Woody: From Food To Outhouses, Schtick Works
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 firstname.lastname@example.org Comments