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NASCAR has a Personality Problem

NASCAR has a rich driver history. Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon are names known in households all over the world. Jimmie Johnson, Richard Petty, and Tony Stewart are all well-known names in American households. What do these drivers have in common? They’re all retired (Jimmie Johnson being semi-retired). This has left a massive void that active drivers have been unable to fill.

Currently, NASCAR doesn’t have any well-known drivers. I recently did a small survey where I asked casual race fans to name an active driver. None of them could name more than two drivers at one time. NASCAR needs household names who can generate enthusiasm and create a special connection with the fans like the legends of the past could. Sadly, only a few of these drivers have been able to create that special connection like Bill Elliott, Dale Earnhardt, or Jeff Gordon could.


The Outlier

Luckily, NASCAR is on a positive trend with Ross Chastain and the excitement he brings on track. His aggressive driving style has made him one of the most polarizing drivers on the circuit. His controversy has created thousands of new fans and inciting publicity. Additionally, Chastain having a farming background has also makes him more relatable than drivers with wealthier backgrounds. Some fans have even stated that his style reminds them of Dale Earnhardt Sr.


The Fix?

There is no simple answer that can fix the superstar conundrum. There are many factors that contribute to the celebrity status of a driver. A few of which are listed below:

The most obvious factor is their on-track performance. The sport has a very talented lineup who have been successful in many other forms of motorsport in addition to stock car racing, and this list is growing with each and every season.

Another major factor is unfortunate reality of any racing series is that money and sponsorship is everything. Racing is a very expensive sport. A driver’s career can be over before it even begins without financial backing. This filters out countless talented drivers before they have a chance to show their skill on track. Meanwhile, drivers with wealthier backgrounds get preferential treatment regardless of their skill.

A third significant factor is that a driver must have a positive relationship with the media and the sanctioning body. The media directly shapes the driver’s career. Furthermore, NASCAR needs the drivers and media to create an approachable and relatable connection to the fans as well as promote their brand plus be maintain a role model image.

The NASCAR Press

For better or for worse, the NASCAR press has had an essential role in the series ever since it became a mainstream series. The press shapes the public perception of drivers. A driver’s relationship with the press can determine the amount of publicity a driver can potentially receive and the general reputation in the motorsport world. This can make or break a potential superstar.

A driver has to have the ability to play the press and have a genuine, charismatic personality. Dale Earnhardt Sr. was a master of charisma and approachability. His hard headed, blue collar personality led him to be a legendary “larger than life” character filled with timeless stories from drivers and fans alike.

Furthermore, a driver’s connection and brand must be genuine. This is one aspect where NASCAR has failed. Many drivers have too much of an “artificial” personality, thus making them uninteresting and generic. An artificial personality is more apparent than one may realize.

The Rivalry Effect

Despite the positive impact that Chastain has had on the sport, the series is still in desperate need of more superstars. Just one driver won’t fix this problem. It will take more stars and major rivalries to bring NASCAR back to a healthy state.

Furthermore, it should be noted that these rivalries should naturally happen. The NASCAR press has had a reputation of allegedly attempting to provoke a rivalry after an on-track incident. The press has also been accused of encouraging disrespect among drivers leading to post-race altercations, however I’ll cover this in another article.

Overall, NASCAR is on the right track with the blooming personality of Ross Chastain, but it has some work to do to fully become healthy once again.

Check out Jacob Barker and Nicole Powell for more great motorsport content! Also, check out our weekly show Coming to the Line on YouTube and Spotify for more in depth coverage.


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