Alabama Gang founders to today’s NASCAR stars: Fans pay your salaries, don’t forget them

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Three of the remaining founding members of NASCAR’s legendary Alabama gang are not only a group of winners and champions, they’re also very wise men.

Last weekend, the superstretch of Talladega Superspeedway was renamed in honor of the ‘Gang. And during an interview, brothers Bobby and Donnie Allison, as well as Red Farmer dispensed some very sage advice to today’s NASCAR stars:

Slow down.

Not slow down on the racetrack, that is, but for drivers to slow down and appreciate and reevaluate the relationship with their fans, according to a story on 110nationsports.com.

“You’ve got to make sure that the drivers, the heroes, even though they’re making millions of dollars, they’ve still got to remember the people in the grandstand are the ones that pay their salaries,” Farmer told the web site. “Without the people in the grandstands, they wouldn’t have that income. They’ve got to take care of those people in the grandstands, sign the autographs when they want to.

“Maybe slow down a couple of steps when they’re trying to run to meet their schedule and maybe take time to talk to people they’re signing the autographs for. Then they’ll come back. You can’t forget the fans. They’re the ones that make the payroll, and you’ve got to make them happy.”

Farmer is spot-on with his advice. For many of today’s biggest stars, interaction with fans is limited at best. Sure, they may spend an hour or two at their souvenir trailer on race day mornings, but that’s because they’re obligated to do so by contract.

What Farmer and the two Allison brothers want to see is drivers take more initiative in having greater interaction with fans, even on an impromptu basis.

NASCAR Hall of Famer, three-time Daytona 500 winner and 1983 Winston Cup champion Bobby Allison said that back in his racing days, drivers were far more fan-friendly.

“We were families. Our wives and children came and our parents and the community backed us,” Allison said. “The current guys come in their motor coach with their handler or three or four PR people and they don’t talk to anybody. They don’t sign autographs. And they don’t go over to the short tracks even to watch.”

With NASCAR having endured significant drops in at-track attendance and in TV ratings over the last six to seven years, the only way the sport can get back to its glory days of old is to have drivers take the initiative and become more of a giving type, rather than just takers when it comes only to race purses and things of that nature.

“Get the enthusiasm back in about racing, not just NASCAR Sprint Cup racing but the enthusiasm about racing and the idea that the whole family can be part of it,” Allison told 110nationsports.com.

Younger brother Donnie said that the sport itself has never been closer, with great parity.

“NASCAR, in my opinion, has worked very hard to get the racing back to where the guys are racing,” Donnie Allison said. “The guys can drive the race cars. They can race.”

Now it’s up to the drivers to build upon that off the track to bring in new fans and bring back former fans.

The question is, will today’s drivers listen?

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Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.