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Thoughts on NASCAR, Danica, and the Daytona 500…

(Riverside, CA) I’ve followed NASCAR from the time I was a kid, when I watched it on Saturday/Sunday afternoons on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Back then, stock car racing was raw, exciting, and action-packed, and every week fans couldn’t wait to see the drama and speed (and yes, the crashes) that would develop during the next race. Over the last eight years though, NASCAR’s greed and obsessive control served to methodically drive fans away. Sky-rocketing ticket prices (it can easily cost more than $800 for a family of four to sit in the grandstands and have one hot dog and a drink), coupled with the advent of the “Car of Tomorrow” served to squelch manufacturer and team innovation. Ford, Chevy, and Mopar fans became disillusioned and detached, and a declining U.S. economy served to further drive nails into the coffin.

Realizing the need to attract more fans, NASCAR tried to throw themselves a lifeline some years back by developing the “Drive for Diversity Program.” The idea was to bring “diversity” to the NASCAR ranks, and the hope was that these “new” and different drivers would bring a “new” and different fan base. A number of talented individuals were identified and provided a one year “shot in the arm” through that program. The diversity program garnered big media attention (and probably made NASCAR feel good about themselves), but the overall success, as measured by the number of those drivers finding success in NASCARs upper divisions (zero), has been downright abysmal.

……And now a word on Danica Patrick (and for those that are done with the hype, I understand if you choose to launch out of hee….I’m not into the hype either). 2013 marks my 35th (consecutive) viewing of the Daytona 500. I watched last week’s qualifying, as I have watched 34 times before, and was I happy to see a woman set the fastest time? Sure, it’s great. However, as a racer, I am far more interested to see how Danica performs during the race. Despite all of the hype and expectations set upon her to “win” the race, I believe her best interest will be to keep her sites set (focus) on running a clean race and finishing. Period. Finishing well (top 10 would be great, but even top 15) would be excellent. Racing at Daytona, however, requires more than just driving skill, as drivers also need to have “friends (or at a minimum the professional respect) of your fellow drivers, along with phenominal driving talent.

Danica has proven she has the talent, and I will acknowledge that the pressure on her must be tremendous, but she has chosen to join the stock car racing world, and as such, she must also develop the professional relationships (emphasis on professional), and garner the respect of her fellow drivers. She has talent, she has a great team and team owner, and her equipment is nothing short of outstanding. Most of her colleagues on track though, cut their teeth in the stock car, truck, or sprint car racing world, and have garnered respect through performance and winning championships in those ranks. Danica’s performance on track has been a benchmark for women racers, and has certainly turned heads in the racing world. The truth remains that she has not secured a host of victories, and a championship has elluded her. I believe she has the talent and the determination, and I hope she plans to be in it for the long haul. In tomorrow’s race, she is not carrying a torch for all woman-kind, nor should she be out to prove anything, but rather, she is continuing to write her own legacy. Danica has every opportunity to succeed, and I am among the countless individuals wishing her a safe and well-driven race.
Karen Salvaggio
Owner-Editor, Thunder Valley Racing