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Racing season has started in this part of the country. It is not yet in full swing but it will be in just a few short weeks. I’d like to post up a little public service announcement for all the drivers out there for the upcoming season.
Be good to your fans. It is important for many reasons.

As a driver, I never had fans. I never had anyone who came up to me after the races. In a way, that was a good thing. I don’t know if I would be able to follow the advice I am about to give to you along with some examples. What I do have experience with is being a fan who has been treated very well by some of my heros and very poorly by others. Many years later as a car owner I’ve also been there when many of my drivers did the right thing.

Let’s start with the good. My Dad, his friends, and I went to the Bristol, Tennessee NASCAR race back in the mid 1990’s. One late afternoon we were driving around the town of Bristol (bustling metropolis....) and ended up cutting through the back of a hotel parking lot. Who was there? NASCAR legends Harry Gant and Bobby Allison. They walked right up to Big Red (our truck) and struck up a conversation like we were old friends. These guys were most likely going back to the hotel after a long day at the track but took the time to bullsheet with a bunch of yahoos from New Jersey and sign some stuff for us. They could have waved and walked by but they did not. They were really nice guys. They made us like them even more just by taking a few minutes out of their day.

Then, onto the bad. As a kid growing up I was a fan of one of the local dirt track guys who, believe it or not, is still running to this day. I wrote him a letter when I was about 10 years old that included a picture I drew in art class of his car. My Mom and I included a stamped envelope for him to send it back. In my 10 year old handwriting, I told him how much of a fan I was and I politely asked him to sign the picture and send it back.
It never came. Weeks went by.

In a rare move we stuck around Bridgeport Speedway one night until the races were over to go into the pits to see if he got it. My Dad and I usually didn’t do this as we had an hour ride home. When I finally got to meet him, I clammed up. It may be hard to believe but I was actually a pretty shy kid. So, my Dad piped up and asked him if he had gotten the picture. His response?
That was it. No...hey that was nice, hey I forgot to send it back, nothing. Just a passing “yea” and then onto another conversation with someone else.
As a ten year old, I was crushed. I remember my Dad being pretty pissed off but didn’t make a scene of any kind.

Now...while you may be psychoanalyzing me wondering why I have held onto this memory for 30 years, relax. I don’t think about this every day. My future was not crushed because of that moment. I didn’t even cry back then and certainly don’t cry about it today.
Here’s the point: I went to the track damn near every Saturday night in 1985 to see how this driver would do. I bought his T-shirts (up until then) and his hats. And 25 years later I even considered putting this guy in my own racecar when the seat became available...but I didn’t.
That 10 year old kid might grow up to own a business when you are still behind the wheel and be willing to sponsor you. That 10 year old kid might own a racecar someday and be out of a driver looking for someone to fill the seat. That 10 year old kid might someday be your competition and rub you up the track the wrong way. That 10 year old kid’s Dad might be willing to sponsor you. All selfish reasons boils down to just being a good person. We are a very small circle of people and paths cross every day.
As a racecar driver you are a public figure. You need to treat everyone the best you can even after you’ve had a bad night. I know some nights it is tough...believe me. But I have been witness to some great acts by those who have driven cars for me. Every one of them was great with the fans. Here are some examples:

Jeff Geiges: Jeff was always great with the fans. He’s managed to become a fan favorite due to his crazy laugh and general great attitude towards life. Jeff had a special needs adult become a super fan of his in 2010, the year we won the TSRS championship. This woman was in the pits just about every night at New Egypt after the races were done. She was an adult who had a difficult time communicating. She would come down and patiently wait behind the car while the rowdy crew, aka “Those Guys” were most likely 3-4 beers deep by this point laughing and carrying on. Jeff always went out and talked to her for a few minutes. What they talked idea. We left them alone. But the point was....he could have ignored her. He didn’t. It was the right thing to do.

Stef Palmai: Stef starting driving my car as a high school student. She had two major fan draws for her...she was young and a female. Therefore, all the kids loved coming up to her. She was always prepared to deal with them. She got down low and met them eye to eye to talk to them like they were equals. Stef also had to deal with some creepy dudes. There were a few guys who...well...acted very strange around her. She treated them with respect but managed to cut off the conversation when it needed to be. Even in the face of some creepers she never blew them off like she would have been justified in doing. She was mature beyond her years in dealing with the fans. She did the right thing every time.

Billy Pauch Jr: Billy is a big draw for many reasons. He is great with the fans, even when they get numerous. Because of this (and his on track performance) he has a great business in T-shirts and apparel that helps fund his racing operation. This is a benefit of being well spoken, respected, and an all around good guy. Billy also has to deal with the fans that want to talk about his Dad, who is one of the best ever. Why in the world anyone would approach Jr. at the end of the night after he just won and want to talk about his Dad winning the Shammy Shine 100 at Flemington in 1988 is beyond me (I’ve seen happened). There were many times I wanted to reach across and grab these people by the throat. I mean..if you want to talk about Billy Sr...go talk to Billy Sr...he’s 4 trailers down. BUT....Billy does not blow them off. He politely chats for a minute or so and moves on.
So, as the season starts, remember this: You never know who that fan is. They might help you in the future. They might buy your T-shirts. They might defend your family in the stands when you take someone out on the track. They might sponsor you. Or, they just may be a nice person looking to talk to their hero.

The fan base of circle track racing is shrinking.
It costs nothing to be a decent human being to help who is left stay around.

Categories : Opinion
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