Fan friendly? Nascar could learn from NHRA!

SREMP_Crowd_01 This past Friday I spent the day at the NHRA Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at nearby Norwalk, Ohio. To be honest, and as hard as this is to believe by many that know me and my involvement in motorsports, it was my very first time to be at a NHRA event! How that happened I have no clue since I did once live and work in Indianapolis where the U.S. Nationals are held every year.

Conversely, I’ve been to many Nascar races at such places as Daytona, Indianapolis, Michigan, Phoenix and Talladega.

One touts itself as “fan friendly.” (Nascar) The other (NHRA) doesn’t pound its chest and says “Look at me!  I’m fan friendly!” It’s Nascar that can learn from NHRA what fan friendly really means.

“Nitro Alley” is where all the teams set up shop around their haulers.  No special credential is needed to enter.  Let me say that again, NO SPECIAL CREDENTIAL IS NEEDED TO ENTER. You purchase a ticket and you have up close and personal access to all the competitors.

I spent most of the day with the John Force Racing team as I also in fair full disclosure, do freelance work for Ford Racing.

P6250010 I saw the 14-time NHRA Champion time after time go to the ropes and sign autographs and take pictures with fans whenever he could. He’d even stop sometimes while on his famous scooter and sign and autograph or two on his way to watch daughters Brittany and Courtney compete in the Top Alcohol Fuel dragster class.

P6250033 Defending NHRA Funny Car Champion Robert Hight obviously learned from his boss and father-in-law John Force. Hight also hit the ropes time and time again signing autographs and posing for pictures.

These two weren’t the exception.  I walked up and down Nitro Alley and everywhere I went I saw fans talking to crew members along with the drivers.  Autographs were abundant and if cameras still used film, Kodak would have made a fortune.

Nascar limits access to both the garage area (their Nitro Alley) and pit road.  You can BUY passes to both.  Your ticket only gets you a seat, not access.

I’ve also watched Nascar fans line the fence near the garage area hoping to get the autograph of their favorite driver only to see that driver give as wide a berth as possible to those fans when walking by.

I realize that Nascar is a much bigger series than NHRA but fans are fans everywhere.  They have an emotional link to their favorite drivers.

How many of those fans that were at Norwalk and got an autograph or a picture with their favorite driver went back home and told family and friends about the experience they had? How many also told those same people that they need to go to a NHRA event? How many of those people will heed that advice?

While I see more and more seats empty at Nascar races, NHRA is packed with fans. Maybe it’s time for Nascar to stop thinking how to squeeze another buck out of the race fans and reconnect on a grassroots level to the people that really make the sport possible.

It’s time for Nascar to just not talk the talk but walk the walk when it comes to being “fan friendly.” Hats off to NHRA for doing both.

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