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

Recap: Green Bay Packers QB Brett Hundley takes in Kohler Grand Prix

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When professional athletes decide to experience sports outside of the one where they make their living, it never ceases to entertain. Case and point: Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Hundley.

The 24-year-old Hundley spent the weekend at Road America, taking in the Kohler Grand Prix. His time at the facility began on Thursday, where he first paid a visit to Team Penske driver Will Power, who gave him a quick tutorial.

Will Power shows Brett Hundley a steering for a Verizon IndyCar Series machine. Photo: IndyCar

The next part of Hundley’s day saw him take a two-seater ride with none other than Mario Andretti. And, unsurprisingly, it left a big impression.

Mari Andretti takes Brett Hundley around Road America in the Verizon IndyCar Series two-seater. Photo: IndyCar

“The first lap, I’m screaming, and it’s the warm-up lap! And then the second lap: I’m just bright-eyed, going through corners. I give so much respect, that’s an awesome sport, man!” Hundley said in a media debrief afterward.

However, the day was not finished. Later on, Hundley showed off his arm strength and throwing accuracy by attempting to throw a football through the passenger side window of a moving Chevrolet Corvette. And while it took a few attempts, he eventually hit his mark.

Hundley stayed through Sunday and dawned a photographer’s bib in order to take in more of the action.

In fact, he even inadvertently photobombed second-place finisher Josef Newgarden during his post-race interview.

A video chronicling Hundley’s visit can be viewed here and additional photos from his weekend can be found on his Instagram page.

 

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

Merhi confirmed for WEC return with Manor at the Nürburgring

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CEFC Manor TRS Racing has confirmed that Roberto Merhi will return to the FIA World Endurance Championship for next month’s 6 Hours of Nürburgring, replacing Jean-Eric Vergne.

Merhi previously raced for Manor in both Formula 1 and the WEC, making his most recent appearance with the British marque at last November’s 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Merhi’s last racing outing came in the Formula 2 double-header in Spain and has flirted with a move into Formula E, but was confirmed on Wednesday to be making his racing return at the Nürburgring on July 16.

Merhi will deputize for Vergne in the No. 24 Oreca 07 Gibson while the Frenchman is in New York for the city’s inaugural Formula E event.

FIA to re-examine Vettel/Hamilton Baku F1 clash

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The FIA has confirmed that it will re-examine the clash between Formula 1 title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix to see if further action is warranted.

Vettel and Hamilton made contact twice behind the safety car in Baku, with the second incident deemed to be an act of dangerous driving on Vettel’s part.

The FIA stewards in Baku handed Vettel a 10-second stop/go penalty for the clash – the harshest available penalty besides disqualification – but faced calls to issue a stricter punishment post race.

Hamilton said that the incident set a dangerous precedent for F1 and wider motorsport, but Vettel believed his rival deserved a penalty for allegedly brake testing him.

On Wednesday, the FIA confirmed that it would be re-examining the incident in a meeting on July 3, with a verdict set to be delivered ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix.

“Following the recent incident at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in which Car 5 (Sebastian Vettel) was involved in a collision with Car 44 (Lewis Hamilton), on Monday 3rd July, the FIA will further examine the causes on the incident in order to evaluate whether further action is necessary,” a short statement from the FIA read.

“A statement regarding the outcome of this process will be made available before the upcoming Austrian Grand Prix (7-9 July).”

Wickens not interested in full-time IndyCar switch despite practice run

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Robert Wickens is not interested in making a full-time switch to the Verizon IndyCar Series in the near future despite his practice run-out at Road America last weekend for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Mercedes DTM driver Wickens was called up for Friday practice at the KOHLER Grand Prix in the No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda after Mikhail Aleshin was unable to make it in time due to immigration issues.

Aleshin was able to return to the United States in time for Saturday’s final practice and qualifying at Road America, with Wickens stepping back down.

The Canadian got his first taste of an Indy car in a car swap with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe in March, paving the way for his practice appearance at Road America.

However, Wickens is not looking to make a full-time move over to IndyCar anytime soon despite enjoying his run-out, with his focus lying with DTM.

“Not really, to be honest,” Wickens said when asked if IndyCar was something he would like to move into in Mercedes’ ‘Tales from the Paddock’ press newsletter.

“I just want to race cars. That’s the main thing. I have no urge to leave the DTM at the moment.

“Everything is going well, and I’m really happy with Mercedes.”

Wickens also went into detail about how rapidly things moved with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, having only been told the day before practice that he was required for the running.

“I planned on having a relaxing weekend at home, but on Thursday afternoon I got a call from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which is the team that we did the ride swap with involving James Hinchcliffe back in April,” Wickens said.

“They asked if I could go to Road America and fill in for Mikhail Aleshin who had immigration issues. Fortunately, Toto [Wolff] was happy for me to do it and I was able to jump on a plane and get to Wisconsin.

“We didn’t get to the hotel until about 10pm on Thursday, and Free Practice 1 was on Friday morning very early. It took some getting used to.

“The practice itself was fun. The track was really good. It would be amazing to have a DTM race there one day.

“I definitely wanted to do the full weekend, but the full-time driver got his immigration stuff sorted and he made it to the race track by Friday night. My duties were finished, but it was still a really fun Friday.”