Wednesday, February 04, 2009

NASCAR, drivers should make time and place for autographs

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Athletes and/or celebrities should be glad to sign autographs anywhere and anytime because without the fans they would be nothing and wouldn’t have all their money and things that come with it.
That’s such an easy stand to take. It’s also gutless.
But coming up with realistic guidelines for when someone who’s famous should be expected to grant an autograph request is nearly impossible. That’s because there are an infinite number of circumstances that come up if you’re talking about every situation in which every famous person comes in contact with every person wanting an autograph.
It’s fair to say that fans ought to treat athletes and celebrities as human beings. Fans always should politely ask for (and not demand) an autograph in a context that respects a celebrity’s space and privacy. Celebrities should understand that fans don’t know if they’ll ever get an opportunity to see a famous person again, and therefore should have a little extra tolerance if a fan comes off as a bit too eager.
I think that it’s OK for an athlete or celebrity to say no to an autograph request if he’s in an airport or a restaurant or somewhere with his friends and family if that’s what he chooses to do. He doesn’t need to be a jerk about it, but if you’re willing to risk losing a fan by saying “no,” in that situation I think that’s fine.
This subject comes up as a result of a little kerfuffle that cropped up in racing during the run-up to the 2009 NASCAR season.
On the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Lowe’s Motor Speedway, officials from the Speedway Motorsports Inc. tracks talked about how they hope drivers will do more to help tracks and the sport weather a rough economy this year by being more accessible. NASCAR president Mike Helton and driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. both responded by saying that the drivers are already as accessible as or more accessible than their counterparts in other endeavors.
In the big picture, it’s true that drivers should do as much as they can to help sell their sport. They have a big stake in NASCAR’s success and the time and effort they invest in meeting fans and helping sell tickets will only pay off for them down the road.
But the legitimate issue the drivers have, I think, is this far-reaching expectation that they must make themselves available at all times in all circumstances to pose for pictures with or sign an autograph for anybody who wants one.
Think about it. Let’s say you see a driver in Wal-Mart in the Charlotte area on a Tuesday night with his wife and kids. Is he on the clock? Is he not allowed to go to Wal-Mart and not have it turn into an appearance because somebody recognizes him and the next thing you know he’s drawn a crowd? The same thing is true at the track. If you’re a fan and you’re in the garage during a practice session, you’re in the race teams’ work place. That’s neither the time nor the place for an autograph session.
One problem is that some tracks will “upsell” tickets to fans that promise them “access” to the drivers. That might mean the garage area or something like the FanZone here at Daytona. If a fan pays $75 for that access, he’s going to expect something out of that. The track may not come right out and say “here’s where you can meet and talk to you favorite driver,” but that’s the implication.
The way to fix a lot of this, I think, is to provide a structure – to provide that time and that place where the driver and the fan know that autographs are the purpose. It’s something that would be relatively easy to do.
Every day there is qualifying for a NASCAR Sprint Cup race, each driver knows that 30 minutes after the last car runs he has to present himself at some designated place inside the track for an autograph session. The session lasts two hours. Drivers know not to schedule sponsor appearances or fan club gatherings in that window. If you miss the autograph session, unless there’s a specific exemption granted you forfeit all practice for your team the rest of that weekend.
Tracks sell tickets to qualifying as they do now. Admission to each autograph session is $10. Half the money from that goes to the NASCAR Foundation. The other half goes to a local charity designated by each track.
As fans enter, they can request a wristband for any driver’s autograph line. Each driver has a maximum of 100 wristbands. If your favorite guy’s wristbands are gone, you can pay your $10 and get somebody else or you can leave without paying. If a driver has nobody in line and you want to get him without a wristband, that’s fine, too.
But understand that when the two hours are up the drivers are free to go and be with their families and friends. And from that point on, for the rest of the weekend, drivers are told not to sign autographs in the garage or on pit road – no matter what. NASCAR policy.


Brenda said...

I attended the PGA tournament in Scottsdale, AZ last weekend. I was surprised to see golfers signing autographs during the tournament play. It was for workers who were manning the holes but they are fans as well. It is true that NASCAR drivers do schedule access times but I don't think it is necessarily more than other sports.

Anonymous said...

Most of the drivers would be working at Taco Belle or grease monkeys, if they were lucky, unless someone chose to give them a ride. To drive a race car, or any car, is not rocket science and there are MANY others who could do the job as well, or better, than most of the current crop. The question is not whether they should sign autographs or not, rather it is why any of us would even want, or ask, the dufuses to do so. Amazing as to where our values have gone.

Anonymous said...

11:41 the PGA is a SPORT,nascar is entertainment which brings me to 1:32s comments.Why would anyone want an autograph.BECAUSE DAVID POOLE SAID YOU NEED TO GET IN LINE AND PAY TO GET ONE.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 11:41, You think that Golf is a sport & Nascar isn't? I believe for something to be a sport: You must compete against someone else, there must be alittle intensity & sweat, last you either wear a helmet or atleast use a ball. Let me explain Golf; It is your practiced talent against nature or a man-made landscape. You don't even sweat unless your playing in Florida June- August. Nascar has become much more entertainment-based the past 8 years but that's because its jackasses like you in the Lake Norman area running the show now. Why dont you start spending some more time with your wife and not your pink co-workers at Quail Hollow. Find a course in Catawba county and challenge Dale Jarrett to a round. He will explain the sport of Nascar and maybe even sign an autograph for you.

Have a great day.

Anonymous said...

As someone who lives in the Charlotte area & on more than a few times crossed paths with drivers away from the track,I can say that most of us locals give the drivers space ,but at the track its a dfferent story. The track is their workplace & they should be available but away from the trac they should have the same right to privacy as you or I

Anonymous said...

8:17 The only way Jarrett could be called an athlete would be to play golf.
Golf is a real mans sport.Ever see anyone miss a putt then have the officials give them the hole?
Now you have a GREAT DAY!

Anonymous said...

Fan opinion makes a lot of difference in the pocket book of the NASCAR driver. With the 24/7 news cycle, one wrong can spiral out of shape and cause a driver to lose his sponsor. They are aware of that. So, they try. The problem is that fans can be very unreasonable.

I mean, give me a break, I go to races, so all of a sudden I "own" this driver's success. I can see why it seems that most of the top drivers go out of the country or at least leave the South (when on vacation), so they can have some quality family time.

The idea of forcing a 2 hour time frame once a week, is I think, over the top. I have been to MBA, NFL, golf and tennis matches. NO ATHLETE EVER SPENDS 2 HOURS A WEEK WITH FANS!! Some don't even spend that much in a season or a bunch a seasons.

Anonymous said...


I don't think your plan would work. I have a book a friend of mine wrote about Tony Stewart. I got my friend to sign it. I heard about an autograph session that Tony Stewart was giving at a local Home Depot for two hours starting at 6:30 pm. I thought that I would stop by after work and get Tony Stewart to sign the book also. When I arrived at the Home Depot shortly before 6:30 pm, I found out the last wristband that would allow me to get in line to get an autograph had been passed out at 2:00 pm. So I just don't see how creating a 30 minute time period for autographs is going to work unless you have some sort of lottery system before hand.

Anonymous said...

Once again this has become a pi**ing match for people (cowards) that won't sign their name and just bash David Poole. If you don't agree with him and see you place in life as to defecate on his work just don't read it. Move along and find another blog

Anonymous said...

It's not like people are asking them to write a book.
How long does it take to sign your name?!
Big deal made out of nothing.
Yes...approaching a famous person while they are enjoying dinner at a restaurant...wrong, I agree.
The public just has to use common sense.

clay g said...

Agree with being more available, no to paying for the opportunity. Having had access in the past, it is more obvious who enjoys the fans participation, and those who think their God's gift to mankind and won't even acknowlege a "good Luck" shout. I remember an instance of a few years ago when Bobby Hamilton Jr. was walking in front of me, during a rain delay, througha parking lot, and upon meeting a mother walking with her son, immediately pulled his hood over his head, and lowered his head, just in case they would happen to notice him and bother him for an autograph. I also remember Dick Trickle not only signing an outograph years ago, at a trackside restaraunt, but asking questions, and thanking us for coming to race. Some of these "stars" need to remember you meet the same people going down, as you do on the way up!

Holleracha said...

Its easy enough to go to a website and ask for a crew member or a drivers Autograph. They will provide a place you can send items with return postage. Raceday and family time should be offlimits & I hate lines!!!

Anonymous said...

I live in a golf/tennis community (Indian Wells,CA) We have a lot of huge tournaments. There is no way that golf/tennis stars are more accessible than NASCAR drivers.

While tennis/golf fans are EXTREMELY polite (they don't generally boo or throw stuff), you always have to be concerned of nuts, like what happened to Monica Seles.

The biggest stars in sports are Tiger, Kobe, LeBron. Ever try to get one of their autographs? As a matter of fact if you are near Tiger, you'd better not even sneeze near him, even though he's just standing there, not up to play.

Anonymous said...

Hey Clay...
I remember going to Wilkesboro and getting every drivers autograph that was in the race.The drivers would sign till the line ran out.Except for one,and that was Dale Earnhardt.He never signed anything and would seldom acknowledge the fans.
This was in the 90s though.David Poole wouldn't rember this because he was still in school trying to decide if he should write about the WWF or the NWA when he gragiated.He should have went with the WWF..atleast then his stories would have a little credibility.

Healey said...

Kerfuffle? That sent me to the dictionary. Keep up the excellent work, David.

Anonymous said...

I fall on the side of no autographs during any competition. whether it be qualifying or whatever. My reasoning is this. The whole autograph issue has gotten out of control. People who seek these things have become far too demanding and impolite. Drivers are expected to drop what they are doing and graciously sign for even the most obnoxious dolt that holds out an object.
Furthermore I think NASCAR should stop all garage area access. NASCAR is the only sports entity that allows fans in the "dugout". It's ridiculous. Fans wandering around this potentially hazardous area is nuts.
I have seen drivers just inundated with fans in the most inmtimate of times. These being when the driver is with friends or family. If a driver refuses to sign, the fans react with venom. It isn't right.
These guys are athletes at the track and private citizens away from it. If NASCAR wants to mandate an autograph area where drivers are required to meet and greet, fine. The PGA Tour does this. That policy works fine.

silverbax said...

It goes both ways. I agree that athletes and drivers should always be courteous to the people who make it possible for them, but I've seen firsthand how awful people can be to them as well.

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Craig said...

I grew up hearing the stories about how accessible the drivers are. Those were the old days. They're more like rock stars now. They are ushered in and out, isolated and offer access for a price.

Why should they be any different than any other notable person. I can't get to the President, Ben Rothlesberger, Paul McCartney or Jimmie Johnson. I'm not shocked by this, but I don't pretend that they are accessible.

Anonymous said...

i was working across the street from the waldorf when labonte won afew years ago. i bought a disposable camera and went over.saw robert yates checking in and asked if i could get a shot of us. he said ok and my pal snapped the pic. after developing the pics i saw how annoyed he was. but i understand the guys checking in and here i am for the unpteenth time askin for a pic. still think hes one hell of an engine buikder

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