Over the last few weeks many writers have reflected on what they considered to be the most memorable moments of the past decade. Some of those moments included the loss of Dale Earnhardt Sr., the safety improvements that followed his untimely death, the formation of the Chase and a landmark television package. While others have decided to take a look back, I am looking forward to the decade ahead.
There are a number of events that will change the history of this sport for years to come. Much like decades past, the 2010s will write its own story, however here are some things that appear ready to play a major role in that narrative right now.
- The NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte will open its doors to the public on May 11, 2010. In what is sure to be an amazing and elaborate ceremony, NASCAR’s history will forever be enshrined in this top-of-the-line facility. The first class of Hall of Famers (Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr., Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Junior Johnson) will be inducted on May 23 following the All-Star race. The ceremony will be the first of many and will serve as a moment of great reflection and celebration. With all of the controversy that came from the announcement of the first class, the future picks for the Hall of Fame are sure to create excitement and contention among those who follow the sport.
- Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports could continue to make history if they win their fifth-straight Cup Series title. The No. 48 team doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Well, that was before news broke that the four-time champion and his wife Chandra would be welcoming their first child in July. Becoming a parent is no easy task and requires a great deal of attention. Juggling that responsibility with the job of winning another championship trophy can be more difficult than expected. One year after nearly winning the championship in 2007, Jeff Gordon went winless in 2008 as he balanced his role as a driver and a new parent. This is a great time for the Johnson family and parenthood might just liven up the competition for the title.
- The Nationwide Series will introduce a new style of car. Once these cars are implemented full-time, the series might benefit by reestablishing the manufacturer battle in the stands. Chevrolet and Toyota will remain the Impala and Camry, while Dodge will debut the Challenger and Ford goes with the famous Mustang. Brand identity should produce a bigger draw from the fans than the Car of Tomorrow has and competition in the already highly-competitive series could improve. The new body style will be run in four races in 2010 and is on schedule to be implemented full-time in 2011.
- Danica Patrick is making her transition to NASCAR. The open-wheel driver recently signed a deal with JR Motorsports to make the transition from Indy cars to NASCAR in 2010, and will no doubt create a buzz over the next few years. While Patrick is getting much of the hype, she is not alone on the female front. An influx of female drivers has risen in NASCAR and other racing series over the last few years. For most of them, the ultimate goal is to go Cup racing. Given the proper support and funding, the potential is there for that to happen.
- The economy has been more of an influence on NASCAR in the last ten years than probably ever before. The NASCAR bubble grew to great lengths and then burst with the rest of the economy. Corporate money has come and gone, forcing teams to make cuts, downsize or simply shut down. The smaller, independent teams have suffered the most while the multi-car operations have weathered the storm. Nearly 20 years ago the concept of a multi-car team was thought of as absurd, yet today you can barely compete without one. Looking forward, a new system of organization could be the name of the game. The idea of franchises – much like those in traditional stick-and-ball sports – has been thrown around over the last few years, but has been strongly rejected by many involved. With sponsorship funding becoming more difficult to come by and the number of start-and-park teams growing, perhaps the future of NASCAR team organization will change.
- As mentioned above, the recovery of the economy – whatever shape that takes – will directly influence the future of the sport. That influence took shape earlier this week when it was announced the prominent NASCAR Scene would undergo reorganization, leaving a host of award-winning journalists and photographers out of work a month before the start of the 2010 season. Newspapers have reduced their NASCAR coverage and print media, such as the Scene and its sister publication NASCAR Illustrated, are shrinking. The beginning of the last decade saw a landmark television broadcasting deal, while the end saw the rise of the ‘citizen journalist’ and uses of social media. Going forward, as technology changes, the way news is delivered to fans is going to change dramatically, and so will the job of those delivering the news. Up-to-the-minute news and discussion on avenues such as Twitter, Facebook and satellite radio are changing the game in terms of NASCAR media and will continue to do so.
Here are some other possible storylines of the decade:
- Driver retirements (Mark Martin, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Gordon?) and new faces in the series.
- Schedule changes and new facilities.
- The loss of older, veteran drivers due to old age.
This is NASCAR, and you can’t look forward without looking back. Each decade has produced its own unique and compelling storylines and this one should be no different. There is no way to predict what will happen over the next ten years or how the sport will change. One thing that is certain is the next decade will add to the NASCAR story to be told in the Hall of Fame for years to come.
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