Nascars Second Class Status

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No matter how much posturing, how much hyping and how much spin the folks at NASCAR offer up, they still can't get any respect.

Year after year, we hear - and to some extent pass along - how well accepted NASCAR is by the mainstream media and the average sports fan.

Well, that’s wrong.

As just one of many examples that could prove my point, I offer up the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, the largest sports magazine on the planet - as well as one of the most respected.

In a double, year-end issue, Sports Illustrated has taken on the fans. "Give it up for the fans. A Salute to the Paying Customer, Our Fan's Hall of Fame, Pro Athletes Rate the Fans," reads the cover.

OK, seems fair enough. No matter what Neon Deion Sanders says, fans make the sports world go around. Ask any NASCAR driver that and they'll tell you the same.

Oops, Sports Illustrated failed to write about any NASCAR drivers or fans and their perceptions of the sport. And, of course, the magazine failed to mention stock-car racing - or any kind of racing - at all.

Nadda. Zip. Nothing… Not one word.

Instead, after a short preamble, there are profiles of sports fans such as Tommy Gaston, who has held season tickets for the Toronto Maple Leafs for 60 years. There's another about a guy named Duane Vernon, a big Michigan State football fan. And there's one about Jim Goldstein, a real-estate mogul who sits courtside at L.A. Lakers games.

Now, if you've been around racing for any period of time, you know a few fans that would rank in a Hall of Fame.

I know a woman in New Jersey who lives and breathes Jeff Gordon. If he hurts, she hurts. She's got everything Jeff. Fact is, she can't watch a race with a friend and me, because she knows we’ll simply mock Jeff the entire time, causing her to fall into a puddle of tears. (I digress, I like Jeff Gordon; we simply joke about him to drive her crazy.)

She and her husband spend a full week in Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600. She drives to Dover just to watch the drivers practice, and she does the same when the cars are at Pocono. She’s a huge fan.

I know another, every time I see this woman, the question is always the same: "When are you going to get me Jeff's autograph?"

They’re good examples of the typical NASCAR fan. Dedicated, attentive to the turns of the sport, and die-hard followers.

Sports Illustrated, however, doesn't think so.

When the magazine had a chance to turn to pro athletes for their thoughts about the fans, there seemingly wasn't a driver polled. Instead, the sports selected were the traditional stick-and-ball events such as the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB.

All these folks would have had to do was walk through the infields of Talladega, Daytona or even Dover to get a taste of real fans. These people are dedicated NASCAR followers who work years on their "Show us your ---s!" cheers.

OK, maybe that was a little radical.

Still, there are dedicated, good-hearted, clean-cut fans in racing who spend tons of money to follow the circuit week to week, or simply spend their entire vacation haul to stay a weekend at a Red Roof Inn that’s tripled its rates to accommodate race fans.

Or what about those people who will spend a day standing near a fence hoping a driver will stop by to sign a hat? And what about those folks who haul used race tires home every week? In what other sport do fans sit around waiting for event-used souvenirs?

None. Nobody waits around a football stadium for pieces of used tape from a lineman's hands. It just doesn't happen.

But stuff like that happens all the time in racing.

For a while, Sports Illustrated was covering racing, albeit every couple of weeks. In those weeks, racing was in the magazine exposed to those stick-and-ball fans who might have only heard about racing somewhere else. Yet, that coverage stopped.

The point of all this, mind you, is that despite the tub thumping, NASCAR just hasn't gotten the respect of the mainstream media. Wipe away the hype, and NASCAR in most venues is simply a second-class sport.

Indeed, NASCAR is very much like a driver who missed the show and has to buy a ride in.

During the season, Sports Illustrated runs advertorials - special advertising sections about the sport, paid for by Winston. This special double-issue is no different. The very last page of the magazine is a paid advertisement for UPS and Dale Jarrett.

Once again, NASCAR has had to pay to get into the show. Honestly, that's not respect at all.

If you have questions, comments or ideas you'd like to send to Richard Huff, you may do so at RichmHuff@cs.com

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