NASCAR thrives as long as the fans are happy, but in recent years, long-time fans seem to have abandoned the sport because their favorite drivers are retiring, and they cannot quite connect with younger drivers.
NASCAR Hall of Famer and Vice Chairman of Hendrick Motorsports, Jeff Gordon, appeared at the inaugural Racers Forum this week at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, and had plenty to talk about what the sport needs more now than ever.
Bringing up Joey Logano's recent comments suggesting that NASCAR should follow other pro sports and promote teams rather than drivers, Gordon said that he would like to see race teams invest more in their individual brands to create more loyal fanbases who will stick with the teams no matter regardless of who is driving their cars.
"Joey Logano I heard say this the other day and it kind of hit me, and I was like 'I love this.' In all other sports, the teams are kind of what the fans are all drawn to. I'm a (San Francisco) 49ers fan, and no matter who the players are I'm going to like the players on that team," Gordon said.
Gordon seems to be onto something because NASCAR could really use something like the NFL where fans are loyal to teams, which could benefit the entire sport, especially if there's another big wave of driver retirements like what occurred at the end of the 2010s.
" I think we have a role as race teams to build our brand up, maybe not as much as the star power of the driver, but in a way where drivers—and we've seen this recently with Jimmie Johnson, Dale Jr, and myself, several big drivers that have huge fan followings stepped away from the sport, and I think it had a big impact on the sport. Because the fans seem to not have a connection to the team as strongly as they did to the driver," Gordon concluded.
While Gordon and Logano both have made suggestions that look to improve the teams' position in the sport, their solutions to losing long-time fans would buck the very tradition on which racing has usually been built. With few exceptions, fans typically identify more with drivers than with teams, following a driver's career from local short tracks to the big time. Although Gordon's comments come with a ton of merit and make sense, it would likely take years before the teams could persuade fans to pick a favorite team instead of a favorite driver, or perhaps teams should invest in establishing satellite organizations at the local level.
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