Back to the Future
During each home football game, the University of Tennessee honors who they call "Legends of the Game." A former player is recognized at halftime with a video tribute which includes big plays that player was a part of during his career, often against that day's current opponent. The letterman featured also takes part in media events and is promoted and talked about in the days leading up to the game.
Think about the connections that are made and the emotions felt by fans on those game days. A father takes his child to the game. That day's Legend of the Game is someone the child never saw play, perhaps he's from the era the father grew up in. The conversation between father and son that day helps educate the young fan about past days of glory and helps teach him some history of the sport and the team he shares a love for with his dad. That bond being built is something both father and son will remember for years. If that day's featured star might be someone the father's dad talked about, the memories, the history, the heritage are then shared through three generations. Bringing greatness from the past into the present so it's remembered in the future, helps enrich the fan's appreciation for their sport and builds family bonds. A rich tapestry is woven from threads of fandom, youthful memories remembered in middle age and family.
Older NASCAR fans have felt for several years that their sport has tried to almost bury the past. Many younger fans either can't or don't respect the past eras of the sport. How can they if they weren't there, have no knowledge of it and if the powers that be don't seem to place any importance on it?
NASCAR should take a look at honoring former drivers on race weekends. Although several ex-drivers from the top three series are still involved in the sport, a lot of big names aren't seen at the track. I don't pretend to know their reasons but perhaps, just perhaps some of them also feel the same disconnect from the sport they helped build that some of their fans feel. Other names from the past do attend races and several are still engaged with their fans either on social media and/or in personal appearances. There's a big pool of names that a lot of fans would appreciate seeing at the track.
There's been a lot of talk about how race weekends have become events. Things like concerts, carnival rides and other attractions are now fixtures outside the speedways. Let's add a couple of drivers from the past. Set them up in a tent, booth or trailer. Interview them and broadcast it to those standing in the area; make it an event! Have them do meet and greets, sign autographs, pose for selfies with fans. Make them feel appreciated and respected while fans can educate their kids. Let them promote their current businesses or products they have to sell. Think about the memories, the passion and the emotions that will stirred and the knowledge that can be passed on to the fans' kids there at the track. Maybe it won't mean much that day to the kid but at some point in their future, when their parent or that driver is gone, they'll remember. They'll appreciate that time and that memory and hold their parent even closer to their heart, even if only briefly.
Pick a race and think of the legendary moments that took place at that track in the past. Remember the day at Darlington when everyone except Dale Earnhardt thought Hut Stricklin was going to beat Earnhardt? Show the highlights of that race, interview Hut; get his memories of that day. Let the fans meet him. Bring Terry Labonte to Bristol, show the highlights of those night races between him and Dale; get folks excited; relive and honor the past while bringing it to the newer fans. That's how history is carried into the future.
The possible combinations of tracks and drivers is almost endless, as is the potential. Major League Baseball teams have Old-Timer's Day where they bring back almost entire teams from their past. For a sport like NASCAR, which desperately needs to bridge the gap between its older and new fans, its past to its current, this idea needs to be seriously considered.