NASCAR has done its best over the past decade to make itself presentable to corporate America.
It’s expanded across the country while phasing out or reducing races at older Southeastern sites, embraced “diversity” and tried to distance itself from its more “rustic” fans, many of whom carried the sport in the decades before it became socially palatable to the big-time sponsors whose dollars are in high demand now.
Watch interviews with drivers from even 20 years ago and it’s remarkable how much more polished today’s drivers appear. Of course, if you ask the drivers from 20 years ago about the drivers of today, the old-timers would describe them as “bland,” and they’d be right in a lot of cases.
But then, that’s how corporate America – and NASCAR – wants it, so that’s how the public gets it.
It’s no secret that in the effort to appeal to a wider audience, NASCAR has broken with a good bit of its past. Many say the sport is the poorer for it.
For example, in one of its more inane moves a few years back, NASCAR pulled the Southern 500 from Darlington Raceway, where it started in 1950. The long-time Labor Day race, which helped put NASCAR on the sports map, was moved to Southern California, to the chagrin of traditionalists.
But, in an all-too-rare nod to common sense, NASCAR has resurrected the Southern 500 moniker and brought it back to Darlington, where it will be held this Saturday for the first time in five years.
Yarborough, who was tough as nails and won 83 Winston Cup races, saw his first Southern 500 in 1951, at age 11, by crawling in under the fence.
“I wasn’t sneaking in to be sneaking in,” he told The State. “I was just too anxious to get inside and see my heroes.”
Maybe the sports world has changed too much over the past 20 years for NASCAR to go back to the way it used to be, but racing today sure could stand a few more drivers like Cale Yarborough.