Diary of a Frustrated NASCAR Fan
NASCAR fans come in every shape, size, age, sex, and from every walk of life you can imagine. Every driver has them – from drivers who are just starting in the sport, to drivers who have been retired for years. Most NASCAR fans probably even root for more than one driver, or have so many favorites that they can’t choose which driver’s gear to wear on race day.
When you’re a fan of a NASCAR driver, you are with that athlete through all of their ups and downs. You celebrate their victories - whether that’s a win, a pole, a top ten finish, or sometimes just qualifying for the race can be considered a victory. And as a fan you also weather the hard times – the missed races or blown engines, and winless streaks that seemingly drag on forever.
Which means that sometimes being a NASCAR fan is easy … and sometimes it’s really tough.
I’ve been an AJ Allmendinger fan since he came to the Cup series in 2007. Which means I’ve watched him through the agony of missing races and the joys of his first start at Bristol . I’ve seen him devastated when he missed the Daytona 500 in 2008, and ecstatic when he made it into that same race in 2009 with the help of his teammates. And with great pride, I’ve watched him hone his raw talent into a force to be reckoned with.
AJ’s career can be defined by one word – instability. He has been with several teams that have had varying levels of equipment, but he has improved his skills every year. Despite the fact that he’s currently 24th in points, this year has been no different. In my opinion AJ has done some of his best driving ever with the #22 Penske team in 2012. They are consistently fast, but have had some unfortunate circumstances keep them from contending.
I won’t lie – this has been the hardest year for me as a fan of AJ’s. It has been frustrating at times and devastating at others. Even watching AJ miss races in 2007 and get pulled out of his car in 2008 was better than this year has been. Why? Because AJ has come so far and has gotten so close to where he wants to be as a driver, only to have it pulled away time and time again.
Let me clarify – this isn’t frustrating to me personally. If AJ never won a single race I wouldn’t care. And it’s not frustrating because my driver isn’t satisfied with the performance of the team. To be honest, if AJ was satisfied with the way this year has gone, I’d have some serious doubts about whether or not I’d want to be a fan of his. Athletes should always strive for perfection in their sport.
No, this season has been frustrating because so much is riding on the team’s performance. What happens to the driver, what happens with the sponsors, and ultimately what happens to the team all hinges on one season. Unfortunately that situation has become the reality for most race teams these days. NASCAR has never been more ‘what have you done for me lately’ than it currently is.
Sponsorship dollars are so hard to come by in this economy that even championship caliber drivers like Matt Kenseth are struggling to put a full season together. It seems to me like it’s an unfair amount of pressure to put these race teams under. And it’s even worse when your driver is the type of athlete who takes the weight of the entire team on his shoulders.
Unfortunately, as fans there really isn’t anything we can do to help our drivers anymore. It used to be the case that fans could spend money with their drivers’ sponsors, on merchandise bearing the sponsor’s logos, and that would convince sponsors to stick with that driver. But now it seems like no amount of support that fans show their driver is good enough to convince sponsors to stay in place.
I’ve spearheaded all kinds of support campaigns for AJ over the years, and I’ll continue to do so because it’s my way of showing that I’ve got my driver’s back – that my belief in his ability hasn’t wavered. But it’s just a regrettable circumstance that my support no longer helps to lessen the pressure on him or his team. Sponsor’s decisions on whether to stay or go seem to be arbitrary and unaffected by what fans want.
So that’s why this season has been the worst ever. Because even though 90% of the #22 team’s finishes aren’t AJ’s fault, this season still seemingly hangs on his shoulders. And as a fan of his all I can do is sit back and hope for the best. I’ve tried ten different lucky shirts and followed specific pre-race rituals in the hopes of bringing him good fortune, all to no avail. At this point all I can do is be a fan ... a very frustrated fan.