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Youth Movement Could Power NASCAR’s Future

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, April 5 2011

Trevor Bayne has struggled on the track since his victory in the Daytona 500, but not with the NASCAR fan base. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

Rick Minter | Senior Writer

There were several positive signs for the future of NASCAR last weekend, and two of them came even before Dale Earnhardt Jr. showed at Martinsville that he might have some winning left in him.

Over at Stuart, Va., on Friday night, the Wood Brothers scheduled an event at their old shop to allow their local fans and friends, as well as fans in the area for the Martinsville races, to meet Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, crew chief Donnie Wingo and the original racing brothers – Glen, Leonard and Ray Lee. (Delano was unable to attend.)

Ray Lee Wood hadn’t been to a racing-related event since he changed the tires on Curtis Turner’s winning Ford in the inaugural race at Rockingham back in 1965, and Bayne was making his first stop in Stuart.

The event was scheduled from 7 to 9 p.m., but the Woods and Bayne agreed ahead of time that they wouldn’t turn away any autograph seekers.

The size of the crowd exceeded anyone’s expectations, and the last autograph wasn’t signed until long after the event was supposed to end.

“We thought we would do a couple hours, and we ended up signing autographs until midnight last night for 4,000 fans,” Bayne said. “So it was a really good turnout. It’s awesome to see the hometown support.”

Down at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in South Carolina, NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series East ran its first race of the season on Saturday night. In the field was 15-year-old Chase Elliott, who was making his

Fans line up en masse to get the autograph of young driver Chase Elliott at Greenville-Pickens Speedway. (Photo courtesy of Cindy Elliott)

NASCAR debut along with 11 other rookies.

When it came time to sign autographs, it was clear that Elliott has inherited the drawing power of his father Bill Elliott, who was voted NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver a record 16 times.

The line in front of Elliott stretched from his car on the frontstretch into Turn Four, and there were still many in line when series officials insisted they get back in the grandstands so the race could start.

Neither Bayne nor Elliott, despite their success so far, has raced long enough to know whether they’ll ever win numerous Cup races or championships, but both have shown so far that they’re decent people. Bayne’s a proud Christian and has remained humble and true to his beliefs through his Daytona 500 victory and his struggles since.

Likewise, young Elliott has remained humble and stayed in high school even as he’s won nearly every major short track race in the South and signed a deal with Hendrick Motorsports that should lead to a full season in the Nationwide Series as soon as he reaches the minimum age.

Bayne and Elliott are showing that there are other ways besides “Boys, have at it” instructions to drivers to build the sport’s fan base.

It’s also worth noting that Earnhardt ignored the “Have at it” instructions at Martinsville, where he could have tried to crash his way to a victory but instead got a runner-up finish by racing others the way he’d like them to race him.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, April 5 2011
One Comment

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  • Amy Hogan says:

    The Youth Movement will power NASCARs future and these two racers are fine examples of that movement. I have watched Chase Elliott race in person and he has pure talent. However, the movement for wealthy people to pay for their kids ride in NASCAR may destroy it one day. Over the last few years the new racers coming into NASCAR are paying teams to develope them and are using their sponsorships power to buy thier rides into NASCAR teams. Subsequently, there are racers racing that in the old day wouldn’t have even been looked at by teams. This diluting of the talent has made NASCAR boring to watch and I much rather spend my time at the local track watching true racers race. I no longer attend NASCAR races because they can’t even compare to local track racing. NASCAR was made popular by regular guys like Earnhardt who had to claw his way to the top, subsequently he had a huge following because he was just like every other race fan out there, a “regular Joe” who made it to the top. Fans don’t want to watch the kid who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth with substandard racing talent go around in circles. They want a hero from their own ranks racing hard and until NASCAR figures that out and helps these “regular Joes” make it into their field, like the old days, NASCAR will continue to lose fans. This progression by NASCAR teams toward contracting a driver based upon how much money or sponsorship they can bring to the table will eventually destroy the sport that is their livelihood. Wake up guys, look for talent and personality, and the money and sponsorship will come because it will make for great racing and fans will flock back to the tracks.