In the last two decades NASCAR’s leadership has taken great pains to expand the sport to just about every region of this country. East to West, North to South, the once regional sport hosts events all over the country – including events in the nation’s largest media markets. On top of that, NASCAR has active offices in New York, and perhaps more importantly for the sport’s image, Los Angeles.
There are people working for NASCAR right now to get the sport and the sport’s talent placed into mainstream scripted and unscripted television programs. Yet for all that work, NASCAR continues to have this image as having a redneck, racist, ignorant fan base.
Take this example from the brain trust of the Mobile Press-Register’s sports desk:
What is NASCAR doing saying “The Pledge of Allegiance” before the national anthem? They’ve never done that before. Now they’re showcasing some right-winger singer. Is NASCAR getting political? I know they cater to the uneducated, uninformed white male. There is a term called a NASCAR dad, and basically that is a manual laborer who isn’t educated. But why do they have to patronize with “The Pledge of Allegiance?”
Apparently saying the Pledge of Allegiance is purely a political act. And what’s so wrong with the NASCAR dad? Whoever wrote this has an incorrect conception of the term (check this out); and a lack of basic research skills. Even so, since when is it a bad thing in this country to be blue collar?
As absurd and ignorant as I think this little tidbit was, I think it speaks to a larger problem for the sport. How after all these years of work and expansion do we find ourselves as the continued butt of jokes.
I was watching NBC’s 30 Rock last week and was taken aback to hear the show take a shot at the sport. I won’t get into the back story (the quote is 15:03 in), but one of the characters said, “I wish I could help you, but I can’t sleep with a black guy; I’d lose my endorsement deal with NASCAR.” What!?!
I know NASCAR isn’t condoning this sort of thing, but they’re not helping it. Anybody remember Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby? Sure it’s a funny movie, but it’s everything that’s wrong with NASCAR in the mainstream. It’s been widely reported that one team owner refused to take part in the film, saying it would set the sport back 25 years. And it probably wasn’t a far off concern. It certainly didn’t do the sport any favors. This movie amplifies every ridiculous and ignorant stereotype surrounding NASCAR. This isn’t/wasn’t good for the image of this sport.
For those not involved with or interested in NASCAR, this type of thing reinforces all those stereotypes they associate with it (we’ve all heard them). Personally, this had me wondering if this is what Hollywood and the rest of the world thought about NASCAR.
For a sport very concerned with reaching wider audiences across the country, NASCAR sure does do a good job of alienating itself. It’s like two steps forward, three back. I don’t get it.
Reviving, or reworking the NASCAR image is something NASCAR needs to address as they pull themselves out of this current rut. I believe it’s important to do internally (which I think they’re working on) and externally in the media. If they want to attract new fans, and not drive the casual fan away, this, I believe, could go a long way. Whatever they do though, I think it’s hard not to realize that this is a problem.