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Woody: NASCAR Fans Stand By Their Man

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, December 8 2009
Even though he could not win a race in 2009, Dale Earnhardt Jr. could still draw a crowd. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Even though he could not win a race in 2009, Dale Earnhardt Jr. could still draw a crowd. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer

Having covered football for 40 some-odd years (some odder than others) I know I shouldn’t be shocked nor surprised by the boorish behavior of a sizable segment of fans.

But I am. I’ll never get used to adults – using the term loosely – savaging some kid like University of Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton for playing a game poorly.

On the professional level it’s amazing how quickly fickle fans – “fanatics” indeed – turn on a player. One bad snap can turn cheers to jeers.

I remember the advice of my wise old sports editor many years ago: “Remember, it’s only a game.”

Football fans could take a lesson in perspective from NASCAR fans. No matter how badly things go, they tend to stand by their man.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a classic case in point. Last week he won his seventh consecutive Most Popular Driver Award. He won it after struggling through a nightmare season, winless and never in championship contention.

It was a miserable year for Junior, and magnifying his misery was the fact that his three Hendrick Motorsports teammates all had super seasons. Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon finished 1-2-3 in the standings while Junior was buried in 25th.

But the legions of Earnhardt fans never turned on their driver despite the failure and frustration. At every track Junior continued to receive thunderous ovations. Through thick and thin – and it doesn’t get much thinner than this season was for him – the fans remained loyal.

And it’s not out of fidelity to Earnhardt’s famous father. They love Junior for Junior.

Race fans have a history of sticking by their favorites when they’re down on their luck.

Darrell Waltrip wobbled through the twilight of a once-dazzling career, struggling to keep pace with a new generation of speedsters. Yet, interestingly, D.W.’s popularity seemed to actually increase during his seasons of struggle.

The same applied to Richard Petty, Bill Elliott, Sterling Marlin, Ken Schrader and other fan favorites who maintained their popularity long after they stopped winning.

If Dale Jr. were a high-profile quarterback who fumbled away the season the way Earnhardt did this year, it would be ugly. The boo-birds and the bloggers would be merciless.

Instead, Junior’s fans stand and applaud. Losing hasn’t tempered their loyalty. They know that booing him won’t make him go faster.

They know that their driver feels badly enough already. Making him feel worse won’t make them feel better.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, December 8 2009


  • Pat says:

    One of the reasons Dale Jr.’s fans (myself included) are so loyal is because he is so loyal to us. I didn’t become a NASCAR fan until 2001 so unfortunately I was never able to see his father race. My husband however was a very big Earnhardt fan and he refused to watch a single race for all of 2001 b/c Earnhardt’s death rattled him so much. I kept wondering what it was about a bunch of cars going in circles that could elicit such devotion from someone so I turned on a race one sunday. I was hooked from about 20 minutes in. I chose to root for Dale Jr. for many reasons. First and foremost being his attitude. He never whines to the media, he never blames another driver when the fault is his own, he always does his best and shows his best side to the media and fans. Day in and day out he gets in that car and races his heart out and almost always has a smile on his face when those cameras role. He has so much dang pressure on him to win. So much pressure to be like his father and I don’t know how he could possibly handle all of it but he does. He has more charisma and grace under pressure than athletes (in all sports) who have much much less pressure on them. Their are so many athletes (I could give several names right now) who let the fame and fortune destroy them. They can’t deal with the pressure to win and to please everyone and they turn to destructive behaviors so easily. Jr. is a true class act in every way and I will always be proud to be a fan win or lose. He’s a true athlete and the FIRST and ONLY one for that matter who I am proud to root for every week.
    I have a husband and two sons so believe me, a sporting event is always on in my household and I find myself ashamed at how some of these guys represent themselves and their families.

  • Marybeth says:

    Fox News Channel is saying that Nascar is hoping that Danica can turn around lackluster ratings and attendance.
    If Nascar, Brian France, are really serious about turning around ‘lackluster falling ratings and attendance’ they need to get Jr. out of HMS and back into a competitive car. 2 Busch Championships and 18 Cup wins aren’t all just flukes. He also needs a proven cc he can trust and have confidence in when going into a corner at 200mph. I have read many remarks that HMS always has one team that is not on a par with the other 3 cars. Jr. has been stuck in 25/88, and I do not see 2010 being any better that 2009 if he is still at HMS. Larry, I hope that you can use your influence to get Jr. out and into a competitive ride for next year. It is not fair to Jr. to do this to him, and it certainly isn’t helping Nascar ratings and attendance. HMS has let a lot of drivers go. Kyle Bush’s wins did not take off until he got to Gibbs. Getting out of HMS is the best thing that ever happened to him. He could be the one test driving the R&D car for JJ. Let’s see what you can get done here, Larry. Marybeth

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  • Iretta says:

    Junior is a real person who does not talk down to people fans or no fans. I had the pleasure of riding with him on the introductory lap at Texas Motor Speedway, Spring Race 2007. He not only stopped to sign a couple of autographs as he approached the truck but when we met he ask about me and my family – not about him. This was during the time Kelly had surgery so we talked about her health. Just like you would talk to your family or friend. No pretense. He talked about his fans and how he owed it to them to wave and be interested in them. I had no idea when you should ask to get anything signed and he said we’d do that after we finished the lap out of respect for his fans – not in a hurry to get through with them or me. When we stopped he signed items for me as well for others that were around the truck when we stopped. My daughter that was not attending the race saw this on TV. I was popular for a day! My donation to Speedway Childrens Charity was worth every penny. I urge others to attend the auctions to be able to participate in events like this. If you attend races, when Junior is out the stands sure have less people in them. We’re happy if Junior is 43rd and moves to 42nd. Other drivers have bad races, bad years but the focus is on Junior. It’s hard to believe that he would not just say the heck with it and take a break away from racing for a year but no he comes back every week trying. You can see in his face and know he feels like heck because not only did he let down the fans he truly likes but his team and most of all himself and what he thinks his Father would expect when he doesn’t do well. Dale Sr. had bad years to. I can remember times when everyone was saying it was time for him to go out to pasture yet he came back. As Rusty Wallace has said many times, you never really cared who got the pole but you sure wanted to know where Earnhardt was. People can only take so much of the tantrums thrown by some of the drivers and the poor pitiful me of others but we as Junior fans want him to win but we also want him to continue to be the person he is. Personally I wish him happiness in racing and in whatever he does because he truly deserves it.

  • […] Even though he could not win a race in 2009, Dale Earnhardt Jr. could still draw a crowd. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR) By Larry Woody | Senior Writer …Read Original Story: Woody: NASCAR Fans Stand By Their Man – RacinToday.com […]

  • Ginger says:

    Nascar fans are a different breed, aren’t they? We love Jr for being Jr…nothing less, nothing more. If he runs good, we’re happy, if he runs poorly, we’re sad, but we still love him. Nothing and noone will ever change that. And you’re absolutely right. It has nothing to do with his father. I was a fan of Sr, but I never once voted for him as the MPD. Jr is a different guy who has a real connection with his fans, and we are anxious to vote for him every day and cheer for him at every event. Thank you for your kind remarks.

    • Barbara Bosland says:

      You are exactly right. I always liked his dad, but he wasnn’t my driver. I have followed Jr. since he bagan racing. I’ve always liked him and always will. I will cheer him on in good times and bad. He appreciates his fans and they appreciate him. Through thick or thin, i am forever a Jr. fan.

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