Youth Movement Could Power NASCAR’s Future
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.orgOne Comment