By admin | December 17, 2008
By Richard Allen
With Christmas fast approaching and last second shopping being done, one has to consider what NASCAR would do without Dale Earnhardt, Jr.?
Junior accounts for a large percentage of souvenir sales among NASCAR themed items. It is estimated he earns over $10 million per year from selling items such as T-shirts, hats, posters, flags and all sorts of other items.
Even when he announced he was leaving his Dale Earnhardt, Inc. ride at the end of 2007 to go drive for Hendrick Motorsports his souvenir sales rose, dramatically. Typically, a driver’s announcement that he intends to leave one team for another causes his sales in the souvenir area drop off significantly. Not so for the sport’s most popular driver.
The Christmas buying season only emphasizes Junior’s importance to NASCAR. With one driver accounting for such a high percentage of the total fan base, and thus, such a high percentage of the total of all revenue, the sport is constantly at the mercy of one personality and the fans who follow him.
At the present, NASCAR has very little to hang its hat on. There seem to be so many reasons not to attend or even watch. Earnhardt provides many fans with a positive in a sport that is right now consumed with negatives.
The sagging economy and outrageous gas prices of last summer and fall provided the straw to break the camel’s back for many fans. Empty seats appeared all too frequently in 2008, and there is little prospect for improvement in 2009.
One thing to be said for Junior’s legion of fans is they are loyal. Their driver’s success has not been reason enough to spur the ‘Junior Nation’. He has won only two races over the past three seasons. He has either failed to qualify for the Chase for the Championship or has not been a serious threat to win the title more often than not. And, he decided to leave or was forced to leave, depending on the point of view, his popular late father’s team.
And yet, despite all of that, his fans continue to support him. NASCAR should be glad they do.
Once, while going into a race at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, I asked a friend of mine if there was anyone attending the event who was not cheering for Earnhardt. Every fan was adorned with his then colors of red and white. The grandstands erupted with a cheer upon his introduction that far out did the cheers for any other driver.
That scenario is true of almost every race venue.
Love him or not, everyone almost certainly has to admit the sport of NASCAR racing is very much dependant on Dale Earnhardt, Jr. for its survival. Imagine even more empty grandstands if he were not racing. Picture the nearly vacant souvenir lot without his multitude of trailers.
It’s Christmas time Junior Nation. Have you bought the latest apparel, die casts and other prizes offered by your favorite driver? NASCAR hopes so because they depend on it.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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