In my eleven years as a Carolina Panther scout, and Director of College Scouting I learned a lot about living in the fine city of Charlotte North Carolina. First the cost of living was low, you could buy a nice home in the suburbs, with good schools at a great price. Crime was low and the in-plants from other states like my family and I were nice people. The natives of Charlotte that I meet were good people, hard workers, loved their pulled pork sandwiches, ACC basketball, NASCAR and were warming up to the Panthers.
A very close friend is the sports physiologist for the Nebraska Corn Huskers and Hendricks Motor Sports. For six years he begged me to come to Concord, NC (Southeast of Charlotte) about 40 minutes from my home, for a tour of Hendricks Motors Sports. I finally took him up on it.
An awesome tour, starting with the fabrication shop, Fiberglass shells with no decals, paint or windshields. The Engine room, an air tight dust free environment, and was long and narrow. It stocked with 18 fully completed engine blocks, six rows of three across. The workout facility is a mini gym with every piece of machinery you could imagine, for the pit crew to remain in top shape.
I was introduced to both Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Johnson, neither man is very big people, but both were very good people and very outgoing. We visited the Museum and gift store, were he loaded me up with NASCAR gear, Jeff Gordon jersey, hats and much. As the tour ended, he asked if I was free Saturday, all day. I replied yes, what’s going on, he handed me four tickets to the Pepsi 400. I had several opportunities to attend a NASCAR event, but my busy schedule just didn’t allow it. I grabbed a few friends, and off we went. Leaving the house at 7:00am, we headed towards the Concord.
In the NFL the pre-game party is called a tailgate, which takes place just several hours before the contest. In NASCAR they camp out several days prior to the race, fans drive and fly in. As in football there are good eats, smokers and bar-b-que’s bellowing rich and thick smoke of several different aromas of meat on the spit.
As we work our way through the camp grounds and into Lowes Motor Speedway which holds 165,000 fans, I noticed that the fans were carrying ice chest, large igloos and bags of ice. Much different than the NFL, NASCAR allows their fans to bring in their own food, their own favorite alcoholic beverages and the chest loads. Having worked in the NFL for eleven years at that point, and having attended all sporting events, football, basketball, baseball, hockey and professional track meets, I had never seen where the fans can bring in anything they want.
It was a hot day, so we purchased a few beverages and a bite to eat (giant turkey legs) and headed to our seats. The race had not started yet, and the atmosphere was a mini Woodstock, the music loud but sounding good. People were mingling and having fun as if they were at an outdoor concert. People smoking cigars, cigarettes in their seats, men sun bathing with their shirts off and women wearing bikini tops.
The first thing that came to mind was the NFL League officials, Owners and stadium security would be pulling their hair out at the roots. As I returned from the restroom, prior to the start of the race, I stopped by a rental stand where headsets were being rented. I’ve heard how loud it was so I thought I would rent a pair.
I was so shocked of all the things that were not normal as I knew it, at a sporting event. You see these were much more then head phones, it was a communicative device. A device that allowed all 165,000 fans to listen to the crew chief and the driver’s conversation throughout the complete race. Listening to Jeff Gordon’s crew chief rip him for not passing a car, staying high on the track and Gordon’s verbal tongue lashing on the low inflated tire that was not allowing him to do certain things was AWESOME!!!!
NASCAR brand and the NFL Brand are much different and that is a great thing. The rules that all fans must abide by, are at the opposite end of the spectrum. NASCAR is miles ahead of the NFL, allowing much more interaction with the fan base. The communications part of the sport is light years ahead. Can you imagine attending a NFL game, and having the ability to listen to the Offensive Coordinator send the play into the Quarterback, listening to what the Head Coach is saying to his staff or players on the sideline?
The National Football League must create a method or an interactive communication tool for the fans. They must take it to the next level and allow the fan base that pays the high ticket price, the ability to experience something new, something exciting and that would be it. I was amazed at what I heard, learned and experienced while listening.