Where are the heroes?

Much has been written and spoken about the dwindling audience for Nascar.  Attendance is down (primarily one would think because of the economy) but television viewing is also down which is free. The reason?  I believe because there are no heroes anymore in Nascar.

Who walks through the garage area in Nascar these days that you would find yourself in awe of?  Possibly Dale Earnhardt, Jr. might elicit that emotion today but mostly for his lineage than actual accomplishments.  Does four-time Nascar Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson leave you with a chill running up and down your spine?  How about Carl Edwards?  All are popular but hard to put them in the hero category.

In the past Nascar had Dale Earnhardt, Sr., The King, Richard Petty, Lee Petty, Fireball Roberts, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, Ned Jarrett, Junior Johnson, David Pearson and Darryl Waltrip just to name a few.

These men were bigger-than-life to most fans.  They were fearless competitors who spit in the eye of death racing in equipment that any sane person today wouldn’t go near.

Part of the reason I believe these men were so revered is that we didn’t know every little detail of their lives.  This was before 24/7 coverage of Nascar.  There was an air of mystery and bravado associated with them.  Today there isn’t anything a person doesn’t know about a driver.

We see drivers not only on the endless weekend television coverage of races but also on shows like David Letterman, the Tonite Show, even Live with Regis & Kelly. Stories are written in newspapers (the few left publishing), magazines (how about Carl Edwards in Men’s Health?) and hundreds of websites.  It seems every moment of their lives is known to the public.  There is no mystery left to help build that “bigger-than-life” image.

This isn’t to say today’s drivers aren’t stars, they are.  But stars to me don’t automatically qualify as heroes of the sport and that’s what Nascar needs right now a hero to step forward. Tiger Woods has been a hero in golf, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird during their historic on-court NBA battles, even a Brett Favre of today or a Vince Lombardi from the past in the NFL.   Does anyone racing in Nascar today elicit the same emotions as those persons do?  I don’t think so and until Nascar finds that “hero” I don’t see fans coming back to watch its racing in huge numbers.


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