Dear Mr Wheeler
January 16, 2004 | 10:15 A.M. EST
I am writing today to ask your help in a cause that is near and dear to my heart, as I know it is to yours. Like me I’m sure you had some grave reservations when you heard the annual T. Wayne Robertson Cup Preview was off and something called Fanfest would take its place during the annual Daytona Preseason Testing dog and pony show.
Well as I feared, and as you probably guessed as well Fanfest was an unmitigated disaster. Officials would like us to believe that 4500 souls showed up for round one of Fanfest, though most in attendance peg the actual number of fans on hand at less than half of that. (Isn’t it interesting that more folks signed a grassroots petition to have NASCAR stop the Playoff system in the first week than NASCAR could draw fans to Fanfest with three months to promote it?) Now I ain’t shedding any tears for whatever blockhead came up with the idea of this Fanfest nonsense, nor am I particularly upset the organization ended up with egg on their face over this mess. Like Jimmy Cliff wrote and my buddy Jerry used to sing so well, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall, one and all.”
What does bother me is the old Preview and this Fanfest mess are charity events that help a lot of worthwhile organizations that do good work for the less fortunate. And because of the major decrease in attendance at Fanfest this year, the donations to these charities are go to be miniscule compared to years past. .
The possibility the powers that be will see the error of their ways and amend things doesn’t seem likely to me. You on the other hand have always been a hands-on, “get the job done, and do it right” sort of guy and I admire that about you. You don’t need fancy studies, you don’t need committees of hand-wringers or popularity polls to decide your next course of action. You see a problem, you come up with a solution and you fix it. More power to you for that attitude which is what makes this nation great.
That’s why I’m being presumptuous enough to ask for your help with this idea. I’d do it myself, but basically I am a dumb guy. It doesn’t bother me any. I’m about smart enough to keep my mouth shut in the shower to keep from drowning and not to lick fire hydrants in February (some things you gotta learn by doing so once or twice) so I get by. You, on the other hand, are a smart guy. Plus you have the facility, the staff, and the marketing prowess to make this thing work. And you’ve got enough favors you can call in from the drivers to make it work.
I’d like to see the Annual Lowes Motor Speedway Fan Preview added to the calendar in place of the lamentably lost T. Wayne Robertson Winston Preview. Since it would be your event, NASCAR couldn’t go ahead and move it to some other far flung location at another track. Folks up here in the Northeast are willing to spend a day driving down and a day driving back to attend an event like the old Preview and of course folks in the Carolinas should show up in droves.
Work with the race teams to make a long weekend of it by holding open houses at their shops on Friday and Monday. Come up with a system where fans can get those autographs they so cherish from their favorite drivers under a selection system I’m sure you could come up with that would be fairer than anything I can devise. Have all the pretty new cars in their exotic new paint schemes parked up and down pit road so the fans can get a gander at them and take some up close and personal photos. Have a charity auction to sell helmets, uniforms, bent up sheetmetal and the use of a luxury box during Charlotte Speed-weeks. Let fans bid on a taking a few laps around your track as a passenger with their favorite driver not at some point in the indeterminate future, but ten minutes after the auction ends. Have that driver and the winning bidder hop in one of those Petty Driving Experience cars and head right on out there and get with it. And if the second or third highest bid seems worthwhile, I bet you could convince those drivers to take a few more laps with a new passenger in the name of charity.
See, I think most of the drivers, with some stunning exceptions I will not name, are good-hearted people. They want to help out folks less fortunate than them. They know who butters their bread and they don’t mind spending a few hours giving autographs, posing for photos, or taking laps around the track. They don’t mind, that is, if the location of the event is just down the road from their homes. They probably do mind an event all the way down in Florida where they’d be expected to spend another few days away from their homes if NASCAR gets their way and moves Fanfest from Wednesday evening to Saturday next year to avoid a repeat of this year’s debacle.
Given some time I bet you could come up with some ideas to make the Preview even more fan friendly and fun than it was in Winston-Salem. How about having Bill Broderick on hand to give out hats to the fans? You wouldn’t believe how many fans still write me and ask what ever happened to him. Invite up Greg Fielden to hold a trivia contest for know-it-alls with first prize being a brand new GTO, Mustang or Magnum, sitting right there on the spot with the keys in the ignition awaiting the winner. (I know you know how to make the car companies give away cars. There’s a trick I wish you’d teach me.) Fireworks after sunset are a given. Ask fans to bring canned goods to help restock the kitchens of charitable organizations and choose one lucky participant in the food drive to win the right to be the honorary starter of the 600. (Between you and me, after that Las Vegas stunt, I’m about sick of seeing Britney Spears anyway.) I’m sure you’d see to it the fans had such a good time they’d pick up race tickets for the May and October races before heading out of town.
Maybe you could even schedule the Preview for the same weekend as the kickoff of the media tour. It might be interesting to have the fans and the scribes finally get a look at each other. (While separated by a sturdy chain link fence, of course, to prevent bloodshed and prevent pilfering of “deadline media only” free food.) It might benefit some fans to see that the writers are flesh and blood human beings with real feelings who get bummed out sometimes by the names they are called in emails. It might interest some writers to see just how little the typical fan cares about the working conditions in the media center. That blue-haired guy out of Virginia would probably take off at a dead trot after hearing how little fans care about his proposal a Nextel priority ought to be improving the quality of the free lunch buffet in the press box. I’m not saying he’s a little out of touch with race fans. I’m thinking he’s a little out of touch with this planet the rest of us share.
Speaking of Nextel, you should probably invite them down to the Preview and have a couple closed-door meetings with their marketing folks. After spending an hour with you they’d leave with more ideas than a stray dog has fleas.
Is it too late to have such a pre-season event this year? Logic says “yes” but if anyone could pull it off, it’s you, Mr. Wheeler. If not, please plan something memorable for next year that in addition to being fun for the fans also helps the least of our brothers. The fans, the folks in need and your humble correspondent are counting on you.
In closing, thanks for all you’ve done to make Charlotte race weekends more fan friendly. Thanks also for all the good works you and SMS undertake particularly Speedway Children’s Charities. If anyone can come up with a reasonable replacement for the Preview it’s you and your people. Please consider it.