Saturday, December 8, 2007
Taking the Blame or Responsible for the Success?
I've read a lot of interesting opinions from esteemed members of the media concerning the dramatic events which played out over the course of the season beginning with Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s announcement that he would be leaving DEI after the 2007 season. Some of the more interesting opinions weren't even from the media, they were from the Chairman himself, Brian France. Mr. France basically insinuated that Nascar's sagging TV ratings and ticket sales were the fault of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Dale Jr. didn't make the Chase, Dale Jr. didn't win a race in 2007. Therefore, according to Mr. France, Nascar's most popular driver is the reason why fewer people watched the races this year.
I also read a member of the media's account of how DEI basically had to cut of it's right arm in order to save itself. Apparently, the writer's opinion is that DEI sacrificed Dale Jr. in order to save DEI. Dale Jr.'s popularity was a burden to DEI, and now that he's gone, the company can return to a level of normalcy that will allow it to succeed.
Normally, I would withhold comment on these type of things, but some of what I've read and heard over the last few weeks is complete lunacy. For one thing, I'm pretty sure that DEI didn't fire Dale Earnhardt Jr., which at least one esteemed member of the media seems to be inferring. Dale Jr. left on his own, and mostly because of the reasons that Mr. France states; that being that Dale Jr. is not winning races or running well enough to make the Chase. Furthermore, I doubt that Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s season tanked because he wanted to sabotage DEI. I listened to Dale Jr.'s radio conversations virtually every race this season, and never once did I hear him give up as long as the car was drivable. It didn't matter if he was laps down, or the engine was failing, which it did often, but I never once heard Dale Jr. give up.
Since Dale Earnhardt's death in 2001, the sport of Nascar's focal point has been his son. Dale Jr. achieved almost overnight rock star status, and though he has his detractors, he has remained committed to one thing: Winning.
The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, the old saying goes. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not his father, and never will be. Dale Jr. is his own man, and he runs to the beat of his own internal drum. All the haters out there will always find their reasons to hate, but the true fans, and they are very, very many, will continue to back their driver. Dale Sr. had his detractors as well, but their opinion never swayed him in his course to greatness. Dale Jr. has enough of the Earnhardt genes in him to do exactly the same thing.
In my opinion, Nascar's recent popularity has been sparked by the explosive popularity of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Sure, he hasn't been responsible for all of the recent success, but he is a big part of why Nascar suddenly exploded in popularity in the early part of the decade. Love him or hate him, Dale Jr. converted a lot of casual fans into rabid fans. He turned non fans into fans. He's sold more merchandise than a lot of the rest of the field put together, and has been an unequivocal success in both racing and the business world. Again, in my opinion, Dale Jr.'s move to Hendrick Motorsports will only increase his fan base and his value from a marketing standpoint. In my opinion, all of the Nascar community owes a lot of their success and recognition in the sports world to one man: Ralph Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Junior and his fans are responsible for the bad ratings? BS. ESPN and TNT's absolutely horrific coverage of the races is enough to make a racing junkie like me want to turn off the TV on Sundays. Oh, sure, there have been some bright spots, such as Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett in the booth, but other than that, ESPN fumbled a very expensive ball this year. I hope they do better next year. Hint to ESPN: Quit worrying about the presenting pageantry and traditions of Nascar and just show the freaking racing on the track! If you just did that one thing, I guarantee your ratings would go up. Another idea: Show some of the other cars on the track besides the leaders, and make an effort to go completely through the field and talk about what's happing to drivers in the garage, running laps down etc. We basically tune in to watch a race, not a show about a race.
I'm guessing that Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson winning so many races was probably another reason that a lot of fans turned off the TV. The two drivers are among the best, but to some folks, it gets boring to see the same drivers win over and over. I'm guessing that if Dale Jr. wins 10 races next year, someone will complain that the racing is boring, because all we see is the 88 car winning.
You can't please everyone. I know that I can't, and if I were Dale Earnhardt Jr., I wouldn't even worry about it anymore. As a driver that seems to worry excessively about what his fans think, my advice to Dale Jr. comes from the old TV series MASH. In Dr. Sydney Friedman's words, "Sometimes you just have to pull down your pants and slide on the ice." In other words, I just hope Dale Jr. will be himself, and as long as he does that, his fans will always follow him.