MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Nearly a year later, NASCAR and track operators continue to miss a better way to connect with fans.
Yes, NASCAR does all sorts of things with Twitter, Facebook and anything else that you can stare at on a phone or tablet, but the sport is missing out on a simple idea.
Move victory lane closer to the fans.
Jeff Gordon’s win at Martinsville Speedway a year ago was made more memorable because the victory lane stage was on the frontstretch. Thousand of fans roared when he emerged from his car, and many stayed through the darkness, serenading him with chants.
Gordon responded by waving his arms to the crowd. When the final interviews were completed and photographs taken, Gordon ran up the steps to the walkway along the stands. He high-fived those who had stayed nearly an hour relishing what is, at this moment, Gordon’s final Sprint Cup victory.
“I don’t know what it feels like to be a rock star,’’ Gordon said that night, “but that’s as close as it can get, I think.’’
Fans got a moment that they would have never experienced had victory lane been tucked away somewhere in the infield behind pit road and accessible only by TV cameras and video boards.
One of the thrills of sports is that it provides moments that last a lifetime. Sometimes those are athletic achievements we witness. Other times they are moments we share with athletes.
For those who walked out of Martinsville Speedway that night, they got one last memory that likely resonates because of how close they were to Gordon.
Yet at most tracks, victory lane is hidden from fans.
Imagine the energy created by thousands of fans if they were closer to victory lane. Athletes feed off the crowd. For those wanting more spontaneity from drivers, this could invite that.
As the sport looks to reinvigorate its fans, there are many things that can be done. This is merely one small gesture, but each step matters.
For tracks that have a permanent victory lane away from the stands? Turn that into a VIP club and allow those who join the opportunity to go out on the track after the race to share in victory lane with the winner.
If driver intros can be on the frontstretch before the race, why not put victory lane there afterward?