In the Pits
Changing face of NASCAR
One wore a cowboy hat and smoked a cigarette. The other donned a pair of turquoise shoes and painted his toenails blue.
Such are the drastic disparities between the iconic “Marlboro Man,” to whom several legendary NASCAR drivers could be compared, and Scott Speed, the eccentric and winning newcomer, who trades paint each week in the Crafts-man Truck Series.
No two images could be further apart than the “old school,” rough-around-the-edges NASCAR driver of years past and the younger, hipper generation of wheelmen, the “changing face of NASCAR.” With apologies to R.J. Reynolds and its 33-year Winston sponsorship of the Cup Series, the “Marlboro Man,” cornerstone of Phillip Morris’ ad campaign, exuded an air of autonomy, toughness and rebellion, much as legendary drivers Curtis Turner, Cale Yarborough, Dale Earnhardt and others.
Enter Speed (who won the June NCTS race at Dover), Marc Davis (18-year-old black development driver who finished 16th in NCTS debut at Gateway), Joey Logano (youngest driver ever to win in NASCAR), Chrissy Wallace (20-year-old female with four NCTS starts) and others who comprise a new era, a fresh face behind the helmet. Nowadays, rugged and unrefined drivers are merely a character in NASCAR folklore.
“Stock-car drivers as ‘tough guys’ clearly was a big part of the appeal of the sport,” says Dave Despain, host of “Wind Tunnel” on SPEED. “Dale Earnhardt was the embodiment of that, and his popularity expanded that image to a lot more people, but it started long before him. Many of the original NASCAR drivers were young guys just home from World War II, looking for excitement. Those were tough cats.”
The current movement began years ago when the sanctioning body cast its net toward mainstream America.
“NASCAR took us down this road,” says Darrell Waltrip, former championship driver and NASCAR analyst for FOX Sports and SPEED. “They wanted to go mainstream and take this sport from a southeastern regional sport to a national sport, and they wanted young guys who were hip; drivers and young men who had wine with dinner, not wine for dinner. That’s a huge change. They made the decision a few years ago and did it with entertainment at the track and the awards banquet in New York.”
While most of the “roughkins” have disappeared, possibly forever, a few stragglers can be found in the Craftsman Truck Series.
“Think of the Truck Series as a salad bowl rather than a melting pot,” says Tom Jensen, NASCAR senior editor for SPEEDtv.com and veteran NASCAR journalist. “Individual personalities stand out and add distinct flavors to the personality mix, rather than blending together in a bland and flavorless whole. You can be an older, ‘Marlboro Man’ type and fit in there, or a young gun on the way up. Each personality brings something different to the battle.”