By admin | October 28, 2010
By Richard Allen
There seems to be an on going debate between those who are fans of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and those who are not as to the importance of that driver to NASCAR event attendance and television ratings. After a good run by their driver last Sunday in Martinsville will the ‘Junior Nation’ show up in full force this weekend in Talladega?
The scenario could not really have worked out better as far as the testing of the ‘Junior Effect’ on attendance and ratings goes. Not only did the driver have a good run in which he led 90 laps and looked like a threat to win his first race in over two seasons, but also, the Sprint Cup Series is heading to the track on which he has scored more wins than any other.
In recent races the Talladega track has seemed to have as many or more empty seats than those filled. This at a facility known for close quarters competition because of the use of horsepower robbing restrictor plates which keep cars running in tight packs for the entire 500 mile distance. Surely the folks at Talladega Super Speedway and its parent company, International Speedway, Corp., liked nothing better than watching the #88 Hendrick Motorsports car run at the front of the pack last weekend.
So, did Junior’s run cause the telephones to ring and the e-mail requests to come in at a faster rate this week? Of course, we will never know how much of an impact there was because we won’t know just how many people actually made a decision to attend or watch solely based on Junior’s recent performance.
More of a debatable issue than this one race would actually be what such a sway in attendance really means for the sport. If fans are basing their choices on whether or not to attend on the performance of a single driver, any driver, then the overall product NASCAR is offering gets called into question.
What if there is no big personality to draw fans to the sport years from now? Is the racing the big draw or is it just the individuals?
So, look out, Talladega! Junior Nation is on the way, or at least maybe they are. But what does it really mean if they do show up in force?
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Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.
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