road just across the field from Turn 1 of the Speedway. It was a very enjoyable week. We did a huge fundraiser for Motor Racing Outreach that will help keep the ministry rolling along. As you know, I also did the Hall of Fame broadcast on SPEED TV. Then Friday we did a luncheon at the office for some winners of a Pepsi promotion that was a lot of fun. What was interesting was all week long we had folks coming in from probably all 50 states plus Canada. They wanted to see my cars that I have on display, visit with me when I was around and also pick up a souvenir or two. Most didn't realize that our little office/museum is also the home of our online store, DWStore.com. It was funny to listen to some of the comments because they thought DWStore.com was some huge facility somewhere. These folks were like kids at Christmas picking up Digger merchandise, Boogity merchandise, signed diecast cars, hats etc. - As you know we carry merchandise for not only myself and FOX but also Larry Mac, Hammond and David Reutimann.

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What was really interesting to me was that not all these fans were dyed-in-the-wool DW fans. They were simply race fans. Some wore Jeff Gordon T-shirts, some wore Juan Pablo Montoya, some wore Kasey Kahne and on and on. But a lot of them said they wanted to visit and support all the area locations and learn more about the sport. So I was sitting there signing autographs and taking pictures and I wondered to myself where any of us in NASCAR would be without the fans. Now I know there has been a lot of talk about how our grandstands have been markedly empty lately. But folks, that is misleading to a certain extent. Our grandstands these days hold hundreds of thousands of fans, so if the fan count is down any, it looks glaringly empty. My point is that folks need to look at the other side of the coin sometimes. Sure, there may not be 150,000 at a race track right now. But hey, 100,000 to 120,000 sure is a lot of fans. Show me any — and I mean any — other sport that wouldn't give their left arm to have 100,000 to 120,000 fans on any given event of theirs. Some of those sports can't even come close to seating that many people if they wanted to. The thing I really love about the race fans are they are proactive all the time. They don't wait for you to come to them, they come to you in an instant. They don't do it for one day either. It's not like they roll in Sunday morning, tailgate, watch the race and then head home. They come three, four and five days in advance.
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Go to any track on our circuit about mid-week and you will see campers and tents in place, a fire going as they cook up some burgers and dogs, etc. Folks, that's unique and that's what sets our fans head and shoulders about the rest. You always hear me talking about how we in NASCAR are a small family or traveling circus going from town to town, well it's the same with our fans. They have their own community. Most park their campers in the same spot at every track. They normally park by their same friends. They have had the same seats in the grandstands forever. Go to Talladega. The boulevard there is like going to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The cool thing is they go there to have fun. There is very little trouble. Now sure, you have the occasional folks that have too many adult beverages and get a little too wild, but all in all, it's a family atmosphere and the folks police themselves. Again, these fans drive for hours or even days to get to the next track. It's simply amazing the sacrifices they make to support all of us. What still gets my blood boiling is the folks that maybe don't stay in a camper or tent around the track. The folks that roll into town face jacked-up prices all across the board. Hotel rooms that any other time go for $100 a night magically become $250. The same holds true for food, gas etc. It's just not fair. I have said this many times before and I will keep beating this drum. NASCAR and the tracks need to work with all the restaurants, hotels, gas stations etc in the community where the upcoming race is to give these fans some kind of discount. If you have a race ticket in your hand and walk into a hotel, restaurant or whatever, you should automatically get a fan discount — not getting fleeced. Some tracks like Charlotte are working hard to make that a reality, but I just know if I was a track promoter right now that would be priority No. 1. Another thing that impresses me about these fans is their dedication while at the track. I saw it when I was driving and I still see it up in the TV booth. How many times has it been raining, snowing, 100 degrees or 5 degrees and there those fans sit. Here's a funny example: A couple years ago, our Boogity souvenir rig was in Daytona for the July race. Now in July there on the ocean you just never know what Mother Nature will throw at you. One day, like normal down there, a storm blew in off the Atlantic and boom, the rig sold out of hundreds of Boogity ponchos. Then the storm blew out and it got really hot and the rig called and said they were out of T-shirts. The next day a cold front blew in and the night of the race is was cold as heck and the rig sold out of Boogity sweatshirts. Yes, sold out of sweatshirts in July in Daytona. Who knew, right? I am sure that was the case on a lot of the souvenir rigs but that is my point, the NASCAR fan hangs in there no matter what. They simply are the best in the world. They will endure anything to watch the cars go around the track and maybe even meet or at least get a glimpse of their favorite driver. We in NASCAR can never, ever take that for granted. The bottom line is if we don't have fans, we cease to exist as a sport. Our sport cannot survive without sponsors on the side of those cars. If there are no fans willing to buy and support the sponsors, then the sponsors leave and those race cars get parked — game over. Independent studies have shown time and time again that given a choice to buy a product that is in NASCAR or pick the one not supporting NASCAR, our fans will buy the one supporting our sport. The other really cool thing is these fans will buy the products of the supporting company, even if they aren't a fan of that particular driver. Back in the day, there was a certain driver from Ownesboro, Ky., who had a tendency to get the fans all riled up about every other week. But they still bought Gatorade or Mountain Dew or Pepsi or Tide etc, not because they cared a lick for that certain driver, but they wanted to show their appreciation for those sponsors being a part of NASCAR. A fan will drive for hours or days and then proceed to stand in line because they simply want to see you. They don't ask a lot from you. They want to shake your hand, take a picture and maybe get an autograph. It's important to them and the celebrities in our sport can never ever forget that. Sure, sometimes you get into a pinch where you are on your way to the race car or sponsor meeting or even the TV booth and you don't have time for everyone. Been there, done that — guilty as charged. That fan is broken-hearted and crushed. You know it, you see it on their face but sometimes outside circumstances keep you from stopping for 10 minutes and signing everything fans want. I, for one, hate that more than anything. I want to shake their hand, ask them where they are from, take that picture and have them leave happy. Unfortunately it just can't happen all the time like that. The ones I love the most are the fans that come up to me and say, "Do you remember me?" Naturally I am standing there with a blank look on my face while I rack my brain trying to figure out how or when I saw them before. Then they will say, "It was 1981, I was eight years old and my Dad and I saw you at the back gate of Darlington. You and Stevie were leaving the track. I wanted an autograph but had nothing for you to sign so you took off your Mountain Dew hat, signed and gave it to me." Stuff like that gets to me. Here is this grown man some 28 years later now in his mid-30's who still is a fan for something as simple as giving him your hat and signing it. That just tells you the heart and soul of a fan. They are amazing. The cool thing is they do it to all of us. Go ask Richard, Pearson, Cale, Bobby, Bill, Terry etc. how many times it has happened to them? There simply aren't any greater fans in the world than those that come to NASCAR races. Some of your classic arguments are between your best racing buddies. Maybe you are a Jeff Gordon fan but your best buddy is a Kyle Busch fan. Think that makes for interesting conversations Sunday night in the car on the way home from the track? You betcha. I also think the new NASCAR Hall of Fame, when it opens next May, will spur along even farther how the fans know and are wanting to learn our history. They know who Red Byron was. They have learned about Ned Jarrett behind the wheel before he was in the TV booth or Tiny Lund, Fireball Roberts, etc. I have mentioned a few times in the last couple weeks about how we are a relatively young sport compared to the others. Where unfortunately you can't go talk to a Babe Ruth or a George Halas, race fans can still walk up to a Junior Johnson, a Richard Petty, or a Pete Hamilton and yes, even a Darrell Waltrip and ask questions and learn about where our sport came from. Where would we be without the fans? That's easy — nowhere. We'd simply be out of business. They support our sport in so many ways and really don't ask that much in return. In most cases they simply want to meet the drivers, shake their hand, and maybe get a picture and an autograph. How many fans get to go down on the field or court before a football, baseball or basketball game? That's why our sport is so special. We give the fans instant access to our stars because we in the sport all know the race fan is the ultimate key to our success. You've heard me talk time and time again about DW's Golden Rules for racing. Well this is No. 1 in my book: Don't ever forget the race fan.
Tagged: Jeff Gordon, David Reutimann, Kyle Busch

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