Everybody who spends time around Jimmie Johnson likes him. He's friendly and doesn't make a big deal out of who he is or what he has accomplished.
Jimmie grew up in a trailer park, an endearing little piece of history that goes against his courteous corporate image. But when I see him, and listen to him, I don't get a whiff of a trailer. Yet when I talk to another Johnson, Junior Johnson, I always look behind him to see how close the revenuers are. History clings to him.
Jimmie, a four-time champion, is not the problem with his sport. But his sport has serious problems, and these problems get worse every year.
The foremost of them is that the races are boring. Defenders of the sport, not all of whom are in the media, point to the multiple winners this season. Look how diverse we are. You never know what's going to happen next.
If the races aren't much fun to watch, what difference does it make who wins, unless it's Dale Earnhardt Jr., and he wins as often as I do.
TV ratings are down. Attendance is inconsistent. There will be Thanksgiving Day football touch football games that attract as many spectators as the NASCAR Banking 500 did last month at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
NASCAR made a decision years ago. It decided to abandon the Southeast and South and appeal to fans nationally. The strategy was a short-term success. NASCAR became the hot new sport. Fans were sick of politics, sick of unions, and here was a sport in which the athletes played nice and a work stoppage was unfathomable. This was a ma and pa enterprise. There were no unions.
So, out with the South and in with Chicago and Kansas City.
Problem is, the new fans haven't stayed. They tried NASCAR the way they'd try a new restaurant and, after a few meals, they moved on. They failed to find compelling personalities to identify with. They failed to find the feuds that fuel our most popular sports (such as the NFL and the New York Giants versus Philadelphia, Dallas versus the world and Cleveland versus itself).
The up close and personal side by side racing for which the sport is known feels like history.
Ma, tell us about how exciting the racing was in the old days, before the Car of Tomorrow.
Fans in the Southeast and South, meanwhile, fans that for decades kept the sport afloat, felt cheated. After all their support, they lost races to the newcomers and, in some cases, they lost race tracks. When NASCAR abandoned them, they abandoned NASCAR.
I hear less talk about NASCAR in Charlotte than I have in the 28 years I've lived here. I'm talking about restaurants, bars, parties, in the gym, at work., everywhere that people talk.
Yes, my friends have always been more likely to talk about the NFL than about racing. But always there was somebody who would talk about meeting Dale Earnhardt in a convenience store near Lake Norman, and being in awe. Or watching a race just to see what the 3 car would do in the last 10 laps. Or they'd ask me which race they ought to see first, and where they ought to sit.
The only time NASCAR comes up now is when I ask why they stopped talking about it.