Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Being A Loyal Fan Means Different Things to Different People

There are as many reasons for being a fan of a particular race car driver as there are fans. Those of us who consider ourselves Nascar fans probably have at least one or two drivers we pull for.

For some people, winning is all that matters. If a driver wins a lot, you might consider yourself a fan. If a driver rarely wins or is not often competitive, you might ignore that driver totally. Many people who are what I consider to be casual fans of the sport probably fall under this category. Everyone likes a winner, myself included, at least sometimes.

Long time fans of the sport, of which I am one, begin to notice other aspects to who we cheer on to win and those whom we quite frankly hope to see coasting into the garage with a plume of smoke following the car. Nascar is unique in a way. Drivers are relatively few in numbers, compared to other sports. In racing, the driver is the face of the entire team, most of the time. Casual fans don't know the names of the crew chief of their favorite driver often times. Very few of them know the name of their driver's jack man or rear tire changer.

Long time fans eventually learn these things and more. We watch the TV interviews. We read every story in the newspapers and on the Internet that we can get our hands on. We read and participate on message boards. Some of us even start writing or Tweeting about it. Some of us are full of crap, too. Some of us make sense at times.

The reasons for being a fan of a certain driver are about as diverse as the stars in the night time sky. Some of us like the attitude a driver displays on or even off the track. Some of us just pull for whoever is hot at the moment. Some of us just like a driver because he seems like a nice person.

Case in point: I am an unabashed Kyle Petty fan. Kyle has not driven a single Nascar race in 2009, but I'm still a fan of his. Kyle has won relatively few races in his career, especially compared to his famous father's career. Kyle never won a Cup championship. But I like Kyle none the less.

I've been a regular fan of Nascar ever since Kyle's career began. I followed his career, as did many, because he was the son of the King. Though Kyle's career on the track has been less than stellar in some ways, he's more than made up for that from his actions off the track.

In 2000, Kyle's son Adam lost his life in an accident during practice at New Hampshire. Adam, by all indications, was a very talented young driver. His death caused a tremendous amount of grief in not only the Petty family, but in the Nascar family as a whole. Adam was just beginning his Cup career at the time, and just how good he could have been is a question for the ages. Davey Allison is another driver whom I often wonder about; how different this sport might be right now had he not died tragically in a helicopter accident at Talladega. I never knew either of these young men, but I had a lot of respect for both of them.

My respect for Kyle Petty is boundless though. In honor of his son, he and wife Patti organized and launched the now famous Victory Junction Gang Camp in memory of Adam. Every year, the camp helps a lot of kids with not so bright futures. Kyle and Patti, as well as many other members of the family have made VGJC a wonderful place. Members of the family don't just include people who's last name happens to be Petty. Many of the drivers in Nascar have devoted not only their money, but their time. in order to make VGJC what it is today. Family, at least in Nascar, doesn't just mean people who share your last name. That's one of the reasons why Nascar is a special organization in my eyes.

Some drivers just connect with you on a very personal level. Most of you know how it feels to meet someone new, say on your job, or at school, and you immediately feel a certain 'click'. You either know you're going to like that person or that you won't like them. Sometimes a personal experience is involved as well. I met a guy the other day who told me that he was a huge Kevin Harvick fan because he once got an autograph from the driver and Kevin was very nice and polite to him. He wasn't that much of a fan before that event, but he will forever more be a 29 fan because Harvick was a nice guy. That's the way it often happens in the racing world.

Whatever your reason for being a fan of a certain driver, remember, the person across the hall or down the street, or in the next cube at work probably has their own reasons for being a fan of someone. Personally, I'm a fan of drivers who are down to earth, with few pretenses. There are still a few out there, who might have more money than they will ever spend, but never forgot where they came from. They almost never get shot in night clubs in big cities either, nor are they arrested for driving while intoxicated or for having a bag of some controlled substance in their cars.

There are exceptions of course, but for the most part, Nascar remains a true family sport.

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