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Woody: From Food To Outhouses, Schtick Works

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, April 6 2010

Kasey Kahne promoted the upcoming race at Richmond by playing paintball. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Back in the days when NASCAR ran two Grand National (now Sprint Cup) races in Nashville, Ralph Emery’s Great Outhouse Race was a fixture.

Emery was host of a popular country music TV show and a huge racing fan. He began holding his annual Outhouse Race as a fun event in connection with the big summer race at the Fairgrounds.

Old outhouses – or replicas thereof – were placed on wheels and “raced” across a parking lot. They were pulled by NASCAR drivers and country music stars.

Was it goofy? Of course. Was it funny and attention-grabbing? You bet.

I don’t remember many details about those long-ago Grand National races at the Speedway but I can recall Ralph’s Great Outhouse Races as though they were yesterday. The Outhouse Races usually got more media coverage than the real races at the track.

That was the point my racintoday.com colleague Rick Minter made awhile back when he reported Jimmie Johnson’s complaints about being asked to participate in “hokey” promotions.

Jimmie seemed to consider it beneath him to participate in such things as a hot dog-cooking contest to help promote the race. (I can only imagine Jimmie’s reaction if he’d been asked to come in and drag an outhouse across a parking lot.)

I agree with Johnson that at first glace such gimmicky promotions seem silly and a waste of time. But when you think about it, you realize they work. They generate attention at a time when the sport desperately needs it.

They garner TV time and create newspaper photos ops. Sure it’s hokey, but so what? The old promoters understood that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

When the Indy Racing League raced in Nashville, such stars as Sam Hornish Jr. and Helio Castroneves would come into town to generate pre-race publicity. On one trip Sam and Helio visited Toostie’s, the world-famous downtown country honky-tonk, where they hammed it up for the cameras. Another time they “recorded” a song together on Music Row.

It was goofy but it was fun. And it was a PR gold mine.

Sam and Helio were always cooperative and good-natured and went along with all the slap-stick ideas, just as the NASCAR drivers of yesteryear cooperated with the outhouse races.

Some of today’s drivers are less generous with their time. A couple of years ago Nashville Superspeedway held a driver autograph session to promote its Nationwide race. Every top driver blew it off.

Yet those same drivers who refused to take time to promote the race rolled in the next day and scooped off most of the prize money.

I don’t know if today’s drivers are spoiled and selfish or simply out of touch, living in a protective bubble insulated from the Real World.

There are exceptions – Jeff Gordon for example is charitable with his time – but some other superstars seem to feel no obligation to donate to the sport and the fans that have made them wealthy.

Maybe running a few Outhouse Races would bring them down to earth.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, April 6 2010


  • Tammy Brewington says:

    Working in racing PR I can honestly say it’s a tough sell to get drivers to cooperate. It should be an equal partnership between the tracks and participants, but it rarely works out that way anymore.

  • lydia says:

    I think the biggest difference when putting the IRL and NASCAR drivers side by side…is the length of their seasons. Do we forget the IRL only has about 18 races..where as NASCAR is 36 plus? We ALWAYS want more from the boys…and for some reason we feel they only work “weekends” and have tons of “free” time. It just ain’t so people. I think there is a lot more going on then meets the eye..if you look on the teams websites you will see appearances and events they are attending and sponsors to make happy…and when they get to the track they have the media to answer to (hey..just ask Stewart!). But they do have to work…and I believe most of them manage a day or two at the shop during the week..and spend time traveling to and from tracks….. So let’s not try and take all their time..and let’s not try and blame the whoas of the tracks on the drivers… I think for most drivers when they get to the track it’s all about business..not about clowning around or dancing jigs to the satisfaction of the public. I like my driver to do his “talking” on the track…I could care less if he can race an outhouse.

  • Richard in N.C. says:

    To be fair I think you should have noted that many drivers, like Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and others, do donate a good deal of time and money to charitable causes.

  • Tammy Brewington says:

    You’re right Larry. When Sean and I worked for the superspeedway we did some hokey, but fun things that always brought out the media and the fans, and we always had backup from the IRL drivers, but it’s much different with NASCAR. Most of the time we’d have to fight tooth-n-nail to get those drivers to cooperate, to the point we’d have to actually get the corporate people at NASCAR involved. So, it’s not easy getting them to promote their own races. I didn’t understand it then and I don’t understand it now.

    • John says:

      Well, folks, NASCAR star Matt Kenseth is headed to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex (Arlington, actually) today for a bowling lesson with pro Norm Duke. The visit is to promote the upcoming Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Matt flew an American Airlines simulator last time he was involved in a promotion in this market, so I’m not sure what he’ll think of the bowling gig. If he brings his own ball…he’s serious.

      • Paul Kelly says:

        Sturb: Too bad Denny Hamlin’s knee still will be tender when NASCAR comes to the Glen in August. The track could have him go one-on-one against Scoop Jardine or Wes Johnson — if the NCAA would allow it!