As a member of the professional short track racing community, I try to pay attention to all forms of dirt track racing. I especially try to observe certain things that other forms of racing are doing that work particularly well, or in some cases things that do not work well at all.
Each genre of dirt racing has its own unique culture and fan base. Some things may not work across all forms of racing and promotion, but I think that certain things very well could.
Open-wheel racing is very healthy right now, in my opinion, but there are some things that other forms of dirt track racing do better.
I would say the number one thing that I feel the dirt track “fendered” world does better than sprint car and midget racing is nicknames. A great nickname can help create a persona and character for a driver, even if their true personality is somewhat vanilla.
Modified and late model racing embrace this idea wholeheartedly, and I believe it gives their fans a better opportunity to create a personal connection to their drivers.
The name Kyle Strickler may be easily heard and forgotten by a casual fan, but the “High Side Tickler” Kyle Strickler is an intriguing character that will almost certainly spark immediate interest to everyone in the stands.
I do know sprint car racing has several drivers with good nicknames. We actually have some with fantastic nicknames.
Obviously “The King” Steve Kinser, “Slammin” Sammy Swindell, and “The Wolf” Doug Wolfgang would all be considered as belonging on sprint car’s Mount Rushmore and all have great nicknames.
Other great characters the sport has produced are “The Ohio Traveler” Rick Ferkel, “The Flying Shoe” Ron Shuman, “The Apollo Rocket” Ed Lynch Jr., “The Wild Child” Jac Haudenschild, “The Steel City Outlaw” Tim Shaffer, and “The People’s Champ” Dave Darland.
A great nickname can help
create a persona and
character for a driver,
even if their true personality
is somewhat vanilla
Even though nicknames aren’t as common in sprint car racing as they used to be, some in more recent years have also garnered great accompaniments, such as “The Rocket” Jesse Hockett, “The Ragin’ Cajun” Jason Johnson, “The Low Rider” Dale Blaney, and “The Madman” Kerry Madsen and Robert Ballou.
One thing that all of these drivers have in common is that they are popular among fans. They also develop loyal followings that last for decades.
Late model racing obviously has their traditional heavy-hitters with great nicknames like “VooDoo Child” Scott Bloomquist, “The Real Deal” Don O’Neal, “The Million Dollar Man” Donnie Moran, and “The Newport Nightmare” Jimmy Owens. The difference is that nearly all late model drivers have nicknames, and not just the older drivers.
All of the plentiful young talent that is coming up in late model racing have unique monikers, such as “Smooth Operator” Bobby Pierce, “The New Deal” Hudson O’Neal, “Terbo” Tyler Erb, “Kid Rocket” Josh Richards, and many more.
From my perspective, late model racing does a slightly better job of creating nicknames, which create characters. Those unique characters give fans just one more opportunity to connect with a particular driver, and we all know how much more exciting something is to watch when you have a connection to it.
I think it would be very difficult for a fan to come up with the known nickname for half of the full-time World of Outlaws drivers.
I am not blaming anything or anyone in particular on this difference, especially the drivers. I think the change in the style of promotion is different today, and all of the fans have access to see everything via social media, which reduces the need for a promoter to entice a fan’s imagination.
Racing is still entertainment, however, and I think any opportunity to get a fan more deeply invested in our product should be explored to the fullest extent.