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 No. 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 1980s 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.
The warriors of that era 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 Faith.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.