Thursday, April 21, 2011

From eternal hope to pure joy: Die-hard NASCAR fans have it

For 38 weeks of the year, many NASCAR fans wake up with the possibility that this might be the week their driver will return to Victory Lane.

If their driver is a perennial winner, it might seem more like just another week of success, but for others, that wait can last a long time.

Take Jeff Gordon fans, for example. Gordon is a driver who dominated the Cup series for more than a decade and amassed 81 wins from 1994 to 2007, by far the most by any driver in that time span. But since his win in the fall race at Martinsville in 2007, he has won just two races. What seemed like a given nearly every week has turned into a moment that happens only every once in a while.

For all fans, this is a difficult phenomenon to understand. How can their driver, who has been on top of the NASCAR world so many times, go so many races without winning? The same will happen to Jimmie Johnson fans at some point. His reign will end and the weekends he wins will be special, not routine.

So how do fans deal will long losing streaks? Some might become numb to the losing and continue to watch the race without much hope their driver will win or much of a rooting interest, some might give up and quit following the races altogether, and still others will hope and pray every weekend that this will finally be the race where it happens — a time where their drivers, and themselves, can experience the pure joy of being on top, knowing they are the best, even if just for one week.

Gordon fans and Matt Kenseth fans have had the chance this season to experience the high that comes from a win after a long losing streak, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans have been close several times to be able to finally celebrate a win.

Also, fans of Dave Blaney, who has raced in 370 Cup races without a victory, almost had the chance to experience the feeling of having their favorite driver win. Then, with three laps left in the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega, Blaney was spun out while running inside the top 10, and his chances of victory were smashed.

Blaney’s race was also an example of what fans of the 42 drivers who didn’t win experience each week. I’m not talking about those on the fringe who say, “Oh well, my guy didn’t win. I’ll just be pay attention when he does.” No, I’m talking about fans who feel that burning rage in their gut every time their driver wrecks, is wrecked or has some other problem during a race that kills his chances of winning.

These are cases where it takes most of the following week to get over the disappointment before they get excited for the next race and look for all the reasons to hope, no matter how small or trivial, that this will be the week their driver wins.

By the next weekend they’re saying, “So what my driver hasn’t won in more than a year. This is the week that streak will end and here’s why.” Maybe it’s because his teammates did well in practice, maybe it’s because he had a good qualifying run or maybe it’s because he has run well at that track in the past, but there is usually something that continues to bring these fans back to the race week after week, even if they always have their hopes dashed by Sunday evening.

There’s something about these fans that makes them special. They are the ones who provide the passion and adrenaline for the sport. Sure, the race is the main attraction and it is a fun way to spend a few hours of the weekend, but deep down these fans are hoping so hard their driver will win that if they could pour that hope into the gas tank it would ignite like rocket fuel.

Everything settles down this weekend for Easter and no race, but once next Saturday night arrives it will be go time once again.

NASCAR fans throughout the country will be tuned in to watch what they hope will be an exciting race, but for many of them, they will be hoping that this is finally the race where they can finally let out all of the held-in emotions that come from week after week of losing and finally explode into pure jubilation.


  1. Then there's the fans who have multiple favorites (they need that adrenaline rush on a regular basis, you know, the Red Bull for breakfast bunch). They may have three or more "favorites" as they constantly search for satisfaction.

    Thinking about it I've got an absolute favorite and a couple of "I like them too" type guys.

    Then there's the opposite side of the coin... There are a few guys that I really enjoy seeing struggle. Maybe they enjoyed great success early in their career and the attitude that spawned really ground on me, or maybe it's their "whiney" nature... Whatever, that's part of being a NASCAR fan in my book too.

    Thanks jmayer!

  2. As I've continued to follow the sport I'd have to say I have several favs (Kurt and Jr by far the most, with others I like a lot and like to see do well/win) and then those I hate to see win, rather than just die hard rooting for one.

    There is something to the numbers of the sport that sets expectations - its not a 50-50% chance your driver will win like in most sports so I think fans know how hard it is and assume it will be a rare event (well except those pesky JJ fans...)

  3. Dwindy1 - There certainly are love him or hate him drivers. I'm sure each fan has plenty of those, and it definitely is part of being a NASCAR fan. Sometimes all of the disappointment makes the victory that much sweeter. On the other hand, winning all the time isn't bad either. lol.

    klvalus - I also like the fact that fans often choose a driver on more than just winning. Either they like the driver's personality or his driving style or whatever, and I think that's a big part of what makes being a fan so much fun.