Sunday, September 06, 2009

Blind Faith or Being a NASCAR Fan?

A few days ago, I blogged a scathing commentary about David Gilliland losing his seat for a few races this year. While this was the most prominent of my printed feelings, I also sent a private email to TRG CEO, Kevin Buckler. Many members of David Gilliland's fans wrote to various principles of TRG, all expressing our shock and displeasure over the actions of the team.

I am going to give major credit to Kevin Buckler, as he and his wife Debra have been responding, one by one, to all of our emails. As he pointed out, there are not many team owners who would do that.

I agree. Kevin's responses are very unusual among team owners. But, TRG and David's fans, aka Gilly's Gang, have had a special relationship this year. We embraced Kevin as part of our family. We had some very special communications with members of his organization coming to our forum, and talking about some of the inner scenes. Indeed, one of our members became an associate sponsor of the #71 car.

In his email, Kevin gave some background information of the decision, which I don't feel privileged to reveal. Much of what he said, though, was already mentioned on his interview on Friday's Sirius NASCAR show, Trading Paint. He expressed that he has a family, employees,and a very large group of investors that he needs to keep paramount in his decisions. He considers David to be a likable friend, and hopes to have him back in the car for about three more races.

We had a discussion about how the fans blindly lashed out at his decision. I took quite a bit of time to think about that, and responded with some thoughts about how we as fans DO react blindly. After all, we can only react to what we see and hear, as we are not privy to the background information.

Our sport is really an anathema for the idols and the fans. We seem to have much more access to our stars than many other sports fans. Our driver autograph signings are usually free. Some drivers, with extreme popularity, have such a vocal group of fans that they can often help sway the decisions of team owners. (Tony Eury, Jr at Hendrick, for example!)

Yet, really, what do we know about the drivers and the others who make this sport work? We rarely hear details about their personal lives, and what we do know is just brushed across the surface. Press Releases are cleaned and sanitized to prevent negative comments. Few drivers want to create negative vibes with fans, and therefor watch everything they say carefully. Sponsors will send their drivers through carefully crafted media-training sessions. Most sponsors also have a brand manager at the driver's side to keep anything negative from falling on the brand.

Because of that, we do react blindly to situations that involve our favorite drivers. It is the only way we CAN react, because we don't have access to the intricacies of how these decisions are made. Nor should we, yet we will still react.

We will follow our driver from team to team. We will defend that driver and the team with the best of our abilities. We trust that the media releases we hear are true. We will line up hours ahead of time to get a chance to meet our driver. We embrace team owners, since they have the excellent taste to hire our driver. And when we perceive something is not right, and it is a negative for our idol, we will 'blindly lash out.'

This is called being a fan.

Bobby Labonte's fans have experienced some pretty big ups and downs. They were upset with Yates, and thrilled with TRG. Gilly's fans are upset with TRG, and thrilled with Wood Brothers, Joe Gibbs, and Robby Gordon. Erik Darnell's fans are just plain thrilled! But each of those drivers does have a fan base, and the fans ultimately are the ones who make the loudest noise! And with the internet, Twitter, blogging and Facebook, fans have even more noise than ever before.

And if any of the above mentioned teams have problems? The fans will blame the team, the owner, the crew chief, the car, the tires, the weather....anything but our driver. I for one, hate to think of the fans 'blindly lashing out' if Labonte has to do a start and park!

I would like to thank Kevin Buckler for taking the time to respond to me and to the other fans of Gilliland. While we are not cured of our hurt, the wound has a makeshift bandage. Many of us are feeling better. For now!

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