Steeler fans … you have some competition.
NASCAR Nation showed its colors Tuesday at the Waterfront when four-time champion Jeff Gordon made a special appearance. He was there as part of the 25th anniversary of the Pittsburgh Grand Prix .. and his major sponsor in also located in Pittsburgh ( Glaxo Smith Kline ).
I have covered NASCAR before — having worked in Mobile during the early 1990’s, but it’s been a while since I was at any sort of NASCAR event — a race or otherwise — and I had forgotten how rabid these fans can be.
To begin with, there were about 2,000 people out there – traveling from all parts of western PA — to meet their hero. They ranged in age from small children to grandparents, all dressed in the colors of Gordon’s “Rainbow Warrior” vehicle. While it’s OK to be a fan, I have to admit their passion was more pronounced than I had seen for anything — maybe Steeler fans being a close second. I met a couple who vowed not to get married until the guy got to shake Jeff Gordon’s hand. I met a man who got out of his hospital bed after hernia surgery to get a sneak peak at his racing hero.
Why were they so passionate of Jeff? Their response was the same – he’s the greatest driver on the NASCAR circuit. That was the universal response — and while I do understand the sport — I am at a loss to explain the passion bordering on fanaticism these people have for their racing hero.
The other thing that struck me while doing live shots from Gordon’s guest appearance — the advertising. It should shock no one that sponsorship “drives the bus” in every sport, but never have I seen so much and so blatantly. If there was an empty space on Gordon’s car, I could not find it. No less than five business representatives gave me their business cards as well as items carrying their logo – everything from umbrellas to note pads to tension-squeezing balls.
It gets to be overwhelming — and a little too much — as you try to tell a story and not have advertising in it. That is the challenge of today’s journalist — trying not to let every story become one big commercial. However, I believe the viewers are almost immune to it now. There is so much advertising, with so many messages, it becomes a blur.
BTW — that’s me inside of the car. It was so cool being in Gordon’s car and turning on the engine.