Many critics, and perhaps hardcore Dale Earnhardt Jr fans, were very vocal last season stating when Dale Jr retires, it is the end of NASCAR. The third-generation driver, and the sport’s most popular driver for many years, retired from full-time competition at the end of the 2017 season.
The insinuation is that NASCAR’s popularity has fallen to the point that the legion of Earnhardt Jr fans is the only thing keeping the sport alive.
While one cannot deny that the popularity of sport has fallen according to the data. Attendance at events has fallen, television ratings have struggled and quality sponsorship opportunities have become scarce. Listening to NASCAR themed radio programs and reading many NASCAR based social media sites, it is easy to find many fans complaining about the sport, the quality of competition, the sanctioning body and the decisions it makes. It is still, however, one of the most popular sports in the country.
The popularity of Dale Earnhardt Jr is definitely a contributor to the fanbase and there is undoubtedly a portion of fans who may tune out no that Earnhardt has moved from the full-time driver’s seat.
There is, however, another side to the story. This sport has been around for many years. During that time there have been numerous legendary and extremely popular drivers that have come and gone. During the times when one of these superstars were leaving the sport, there were a portion of fans who, like today, thought the sport could not survive without that hero.
A few drivers that come to mind are David Pearson, Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt Sr and Bill Elliott. These drivers were extremely popular, and some fans thought the sport would never be the same after they left.
There is a flaw with this logic, however. These popular drivers did more than just create a fanbase for themselves, they created a fanbase for the sport of stock car racing. They were not only Richard Petty fans or David Pearson fans, they were race fans. True race fans love competition, exciting racing action, and the intense nervousness of what could potentially happen on the next lap to completely change the complexion of the event. That’s why they watch, listen, follow or attend.
Each driver also attracts a different kind of fan. The driver’s personality usually attracts a fan that is somewhat similar to their own or at least someone who can relate that type of personality. Dale Earnhardt Sr, for example, is famous for attracting the “blue collar” fan. He proved that a hard-working, blue collar guy can make it to the top-levels of stock car racing and become a champion. Walk through a NASCAR event today and see how many “3” fans are still here. That’s what these superstars do for the sport.
Dale Earnhardt Jr has definitely played his part in doing this. He has attracted a significant fanbase from many walks of life. He is a humble, down to earth guy to whom everyone can relate.
Sure, there may be a small group of fans who only watch for one driver and care nothing about anyone or anything else happening on the track or in the sport. These fans are usually parents, grandparents, or aunts and uncles who never tuned in to a NASCAR race before their offspring or relative “made the big time”.
This sport has had ups and downs, ebbs and flows and ins and outs since that infamous meeting many years ago when NASCAR was born.
Is Dale Earnhardt Jr retiring a sad day for the sport? Absolutely. He has had a solid career and has been a fantastic ambassador for the sport.
Can NASCAR survive without Dale Jr? Absolutely. It will not only survive in spite of his retirement, it will survive because he was here in the first place.