By admin | August 26, 2009
By Richard Allen
Not too long ago I had a person involved in the NASCAR souvenir business send me an e-mail in which he said that he was selling more Tony Stewart items than items for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He also said that Kyle Busch articles were holding their own against Juniorâ€™s stuff.
This past Saturdayâ€™s Sharpie 500 at the Bristol Motor Speedway was the first NASCAR race since March in which I had sat in the grandstands. So, I decided to pay particular attention to the hats, T-shirts and other items being worn and sold.
My friends and I have a spot in the shade of the front stretch grandstand where we sit and do a little â€˜people watchingâ€™ for an hour or two before going inside the track. One of the first things each of us noticed was that we were not so completely overwhelmed by those wearing Junior related items as has been the case in previous years.
Just for the sake of comparison, a few years ago I attended a race in Atlanta and the sea of Budweiser red(he was still driving the #8 car) was so overwhelming that I asked a friend of mine if there were fans of any other driver in attendance. There are times at Bristol and various other tracks in which I have wondered the same thing.
This time, I did not feel as though I was swimming in a tide of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. paraphernalia. Granted, there were plenty of Junior fans, just not in their usual overwhelming numbers.
When I toured through the souvenir trucks I believe what the e-mailer told me was true. Tony Stewartâ€™s truck had potential buyers stacked four and five deep. Kyle Buschâ€™s truck had a nice sized crowd around it as well. Juniorâ€™s truck also had nice crowds as usual, but not as big as at Stewartâ€™s.
Of course, there could be a simple explanation. Stewart has traded his Home Depot orange for Office Depot red. It could be that his fans are having to renew their stockpile of goods. Junior swapped rides last year and perhaps his fans have already updated their closets so there is no need for more items.
However, that does not account for the numbers of people decked out in Stewart grab compared to those in the #88 apparel. There seemed to be at least as many Stewart fans as Earnhardt fans.
Have the Junior fans grown tired of their driverâ€™s lack of success and switched their allegiance? If this is the case then it would prove that the â€˜Junior Nationâ€™ are more than just the fans of a single driver but are fans of the sport in general. They just moved over to a driver experiencing more success.
Have the Junior fans grown tired of their driverâ€™s lack of success and found something else to do? This could be a possible explanation for the lowered attendance and television ratings. If this is the case, it is a bad sign for NASCAR. It would mean there were a large number of people who were fans of one personality rather than the sport as a whole and now that the personality isnâ€™t producing they have left and wonâ€™t be back.
Perhaps it was just an anomaly. Maybe there are as many Junior fans as there have always been and I was simply sitting in the wrong place. As I said, there were plenty of the â€˜Junior Nationâ€™ about. It just did not seem to me that they were in the overwhelming masses they have always been.
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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