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with Marty Smith
Do you have a question for ESPN NASCAR analyst Marty Smith? Go to Smith's SportsNation page to submit your question or comment for Marty, and check back regularly for the column in which he will provide the answers.
Southern folks are outwardly proud of things fundamentally Southern -- sweet tea, country music, pickup trucks, twang. Stuff like that. NASCAR is one of the things we wholly consider ours. That's why big-market expansion is turning off many so-called "traditional" fans. The fact is expansion and transition are part of big business. You can't fault NASCAR for growing and moving toward profit. Every business does that, and inevitably there are resulting casualties. I completely understand how a guy in the rural south feels like Casualty 1A of NASCAR's expansion. No more Wilkesboro. No more Rockingham. One date at Darlington. I'm not saying Fontana shouldn't have two dates, either. Economically it makes sense for International Speedway Corp. to hold two races in the Los Angeles market. They make more money at Fontana than they do at Darlington. So what? Give Fontana its two dates. Just not Labor Day. Labor Day in Darlington is an institution and should be cherished as such. A direct voice of appreciation wouldn't hurt, either. Recognition makes a man feel good. A couple years back, Coors Brewing unveiled an advertising campaign that placed chairman Pete Coors in the middle of a pillowy Coloradoan snow drift that matched impeccably his full head of hair. As I recall it, he stood easily alongside a bubbling stream filled with crisp, pure mountain water. He wore a burlap jacket with a sheep-skin collar, the kind real men wear out on the prairie. When he spoke you could see his breath. He was direct and the message was simple: This is who we are. This is where we came from. We're damn proud of that and haven't forgotten it. Thank you for drinking our beer -- you got us here. As a consumer positioned smack-dab in the middle of the coveted 18- to 34-year-old male category, it was one of the more effective messages I've ever seen. I'm big on the "back where I come from" pride. We aren't the big dog, but we're striving to be by focusing on our loyal consumers. And we know who we are. Drink up. NASCAR could take a lesson. In general sports-entertainment terms, they aren't the big dog. They're striving to be and have millions of fans as loyal as your Labrador. But a lot of the ones that got them there feel alienated. Maybe it's time to show them some love. I can see Mike Helton sitting on the wall at Darlington, Old Glory whipping easily in the distance, sun setting, somewhere near dusk. No frills. No fancy graphics. No fancy words. Just a man raised in the sport looking straight into the camera and delivering a message on behalf of the entire industry he governs: Thank you. For 60 years you've been our foundation. We strive every day to take NASCAR to new plateaus, but we know where we came from and who got us here. The future is bright, but the past is cherished. That would be cool as hell. Some folks may see it as trite, but you can't win everyone over. Most folks, I'd say, would appreciate it. A lot of them, it seems, need to hear it.Back to the responses for a moment. ESPN has a diverse and educated audience -- one that often pokes fun at my personal Southern accent. (One reader regularly tells me I'm the offspring of Jimmy Neutron and Aunt Bee. Funny.) I was prepared to be called a redneck or worse. A few such comments filtered in, but for the most part fans offered a collective history lesson. Several folks wrote me with their respective versions of what NASCAR used to be and what it has become. The note I most enjoyed came from a cat named "Old Cleo up in the Mountain." Nice. Wonder if he looks like Willie Nelson. The way the guy writes, there's no question he's educated. It's one of the coolest stories I've ever read. It's lengthy but worth the time. It's a story of perseverance and esteemed visceral fortitude in the face of substantial odds. Enjoy. Marty, Young man, I saw your story about NASCAR history and thought it was just great. It said what I've thought for years. I wanted to share a story with you about Wendell Scott. I greatly admired Wendell then and still do today. Remember, this was the deeply segregated South that has, thankfully, all but vanished today. At the time, Wendell had to go to the back door of any eatery and get them to sell him some food outside the back door -- Wendell was black and, therefore, was not allowed to eat inside. He couldn't rent a motel room. He couldn't vote. He had no sponsors that I can recall. He could race cars and race cars he did. Kudos are due to Bill France for allowing Wendell to race on the NASCAR circuit. Bill could have easily found a reason to bar any black face from NASCAR in those days, but he didn't and Wendell raced!
|Multitasking? Former NASCAR driver Wendell Scott helped define the word.|