Why I Hate The Term “Grass Roots Racing”

Believe it or not, some people are perfectly happy right where they are at, and some people prefer short track racing over anything else. Don’t get me wrong, I’m the first person to be happy for someone who has the opportunities they have always wanted, and will be the first to support them. But for those who stay back and achieve their dreams at a local short track and/or in a local series, I’ll be the first to support them and stand behind them as well. I’ve never wanted to go beyond where I’m at. Maybe that’s because it’s where I’m comfortable. Maybe it’s because it’s where I grew up. Maybe it’s because it’s where I feel like I fit in. I have a lot of friends and family members who have made it in the NASCAR world in various roles, and I am incredibly happy for them, but I would’ve been just as happy for them had they remained where their love for racing began.

I was prompted to start writing on this topic when I was perusing my Twitter feed and came across a tweet to a well-known personality in the NASCAR world. I reread it a couple times because it sort of struck me in an off way. It said something to the effect that someone was really happy to have watched a friend in the racing industry finally get to the “big time” after having spent so much time in grass roots racing. I honestly have never been a big fan of the term “grass roots,” simply because of its definition. It implies common, ordinary people or circumstances, but usually in the sense of being compared to a more elite group or situation. While I know exactly what was being said, and the intent of the tweet was perfectly applied, it got me thinking about how short track racing seems to have taken a back seat to what people consider the “big time.”

If you know me very well, you know that I’m not easily impressed. I don’t mean that in the sense that I don’t care, but I really don’t get starstruck or caught up in status levels. Let’s face it, we are all in this world together. I’ve spent my time in North Carolina, doing the shop tours and interviews, etc. Sure their shops are nice, shiny, clean and professional, but honestly, I’d much rather walk into a grease-stained, dirty, unorganized, trophies everywhere, random door panels and posters hanging on the walls in no particular order, kind of shop. Call me a redneck if you must, but that’s where I feel at home. I had my moment in time when I thought maybe I’d like to do the NASCAR thing, but once I got a taste of it, I decided it wasn’t for me. Actually, I decided it just wasn’t me all together.

To some, simply being able to race is the big time to them. Maybe moving up from one class to another is big time. I guess it depends on what one’s definition of “big time” is. Many used to ask why my dad didn’t go to NASCAR. It’s not that he didn’t have offers, but in all honesty, he didn’t really want to go. My dad knew exactly who he was, and if there was anyone on this earth that thought they could change or mold him into someone he wasn’t, they thought wrong. He loved racing, but hated politics. My dad never would’ve become who he was as a person and a driver had he accepted those offers. I really don’t believe that he would’ve left behind the legacy that he did had he left the short track racing world. People fell in love with him because of who he was and what he did right where he was at.

I’ve been part of the advocacy to keep short track racing alive and that one little tweet added another aspect to my push. Maybe because the “big time” is seen as something everyone in short track racing is trying to achieve, people don’t see short track racing for what it is anymore. I know so many people who’s lives have taken them to where they always wanted to be, and I am so happy that they have achieved their dreams. But as racing fans, I think we have to remember that not every driver, crew member, media person, announcer, or whoever, is at a short track just so that they can make it to some higher level.

Maybe that’s some of what is happening to this sport. People think that short track racing has just become a stepping stone and not a place that people really want to stay. Everyone has their own dreams and goals, and when I know someone who’s dream is to make it to a higher level, I wish them all the success in the world and look forward to seeing them achieve those dreams.

Short track racing can be the perfect stepping stone for some, but it also must be seen as a sport in and of itself. One of the arguments in short track racing right now is the lack of local heroes. It seems that once a hero begins to emerge, they make the move somewhere else. Fans are constantly being reintroduced through a revolving door of drivers. I’ve often been asked by casual fans if there are any names they would know when attending a race. Back in the day you could say a name like Dick Trickle or Joe Shear and even the slightest of fans would recognize the name because it had been around so long.

I understand the world has changed, the economy has changed, and with that racing has changed. Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to attend race tracks that I hadn’t been able to for many years. What’s funny is, the atmosphere has not changed. I felt exactly the same way I did when I went to those tracks as a kid. Sometimes it’s not all about the money and the fame and the who’s who. It’s about doing what we all love and having fun while doing it. It’s about being with friends and supporting them no matter where they might be going, or staying. It’s about being by their side win or lose, no matter what class or division they may be racing in. Short track racing isn’t about where we are going, it’s about where we’ve all been, together, as a family.