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What has happened to NASCAR?

Ronda Rich's picture

Since I once called the garage area of the NASCAR Cup Series “home,” working in the sport for several years as one of few women among hundreds of men, folks often ask my opinion on today’s NASCAR.

Sometimes I have no words for some things are too sad to address. Today’s sport holds little resemblance to what I knew where camaraderie was queen, Richard Petty was king and folks treated each other in a princely form. In those days so sweet to recall, Dale Earnhardt napped in a hammock he slung across the back of the Number 3 hauler, Richard Childress lived on a diet of Vienna sausages and soda crackers, the Elliotts’ common sense brought Detroit engineers to their knees and Darrell Waltrip’s quick wit made him the darling of the media, though not always the darling of fans.

And back then, folks had an enormous amount of gratitude. Every single one of us was simply awed that we could make a good living by having so much fun. To put things into perspective, Earnhardt negotiated a new contract in the late eighties that gave him the astounding salary of $500,000 a year plus a percentage of winnings. It is said that Mark Martin now makes a yearly salary of $5 million. Of course, in my opinion, Mark, with whom I once worked and absolutely adore, deserves every penny and more. He is always grateful.

Mark’s story speaks to the wonder of America where we can make mistakes and still rebound. As a young sensation in the ASA series, he made a bit of a fortune, then came over to spread his wings in the bigger world of NASCAR. He ended up losing everything he had – stock car teams eat money faster than a herd of goats on a grassy mountainside – and retreated back to ASA. When later he returned to NASCAR in the mid-eighties, he was cautious. Not on the race track but at the bank. He no longer owned his own Cup team but drove for Jack Roush.

He did own a race team in the next-to-the-top competition tier, then called the Grand National Series. He dominated every race he ran, had a well-financed sponsor and clicked off wins faster than a lap at Daytona. But one day, he up and sold his team to Roush.

“Why on earth would you do that?” I asked in astonishment. “You’re making money hand over fist.”

He shook his head. “I couldn’t sleep at night, worrying about finances. I don’t ever want to go back to where I’ve been. I lost it all one time. I can’t forget that.”

Such were the warriors of that era that they learned lessons, often the hard way. Trouble and challenges have a way of teaching best the lessons remembered longest.

But today’s sport is sadly different. No one struggles, no triumphs over true adversity (read the story of Alan Kulwicki some time) and genuine gratitude is as hard to find as an STP-sponsored No. 43 Pontiac in the garage.

Three years ago, I requested credentials from the public relations director at Talladega. In all of my professional life, I have never been treated so rudely or talked to as harshly as that woman talked to me. Someone, I might add, who had the authority she had because of pioneering women like me who blazed the trail.

A complaint to the president of the speedway quickly brought a half-hearted apology. But the damage was done. I had personally seen the arrogant side of today’s NASCAR and it was not a pretty sight.

I still have friends like Mark Martin, the Waltrips, Richard Childress and Ed Clark, president of Atlanta Motor Speedway, whose hard work and persistence got them to the top. They haven’t forgotten that.

But for the arrogant ones, I make this prediction: There’s a day of reckonin’ coming.

I think I see it now.

[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “What Southern Women Know About Flirting” and “The Town That Came A-Courtin’.” Her newest book is “What Southern Women Know about Faith.” She lives near Gainesville, Ga. Sign up for her weekly newsletter at]


As a youth and living in the racing capitol of the world (VA, NC, TN) area, I did attend a few races on dirt tracks in WV.

I saw Lee Petty race and once met Richard at a convention in VA.

I recall nearly getting killed in car wrecks going and coming from the races by drunks and so-called hot rodders. Once there and seated, the beer bottles began to fly past our head from behind us-their method of disposing of them.
Then as the race wore on I noticed I was covered with burned black rubber scraps.

Most of those racers were former boot-leg liquor transporters on narrow, crooked, two-laned roads in the mountains where the lightning was made.

The NASCAR races have now become spectacles, not races. It allows many to be onery and mean and drunk among the noise and alcohol.
I noticed last week that two people won the race---one deliberately pushing the other because they worked for the same boss.

G35 Dude's picture

Once again I see that you have to comment to the negative on something that you really know nothing about. Apparently you were dumb enough to keep going to something that you didn't like. If the drunks did throw beer bottles at you all I can say is that a few must have hit you in the head. That would explain a lot!!! Yes moonshiners started NASCAR. Those men were just trying to make a living and were very polite to fans and journalist. (Maybe not to each other sometimes)LOL Still after reading your post I don't understand what you're point is other than to try to spread your misery around again.

My point was obvious.

It is a crappy "sport" run by crappy people! The fans are little better.

I never atendeded another NASCAR race once I grew up.

Reminds me of a motorcycle rally!


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