Well, here we are at the dawn of a new season full of new adventures and experiences. Given that you are reading this, I assume that you survived the offseason and as eager to get the year kicked off in Daytona as I am. As we embark on race season 2014, I imagine the thought of resolutions has long since drifted out of your heads, but there is one I'd like to suggest we take action on as we watch our racing: be more considerate of the drivers that make our sport go round.
Now, I'm figuring that most of you are already as respectful of the drivers and teams as you can possibly be, but reading comments on social media seems to paint a different picture for what NASCAR fans (and a majority of the population) say. That is the one downside to Social Media, all of a sudden we have an outlet for any thought we wish to write, as well as access to the athletes we love. And with that privilege comes a great responsibility: to not say more than we ought, especially if it is of a negative nature and in a place that the ones we speak of might come across it. They are just as human as you and me, with feelings and insecurities. Sometimes when you think of them just as superstars, it's easy to forget that, isn't it? Just because some of the drivers seem to have a tough shell, doesn't mean a particularly biting remark isn't noticed.
As fans, we need to be intentional about building up our favorites without putting down the people we don't like using untrue or half-true statements. There is ALWAYS another side to every story, and about 99% of the time we don't know what that is, so be kind and extend grace if someone does something you don't like. The next time a driver doesn't stop for an autograph or has to brush of a conversation, think about that. There is always something guaranteed to be going on - whether they are already late for a team meeting or appearance, there is something going on with a family member who is far away or they are just flat out having a bad day--on track or off. Is that an excuse for unfavorable behavior? No, but what we don't see from our perspective should encourage us to be a little empathetic rather than apathetic.
I'm not saying that we can't have people we just cannot cheer for (there are a few drivers I'm not anywhere near a fan of), but we can still step up and not just bash them for no reason. I'm talking to myself here too, but just because a driver might say something we absolutely disagree with is not grounds to call them the worst person in the world. For example, a driver going off on our favorite right after an incident on track or Ty Norris' little saying last September - neither of those means they are bad people, they just spoke without thinking. 9 times out of 10, I'm guessing they wish it could be taken back by the time they reach their motorhome. I mean, how many of us do the exact same thing, and we don't even get a microphone stuck in our face after a frustrating incident. So many things get blown way out of proportion and a lot of that, I think, can come from what we say. Comments on Facebook or Twitter can take something that wasn't really all that big of a deal and make a huge mountain out of it.
All of this could even apply to NASCAR, the sanctioning body as well. They've been making a lot of changes recently, most that have infuriated me (but that's for a different article); however, it's not going to help anybody if we just tear them down without addressing the real issue, or the basic idea of it and how it's not really the best idea in the world. If we truly love our sport, and the drivers in it, then saying you are going to stop watching isn't a realistic thing. I mean, really, how many of those people who say they are actually going to never EVER turn a race on again actually follow through? I strongly dislike the new Chase idea, but I couldn't skip watching a race for anything. I love the sport too much & any outrage I might have about a particular decision is because I love my racing and want to see it be its best - or I care about the drivers that could fall victim if things don't go as perfectly as the powers that be are hoping for (like with this qualifying rule). We can be the bigger person and give constructive criticism what a better idea would be - if you are on the NASCAR Fan Council, that's a great place to express those opinions or if you aren't, it's always easy to say it someplace where it could get to the ears you want to hear it. Social Media is always out there & when give you give a clear, constructive idea that shows your love for racing, then it's more likely to be taken seriously.
So, we aren't all going to like the same drivers and we'll have differences of opinions about every single thing that happens, but let's try giving the benefit of the doubt to our drivers and crew chiefs. They are people, just like you and me, and I'm betting most of them didn't think they would be big-time Cup drivers. Oh sure, they hoped for it, but if you'd asked Jimmie Johnson when he was 10 years old if he'd be on the hunt for a record-tying 7th Cup Championship by the time he was 38-39, do you think he'd say that was absolutely going to happen? He actually handles all of the fame & pressure exceptionally well, like the champion he is, but we've got a bigger Cup series rookie field than I can ever remember and I guarantee that at least one of them will have you ticked off at something they did by the time we reach the 10th race of the year. Sure, they've been racing Nationwide recently (most of them), but give them a little bit of room to make mistakes. They aren't perfect and are going to make little missteps every once in a while, that's why they are called 'rookies', after all! They are all very talented and wonderful people, so I encourage you to cheer for them & give them a chance. These are the next superstars of NASCAR!
For any of you lucky enough to be heading down to Daytona over the next couple weeks, or any other race this season, be a true fan and reflect our sport well! If we tear our sport down, who else is going to want to watch? We have more influence than you might think. NASCAR listens to what we have to say (therefore, we get changes to different things--like qualifying) and our non-NASCAR friends pick up on what we say too. Also, anytime you get to be around a driver, be respectful, thankful for the time they give (the bigger, more successful driver they are, the less time they'll have to give as they get pulled in all directions from every side--sponsors, teams and fans) and have something interesting to say that applies to them, whether knowing about a specific hobby or a question about their kids. They'll like seeing you again the next time you run into them and will be more likely to talk for a minute (or longer, if possible). Let them know you care, will support them through anything and understand that you don't expect their lives to revolve around you.
And just enjoy watching the races! We get to watch some of the most talented drivers race in a great series each weekend from February to November, how can we have much to complain about? It's time to get everything going again, so let's get this party started!
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