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?

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Carlos Munoz back at Andretti Autosport for 2018 Indy 500

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After posting two runner-up finishes and three top-five results in four starts with Andretti Autosport at the Indianapolis 500, Colombian Carlos Munoz will come home to the team as its sixth driver in the 2018 race. He’ll instantly vault into win contention, given his pedigree at the Speedway and joining Andretti’s team that has won three of the last four ‘500s there.

Munoz raced full-time with Andretti Autosport from 2014 through 2016. While he scored his first career win at Detroit race one in 2015, and was series rookie of the year in 2014, it’s his runner-up results as a race rookie in 2013 and again in the 2016 race to teammate Alexander Rossi that loom largest.

Now, Munoz, who spent a single season at A.J. Foyt Enterprises before both he and Conor Daly were not retained for a second year, will join Andretti’s full-season quartet of Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Zach Veach along with previously announced fifth driver Stefan Wilson.

This will add another confirmed Honda entry to next year’s race. Honda has 12 full-season entries expected among Andretti’s four cars, then two apiece from the Ganassi, Rahal Letterman Lanigan, Schmidt Peterson and Coyne teams.

That number grows with Andretti’s two extra cars, and the combination of the SPM/Michael Shank car for Jack Harvey to confirm at least 15 Hondas for the 2018 Indianapolis 500. Honda has traditionally capped its number of entries at 18 cars.

The full release is below.

A familiar face will make its way back to the Andretti Autosport stable for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race as Carlos Muñoz returns to the team, vying for his chance to kiss the bricks.

Muñoz made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut with Andretti Autosport at the 2013 Indianapolis 500, where he finished second, earning himself Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honors. The Colombian-native went on to compete full time with the team the following year. In 2016, Muñoz once again finished runner-up when his rookie teammate, Alexander Rossi, crossed the Yard of Bricks on a fuel-saving strategy to win the 100th Indy 500.

“I am very excited to be a part of Andretti Autosport again,” said Muñoz. “The team has been like family to me since day one, when I joined them five years ago to race Indy Lights. We have been so close to winning the Indy 500 – twice with the team – so I am especially excited to be back for that race and hopefully we will have a good result this year. I need to thank Michael [Andretti] and J-F [Thormann] for believing in me and wanting me to back in their car for the Indy 500. I am also excited to be back with my teammates, and I think we will continue to work really well together. We have six cars, so hopefully we will have a strong team working with the new [aero kit]. I am really looking forward to it – hopefully we can finally get that win we’ve been so close to.”

Muñoz will look to pick up where he left off with Andretti Autosport and add to the team’s historical success at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The team mirror’s Muñoz’s enthusiasm and is excited to have secured its complete lineup before the new year.

“We’re thrilled to have Carlos back in an Andretti car for the Indy 500,” said Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti. “There is no denying that Carlos has talent at [Indianapolis Motor Speedway], he’s finished runner-up twice and that has fueled his determination to get to victory lane. He has already built relationships with his teammates and many of those on our crew, so it should be a seamless process for our six cars when they head out for the first time together.”

The veteran driver has built a resume that consists of 70 Verizon IndyCar Series starts, one win (Detroit Race 1, 2015), one pole position (Texas, 2016) and seven podiums. Muñoz competed under the Andretti shield from 2013 to 2016 and finished 17th in the 2017 IndyCar season.

Andretti Autosport has collected five Indianapolis 500 victories (Wheldon/’05, Franchitti/’06, Hunter-Reay/’14, Rossi/’16, Sato/’17) and seeks to become only the second team to earn three consecutive Indy 500 wins. Muñoz will join teammates Rossi, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Zach Veach and Stefan Wilson on opening day in May for the team’s six-car effort.